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Thứ Hai, tháng 3 28, 2005

No. 0200

Life and Death
Jan Butler
2001 started off really well for me. I had got on top of all my Christmas debts, all was well and I was feeling rather smug with myself. Then 2 weeks into February a routine check-up led to a referral to the hospital for further investigation and treatment. In less than a minute my contented life was turned upside down. My mind was whirling with fearful thoughts which went racing off down a negative road, gathering momentum like a snow ball getting bigger and bigger. I was totally unable to stop them and I had myself dead and buried by the end of the year. Every time I looked at my son I felt absolute despair and indescribable sorrow and pain.
I realized I had to get a grip on these thoughts before they sent me totally mad. It came to me that I should sit with this. I didn’t think this would be possible with the state that I was in, but sit I did.
30 minutes passed in a flash and as I stood up the difference I felt was unbelievable. I was calm again and I felt a sort of reassurance that everything would be alright and this feeling stayed for the rest of the day. The next day fearful thoughts returned along with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I sat again and all the anxiety disappeared.
I am quite new to Buddhism and up until now, really struggled with meditation and the things it has shown me about myself which haven’t been pleasant, but it has been my saviour over this anxious time. I have since discovered that the tests and treatment are nothing serious to worry about. However I never want to forget those two nerve-wracking weeks, however painful they were. I learnt many valuable lessons. I realized how precious my life is and how much time I spend on trivial unimportant distractions. “This body is as transient as dew on the grass, life passes as swiftly as a flash of lightening, quickly the body passes away, in a moment life is gone”, rings in my ears with an understanding not previously known. Two weeks of deep reflection on my own mortality has brought a different feeling to my meditation and a fullness and richness to everything I do, however interesting or mundane. Whilst still scared to death at the thought of my own death (there’s something for me to work on!), the whole experience has made Buddhism much more personal for me and, brought it closer to my heart. I realize the truth found in the last line of the Sandokai “Do not waste time.”
Minh Hạnh post và dịch
No. 0199

Vườn thiền Myoshinji

viết bởi Gerard Tăaffe, The Japan Times

Tokyo - Tôi thích không làm gì hơn là đi thăm dò trong khu vườn, điều đó làm cho óc sáng tạo của tôi phải suy nghĩ những gì mà tôi thấy. Kyoto có rất nhiều nơi đang chờ đợi sự khám phá, và cách tốt nhất là thưởng lãm những khu vườn và những đền thờ ngay cả khi đi bộ hay đi bằng xe buýt.
Đền thờ Myoshinji nằm ở phía Tây của thành phố , như Tofukuji, đến khu vực Rinzai của thiền Zen đạo Phật. Một tổng thể lớn với 57 đền thờ phụ và những đền thờ nhỏ, Myoshinji đãđược phát hiện ở cung điện Hagiwara củ kỹ vào năm 1337 bởi hoàng đế Hanazono.
Tòa nhà chính được xây đựng trên khuôn viên 13,5 hecta - Cổng vào, cổng chính, lâu đàI Buddha, lâu đài diễn thuyết, nhà tắm và nhà vệ sinh, ao sen - tất cả thẳng hàng theo hướng bắc nam cho thích hợp với kiến trúc cổ của Trung Quốc, thiền Zen của Trung Quốc, nó đã ảnh hưởng đến Nhật suốt thờI gian Kamakura và Muromachi vào những năm 1192 - 1573.
Như những đền thờ, sân vườn, cung điện ngay cả những thành phố cổ, nhà vủ trụ học đã đặt tên cho sao Bắc Đẩu này là”Great Heavenly Emperor” hoàng đế này được coi như là con trai cuả thượng đế.


Vào đền thờ này bằng cổng phía bắc hay phía nam, du khách sẽ tìm thấy nhiều điều thú vị, thám hiểm những đường hầm nhỏ, gần đền thờ chính, nhiều cây thông đen Nhật bản rất đẹp. Khu vườn đầu tiên bạn sẽ được đi qua đền thờ Taizoin, một đền thờ củ nhất được xây dựng vào năm 1404 bởi Hatano Shigemichi, đại danh của địa phương thời đại ngày nay nơi làm việc của quận trưởng Shimane
Khu vườn được thiết kế bởi Motonobu Kano 1476-1559, nó có bức tiểu họa Phong cảnh vườn khô miêu tả những hòn đá thần thoại của đảo Horai, Một thác nước khô và những hòn đảo vươn cao. Ở vị trí thấp hơn về phía cuốI khu vườn cũng có 1 khung cảnh để nhắc nhở du khách hình ảnh 1 ngọn núi có dòng song chảy ngang đến 1 cái ao đầy cá chép ở ngay chân họ. Ở đây, o-karikomi tức là những cây lớn bị cắt cụt tạo dáng hình tròn tựơng trưng cho những qủa núi và phần đồi thấp hơn được tạo dáng bằng cây đỗ quyên khô trong giống như hoa nở vào tháng 5
Trong khi có được sự thỏai maí và say mê những đền thờ này, thì du khách cũng được thưởng thức trà xanh cuả Nhật và thán phục tranh phong cảnh là tài sản qúi gía của quốc gia, bởi tu sĩ Josetsu ở thế kỷ 15, người nghệ nhân Trung Quốc ở Nhật bản được coi là nghệ nhân tiên phongcủa suibokuga về tranh mực .
Sau cùng, chúng tôi đến Torinin một đ̣ền ở Myoshinji, nơi khu vườn thứ 4 trong quần thể khu đền được mở cửa cho công chúng, và là nơi cung cấp thông tin đến tay du khách nét đẹp lâu đời shara-no-ki 350 năm có ở đó.
Tôi đi thẳng đến Torinin để nhìn thấy cây này. Tôi rung chuông và người phụ nữ không cho vào. Bà ta giải thích chỉ có ai ở đây mới có thể nhìn thấy cây. Và những người ngoại quốc không thể vào trừ khi đi cùng với người Nhật. Người ngoại quốc không có cùng tập quán như người Nhật. Bà ta không ngại ngùng mà nói như vậy. Nếu đó là nơi cho các bạn thiền.

Chánh Hạnh dịch


MYOSHINJI, Zen gardens wondrous to behold, and not
By GERARD TAAFFE, The Japan Times,

Tokyo -- I like nothing better than to go and explore gardens and to let my imagination ponder on what's to be seen. Kyoto has plenty of places just waiting to be discovered, and the best way to go and see its gardens and temples is either on foot or by local bus.

Myoshinji Temple in the western part of the city belongs, like Tofukuji (featured in my March 14 column), to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. A large complex with 57 sub-temples and chapels, Myoshinji was founded at the old Hagiwara Palace in 1337 by the retired emperor Hanazono.

The main buildings on the 13.5-hectare site -- the entrance gate, main gate, Buddha Hall, lecture hall, bathhouse and toilet, and lotus pond -- are aligned on a north-south axis consistent with ancient Chinese cosmology which, through Chinese Zen, was very influential in Japan during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods spanning 1192-1573.

As well as dictating the alignment of temples, gardens, palaces and even cities, those ancient cosmologists named the pole star "Great Heavenly Emperor," as emperors were considered the sons of heaven.

Though it was razed during the Onin War of 1467-77, then restored by its ninth abbot, Sekko Sojin (1408-86), Myoshinji's main temple is now home to the oldest bell in Japan, which was cast in 698.

However, besides these splendors, and its many noted art objects, the temple complex is rightly renowned for its wonderful gardens, three of which (or four, depending who you are) are open daily to the public.

Entering the complex through either its north or south gates, visitors will find many interesting little side paths to explore and, near the main temple, some beautiful kuro-matsu (Japanese black pine; Pinus thunbergii). The first garden you'll likely come across is in Taizoin Temple, the oldest sub-temple in the complex, built in 1404 by Hatano Shigemichi, daimyo of Izumo Province in present-day Shimane Prefecture.

The garden was designed by Motonobu Kano (1476-1559), a landscape painter. It contains a miniature kare-san-sui (dry-landscape garden) representing in its stones the mythical island of Horai, a dry waterfall and crane islands. At the lower end there is also a scene that reminds visitors of mountains with a river running through to a carp-filled pond at their foot. Here, o-karikomi (tall trees clipped into rounded shapes) represent mountains and the lower hills are formed by satsuki-tsutsuji (satsuki azalea; Rhododendron indicum) that are best seen in bloom in May.

While taking their ease at this delightful sub-temple, visitors can also sample Japanese green tea and admire a national-treasure landscape painting by the 15th-century monk Josetsu, who popularized Chinese art in Japan and is considered an early master of suibokuga (ink painting).

Leaving Taizoin, a short stroll will take visitors to Keishunin sub-temple, whose garden is actually made up of three small ones. The first is a tiny tsubo-niwa (courtyard), known as Shojo, that is enclosed on two sides by whitewashed walls and on the others by narrow wooden corridors. The "dry waterfall" made of boulders stacked behind the stone well is attractive -- and if you listen carefully you may be able to hear water flowing there! As well, there is an interesting bell-shaped window on the left, allowing a glimpse of the simple wabi-no-teien tea garden beyond. A tatami chashitsu (tearoom) with a nice fern-covered water basin outside it looks out onto this tiny garden dating from the early Edo Period (1603-1867). This is a pleasant place to relax, as tall ara-kashi (evergreen oaks; Quercus glauca) serve to screen off the garden from the outside world. There is also a fine iroha-momiji (Japanese maple; Acer palmatum) to admire to the right of the baiken-mon (plum-viewing gate).

Though this gate acts as a visual doorway to the next garden, visitors don't actually walk through it, but instead view the garden from a wooden corridor. In fact, the gardens in many Zen temples were not designed for pleasure, but to be contemplated from fixed vantage points such as a tearoom or the abbot's quarters. The rectangular garden designed for this purpose in front of an abbot's quarters is known as a shinyo.

Refreshed and restored, visitors can now seek out Daishinin sub-temple, whose quaint little garden holds a couple of interesting surprises. In one of the tiny tsubo-no-niwa there is a 350-year-old Kirishima-tsutsuji (Rhododendron x obtusum) that is worth seeing, especially when the beautiful red flowers open in April.

Kirishima-tsutsuji is an evergreen hybrid with small elliptic-obovate leaves 1-3.5 cm long, and is thought to be a cross between yama-tsutsuji (R. kaempferi), Miyama-kirishima (R. kiusianum) and sata-tsutsuji (R. sateanse). It was first mentioned in Japan's earliest garden magazine, Kadan Koumoku (Principles of Gardening), in 1681 after the plant was brought to the then-capital of Kyoto from the Satsuma domains around Kagoshima in southern Kyushu. The specimen here is 2 meters high and 4 meters wide, and growing beneath it there is an attractive yellow-berried senryo (Sarcandra glabra), a shade-loving shrub that cannot tolerate cold winds.

Across the wooden corridor is a splendid goyo matsu (five-needle pine; Pinus parviflora) that was planted at the same time as the kirishima-tsutsuji. There's also a small rectangular kare-san-sui called Anu-tei, which is aligned from east to west and has tsukiyama (man-made hills) in its southeast section. The moss-covered stones that form these "hills," with raked gravel curving round them, give the impression of a mountainous coastline.

To appreciate these delightful surroundings to the full, visitors might consider an overnight stay. With advanced booking by post (enclosing a return postcard) it costs a mere 4,000 yen per person per night, including a traditional evening meal and breakfast.

Finally, we come to the Torinin sub-temple at Myoshinji, where a fourth garden in the complex is supposedly open to the public, and where guidebooks enthusiastically direct visitors to view a beautiful 350-year-old shara-no-ki (Stewartia pseudo-camellia) growing there.

I went along to Torinin to see this tree. I rang the doorbell and the lady who answered said I could not enter. She then explained that only those who stay there can see the tree -- and that foreigners cannot enter unless accompanied by a Japanese person! Foreigners do not have the same manners as Japanese, she declared unabashed. If that's where Zen gets you . . .

No.0198
Buddhists hope to change your mind


By Colleen Creamer, Nashville City Paper

Nashville, TN (USA) -- As the world’s pace seems to quicken, it may be that human beings are not capable of evolving fast enough to handle the overload. For many, a meditative practice lightens that load and creates a state of mind that not only soothes the soul, but also can engage a person more fully in his or her life.Saturday, on the rear grounds of the First Church Unity on Franklin Road, the growing Nashville Buddhist community will host The Nashville Buddhist Festival, pooling their diverse traditions to enlighten those interested in understanding three Buddhist meditative practices: Zen, Tibetan and Vipassana. The event will occur from 12:30 – 5:30 p.m."You don’t have to be Buddhist to meditate," said Lisa Ernst of the Nasvhille Zen Center and event organizer. "I really think that is an important point. There are many Christians, who do, for example, Zen meditation. You can choose whether you want to strictly follow a Buddhist path or just learn to meditate to be more awake in your life."Panel speakers hope to dispel the myth that to some, particularly in the South, Buddhism is a dark ancient faith bathed in occultism. But if it is one of the most misunderstood of the world religions, it is also one of the fastest growing in the country. Still, its dualistic and intellectual nature does not lend itself for easy party chit chat around the pigs in a blanket (unlikely) unless you’re willing to grapple with a koan. A koan is a Zen "riddle" in the form of a question meant to challenge one’s thinking.Buddhists consider philosophy outside and higher than the realm of dogma (or rigid thinking of any kind) because Buddhism presupposes that rigid thinking is what got you in the emotional hell of attachment in the first place. So, there is no proselytizing. You have to find dharma, state of mind and the positive consequences that comes from a solid meditative practice, on your own.Buddhist lawyer Jean Harrison, thinks, as many do, of Buddhism as a guide."It’s more of a way of living than a religion. It is a guidepost by which you try to better yourself in the process of bettering everything around you," Harrison said.Meditation, in ways that are just too complex to go into here, lessens attachment to things, to human beings or even to ideas — attachment being the seat of all suffering. But the root core of the philosophy is also to cultivate "loving kindness" for all living things.The Festival will include a panel discussion, with a question and answer period, on the varying traditions and lessons on how to meditate. There will also be an introduction to Tai Chi and yoga for the meditator. Regionally known teacher of both Zen and Vipassana traditions, Trudy Goodman will present the Zen tradition. A Burmese monk will talk about the Vipassana tradition and three local "senior" teachers will introduce the Tibetan tradition, Ernst said.In Zen meditation, the practitioner strives to keep the mind empty for as long as possible. In Vipassina meditation the practitioner witnesses what is going on the mind and the body to help the student become more "in the moment" in daily life. The more colorful Tibetan tradition employs chanting and visual techniques.

Minh Hạnh post Minh Hạnh hoạc Chánh Hạnh dịch
No. 0197
Malaysia's Ancient Buddhist Valley
The Star,

Bujang Valley, Malaysia -- MALAYSIA has a rich historical background. Archaeological research has uncovered finds from many sites. One of these is Lembah Bujang, or Bujang Valley in Kedah. Situated on the southern foothills of Gunung Jerai, sheltered by the tropical rain forest on the slopes above, it is a peaceful place.

The myths are plentiful, but artefacts from the 4th to the 14th centuries indicate that the Bujang Valley was the oldest centre of international and entrepot trade in the country. Sungai Bujang, Sungai Muda and Sungai Merbok played important roles in the growth of commerce here. The es-tuary of Sungai Merbok be-came an important harbour and port. Situated on one of the main transit routes across the Peninsula on the great East–West trade route, this area became a prosperous centre for settlement and trade.

Gunung Jerai (Kedah’s peak) also played an important role as its 1,217m high peak was used by the trading vessels of China, India and Arabia as a landmark to guide them to the harbour in the Bujang Valley. Arab merchants knew of Lembah Valley in the 4th century, but even back in the 2nd century, Tamil poets had written about it. A highly civilised Malay kingdom exis-ted there. The numerous artefacts uncovered at the Bujang Valley support this observation.

More than 50 candis (temples) have been found at this site.

Mention the name Batu Pahat and people think of the town in Johor. However, there is also a place of the same name in the Bujang Valley. Batu Pahat means “chiselled stone’” and is the place where stones were chiselled to build the temples. The stones were used for the pillars, bases, lingas, statues, etc. Made of gra-nite, mudstone or laterite, they were square or cylindrical, with a chiselled hole, which is square, round or triangular. Bricks were manufactured from local clay.

Bujang Valley Archaelo-gical Museum director Zul-kifli Jaafar said the stones came from the river-bed in front of me.

The stones were also used to make the linga and soma-sutra. Linga is the phallus and somasutra is the channel for holy water offered to the gods. They are symbols of fertility and can be seen inside the museum.

The Bujang Valley museum is the first archaeological site museum in Malaysia. The ar-tefacts exhibited here are the result of years of archaeological digs and surveys carried out since 1845. About 1,000 of these artefacts are displayed in the museum, while others are still being studied.

The first item in the museum is a model of the land. It shows the hills, rivers and valleys of this once bustling kingdom. The candi situated at the top of Gunung Jerai was found in 1894 and excavated in 1921. Statues and clay tablets were also found.

Other artefacts found in the area include celedon, porcelain, stoneware, clay, pottery, fragments of glass, beads, Persian ceramics and a statue of Hindu deity Ganesha and a metal trident.

The Kampung Sungai Mas site at Kota Kuala Muda was discovered in 1846 but only excavated in 1974. Archaeo-logists discovered structural ruins, ceramic shards from China and the Middle East, and Middle-Eastern glass and beads. Because of the importance of the Kampung Mas site, it was selected for an Intra-ASEAN project.

The Bujang candis were used by Buddhists and Hin-dus. The Tupah temple was dedicated to Ganesha and built around the 6th century. Gem-stones, weapons, terracotta and bronze Buddha statues have been found here. The ruins of Candi Pendiat have been moved to Bukit Batu Pahat, where the base can be seen in the grounds behind the museum.

The Buddhagupta inscribed stone was written in Sanskrit in the 5th century. It has been translated as “Through ignorance karma is accumulated. The cause of birth is karma. Through knowledge karma is not accumulated. Through ab-sence of karma one is not reborn.”

Inscribed gold and silver discs were found dating to the 8th century. Inscribed stones have also been found in Pe-nang, Gua Kurung Batang, and Bintong in Perlis. At Pulau Bunting, ancient Chinese cera-mic pieces, glassware from an Islamic civilisation and old iron utensils were found. There’s also the structural remains of a temple from the 10th century. The island was also on the East-West trade route.

Commercial activities in the Bujang Valley led to the “Indianisation” of the valley. However, the discovery of certain artefacts proves that the indigenous races of the Bujang Valley had already established a civilisation of their own. Historian Abu Dulaf Misa’r wrote that walls surrounded the state of Old Kedah. It had flourishing gardens and parks, six water supplies, markets and permanent population. The indigenous culture, however, was even-tually adulterated by other cultures.

I-Tsing a Buddhist monk travelling from China to India stopped in the area in 671 and called it Chieh-cha. Historians believe that during the 7th century it became a part of the mighty Sri Vijayan empire and was ruled successively by nine kings. Malay folklores and films remember one of these kings, Raja Bersiong, the ‘fanged’ king.

The kingdom flourished as a port until the 11th century. In 1025 King Chola invaded the empire of Sri Vijaya, which included the kingdom of Bu-jang Valley. But Bujang Valley continued to flourish until the spread of Islam from Malacca, which resulted in the decline of Hinduism–Buddhism. Then the emergence of new ports (Malacca, for instance) caused the decline of the Bujang Valley. After the 13th century, it waned as a port. Another site, down south, in the vici-nity of Sungai Muda, became the new port and the government of the old Kedah kingdom.

Today all that remains of the Hindu–Buddhist culture are the candis and decorated arches. Most of the carvings have been lost over the years, although the temples were not noted for their extravagant carvings like those Borobu-dur.

The Bujang Valley museum was built in 1978 and officially opened in 1980. It looks after the historical sites of the 5th–14th centuries. The Bu-jang Valley archaeological research was initiated by colonial researchers back in 1840. It was only taken over by the locals in 1970.

Behind the museum are some candis. The most signi-ficant and largest is Candi Bukit Batu Pahat. Sadly none of the outside exhibits are labelled, which makes it very difficult to know what one is looking at. There are a few perahus displayed outside. Fortunately, the exhibits in-side the museum are well labelled, both in Bahasa Ma-laysia and English. It is an interesting insight into Ma-laysia’s past.

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