Tag Archives: Buddhism

A Reflection on my Social Media Project about AIDS and the Five Precepts

AIDs in Thailand

I created my Midterm Project this semester using social media. My project is called “Helping Those Living with AIDS.” I got eleven comments from people who participated. Some people  just agreed with my project and gave me advice on how to improve  the article such as the comment from thesilverbodhisattva who said,

“Another point to consider is that some people can acquire the disease through means unknown to them, in cases of unintentional contamination. Without proper medical precautions or sanitation in a variety of medical fields, an aid has the possibility to spread through transfusions, shared needles, and even instances of dental operations. There is also the possibility for those who are born HIV positive.”

This comment reminds me and other people to be careful when we use syringes because penetration and blood transfusion can put people at risk for contracting the AIDS virus.

However, I want those who have not been infected with the AIDS virus to be aware of this point as well. There are many other ways of being at risk of contracting the AIDS’s virus. The AIDS’s virus is a serious issue for the homeless and those on skid row. When society or families ignore people who have AIDS, they end up on the street, become homeless, and live on skid rows throughout the country. Therefore, the Thai monks of the Phrabatnumpu Temple are helping the people who have the AIDS’s virus in Thailand. The abbot organized the temple by himself and it is supported by donations. He provides food, clothing, shelter, and medicine for people with AIDS. The important thing is he has instructional media for people who do not have AIDS. He is teaching about Buddhism and offering counseling for individuals and groups concerned about AIDS. He teaches the way we use precept training to protect sangha from AIDS. He talks about the Five Precepts as a very good way of reducing one’s risk of contracting AIDS. A comment from SmartDC was,

“AIDS is one kind of serious diseases in the world. One of the solutions is to avoid from sexual misconduct and honestly observe Five Precepts (Sila). Taking the Buddha’s teachings into practice, we will be happy without any trouble.”

Therefore, the Five Precepts, especially, the third precept, are a very important way to reduce the prevalence of AIDS virus infections. Just like this comment from Humble Monk:

“There is reason to blame the people who’ve gotten infection, but there are many reasons to blame the people who knew AIDS and didn’t protect themselves. Sexual desire is one aspect of desires caused suffering. Being honest with one’s couple under sexual conduct isn’t enough to stop AIDS completely. The way how to completely stop AIDS is to stop one’s desires.”

This is a very good comment and I agree with his comment. If all of us practice the five precepts, especially the third one, I think we can live without fear and worry as well.

Finally, I would like to thank you very much for all of the comments from both people whom I know and I do not know. Your comments helped influence my work and my ideas. I hope my social media project will help our society in many ways. For instance, by helping people become aware of AIDS and understand the victims of AIDS too. More than that, I hope we can stay happily together. Without loving-kindness and compassion our society would be like Hell.

May all being be happy and peaceful in body and mind,

Dhammakaruna.

Please visit my Facebook Page and my original post here at Dharma Dialogue.

AIDs patient and Theravadin Monk.

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A REFLECTION ON MY EDUCATIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA PROJECT: Spiritual Leadership

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Spring 2013

Time flies! The semester has almost ended. I think that all students must be very busy with paperwork or final exams just like I am.  During the Spring Semester of 2013, I had a good chance to learn and a good opportunity to create a personal blog posts under the user name “thaitriplegem. These personal blog posts were something that I have never made before. I also contributed a couple posts here at “Dharma Dialogue” such as my “Skid Row Reflection,” in which I give a reflection based on my trip to Skid Row. My personal blog post was on the topic, “What Does the Theravāda Buddhist Religion Have to Say about the Poverty on Skid Row?”  This reflection considers the poverty of Skid Row from the perspective of Theravada Buddhism. In my previous blog post, I said the following:

If our religion means anything in today’s society, it must be able to address in a significant way the conditions of the poor in places like Skid Row.  What follows is divided into two parts.  First there is a consideration of the Theravāda Buddhist teaching of kamma.  Second, the divine abodes (brahma-vihāra) of loving-kindness and compassion are discussed.

These projects are for the Spiritual Leadership Class taught by Professor Danny Fisher.

The Midterm Proposal Project is my Educational Social Media Project, which I have posted on the same website and created a Facebook group for named “Healthcare Needs to Improve in Thailand.”  In this group I presented information about the healthcare system in Thailand, the problems that it has, and what you can do to help change it.  My media project can be found on my Facebook page.  I am very happy to see all your feedback.  And I would really like to see the healthcare system in Thailand be more like the Healthcare system in European countries.

My personal blog, “thaitriplegem,” has a post on the topic, “What Does the Theravāda Buddhist Religion Have to Say about the Poverty on Skid Row.” It has received seventeen comments as of May 15, 2013. I think this is a very important way to use social media or the Internet in the right way. We should employ right thought and right understanding when using social media in the modern world, a world without borders. At the same time, we can propagate Buddhism worldwide, too. All of your comments have been encouraging for me. Now I feel confident to share more on the Buddha’s teaching.  And all the comments were very helpful for me and my blog posts. They have even been of help to the people who read or who will read my blog posts, too. More than that, the comments also helped me to improve my way of thinking and writing for future blog posts. I would like to share what I have learned from the comments on the blog. These comments encouraged me to write and share more about the teachings of kamma, or in English what we call causes and effects, which the Buddha showed us more than 2,600 years ago.

First, on April 1, 2013 at 8:19 PM, I got the first comment from my classmate named 3ratna3kaya, who said, “Thank you for your teachings, Venerable. Your explanation of kamma was very clear and insightful.”

Second, on May 10, 2013 at 10:52 PM, Anonymous said, “What an interesting topic! I believe the readers must have some idea about the Theravada Buddhist religion on the skid row in order to easily clearly understand what it’s all about the article. However, I have to thank you for providing this useful knowledge in a friendly way.”

And third, on May 11, 2013 at 2:09 AM, there was a very interesting comment from

Du Wayne Engelhart, who stated, “Thank you for the discussion about kamma. What you say can be seen in a wider context. There is not only, roughly speaking, white kamma (with good effects for actions done), black kamma (with bad effects for actions done), and black and white kamma (with mixed effects for actions done). As the Buddha teaches us, there is also no kamma at all. No kamma at all is the state of Enlightenment. I think many times we worry too much about getting the effects of good kamma (in this lifetime or in future lifetimes) for the good actions we perform. We should, however, not worry too much about simply good kamma. We should try to reach the state where we are beyond kamma–where we are enlightened. We can reach this happy state by letting go of everything in the world, and that means everything–even letting go of trying to get the results of good kamma.”

Next, my project proposal titled, “Healthcare Needs to Improve in Thailand” has received fifteen comments as of May 15, 2013. I have gotten comments both in Thai and in English.   In the project proposal, many people agreed with my opinion on the subject.  For instance, on May 10, 2013 at 8:22 AM, Saranya Kim said, Yes, I agree with you. I had an experience about this ‘Only wealthy families can afford health insurance. If the average Thai becomes sick, unfortunately they have to pay their medical bills by cash. If they have to go to the hospital, they would have to wait in line for a long time before seeing the doctor. If a wealthy person needed to go to the hospital, on the other hand, they would just pay extra to see the doctor right away.’” This must be painful situation for the oppressed group because of privilege and poverty in Thai society. Also, Wattana Suriyawararak agreed with my project and said, Yes, I am sure that someday Healthcare in Thailand will be better! (Someday, I do not know not how long.) This comment comes with the hope that good healthcare will improve in Thailand someday.

I wish her dream will come true soon.

Also on May 10, 2013 at 11:53 PM, Daniel Terestenyi, my good Dhamma friend who just moved to Europe made a comment. His comment helped me get more understanding about the healthcare system in Europe. He said, “Andrew, you might consider being specific to one country in Europe, rather than the whole of Europe. Mainly, because healthcare does change some radically from country to country, and is not based upon EU law. France has an extremely good healthcare system, which I have used while living there.” Thank you very much, Daniel, for your information.

Lastly, Facebook’s group page still does not get many comments or much feedback. I am not sure if the members have enough time to read it all. Mostly, they just click on the “Like” button, but that made me happy enough. I got a nice comment from Anonymous that I would like to share. People should understand about the healthcare system in Thailand more, because many people like she or he just hear the news from friends who have enough money to go to get good treatment in Thailand. The comment from Anonymous on May 11, 2013 at 1:51 AM says: Thank you very much for the information in your Facebook group. I thought what you said was very informative. It is a good idea to make information available about the health care system in Thailand. I did not really have a good understanding of the situation. I thought the system was much better than what you describe. I didn’t really know: I based my ideas on what I heard from Thai friends waiting to go back to Thailand to have dental work done or to get glasses. I thought the health care was pretty good and the costs low. Now I understand that many Thais are not able to participate in the health care system. Now I understand the need for reform. Thanks for the information.”

Once again, thank you very much for all the comments that I have received on my Skid Row Reflection, my Project Proposal, and also on my Facebook page. All your comments were a very good source of encouragement for me. Thanks again for all the comments made by family members, my classmates, friends, professors, and also from people I do not know.  You can find my blog posts and my Facebook page at these URLs:

https://dharmadialogue.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/what-does-the-theravada-buddhist-religion-have-to-say-about-the-poverty-on-skid-row/#comments

https://dharmadialogue.wordpress.com/author/thaitriplegem/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/273506612786732/

With much Metta,

Palms together,

thaitriplegem

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THE FIFTH PRECEPT PROJECT REDUCING SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN THAILAND: REFLECTION

Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st c...

What I Learned from My Two Blogs Posts on Dharma Dialogue.

As the internet is fast becoming the main means to communicate, spread ideas, and raise awareness across the globe, dharma messages should follow suit too.  With guidance from my professor and also as requirement for the class, I wrote two blogs posts on Dharma Dialog and also created a Facebook group page.  All three generated some discussion but mostly people just viewed the posts and only a few decided to be brave and comment.

It was very interesting and fascinating to post and read everyone’s comments.  I wrote about the Fifth Precept and about the dangers of drugs and alcohol which is what the Fifth Precept is all about.  I wrote those articles based on what I know and what I have learned from living nearly my entire life as a Buddhist monk.  There were four comments for The Fifth Precept blog and seven comments for the Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol blog.  I was excited to find new comments each time a new one got posted.

For the blog about the fifth Precept, my writing was focused on drug and substance abuse in Thailand.  The last two comments were very useful.  One person commented that although Buddhism is the main religion in Thailand and everyone is well aware of the Fifth Precept (which is to refrain from taking substance and outside influence), it is evident that just that knowledge alone is not enough to keep them from taking and abusing drugs and alcohol.  The problem may be psychological and sociological, and I agree.  Every case of addiction cannot be all the same as everyone is different.  Why they became addicted and abused is something much more complicated than just knowing about religion.  The last person wrote about death.  He commented that if everyone would keep in mind that death eventually happens to all of us, we could probably focus on things that matter more and live better.  That is called awareness and I also agree with this person’s comment.

My second blog about dangers of drug and alcohol addiction had seven comments that followed.  Here, there was one person that disagreed with me that addiction caused people to become homeless.  He or she argued that the addiction probably happened to them after they became homeless and the point of the comment was to mostly point a finger at the U.S. government.  I can understand that logic and I do agree it could be the case.  But my point of view about addiction still sides with what the Buddha taught.  Usage and addiction to substance cause nothing but harm – harm to self, harm to others, harm to properties, and alter your consciousness.

Another person commented about attachment which was a very good point.  Although the people on Skid Row were homeless, as in having no home to go to and having to sleep on the street, we all are in a sense, “homeless” as well.  He wrote “We have no true home on earth, no true refuge in earthly things.  The only refuge we have is ourselves, and the Dhamma as our refuge.  To hold on to the idea that we have a home on earth is to keep on suffering.”  I read that and thought wow!  I was glad my blog got people to think and this person’s comment was good reminder of what life was really all about.  We should learn to let go and not be so attached or be too materialistic.  We came into this world with nothing and we can only leave with nothing.  All the money we make in this lifetime, we cannot take with us after death.  The only thing that follows us is our good and bad karma.  What good deed we have done will help protect us and guide us into the next life.

For my Facebook group page, only 3 people commented on my post about drugs and alcohol.  One person asked if it is considered okay in Buddhism if alcohol is used medicinally.  Another person commented in response that she thinks it should be acceptable if substance is being used for medical reason.  She went on further to say that she thinks drinking socially and moderately is okay.  I responded by saying drugs or alcohol should not be consumed at all, per Buddha’s Fifth Precept.  It is better to stay away and keep our mind clear from any altering substances.

The blog writing and Facebook group page was a fun project and I did get to learn by reading other people’s comments.  The world of technology allows for faster communication and social media is a good way to get your ideas out with fast feedback.  I am thankful for the people who commented on my blog and group page, and grateful for my professor too for giving me the opportunity.

With Love and Compassion (Metta)

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Death, Dying, and Buddhism – A Pinterest Page Update

Two months ago I proposed an educational social media project for the MDIV670 Spiritual Leadership course entitled “Death, Dying, and Buddhism” as a Pinterest page.(https://dharmadialogue.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/death-dying-buddhism-a-pinterest-page/) The intent of the page is to provide easy access to information, quotes, and other resources for those interested in death and dying, primarily from a Buddhist perspective. Some of what I have learned in the process includes:

There seems to be much more emphasis on death and dying in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition than in the other Buddhist traditions. This may be due to the fact that I am much more familiar with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, but I made an effort to seek out quotes and other resources from the many other traditions, and only had mild success.

I was too quick to come up with categories and needed to change the names of the ‘boards’ on my page on several occasions, or merge some of them together (as an ongoing project, this may continue to be the case). It has been challenging trying to keep the project limited to the Buddhist approach to death and dying. The Buddhist and non-Buddhist worlds have much to learn from each other – of course, the relationship of each with death and the dying process is not exclusive. I have included both Buddhist and non-Buddhist resources, but, with some exceptions, my goal is to focus primarily on the Buddhist approaches. The board titles are currently as follows:

Buddhist Books on Death & Dying

Quotes by Buddhist teachers

Film & Other media on Death & Dying

Reflections on Death & Dying

Resources

Other Books on Death and Dying

Meditations, Mantras, & Music

The Bardos

Buddhist Psychology re: Death

Buddhist Art on Death and Dying

Buddhist Pilgrimage

I am pleased to report that without advertising this page beyond the Dharma Dialogue post, I have attracted 21 followers. Additionally, most of my ‘original pins’ (those that I personally sourced outside of Pinterest) have been repined by one or more of my followers, and many of those that I have discovered through Pinterest and repined have also been repined by my followers. When I Googled the words “Death” “Dying” and “Buddhism” together, the search results in my Dhama Dialogue post being listed as #8, and my Pinterest page as #12. This is clearly indicative of the lack of material out there.

I invite anyone to offer suggestions to improve the site and hope that some of you will join Pinterest and ‘Follow’ me at Death, Dying, and Buddhism. For those not interested in Pinterest, I hope you will comment here to alert me to any websites, books, quotes, or other resources that address death and dying from a Buddhist perspective.

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Calm Reflection or Our Inner Pipeline

Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam during his 2007 trip

Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam during his 2007 trip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PART ONE

I am a seed planter.  This does not, in any way, mean that I don’t have the highest respect for those who reap.  What I always say is that we all need to have the pipeline to our inner voice of wisdom in good working order, (you can also use the words conduit or channel if pipeline sounds too colloquial for you).  And then we follow that wisdom.  For many years now, the message I have received has clarified that I am a member of the Seed Planter Sangha.

I want to reach out to people who may be interested in balancing their hectic, multitasking and media overrun lives with some quiet time to reconnect with their true selves, or as Thich Nhat Hanh would say, find their true home.  I know true self may rub many Buddhists the wrong way, but my pipeline wisdom says it’s a starting point.

I have established my own Blog Page called CalmReflectionblog.com, and a Facebook page entitled Calm Reflection.  I will use these modalities to try to make quieting the mind seem less like a skill, and more like something we all might want to do.   I am using this approach in response to the ten long years I had to struggle to establish a meditation practice I would want to do.  This goes back to the pipeline thing.  My inner voice, and to be fair, some wise outer voices over the years, have helped me understand that my past life experiences can be used to help others overcome things that I have been able to overcome already.  Today, I enjoy meditating.  Experts in the Counseling and Chaplain fields say we need to meet folks where they are.  So that’s what I want to do here, meet others, who, like myself, have perfectionistic, fear based, organic brains running the show, and teach them how to sneak around this self-absorbed grey matter, and find their very own pipeline.

It is my hope that some of the seeds I am able to help plant will grow into full-grown meditators.  I say help plant because, in this case, the ground in which I plant must be a mind which provides some fertility of curiosity, willingness, and desire for more connection within, and less distraction and reliance on the outside world.

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Rome was not Built in a Day… Nor Extropia in a Semester

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Over the past semester, I have created a personal blog (3ratna3kaya), contributed a couple posts here at Dharma Dialogue (Skid Row Reflection & Project Proposal), and started a Pinterest Page (Building Extropia Together). I have enjoyed fumbling around with social media, but I am quite aware that I am not particularly good at it just yet. To drive this point home with numbers, my personal blog, for example, has received 124 views to date. The highest number of views generated in a single day was 18. I tried to generate some internal traffic via word of mouth and Facebook, but that of course had a pretty limited effect.

When your mother tells you she likes your blog, it feels nice of course, but it also sounds hauntingly similar to high school years when she assured you that she could barely see your pimples and that you looked handsome in your rented prom tuxedo. Anyhow… thank you, mom, and happy Mothers’ Day.

In a nutshell, that was pretty much my experience with social media. I received some nice encouragement from friends, family, professors, and classmates. Some of my content was even “liked” by a small handful of fellow netizens I have never met in person. Disappointing, however, was the lack of comments on my posts and content. Here at Dharma Dialogue, two comments were made on my initial two posts. One comment was from the always incredible editor and contributor, “Buddhakaruna.” The other comment left for me was attributed to “anonymous,” but seemed likely to be internal traffic, as well (still very appreciated of course).

Most interesting or encouraging were the “likes” and “follows” from random netizens. I could rattle off some statistics related to these “likes” and “follows,” but none are especially impressive or revealing. Later looking into the blogs of these individuals, I found that most had either an interest in Buddhism, technology, or both.

The title of this post is, of course, facetious. I did not expect to gather up a group of netizens and build an Extropic world. There is a great deal of momentum at play and Extropia strikes me, admittedly an optimist at heart, as a likely outcome whether additional people get involved or not.

In the time-span of less than a month, from my project proposal to this project reflection, technology has continued its brisk sprint into the future. Some major advancements that have made the news in that time include bone tissue substitutes made from stem cells, “buckyball” non-toxic drug deliver via nano-tech, an injectable nano-network aimed at treating diabetes, neural development studied using brain cells created from stem cells, a quantum internet has secretly been in use for over two years, a working 3-D printed gun was made available for download, and then quickly ordered to be removed by the State Department.

There is little doubt in my mind that the future is upon us. I believe it would be a mistake to not consider how our own personal theologies (Buddhist, Dharmic, Taoic, Abrahamic, or otherwise) respond to highly-potential future developments such as radical life extension, mind-uploading, geoengineering, terraforming, etc, etc.

Ummm… I guess this is the part where I beg you all to comment on this post and visit my blog and Pinterest page.

Thank you for reading.

Palms together,

3ratna3kaya

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Helping Those Living With AIDS

English: The Army in conjunction with the Thai...

The Army in conjunction with the Thai Ministry of Public Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the National Institutes of Health, Sanofi Pasteur and Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases have uncovered successful results for an AIDS vaccination. The study was conducted at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Thailand. (USAMC-AFRIMS photo) *Do not reproduce image, for DOD use only. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Problem:

AIDS has become a major problem within Thailand in the last twenty years. The disease has taken so many lives that the amount has become immeasurable. The main problem is that Thai society has felt animosity towards the people affected by this disease. The people affected with AIDS are mostly shunned and turned away. Society lacks acceptance of this particular group of people. Because we cannot control the spread of the disease, there are more than 1 million Thai people affected with AIDS. Most of the people are not even aware that they are infected. Because they are unaware of their sickness, this disease is continually spread through the population. Another problem with AIDS is the lack of knowledge and awareness about the disease. The population of Thailand is careless due to this fact. They take fewer precautions, especially in the teenager and college student population. There has been an increase of infection by 35% in the past few years. This is the worst problem within Thailand in the present time.

Plan and Explanation:

Those infected with the disease become so usually due to their sexual behaviors or the sexual behaviors of their partners. For example, it could be due to alcohol, drugs, prostitutes and etc. The increase in the infection rate is also due to sexual misconduct (which is the third precept within Buddhism).  Monks perform the teachings of good moral conduct for the entire Buddhist community. This project is to prevent the further spread of AIDS and spread the awareness within society to be accepting of those living with the disease. This project would also teach kindness and understanding.  This basic teaching of the Buddha is necessary for us to live together and to not shun those with the disease. Most important, this is for the motivation to show those living with AIDS that they are not alone. The Buddhist religion teaches that we should have kindness for each other. This project is intended to be the medium to show this kindness, to spread the awareness of AIDS, and provide a support network for those living with AIDS.

The three rules that have to be remembered:

1. The way to understand those living with AIDS: We have to understand that those living with AIDS have been rejected from society and they live in emotional turmoil due to this neglect. Thus, monks have to be the leaders by showing compassion from the heart. They must fill in the gap where society can not. The things that must be provided for the population living with AIDS are clothes, food, shelter and medicine. This also includes schools, hospitals and employment for this particular population. This is to help those living with the disease go on with their normal lives. They must also be provided with love and kindness so their morale increases.

2. The correct method of living with those who have AIDS: We have to set an example using our practice of the Buddhist religion.  This includes showing kindness, be caring of other people, especially those with the infection who are sick. There has to be no animosity and disgust between anyone.

3. Method of educating about AIDS and the prevention of AIDS: This is a way to teach the morality and ethics that could not only contribute to the prevention of AIDS but helping the AIDs victims gain the approval of society. The main teachings are those of the Five Precepts are: to not be greedy, to not envious, be happy with what you have, do not lie, and have awareness of the present time.

My purpose:

  • This is to provide an action plan on how to solve this terrible problem.
  •  To decrease the spread of infection within Thailand and the world.
  •  To build an awareness and kindness for those living with the disease.
  • To provide a resource for world organizations on how to handle and solve this important problem.
  • To be a prime example on how to solve this problem by using the teachings of Buddhism as the base of understanding.

Expected results:

  • The population would have a better understanding of how to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • The decrease in the percentage of people contracting the infection and disease.
  • Society and family members would be able to live in harmony with those infected by the disease.
  • Organizations would put a further emphasis on the prevention of AIDS.
  • An increase in support for those affected by the disease.
  • Monks would have the responsibility of spreading awareness to Thai society as well as kindness to those affected.
  • The image of Thailand would improved throughout the world.

My Facebook Page can be found here.

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Hungry Ghost Economy: Concluding Thoughts

As Spiritual Leadership enters its final weeks of the semester, it is time to invite everyone to provide feedback on this project.  Likewise, I will summarize and engage in critical reflection.

What is Spiritual Leadership?  The term connotes transcendence.  From the perspective of Liberation Theology, I would reject this definition.  Rather, I would argue that Spiritual Leadership is a reorientation to the potential to be realized in the immanent, in the mundane.  Thus, I chose to illustrate this point through the particular case of Snack Pack Pudding.

Looking deeply into Snack Pack Pudding, its non-pudding elements, and its connections revealed suffering including links to illness and oppression (viz. slavery)!  In cases when corporations and governments are jointly and severally responsible for suffering, extra-governmental organizations, such as the press and/or religious leaders are called to engage their asymmetrical agency, responsibility, and accountability to be spiritual leaders and organize the collective will of the oppressed.

Per Allan G. Johnson, Power, Privilege, and Difference, society channels people’s behaviors towards paths of least resistance.  These paths are not easy.  Deviation from these paths is harder, at least initially.  Yet, the essence of spiritual leadership is to deviate from these paths of least resistance in order to change society if we are to transform individual and collective experiences of suffering as pain and oppression into love and justice.

In consumer-driven society (i.e. the hungry ghost economy), people unwittingly and, often, inevitably, participate in the creation and perpetuation of suffering by engaging in mindless consumption represented by tens or hundreds of individual and seemingly trivial and innocuous transactions every day.  The sum of these decisions have tremendous impacts upon world suffering.

No one person can do everything.  Every person can do something.  Spiritual leadership is not about creating guilt and paralysis.  It is, at least from this perspective, about orienting people, promoting awareness, and facilitating contemplation and action.  It functions on the faith that each person, in his or her time, will gradually or suddenly achieve insight into an issue and take action to change it.

Orienting people to the mundane topic of Snack Pack Pudding has been an intentional statement that no topic should be particular to spiritual leadership.  Mindfulness practice is powerful in orienting people to the possibilities available for agency, responsibility, and accountability at every level.

The key lesson learned, the fundamental challenge in spiritual leadership, is identifying the media that will connect a particular issue with a particular constituency.

To date, Hungry Ghost Economy

generated 64 views on dharma dialogues

created a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HungryGhostEconomy) with 13 Likes

created a petition on http://www.whitehouse.gov (http://wh.gov/eMAA) to ask the Obama Administration to ban the import, distribution, and/or sale of products produced using slave labor  with 6 signatures.

created a twitter account with several tweets.  It gained 0 retweets or replies and 1 follower (surprisingly, a local business)!

I value the opportunity to inform.  At times, the internet has demonstrated its power as a means to raise awareness and funds, and to create, organize, and sustain action; at times, it has helped initiate high levels of coordinated global activity.

Yet, research indicates people look to shift their attention within seconds, and shift topics or pages in 7 minutes or less.

It is a lot of effort to maintain an internet presence and create “fresh” content for a small audience.

As a result of this experience, I think the internet can be a place for the exchange of ideas and a resource where people can learn more, exchange ideas, and coordinate efforts.  However, I emerge with the belief that the spiritual leadership models of grassroots activism are still relevant and needed.

The right issue at the right time can begin in a congregation, sangha, temple, mosque, or meeting.  Spiritual leaders, engaged in common causes in solidarity with the oppressed, can promote awareness and action within their organizations.  Tens, hundreds, or thousands, still attend religious services and meetings of various types.  These groups can initiate movements that transcend religious differences.  I think there is an experience of solidarity when people are in the physical presence of one another that can be empowering.  There is something about physical presence that promotes different forms of relationships.  These empowering relationships can collectively engage in actions that serve as the impetus for movements that gain momentum and expand across space and time to effect change.

This assessment of the Hungry Ghost Economy project is a statement about fit between the issue, communication/presentation, media, culture/zeitgeist, and skillful means.

In June 2010, according to ConAgra, Snack Pack owned 84 percent of the $210 million category of shelf stable puddings and gel packs.  As discussed in earlier segments, ConAgra co-packs the pudding for all or almost all of its “competing” store brands.  So, Snack Pack pudding, one consumer packaged good selling at approximately 25 cents per pack, generates millions in advertising and promotion.

This is the landscape in which Spiritual Leadership, typically operating with $0.00 budget, must operate.  Spiritual Leadership is about overcoming these odds.  It is, as aforementioned, about the transcendent potential in the immanent and mundane.  It is a calling.  There is no promise that the work will save countless sentient beings.  There is only the individual and his or her vow to save countless sentient beings.

27 million slaves continue.  Old age, illness, and death continue.  Suffering created by Snack Pack Pudding, and other consumer packaged goods, continues.  So, too, therefore, have I vowed to continue.

I will tell the story and try and change the world, 1 person and 1 action at a time.  I can do no other.

I hope you, having read this testimony, will do likewise.

With bows.

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Hungry Ghost Economy: Karma, Effort, and Charity (#4 in series)

ConAgra, through the manufacture and distribution of Snack Pack Pudding©, causes and/or perpetuates multiple chains of negative karma.  ConAgra attempts to counteract this negative karma by a campaign entitled “Child Hunger Ends Here®.”  Noting the problem of childhood hunger that, according to its charitable partner, Feeding America, affects 17 million children daily, ConAgra is engaged in a campaign to donate a minimum of 1 million meals ($125,000) up to a maximum of 3 million meals based upon consumers entering a code from ConAgra items purchased.  For each code, ConAgra donates 12.5 cents, “the cost for Feeding America to provide one meal through its network of local foodbanks.”

This is a positive action.  ConAgra’s objective is to positively associate its brands and products with Feeding America.  ConAgra wants to be defined by its positive actions.  However, positive actions do not cancel negative actions.  Each action is part of its own causal chain.  Feeding 1 person does not undo the suffering caused by ConAgra’s activities.

As the nutritional content of Snack Pack Pudding© deteriorates, there are implications for malnourishment.  The new milk reduction formulation of Snack Pack Pudding© will not deliver the same nutrition as the previous formulation.  By reducing nutritional content of one of the most affordable and widely distributed food items, the poorest and most nutritionally deficient will be among those most impacted by the reduction in nutrition of Snack Pack Pudding©.  Yet, this fact will be obfuscated by advertising.

It should not be a case of “either/or.”  It should be a case of “both/and.”  ConAgra should be engaged in both the production of high nutrition food at the lowest cost possible and charitable giving.

It is also worth mentioning that charity, known in Buddhism as dana, values material giving as the lowest form of benefit.  Giving knowledge is the highest form of benefiting others.  Moreover, intention is a central determining factor in whether or not an action is positive, neutral, or negative.  If production of a low cost product is understood as a material gift, the utilization of common resources for the common good, then, if those resources are used to create a consumer packaged good (i.e. gift) that is deceptive and withholds or obfuscates information intentionally, as suggested by the advertising practices of ConAgra’s Snack Pack Pudding©, the item cannot provide the desired positive outcome.

I believe if companies spent even a fraction of their massive advertising and promotion dollars on creating affordable low cost and high nutrition foods, the lobbyists, “food” regulations, and adversarial scheme that pits companies against consumers would not be necessary.  It is self-perpetuating and a misallocation of our common resources against our common good.

Is it possible?  I think a society where millions go hungry when we can feed them for 12.5 cents per meal demands it!

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GRATITUDE TO FORGOTTEN VETERANS

Members of 1st Recon, Vietnam, ca. 1967 From the collection of Michael R. Travis (COLL/5158), United States Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections Creative Commons License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Members of 1st Recon, Vietnam, ca. 1967
From the collection of Michael R. Travis (COLL/5158), United States Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections
Creative Commons License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

GRATITUDE TO FORGOTTEN VETERANS

Around 7 o’clock in the morning, I arrived at Pershing Square where my class would meet for the field trip to Skid Row.  Since it was still early; I set my GPS to Skid Row and drove by the area.   My heart was about to stop because I could not believe what I saw along the sidewalks of San Julian Street from 4th Street to 6th Street.  There were hundreds of soiled fabrics or plastic tarps covering “cardboard made beds” surrounded by wheeled carts piling up with blankets, filthy clothes. Every corner of those blocks was occupied with homeless people covering themselves with ragged blankets.  Skid Row, the town for homeless people is only a short walking distance from the flower wholesale area I have visited at least once a month for the last three years, but I had never realized that I was this close to abject poverty.

Since then, I hardly sleep through my nights.  Every time I close my eyes, I cannot get my mind off what I saw at Skid Row.  Then, the touching documentary film “the 5th Street Homeless in LA” made by John Gilbert with music background “On the Nickel” written by Tom Waits, plays over and over in my head.[i] The smell of urination and dirty clothes still bothers my nose.  My classmates’ chat about the reality of Vietnam Vets during the walk through Skid Row made me wonder whether somewhere of Skid Row, there are any soldiers who used to stay at the Army Base across my house in Vietnam.

I do not remember their names, their faces.  In my fading memories, those American soldiers who always looked solemn in the uniforms and joyful with their smiles, were heroes because after they left Southern Vietnam, our lives had dramatically changed.  Now I recalled they visited my neighbors every Sunday.  Sometimes, they asked my dad’s permission to give my brothers and me chewing gum, candy, and take us around the neighborhood.  I guess that they missed their families and their kids. They left; we lost our freedom and happiness.  The country fell in the Communist hands.

After they left, I never thought of what they had been through after returning home.   Who would remember them?  I used to think that the monument of two life-sized bronze soldiers representing the US Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam in .  It is beautiful work Vietnamese Refugee Communities did to show our gratitude for their sacrifices.  Now, I know there are more we should do about our gratitude because there were many veterans who were surviving from Vietnam War but struggling with unhealed wounds left in their heart and mind.

What about those who are still alive, who now live with mental illness, with alcohol or drug abuse from depression, with the poverty just a few blocks away from the tall luxury business buildings in downtown Los Angeles?  They are out of sight so that there was no political pressure from the public to do anything about it.[ii]

Speaking of the Four Noble Truth, let’s consider what these veterans’ sufferings are?  They are alcoholic and drug dependence, mental illness, hunger, cold, wet etc….  What caused their sufferings?  We can say the involvement of drug or alcohol was their choice, but we should understand addiction is not the only reason they are here in Skid Row.  There is mental illness, PTSD etc… It is the responsibilities of the mainstream that put them through the terrible wars.  Later, they have been forgotten and got very little attention from the system.

After fifteen minutes to meditate and reflect on the trip, a homeless guy approached my group and I was picked as “the best meditate practitioner of the group”.  Although I felt so funny about that, I still answered his question “According to Buddhism, what part of the human body the mind comes from?”   I told him maybe the brain or the heart.  Then, I confirmed it was the brain.  Until now, I believe it must be both the brain and the heart together in my Buddhist view[iii].  Wisdom should blossom from compassion and strong will in order to attain freedom from sufferings[iv].  These homeless in Skid Row really should be freed from their daily sufferings.  They need our hearts and mind together to make a difference for their days.  The Midnight Mission and LA Mission are already handful, but still not enough.

The sky and the earth are immense.  My arms are so tiny to embrace the poor.  My heart is sobbing every time it is windy or rainy outside.  I visualize thousands of homeless poor people out there are soaking and shivering if they are unable to find some places to spend the night at Skid Row.  I feel so helpless.

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