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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 10 10 In the First Thoughts section of the last issue, there is a short piece by Thich Nhat Hanh, titled “Support Barack Obama.” I could not have anticipated being more troubled by any- thing written or said by this usually thought- ful teacher. With all due respect to Thich Nhat Hanh, I feel strongly that his endorsement of Obama was premature. Asking that we support Presi- dent Obama in his “practice of using loving speech and deep listening” seems like strange advice given our president’s recent behavior, which has far less in common with Martin Luther King Jr. than it does with John F. Ken- nedy when he embroiled us, under false pre- tenses, in the Vietnam War. The president does not need our support or encouragement in his continued escalation of policies and actions that lead to an increase in the suffering of Iraqis and Afghans. As Ameri- can Buddhists, we must be ready to engage our government through whatever means are most expedient in order to contain militarism, violence, and suffering. Master Hanh is not helping by making unqualified endorsements of Obama or facile comparisons of him to Martin Luther King Jr., to whom Obama bears no resemblance except in their shared African American heritage. It is our task as engaged Buddhists to see the intentions of our leaders as clearly as we can, and not to render unto them unquali- fied support where it is neither deserved nor warranted. Joe Franke Albuquerque, New Mexico I’m writing to thank you for your really wonderful Winter issue. I am one of John Daido Loori’s students and found the article about him, along with his dharma talk (“The Symbol and the Symbolized”), completely inspiring and true to his spirit. I especially appreciated that the other articles, rich with other teachers’ perspectives rounding out the same theme, made the reading a very power- ful experience for me. Virginia Hoan Stanley Kings Park, New York Bhante Henepola Gunaratana’s article “The Taste of Liberation” on the jhana states in the Winter 2009 issue was eloquent and concise, yet I am not persuaded by his case for jhana practice. Though the author takes pains to state that the jhanas are temporary states, and provides ample warnings about potential pitfalls and sidetracks of jhana practice, he also contends that “the supramundane jhana states are an absolute prerequisite to libera- tion.” I’m quite wary of this unequivocal declaration. From the viewpoint of Vajrayana Bud- dhism as I understand it, jhana practice is generally not recommended and jhana states are regarded as illusionary experiences (nyam in Tibetan) that if vigorously cultivated can lead to the somewhat misleadingly titled “peak of existence.” This state has also been termed “ultimate egohood,” the highest and most pleasurable form of confused (samsaric) existence, but not an enduring condition and definitely not liberation. In Rainbow Painting, the late Tibetan Vajrayana master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche cast the jhanas in a broader context: “The stron- ger and more forceful the disturbing emotions are, the greater the potential for recognizing our own wakefulness ... It is a fact that at the very moment we are strongly caught up in thought forms or in the surging waves of an emotion, of anger for instance, it is much easier to recognize the naked state of aware- ness. This of course is not the case when one has trained in a very tranquil, placid state of meditation where there are no thoughts and negative emotions ...This state is similar to being intoxicated with the spiritual pleasure of peace and tranquility... it is the ultimate sidetrack.” letters we welcome your comments at: email@example.com