Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What path to choose?

Well it's been a while since I last posted. No excuses- Chaplain Shin is deployed on a ship and she posts all the time! First, I really enjoyed the Memorial Day articles. This tells me that Buddhists in the military are a much larger force than I thought.

I have been wrangling a lot lately over which "brand" of Buddhism I most identify with. As if I really have to belong to any one of the groups! I'm finding that once the Buddha's teachings left India way back in the day, they changed in all sorts of ways, possibly to fit the various cultures scattered across Asia. When I first seriously studied this path of life I was immersing myself in the Theraveda teachings, which is more or less the "original" words of the Buddha. I'm probably a little off on this. I met Chaplain Shin a few months back and she told me about her background in the Jodo Shinshu tradition, of which she is an ordained priest. Last week I attended a meditation session and service at the Vista Zen Center in north San Diego County. I had known a bit about Zen but wasn't too keen about it. I truly enjoyed my visit to the center and will be going back. Look at http://www.vistazencenter.com/ if you are ever in the area. There was a zazen meditation session, a Dharma talk and a service of which I had no idea what the purpose was (yet). I'll take a look at this stuff and post to this blog what I'm thinking.

I've found out that Buddhists all agree on the basic precepts, Eightfold Path and such. Exploring the various sects and traditions could take a while. San Diego County is very rich in Buddhism I'm finding out. I'm pretty lucky to be stationed here. I've been reading a book. It's called Hardcore Zen, Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality. It's a very straightforward, written in plain English, and really entertaining book. Written by an American living in Japan and who is an ordained Zen master. Amazon has it.

Until next time...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Those We Remember Today Include Buddhists

Those We Remember Today Include Buddhists

Memorial Day is set aside to honor Americans in the military who died in service to their country. Those so honored today include Buddhists. The photograph at right is of a Buddhist funeral at Arlington National Cemetery of a soldier killed in Iraq.

I do not know how many Buddhists are currently serving in the U.S. military. However, last year the Army began training its first Buddhist chaplain, Lt. Somya Malasri. According to Lt. Jeanette Shin, who blogs at Buddhist Military Sangha, during World War II the Buddhist Missions of North America petitioned the then-War Department to commission a Buddhist chaplain, but this request was denied. She says approximately half of the troops in World War II Japanese-American units such as the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Infantry were Buddhists.

Photo Caption: Buddhist Monk Thich Kien Khai prays in front of the casket of US Army Sgt. Yihiyh Chen at Arlington National Cemetery April 23, 2004. Sgt. Chen was killed in Baghdad.

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Monday May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

As Buddhists we are taught that death is an inevitable aspect of life, therefore we should not be surprised when death occurs. No matter our profession, or our skill or our knowledge, death comes to young and old alike. In Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, Rennyo Shonin (the "second founder of Shinshu Buddhism" who lived in the 1400s), composed a letter specifically addressing this - it is read during every funeral and memorial service. The text is below. May all beings be able hear the Dharma and take refuge in the Three Treasures.

In attentively contemplating the fleeting nature of life, nothing is more fleeting than our journey through this world. It is an all too short dream. Has anyone lived for 10,000 years? Life swiftly passes, and how many have lived for even a hundred years?

Whether I am first or whether others are first; whether it is to be today or whether it is to be tomorrow, who is to know? Those who are sent off before us are countless as the drops of dew.

Though in the morning we may be radiant with health, in the evening we may be of white ashes. When the winds of impermanence blow, our eyes are closed forever. And as we breath our last breath, our face loses its color. Our beloved ones gather and lament to no avail. The body is carried to an open field and disappears in smoke which smolders through the night, leaving only the white ashes. Is there any expression for such a sad plight?

The fragile nature of human life underlies both the young and old. We should therefore, all the sooner, turn our hearts to the singularly important matter of True Life. We should recite the Nembutsu upon having completely entrusted all that we are to the Buddha Amida.

In gratitude do we acknowledge these words...

Excerpted from Rites of Passage: Death, by Revs. Arthur Takemoto, Masao Kodani, and Russell Hamada, ISBN 0-912624-07-8

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Happy Vesak 2552!

Happy Vesak Day to all our Buddhists in uniform, wherever they may be in the world. May you be happy and well, and at peace.

"In the country of Magadha, til now, the impure teaching of people who were stained was expounded. World-Honored One, may you open the door of immortality. Like a man who stands atop the summit of a hill and surveys all that lies below, the wise one ascends to the palace of the Dharma and frees himself from sorrow. O Wise One, turn your eyes now to those who, drowning in sorrow, are overwhelmed by birth and old age. O Heroic One, conqueror in battles, leader of caravans, debtless one, begin your travels throughout the world. If the World-Honored One expounds the Dharma, surely there will be those who will attain Enlightenment."
-The god Brahma's entreaty to Buddha, Lalitavsitara

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Interview with US Army Buddhist Chaplain 2ndLT Somya Malasri

There's a nice interview w/Chaplain Malasri that UWest student and civilian chaplain Danny Fisher did on his blog. You can read the entire interview here: http://chaplaindanny.blogspot.com/2008/04/interview-2lt-rev-somya-malasri.html

Monday, May 12, 2008

Admiral Keating To Burma, Offer of 4000 Marines for Help

[From May 12 Washington Post] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/12/AR2008051200158_pf.html
U.S. Tries to Persuade Burma to Accept Aid
Military Offers to Deploy Up to 4,000 U.S. Marines

By Amy Kazmin and Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 12, 2008; 1:14 PM

BANGKOK, May 12 -- The United States stepped up diplomatic efforts Monday to persuade Burma's reclusive ruling generals to accept American military help for struggling cyclone relief efforts, as a top U.S. admiral met his Burmese counterpart in the highest-level military talks between the two countries in decades.

Adm. Timothy J. Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Henrietta H. Fore, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, arrived in Rangoon Monday from Thailand's U-Tapao air base on an unarmed American C-130 military cargo plane carrying about 14 tons of water, blankets, mosquito nets and other supplies for survivors of Cyclone Nargis.

The officials conducted what were described as "cordial" talks at the Rangoon airport with Vice Adm. Soe Thein, the Burmese naval chief, and other officials to discuss relief work and the potential of U.S. military forces to help.

The United States has offered to deploy up to 4,000 Marines, six C-130 planes and a large number of heavy-lift helicopters in what would be its largest disaster relief effort abroad since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. The United States could also have three naval ships, with helicopters on board, positioned off Burma's southwest coast within 48 hours.

Keating said he briefed the Burmese officials on the U.S. military's relief capabilities in the region. All that was missing, he said, was permission from the Burmese government for the United States to provide assistance.

"We have a broad array of personnel and equipment, and we are ready to respond as soon as the Burmese give us permission," Keating said. "We did not get that permission today," he added. "They will take it under advisement."

The Burmese authorities did clear two more C-130 relief flights, and Fore expressed hope for deepening cooperation as time goes on.

"We left this morning with the hope that we could lay the groundwork for a broader U.S. assistance, and I believe our discussions were a good first step," she said.

No new commitments were made by the Burmese government during the roughly two hours that U.S. officials spent on the ground, never leaving the Rangoon airport. Fore announced that the United States had pledged an additional $13 million toward the relief efforts, bringing the U.S. total to $16.25 million. She said there would be two more American aid flights Tuesday, both previously scheduled.

Burma's military rulers are highly wary of Western governments, and especially of Washington. President Bush has previously called Burma "an outpost of tyranny," and the generals have accused Washington of trying to overthrow them by supporting Burmese dissidents, both inside and outside the country.

The U.S. diplomatic offensive comes as Western governments are retreating from talk of invoking a "right to protect" and trying to deliver aid directly to cyclone survivors, with or without clearance from Burmese authorities.

While the pace of relief flights into Rangoon airport is accelerating, U.N. agencies say that major logistical bottlenecks are still hampering the distribution of much-needed food, water and medicine to the stricken areas.

Military authorities are now sealing off the disaster zone to foreigners, who are being turned back at checkpoints on the roads. Transport is also in short supply, although the Burmese military is now using seven of its own helicopters to ferry supplies from the airport into the affected areas.

Terje Skavdal of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said United Nations agencies are also urging Burma's neighbors "to influence the situation" and try to secure greater access for international aid workers, including logistics experts. The World Food Program said it is not even able to deliver 20 percent of the estimated 375 tons of food needed in the area each day.

Burmese authorities, meanwhile, announced that the confirmed death toll has risen to nearly 32,000, with nearly 30,000 other people still missing. U.S. and U.N. officials have said the death toll ultimately could reach 100,000.

Earlier, international officials warned that conditions in the disaster zone could worsen dramatically in the days ahead.

As survivors of Nargis poured out of the devastated Irrawaddy Delta into regional towns in search of water, food and other help, the British charity Oxfam on Sunday warned that an estimated 1.5 million Burmese are on the brink of a "massive public health catastrophe."

Burma is facing a "perfect storm" of conditions that could lead to an outbreak of waterborne disease, said Sarah Ireland, Oxfam's regional director.

"The ponds are full of dead bodies, the wells have saline water, and even things like a bucket are in scarce supply," Ireland said.

The struggling relief efforts suffered another setback when a boat ferrying rice, drinking water, clothing and other aid sank in the delta early Sunday, apparently after hitting a submerged tree, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Residents were able to salvage some of the supplies, meant for more than 1,000 survivors, but river water contaminated the food, the organization said. All of those aboard made it safely to land. The boat was carrying one of the first international aid shipments.

"This is a great loss," said Aung Kyaw Htut, who is supervising the distribution effort. "This would have been our very first river shipment, and it will delay aid for a further day."

The cyclone and powerful tidal sea surge ripped across the low-lying delta a week ago.

With conditions in the delta increasingly desperate, survivors began besieging small towns, searching for help. In the town of Laputta, which lost 85 percent of its buildings, about 28 makeshift camps have sprung up. But supplies are limited.

The World Food Program, which on Friday accused authorities of impounding planeloads of emergency food, said cargo and materials sent since then had been released and sent to disaster zones. The International Committee of the Red Cross also sent a planeload of supplies Sunday, including body bags.

Yet a week on, most survivors have not yet received any help, because of the lack of supplies and logistical difficulties.

"Beyond the main arterial roads, it's a massive challenge, not only because the floodwaters are still there, but also because even when they are not, it's extremely difficult to navigate," said Marcus Prior, a WFP spokesman.

The Burmese army insists that it can manage the massive relief operation and has rebuffed offers from the United States, its longtime critic, and countries in the region for military assistance to distribute aid.

But for years, Burma's military has struggled to feed its own. Vegetables are often grown alongside the runways of army airfields, and chicken coops are usually kept behind barracks across the country, which the ruling junta calls Myanmar. Troops in far-flung places have long been ordered to "live off the land" because the army command has been unable to reliably supply its 400,000-member force with the food it needs.

"The logistical system in Burma is so shaky that in the 1990s, they told regional commanders and bases outside Rangoon [the country's main city] that they had to take care of their own logistics" for basic needs, said a Western analyst who has studied Burma's military.

Military analysts warn that Burma's army has neither adequate equipment nor training to cope with the crisis, and its insistence on going it alone -- or through its own "strenuous labor" as state media call it -- could cost many lives.

"Disaster relief operations, like any military operation, require training, practice and equipment," said Robert Karniol, a regional defense writer. "Even if they were well practiced, they would have difficulties responding because of the scale."

Humanitarian groups are reluctant to cooperate with foreign militaries in disaster response. But the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan showed how foreign militaries could use specialized transportation equipment to move large quantities of supplies to hard-to-reach areas.

The Irrawaddy Delta presents the type of logistical challenge best suited for military hardware. Vast areas remain submerged, accessible only by boat or helicopter, and the region's ports are inaccessible to civilian ships as a result of the damage.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Buddhist Military Sangha Wins 2008 Blogisattva Award!

This site has won something called a Blogisattva Award! Apparently every year there's a contest among various Buddhist-oriented blogs, which there must be tons, I imagine. Somebody (it certainly wasn't me) nominated the site for "Best Niche Blog, Unusual-Function Blog, Blog Service, or a Serial within a Blog" (I wonder how many other blogs were up for that one)?? I am not sure what exactly the prize is for something like that, but if it helps to spread Buddha-dharma and the message of this blog, then let's take a twirl down the aisle! The link where I found this information is at http://blogisattva.blogspot.com/2008/02/2008-blogisattva-award-winners.html
Namo Amida Butsu

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

President Bush Offers Relief, US Navy Units to Burma

(From Washington Post article 5/7/2008 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/06/AR2008050600647_pf.html
60,000 Dead or Missing in Burma
Bush Offers Navy Units, Criticizes Junta as Storm Aid Begins to Reach Rangoon

By Amy Kazmin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 7, 2008; A01

BANGKOK, May 6 -- The number of dead and missing in the Burma cyclone soared past 60,000 Tuesday amid signs the toll will rise even higher, as much of the disaster zone remained flooded by seawater, threatened by disease and out of reach of an international relief operation that is taking shape.

President Bush offered to send U.S. Navy units to help in the operation, and sharply criticized Burma's military-run government for delays in approving visas for emergency teams. Burmese dissident groups took issue with the timing of the administration's criticism, suggesting it could complicate the relief effort.

Emergency supplies began arriving by air in wind-battered Rangoon, the largest city in Burma. But little or no aid reached the Irrawaddy Delta, a vast and low-lying rice-producing region that absorbed the storm's worst fury. Satellite photos showed catastrophic flooding of fields and villages as far inland as 35 miles.

A tidal wave that accompanied the cyclone was more deadly than the winds, Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told reporters in Rangoon. "The wave was up to 12 feet high, and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said. "They did not have anywhere to flee."

Speaking at a brief ceremony in the Oval Office to honor Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's detained democracy advocate, Bush said: "Our message to the military rulers is, 'Let the U.S. come and help you help the people.' "

"We're prepared to help move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing and to help stabilize the situation," Bush said. Two Navy ships are conducting disaster response exercises two days' sailing from the storm-ravaged area.

The United States also offered $3 million in emergency aid Tuesday, up from $250,000 pledged on Monday. In addition, the Treasury Department loosened restrictions on charity groups to allow them to go into Burma without prior U.S. permission.

The president's statement came shortly after Burma's state television reported that 22,000 people had been killed and more than 40,000 people rendered missing by Tropical Cyclone Nargis, which smacked into the country over the weekend. An estimated 1 million survivors are said to be in urgent need of relief supplies, notably in the delta.

Packing winds of about 120 mph, Nargis was the deadliest cyclone to strike in Asia since a 1991 storm killed 143,000 in Bangladesh.

"When you look at the satellite picture of before and after the storm, the effects look even worse than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in how it inundated low-lying areas," Ken Reeves, director of forecasting operations for AccuWeather.com, said in a statement. "It took the worst possible path in terms of sustaining strength. . . . The interaction of water and land lying right at sea level allowed the tidal surge to deliver maximum penetration of seawater over land."

Relief supplies from India, Thailand and other Asian neighbors have begun to arrive in Burma. A Royal Thai Air Force C-130 transport plane landed in Rangoon on Tuesday carrying bottled water, emergency meals and other badly needed items.

Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that while the Burmese military has made some helicopters and boats available, far more transportation, including trucks and boats, will be needed. "The major bottleneck will be the local delivery, rather than getting stuff into the Rangoon airport," Horsey said. "We need distribution channels."

In New York, Rashid Khalikov, director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said storm victims need plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, water purification and cooking kits, and food. He expressed concern as well over a possible spike in waterborne diseases and spiraling costs of food and other commodities.

U.N. relief officials in Burma are scrambling to make do with poor communications equipment and limited supplies stored in U.N. warehouses, Khalikov said. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was trying to transport supplies across the Thai border into Burma.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other senior U.N. officials have been privately trying to nudge the Burmese leadership to waive its visa policies, ease restrictions on the import of humanitarian supplies and allow a U.N. assessment team into the country to determine the extent of destruction and need. "We have applied for visas, and we have not got the visas," Khalikov said. "They are on standby and ready to go."

He noted that Tuesday was a holiday in Thailand, so the Burmese Embassy there was closed. It also was unfamiliar with U.N. operating practices, he said: "I'm not trying to justify it, but I would not go into saying that it was absolutely shocking or unacceptable" that the Burmese weren't issuing visas to the relief workers.

The American Red Cross has shipped supplies such as kitchen sets, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits from its warehouse in Malaysia to Burma. The U.S. disaster relief charity is waiting to hear from aid workers on the ground assessing the damage and expects to help Burma pay for more supplies.

With the magnitude of the disaster growing more apparent, the government said Tuesday that it would postpone a vote on a new military-sponsored constitution in the storm-ravaged areas until May 24. But the charter, which opposition figures have denounced as a tool to legitimize military rule, will be put to a vote as scheduled on Saturday in the rest of the country.

The reclusive rulers of Burma -- which they call Myanmar -- are mistrustful of the outside world's intentions. They are also resented by millions of their own citizens following a bloody crackdown on a democracy movement last September. Now, the storm is forcing them to make uncomfortable choices at a sensitive political moment.

With the number of dead and missing soaring, the generals have dropped their usual theme that Burma must be self-reliant and have requested international help.

Foreign governments, including Western countries that usually spurn the generals as pariahs, have responded to the rare appeal with offers that could presage the largest foreign engagement with Burma in its troubled history since it achieved independence from Britain in 1948.

"There is a real potential for this to be a game-changing moment," said Sean Turnell, a professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and editor of Burma Economic Watch. He noted foreign offers to help Indonesia after its Aceh province was devastated in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. "After the tsunami, the whole conversation changed," he said. The U.S. Navy helped with the effort in Aceh.

Some analysts praised the tough talk against the junta by Bush and, on Monday, by first lady Laura Bush, who said the military government had failed to issue a timely warning to people in the storm's path.

"It's hard to speak honestly about what's happened without pointing to the fact that the government is responsible for a large part of this disaster," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "Burma's willingness or unwillingness to accept . . . aid won't have anything to do with whether they are offended by the first lady."

But exiled Burmese political analyst Aung Naing Oo, who fled Burma in 1988 and is now based in Thailand, labeled Laura Bush's attack as "totally and utterly inappropriate."

"She is trying to score political points out of people's disaster," he said. "That will clearly not go down well with anyone in Burma. This is about humanitarian issues -- people are dying. This is a time for the U.S. government to say, 'We are giving you money.' They don't need to score political points here."

Ye Htut, a Burmese government spokesman, also accused the first lady of politicizing the tragedy. "I would like to say that what we are doing is better than the Bush administration response to the Katrina storm in 2005, if you compare the resources of the two countries," he told reporters.

He said the government issued a cyclone warning two days before the storm struck.

In this environment of hostility, the prospect for effective and timely cooperation between the junta and Western governments -- let alone U.S. military personnel deploying on the ground -- remains uncertain.

"At one level, the regime worries that events could move out of their control if they let in Western aid groups, and lose that really tight control that they have had," Turnell said. "But they must also be extraordinarily mindful of the potential that this could cause unrest in the country," he said. "People are already jumping onto the fact that the army was out on the streets so quickly in September and asking, 'Where are they now?' "

Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian and former U.N. official, said that "the problem is that everything, including aid, has been politicized, with suspicions on all sides." But he noted that "if in response to this tragedy, the aid community and the Burmese authorities can work well together, keep politics entirely away and show that effective and impartial aid delivery is possible, I think that would be a great step forward."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Visit to Singapore Buddhist Meditation Center

The city-state of Singapore is a beautiful place to visit, and is one of the many ports that the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet ships may stop at for a little R&R. It has many diverse cultures and religions peacefully co-existing; you can find all kinds of places of worship there. There are many, many Buddhist temples there, belonging to many different schools.

Recently during a liberty port visit to Singapore, I had the privilege of visiting the Buddhist Meditation Center. I was invited to visit by the Venerable Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero, the Chief Prelate of Singapore. He is the religious director of the Center; its mission is the worldwide dissemination of Buddha-Dharma through publication of many English-language books and sermons. This is a very important endeavor.

Together with a hardy Petty Officer from my ship, we were treated to a vegetarian lunch and a tour around Singapore, culminating with a visit to Singapore's largest Buddhist temple, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It is a beautiful four-story Chinese-style temple, mostly decorated in the traditional colors of red and gold, housing many beautiful Buddhist images, and a museum and cafe. On the fourth floor is the Sacred Tooth relic itself, housed in a 500-lb solid gold(!) reliquary behind bulletproof glass. Unfortunately, we could not take photographs, but it was a blessing to see the relic as close as we did! We met several of the staff of the temple, and discovered how hard they worked to provide such an impressive place for Buddhist devotees.

Ven. Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero generously provided many Buddhist books for us to take away with us; some have already been distributed among Sailors interested in Buddhism in our carrier group. If you are making a port visit to Singapore, definitely take the time to visit the Center, and also take time to visit the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple. It's one of Singapore's major attractions. You can also find a link to Buddhist Meditation Center's directions and selection of books on the left of this page. My thanks and gratitude to the Venerable Weragoda Sarada Maha Thero for making this port visit so memorable.
Namo Amida Butsu

Singapore Buddhist Meditation Center
No. 1, Jalan Mas Puteh
Singapore 128607

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
288 South Bridge Road
Singapore, 058840
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