Congregations report increase in attendance on Back to Church Sunday

Attendance increased by nearly a quarter for more than 4,200 churches on Back to Church Sunday 2011.

According to statistics from organisers, an extra 77,000 attended church on Back to Church Sunday on 25 September.

The additional attendance works out at an average of 19 extra people in the congregation of each participating church.

The Bishop of Hertford, the Rt Rev Paul Bayes, said: “Back to Church Sunday is a fantastic opportunity for growth. I encourage even more churches to register in 2012. It’s a simple initiative that really does work.”

St Mary the Virgin, in Yaxley, is an example of a church that has incorporated Back to Church Sunday into a successful mission strategy.

Since church members started handing out personal invitations, regular Sunday attendance has nearly quadrupled from nine to a viable 35.

The Rev Tiffer Robinson led by example, knocking on every door in the village of 400 people to personally invite everyone back to church.

He said: “We very successfully incorporated Back to Church Sunday, using the suggested €˜template service’ and three well-known hymns, creating a 45-minute traditional but informal service full of community spirit and joy that was accessible to regular worshippers and visitors.

“I would fully recommend Back to Church Sunday as a mission initiative.”

Back to Church Sunday first launched in the Church of England Diocese of Manchester in 2004 but has proved so successful that it has been adopted by other denominations and traditions.

At its heart is the simple idea of getting existing church members to invite someone they know to a special church service.

Special resources are produced each year to provide churches with special invitation cards, posters and goodies like Fairtrade chocolate to make the welcome extra special.

Since it started, nearly 230,000 people have come back to church.

This year, the Archbishop of York launched Back to Church Sunday by ‘tweeting’ an invitation to 10,000 people, that was re-tweeted by 95 Twitter accounts to thousands more people.

The invitations were backed up for the first time by 30-second radio adverts in certain areas and local launches across the dioceses.

More churches were encouraged to get involved after research by Tearfund in 2007 found that around 3 million people in England said they would attend church if they were invited.

Back to Church Sunday 2012 will take place on 30 September.

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US Army removes cross from chapel in Afghanistan

The US Army has removed a cross that was prominently placed on the front of a chapel located at the remote base of Camp Marmal in northern Afghanistan.

Although soldiers at the central Asian base considered the cross to be an inspiring symbol, officials said that having a permanent sectarian image on the chapel violated army regulations.

As Army Regulation 165-1, 12-3k reads in part, “The chapel environment will be religiously neutral when the facility is not being used for scheduled worship. Portable religious symbols, icons, or statues may be used within a chapel during times of religious worship.”

Fox News interviewed American soldiers stationed at the base and found that some held issue with the decision to remove the cross.

One soldier referred to the decision and the regulation behind it as “a direct attack against Christianity and Judaism”.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council also talked with Fox News and said the decision secularised a religious building.

“There€™s a sole purpose of a chapel and it’s to worship,” said Perkins.

“The timing of this – what a way to celebrate Thanksgiving.”

Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told The Christian Post in an interview that the Army made the right decision.

“The American military includes personnel from many different faith traditions and some who follow no spiritual path at all. That diversity should be respected,” said Conn.

“It’s perfectly appropriate to display sectarian symbols in military buildings when worship services are underway there, but those symbols should not be left there permanently. That would suggest that the faith represented is getting preferential treatment.”

In response to those who say that the military is targeting Christians, Conn said that if anything Christians in the armed forces receive preferential treatment.

“I know of no evidence that Christianity is being discriminated against in the military,” said Conn.

“As a matter of fact, there have been ongoing problems with military bias in favour of evangelical Christianity.”

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers also welcomed the removal of the cross, considering it an example of protecting “civil rights and neutrality towards religion”.

“Christians are calling this an attack on their religion. This implies that putting up a 6-foot cross on a prominent military facility is not an attack on all competing religions, reads a MAAF blog entry.

“A Star of David, Crescent and Star, Buddhist Prayer Wheel, or other religious symbol would be a violation just as a Christian cross is.

The unidentified soldier who spoke to Fox News said he will comply with Army rules. But he cautioned, œâ€If they are able to erase Christian symbols from the military, then it can be pushed to be erased in the private sector.

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Why we shouldn’t say bad things of other Dharma centers

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A sharing by H.E. TsemTulku Rinpoche, The Buddhist Channel, Nov

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia — In order to make the holy Dharma grow, we need to have more inter-center  communications, support and harmony (within our respective countries). For example, if one center is having a dinner, garage sale or event, another center’s representative should offer donations, congratulations and emotional support.

When another center is doing well, we must all rejoice and be happy – because we are all in the same family. And if other members or other centers have contributed to the growth of our centers, we should mention this, rejoice and always make sure that the members in our center are informed now and in the future so that it encourages inter-center support in the future.

It is not necessary that we attend ceremonies of other centers when their teachers arrive as we have our own teachers, commitments and practice. But we should definitely

NEVER,NEVER criticize, infer, create gossip or slander other centers’ teachers, practice, lineage or activities. It is said in the holy Lam Rim, composed by the King of Dharma ManjunathaTsongkhapa, that if we criticize any form of Dharma, the negative karma accumulated is equivalent to killing 1,000 Buddhas. Just think of the karma of killing just an insect, which we as Buddhist try to be aware of and not commit imagine the karma of killing a Buddha! Of course, the action of killing a Buddha is not possible but it is a hypothetical example of the gravity of that kind of action.

If we create schismatic talk and we are successful in preventing others from going to their teachers, create doubt in their mind regarding their teachers, stop them from going to a certain center or cause them to abandon their teacher and practice, how can we gain any attainments?? The negative karma is very strong and multiplies daily. If we are the cause for others to lose faith in their teacher and practice, then how can our own faith (the cause of all attainments in the Tantras) increase or be stable in our own teachers? How can we harm another’s faith and hope our faith will remain stable?

Those who gossip and carry on with criticisms can become unstable in their mind and always change their minds to achieve nothing. If our samaya (commitment and faith) is not stable in our own teacher then how can any understanding, attainments and spiritual growth manifest in our mindstream? We should think about that point carefully.

There are people who may who speak ill of our or others’ teachers, practice and lineage, be they ‘high’ monks, Lamas, or ordinary students; we must be aware of them and let what they say pass into one ear and then out from the other. Have compassion for those people; do not engage or ask any more questions and smile and let it go. If others comment that there is something wrong with our teachers and practice that we have already forged a samaya with, then what can stop others from saying they can be wrong also, be they high-ranking monks or simple students.

When does it stop? Either all the Gurus are to be respected and the bond between them and their students held sacred or we must each be a perfect omniscient living Buddha to criticize, judge, talk negatively and check who is ‘genuine’ and not ˜genuine.’ Would a perfect Buddha do that anyway? Who in true Buddhist practice can run around proclaiming they are a living Buddha and condemn others?

There are people who are incredible examples of selflessness, such as Mother Teresa who proclaimed herself to be a simple nun or a pencil in God’s hand; or H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama who always says that he is just a simple Buddhist monk although more than 14 million Buddhists of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition believe him to be Avalokiteshvara. The Panchen Lama, who tirelessly worked for others, never called himself Amitabha although so many believed him to be.

Once we are able to criticize another practice, teacher, tradition, deity, center, temple, church, student, etc. then we leave ourselves open for criticism and schism, because in the end who is right and who is wrong? Leave people in peace. When we criticize another tradition, practice or teacher, it also shows that we are perhaps highly insecure

about what we are doing so we need more people to do what we are doing to feel ‘right’;or to give us security maybe. 

Only study, reading, practice, holding vows and attending Dharma talks to gain knowledge is what will really give us security in our practice, based on sound logic. A person who does this never criticizes others but rejoices, because when you reach a higher state of practice and knowledge, you see the oneness/sameness of the goal, you see that only methods differ and you rejoice at the skillfulness of the masters in offering diversity to different sentient beings.

We should never want to harm another being. Otherwise, one would create the karma of being separated from one’s own teacher and teachings, being unable to practice and gain results, having anger and fear increase in the mind, and having great insecurities due to the resultant karma of schismatic actions of speech and mind.

When people have taken refuge or accepted another to be their teacher or practice, we must encourage them towards what they have already committed. When we appoint ourselves as the ‘spiritual police’ to ‘take action’ against the people following ‘wrong’ Lamas and ‘wrong’ practices, we create something very dangerous. We create tremendous disharmony, doubt and aggression. We breed and justify intolerance which is the opposite of Lord Buddhaâ€s infallible Dharma. We must search into ourselves and check the level of our own practice, our motivation. If our motivation and practice is supreme and perfect, then very skillful methods are extremely necessary to guide others. People’s spiritualities are very delicate and must be handled with care, combined with compassion.

Do not criticize their practice, teacher or tradition in any way. You just need to police yourself. Just remain in your practice and resolve to gain full enlightenment to benefit them in the future. Spiritual policing should be left to the Dharma Protectors like Mahakala, Setrap, PaldenLhamo, or maybe other Enlightened Beings.

If we separate another person from their teacher, causing them to abandon the teacher-student samaya, and bring them to our teacher/practice, then according to the 50 Verses of Guru Devotion by the Indian master Ashvagosha, that person and us would never gain any attainments. They come to our practice from wrong methods – creating doubts in and abandoning their teachers. 

We may be able to negatively influence them in the beginning, but as they gain more and more knowledge in the Dharma, our negative words will have less and less of a hold on the other person as they study the Dharma more. In fact, the person might lose confidence in us and in the worst cases, forsake their refuge. This is bad for them and extremely detrimental to ourselves.

We must be wary of any teacher, traditions, student or writings that castigate, defame or criticize other teachers, traditions and students as they can prove extremely detrimental to our own spiritual growth. People who like to carry tales from one centre to another centre, or who like to criticize other teachers/centres create the most detriment to the growth of the Buddha Dharma.

Observe these people and how intolerant they may sometimes become even if their motivation was initially good. Every Buddhist lineage, tradition and teacher has the right to exist, form and benefit others. We do not need any councils, groups, or authority to watch over them. Who would listen in today’s day and age anyway? It just creates negativities. If these âauthoritarian’ groups exist, they must consist of very learned

students, well-practiced members who have their three doors well subdued, people who are unbiased and non-denominationally based. Otherwise these groups can cause great detriment to the growth of Buddhism in their individual societies, even if these groups have good intentions.

If a center is breaking the law, then the law of that country will take care of them. You do not need to be the spiritual law, but just cultivate true Buddhist qualities with the short time you have left. You can benefit more if you become highly attained, than to procrastinate your practice by spiritual policing others with current limited abilities.

Spiritually policing others would be a detriment to our own practice as it takes time away from our development. When we are accomplished, then we would have much more effect on others. If you see âwrong’, it should motivate you to practice, transform and become attained faster. Everything can motivate you. Just use it in the right way. To spiritually police others at this time would not be time well spent because we can use the time to practice and become a Buddha. As a Buddha would benefit much, much,much more to skillfully steer wrong to right.

On a practical basis, having only one teacher, one center and one lineage in any one place would be physically and practically impossible to suit and accommodate everyone and every individual’s temperament. However, if there were ten centersin a city, for example, there would be a higher chance for more people to come across the Dharma in that city than if there was just one center.

I often get students of other centers consulting me, asking for divinations, advice, clearing of Dharma points or just to meet me. But I always encourage them towards their teacher, practice and center and discourage them to join my center unless it is for general gatherings and at their insistence.

Their teachers are more than good enough and what I have might not suit them. This is okay. It is not that I do not welcome them, but I want to create stability and consistency with their practice in their minds. But I always ask: what do we want from that person? Do we want them to gain attainments, knowledge, realizations so that their lives can be

happy and they can transform to be of benefit to others? Or just increase the membership of our own centers for financial gains, profits or simply to look good?

If our motivation is the prior, then we should encourage them towards what they have already committed themselves to. Because once they gain knowledge and realizations, causing a transformation of that person, it no longer matterswhat tradition they came from – by then, they simply benefit others. Isn’t that Buddha’s intent? If so, that should

be our own intent. We want to create Buddhas no matter what methods we need to tread to attain this sacred goal.

Therefore, inter-center harmony is crucial to the growth of the Buddha Dharma in today’s world. If we do not wish to help another center, that is fine for whatever reasons we have. But do not harm another center in any way. Remember, karma is for everyone. We should consider if we wish the holy Dharma to grow so that it can be of tremendous benefit to the contribution of inner peace, which leads to outer peace.

If so, then my thoughts here are very applicable to wherever we live in the world because Buddhism is a renowned world religion and it will only grow. In countries where traditionally, Buddhism has not taken root, it is establishing itself by way of centers, that turn into temples and eventually into institutions of great learning.

Wherever Buddhism thrives, it serves as a great addition to the peace and harmony of that city or country due to its emphasis on non-harm, non-killing and its peaceful agenda of cooperative human social interaction. It also places a lot of emphasis on peaceful interactions and inter-religious harmony – so it would be very important for the thousands of Dharma centers throughout the world to continue to grow, expand and fulfill their functions as contributors to inner, and eventually, outer world peace.

These thoughts have been penned specifically from my wish for harmony between the various beautiful Buddhist traditions and also, inter-religious harmony.

This article is not meant to hurt anyone, hint towards anyone or any group not to accuse; it is just my thoughts on inter-center harmony. In today’s world, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness are very much needed, especially from those who are supposed to be spiritual. These qualities are not unique to religion, but should be the uniqueness of religious practitioners.

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Katina at the Berlin Vihara

During the Vassa period special Dhamma activities including Dhamma discussions, lectures, meditation classes and retreats were conducted at the Vihara. The American monk Bhante Rahula played a prominent role in conducting three well attended meditation retreats at the Berlin Vihara.

The gathering at this Katina Pinkama comprised mainly Germans, Thais and Sri Lankans, among others. The Katina activities for the day comprised a Buddha Puja, Sangha Dana and Katina Chivara Puja.
Altogether 10 Buddhist Monks participated in the Katina ceremony. They included a number of Theravada Buddhist monks drawn from Temples based in Europe and Sri Lanka. They were Ven. Mihiripannay Sobitha Thero (Sri Maha Bodhi Vihara, Dehiwala), Ven. Dickwelle Seelasumana Thero (Buduraja Maha Vehera, Wewurukannala, Dickwella), Ven. Dr. Wijayarajapura Seelawansa Nayaka Thero (Nyanaponika Dhammazentrum Lecturer, Vienna University, Austria), Ven. Lendiyangala Sudassi Thero (Chief Incumbent Sri Lanka Vihara, St. Gallen, Switzerland), Ven. Kannimahara Piyasiri Thero, M.A, (Munich Buddhist Centre, Germany), Ven. Tammannawe Dhammananda Thero, Ven. Talpawila Kusalagnana Thero, M.A. (Hamburg Buddhist Centre, Germany) and Ven. Kongaspitiye Santharakkhltha Thero, M.A., Das Buddhistische Haus (Berlin Vihara). There were also two Thai Buddhist monks present at the ceremony.

The Berlin Vihara also known as ‘Das Buddhistische Haus’ was built in 1924 by Dr. Paul Dahlke, German Philosopher and a pioneer of Buddhism in Germany. The German Dharmaduta Society founded by Asoka Weeraratna, purchased the premises from the heirs of Dr. Dahlke in 1957 and converted it into Buddhist Vihara with resident Buddhist monks on a long term footing. It is the oldest Theravada Buddhist Centre in Europe.

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Will Hamas And The PA Put Aside Their Differences

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets in Ramallah with Jordan’s King Abdullah.Getty Images

Israeli pundits skeptical unity will last, especially with pressure from U.S. and Jordan.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority may announce this week that they have overcome differences that delayed implementation last May of a new unity government, but Israeli analysts doubt the rapprochement will last.

“They might promulgate some documents, but I don’t believe it will bridge over the wide gaps between Gaza and Ramallah,” said Mordechai Kedar, an Arab specialist and research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “Their differences are so deep culturally, religiously and nationally that I don’t really see how these two organizations can get into one bed.”

The Hamas-Palestinian Authority plan is to form a government of non-political technocrats to prevent a withdrawal of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, according to Yossi Alpher, a Middle East analyst and co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian website

“It is premature to see it as a major break [with the status quo], although Israel will be intent on punishing the Palestinians by withholding taxes they collect for them,” he said.

But both Washington and Jerusalem reportedly made it plain to the Palestinian Authority this week that it cannot both reconcile with Hamas and expect to achieve peace with Israel.

On Sunday, U.S. Envoy William Burns met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and is said to have warned that a unity government with Hamas would have serious and unavoidable consequences.

On Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II visited Abbas in the West Bank to tell him that he supported him and not Hamas.

Reuters quoted a Jordanian spokesman as saying that the visit “comes in the context of Jordan’s support for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people to achieve Palestinian national rights and an independent state.”

The U.S. is said to have enlisted the king’s help in making it clear to Abbas that his future is not with Hamas. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Tuesday that Jordan has no intention of establishing relations with Hamas and that a future visit to Jordan by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal would be a “quick one.”

Alpher said he is “not at all certain they will go through” with the power-sharing government that is supposed to be hammered out this week in Cairo by Abbas and Mashaal. In doing so, they hope to put behind them the bitter split that developed in 2007 after Hamas used force to seize control of Gaza, leaving Abbas’ government in control of the West Bank alone.

But Alpher said Abbas might believe he has no choice but to move in this direction because of “pressure from the Egyptians and others in the Arab world.”

“If you look at the overall so-called Arab Spring, you see political Islam moving into the governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and maybe Syria,” he said. “The Egyptians are the ones sponsoring these talks, and they are the same military rulers who are allowing the Muslim Brotherhood [an Islamic group] to move into the political sphere in Egypt.”

Kedar agreed that Abbas might believe he “has nothing to lose” by forging ahead with a unity government.

“Appealing to the Palestinian street is more important than the American street,” Kedar said.

Alpher pointed out that with the U.S. presidential election campaign in full swing, œit does not look likely that anyone will pressure Israel to any great extent.”

In the event there are new Palestinian elections in six months and Hamas becomes part of the government without fulfilling the requirements of the Quartet — recognition of Israel, an end to all violence and a commitment to abide by previous Palestinian agreements — the West will stop all aid, Alpher noted.

“In that sense, it is quite a gamble Abbas is taking.

Should the West withdraw Palestinian aid, Alpher said Arab states led by the Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates have promised funds. But he added that “they have a poor record of following through; they can’t be depended upon.”

Although the unity government is supposed to set the stage for new Palestinian elections, don’t bet on them taking place anytime soon, according to Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University.

œThere have been no elections in a long time and there is a real question of legitimacy” regarding the current leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Steinberg said. “The question is whether this unity agreement is to forestall elections. New elections would hurt both of them.”

He explained that Hamas “has lost a lot of its popularity” in the Gaza Strip and that there have been “huge fights in Fatah, which may disintegrate.” Fatah, the largest party in the Palestine Liberation Organization, supported Abbas when he was elected president in 2005.

One of the main reasons the unity government was not implemented in May was because Fatah wanted to tap Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad to head the unity government. Hamas refused to accept him, blaming Fayyad for the crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank.

Although in recent days Fayyad has expressed a willingness to step aside for the sake of a unity government, Steinberg said without him the Palestinians would lose American and European aid.

“So, I would expect to see an effort to keep him in,” he said. “His threat to resign might actually increase his power, and Abbas doesn’t want him to resign.”

Kedar pointed out that although the plan is for a unity government to be run by technocrats, “don’t forget that these are not organizations without an ideology. So while they can have some engineers do a job without the interference of ideology — running such things as sewers, water and electricity — when it comes to questions of how to negotiate with Israel, what their attitude towards the United States and the United Nations should be, how to push forward a declaration of independence and the borders of the new state, I highly doubt both sides can come to a real agreement. And these are the issues that will divide the sides.”

Asked why Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are pushing ahead with a unity government when Western aid may be jeopardized, Kedar replied: “The people on the street do not like division and want unity. They want to see an agenda that can represent them as a nation — as a people — despite their differences. They would like to see Abbas and Mashaal pull the Palestinian wagon in one direction because they know they pay a very high price for division.”

Kedar pointed out that Iran stopped funding Hamas several months ago because Hamas “is more concerned about jobs, infrastructure, the economy and economic development, and state-building and jihad dont go together.”

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Faith on the Hill: Buddhism

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by Derek Schlom, Tufts Daily, November 22, 2011

Medford, Massachusetts (USA) — Mindful, conscientious, contemplative – not exactly words commonly used to describe college students, whose primary responsibilities are often limited to showing up to class and getting decent grades. But a small group of Tufts students – though not quite living monastically – apply these principles of Buddhism, with varying degrees of devotion, to their daily lives.

Carter Rogers / Tufts Daily

Though Buddhism is among the world’s largest religions, it’s practiced relatively rarely in the United States, with less than 1 percent of those surveyed self-identifying as Buddhist in a 2007 Pew Research Center study, though more may adhere to the religion’s basic tenets without categorizing themselves as members.

Nicholas Matiasz (E ’10), now a graduate student in the School of Engineering, is among those on campus who practice Buddhism.

“People ask me if I’m Buddhist and my answer has increasingly become yes,” he said. “Out of respect for the tradition, I can’t deny that it’s a huge part of my make-up at this point.”

Though Matiasz was raised as a Roman Catholic, he wasn’t entirely fulfilled by what the faith had to offer.

“I wasn’t especially disgusted with that or anything, and I wasn’t looking to find another religion per se, but as I read about meditation I realized that my spiritual practice wasn’t doing as much for me as I wanted it to,” he said.

Matiasz naturally gravitated toward Buddhism.

“As I started reading more and more about meditation, I developed an appreciation for Buddhism as a whole,” he said.

The influence of Buddhist teachings has markedly impacted Matiasz’s daily life, he said.

“Honestly, Buddhism has profoundly changed my worldview on a moment-to-moment kind of level,” he said. “I stopped believing that the way to find happiness was just always searching for the next pleasant stimulus. Now I try to cultivate a mind that is content without the next big concert or promotion or something.”

Along with his fellow participants, Matiasz congregates with the Tufts Buddhist Sangha – roughly translated from Sanskrit as “assembly” or “community” – each Wednesday for meditation in Goddard Chapel, as well as at weekly Sunday-night meetings.

The general format of the Sunday gatherings is fairly relaxed, according to Matiasz. The group opens with a meditation lasting from two to 30 minutes, followed by a discussion, a shared reading or both, usually on the topic of contemplative practice, Matiasz said. Though, he added, the composition of the participants each week dictates the subject matter. The Sangha’s faculty advisor, Dr. David Arond, an assistant professor of public health and family medicine at the School of Medicine, leads the discussions, which tend not to delve too deeply into the religion’s more complicated ideology, according to Matiasz.

“[Buddhist] philosophy can get complex and intricate and requires a common vocabulary for all of the members, so we don’t really cover it [in the meetings],” Matiasz said, though he added that some participants do attend meetings in order to learn more about Buddhism’s philosophical aspects.

Still, a majority of meeting attendees aren’t Buddhist, Matiasz noted.

“We consider it a catch-all group for people interested in the mind that want a more personal exploration of the mind than is offered in the sciences,” he said. “It’s really for that and for people interested in being healthier, relaxing, de-stressing.”

Matiasz feels that Buddhism is often neglected or misunderstood by Americans because of the religion’s relative scarcity in the Western Hemisphere.

“What bothers me the most is that in a lot of conversations about religion in our culture, ‘religious’ refers to the three Abrahamic traditions and the common aspects of those three,” he said, referring to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. “So much is lost about very contemplative traditions like Buddhism and Jainism when you kind of sweep those under the rug of that same category.”

Another common misconception, according to Matiasz, regards the Buddhist concept of eliminating desire.

“Something I’ve come across multiple times, that I see so often, is people who think that Buddhism is about removing desire,” he said. “That’s a really bad caricature, because so many people think that even means you have no desire to help people and that you turn a blind eye to injustice.”

Instead, Matiasz said, much of Buddhism entails determining the causes and conditions of both happiness and consumption, rather than ceasing to seek the former.

“Desiring happiness is absolutely allowed,” he said.

Though junior Elizabeth Mastors’ interest in religion and philosophy was sparked in high school, where she studied Buddhism academically, she was introduced to Buddhist practice upon arriving at Tufts.

“I went to a Quaker high school, and they have a similar tradition [to Buddhism] of sitting in silence,” she said. “For some people, it’s meditation. For others, it’s more of a community gathering. I was looking for a similar community when I got to Tufts, for a space to collect and reflect.”

Mastors is an active member of the Sangha, but she doesn’t necessarily consider herself a Buddhist, just someone who uses the religion’s principles as a source of guidance.

“If someone asked me my religion, I don’t know that I’d say I’m a Buddhist,” she said. “It’s just a way for me to maintain perspective.”

Central to her practice of Buddhism is the notion of mindfulness, according to Mastors.

“[Mindfulness] is sort of a very broad term, but for me it’s about being aware of the moment. In guided meditation, you’ll hear ‘I breathe in and I’m aware that I’m breathing in’ … and a lot of gifts sort of manifest as a consequence of that awareness,” she said.

Matiasz also emphasized the importance of mindfulness.

“It can be applied to any situation,” he said. “So many aspects of my daily life involve mindfulness. My perspective on meals and consumption has totally changed. The way I try to interact with people has totally changed.”

“It’s about feeling compassion for people in place of bitterness or anger,” Mastors added. “It’s not bad to feel angry or sad, it’s just important to be aware of those feelings and what’s causing them.”

Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily gel with the standard college routine of equal parts freneticism and slothfulness, but Matiasz and Mastors both stressed that Buddhist practice can be squeezed into an otherwise hectic schedule.

“There’s not much that’s contemplative about a college lifestyle, but obviously I haven’t been in solitary retreat for the last five years,” Matiasz said. “You have to weigh your priorities, so I made the necessary sacrifices to try to meditate regularly and live in a college environment.”

Mastors echoed Matiasz’s sentiment. “The college lifestyle for so many people is just chaotic and stressful and you really don’t take a step back,” Mastors said. “I would say that my college experience is very normal and typical, but the benefit [of Buddhism] for me has been that I take the time to be grateful for the things that I’m doing. I try not to get carried up in things like finals and grades… For so many people college is a time for figuring out who you are and being away from home for the first time, but I haven’t succumbed to the new stress and displacement and confusion that college can induce.”

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Video released by Tibetan rights group allegedly shows Buddhist nun burning herself in protest

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Associated Press, November Ƕ, 2011

BEIJING, China — A Tibetan rights group has released graphic video of what it says is a Buddhist nun engulfed in flames on a city street in one of several apparent self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

Students For A Free Tibet via APTN / Associated Press: This image from video footage released by Students For A Free Tibet via APTN purports to show Buddhist nun Palden Choetso engulfed in flames in her self-immolation protest against Chinese rule on a street in Tawu, Tibetan Ganzi prefecture, in China’s Sichuan Province Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011.

The video, released Monday by Students for a Free Tibet, purports to show Palden Choetso, whose death on Nov. 3 in predominantly Tibetan Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province had previously been reported.

The video shows a woman in nun€™s robes standing on a street corner covered in bright red flames. She collapses to the ground after about ǯ seconds.

Additional footage shows about 10,000 mourners gathering at a monastery for a candlelight vigil on Nov. 6 to pay their respects to the 35-year-old nun while about 1,000 monks and nuns hold prayers inside.

The video also shows Chinese security forces in riot gear shadowing monks and nuns taking part in a protest march, and a column of armored paramilitary police patrol vehicles traveling down a country road. The New York-based Students of a Free Tibet said it obtained the video from sources in the region.

China restricts journalists’ access to Tibetan areas of western China and to Tibet itself, and it is nearly impossible to verify statements about conditions there.

At least 11 monks, nuns, and former monks have self-immolated this year in what are seen as acts of desperation in the face of tightening controls over Tibetan life and Buddhist culture.

Most ignited the flames while calling for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 쌧.

China claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries.

Authorities routinely deny Tibetan claims of repression, although they have confirmed some cases of self-immolations and accused supporters of the Dalai Lama of encouraging such acts. The Dalai Lama and representatives of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile in India say they oppose all violence.

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A Buddhist Leader’s Thoughts On Conservation

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By Caitlin Kight,, November 21st 2011

New York, USA — Although the fundamental tenets of many religions may have some bearing on conservation activities, the relationship between spiritualism and environmentalism is perhaps most obvious in the case of Buddhism.

Representatives from the Khoryug monasteries working to clean the Bodh Gaya Main Temple and nearby streets

The close ties between Buddhism and conservation-mindedness were recently described by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, in an essay published in the 25th anniversary edition of Conservation Biology. The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, and is regarded by his millions of followers as the 17th incarnation in a 900-year old lineage. In addition to his role as spiritual leader, the Karmapa is also an environmental activist.

He traces his “love for nature and dedication to protect the environment” to being asked, as a child, to plant a sapling at the source of a spring that was drying up during a drought. Even then, he writes, he was “considered an unusual child,” whose “daily joy consisted of exploring the nearby mountains” and seeing wild animals at close range. The growth of the sapling marked the sprouting of his interest in preserving the wilderness.

The Karmapa writes that Buddhism, with its emphasis on diversity and the connectedness of animate and inanimate beings as two parts of one whole, is closely related to the environmental movement. The “essence of Buddhism,” he says, “lies in the union of compassion and emptiness.” “Compassion,” in this case, is an understanding that each person benefits from the “hopes, dreams, and labor” of people we often never meet–those who grow our food, make our clothes, purify our water, and so on. It is the understanding that no one thing exists by itself alone, or can survive alone. “Emptiness,” on the other hand, is a lack of “self-nature.”

The self is “empty,” writes the Karmapa, because it is impermanent and intangible–”constantly moving, absorbing, and shedding.” Rather, the self–whatever it feels and accomplishes–is part of a larger entity, a conglomeration of all phenomena everywhere.

According to Buddhism, ignorance of the “empty nature of the self,” together with rejection of compassion, cause us to be egotistical; this, in turn, has led us to degrade the environment. In fact, we and the things that are most closely related to us are not any more valuable than anything else, the Karmapa writes. When we view the world as “me” and “other than me,” we are denying a fundamental relationship to the Earth–a “shortsightedness” that “blinds us to the relation between our activities and their longer-term consequences.”

Although conservation and sustainability have especially poignant meanings in a religion that incorporates ideas of reincarnation, the Karmapa writes that this is not the only reason that Buddhism goes hand in hand with environmentalism. He equates conservation with the human rights movement. Not only did the latter cause a “revolution in our thinking” that reconfigured many societies within the space of just a single century, but it also arose from individual people who believed that they could make an example of themselves for everyone to follow.

These Buddhist ideals – viewing all as equals and “being the change you wish to see” (to quote Gandhi) apply to wildlife and natural ecosystems as well as to humans.

The Karmapa advocates making connections between conservation challenges–deforestation, climate change, overharvesting–and individual choices made on a daily basis. If we see environmental issues as stemming from the multitude of activities that we engage in each day, we are more likely to feel that we can control them. His Holiness hopes that people can “accept that we are not isolated individuals but instead one whole made up of all life on Earth.” This should prevent “[indifference] to the suffering and ills that occur here.”

However, he also acknowledges that this is not easy; most of us have other important decisions to make and worries to face on a daily basis, leaving us little time and energy to address issues that do not necessarily seem immediately pressing or important.

The Karmapa believes that our major goal should be “[empowering] everybody to protect the environment. This can be achieved by “[breaking] through barriers and [building] bridges”–a sentiment echoed in many of the essays in Conservation Biology’s anniversary issue. Working together, perhaps we can minimize our energy intake, learn to live more simply and with less waste, and “reassess what we mean by success”–perhaps shifting emphasis from personal affluence and economic development to other values “such as sharing, compassion, and peace.”

These goals, the Karmapa points out, are consistent with all major religions, which share the same founding principals: living simply, acting compassionately, and treating each other with kindness. No religion says that we should destroy the Earth, and, in fact, many religions include messages about the importance of stewardship of nature. The Karmapa has been trying not only to talk the talk, but also to walk the walk. In 2009, he founded KHORYUG (the Tibetan word for “environment”), a network of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries that are focused on preserving the Himalayas. He considers these environmental efforts an “evolution” from “enlightened aspiration” to “enlightened activity”–a worthy progression not only for devout Buddhists, but for us all.

Dorje, Ogyen Trinley, H.H. 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. 2011. Walking the path of environmental Buddhism through compassion and emptiness. Conservation Biology 25(6):1094-1097.

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Scholars ponder the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Although the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered around the 1950s, the authors are only now being discovered.

Scholars believe that the religious texts containing 972 texts from the Hebrew Bible were written by a sectarian group known as the Essenes.

The authors have been unknown since the discovery of the texts between 1947 and 1956 in the caves of Khirbet Qumran, which is presently located in Judea.

Robert Cargill, professor from the University of Iowa, has been studying the scrolls and developed a virtual model of his findings. In MSNBC reports, he spoke about the Essenes having wealth, with the discovery of their coins and glassware.

“Far from being poor monastics, I think there was wealth at Qumran, at least some form of wealth,” Cargill said. “I think they made their own pottery and sold some of it, I think they bred animals and sold them, I think they made honey and sold it.”

While the Essenes are thought to have written the text, scholars are still attempting to determine how exactly the text made their way to the caves in Qumran.

While some believe that they were written at the location in which they were found, MSNBC reports that others think they were originated in Jerusalem or another area of Israel.

Orit Shamir, curator of organic materials at the Israel Antiquities Authority, described how the Essenes clothing found in the cave left clues about the people who may have created the extra-biblical texts.

“They wanted to be different than the Roman world,” Shamir told LiveScience in a telephone interview. “They were very humble, they didn’t want to wear colorful textiles, they wanted to use very simple textiles.”

Cargill explained that the group may have not written all of the scrolls found.

“Obviously they didn’t write all of the scrolls,” he said. “If not all of the Dead Sea Scrolls are the responsibility of sectarians at Qumran then it would follow that not all of the textiles that are discovered in the caves are the product of a sect at Qumran.”

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Pastor arrested after conversion of Muslims in India

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has called for the immediate release of a pastor in India accused of bribing Muslims to convert to Christianity.

Chander Mani Khanna, who pastors All Saints Church in Srinagar, was called before a Sharia court accused of converting Muslim children by offering bribes.

A video appeared on YouTube apparently showing him baptising Muslim converts. Witnesses claim that police beat the converts to make them give evidence against the pastor.

According to AsiaNews, police arrested Pastor Khanna for promoting enmity between religious groups and outraging religious feeling.

Although Pastor Khanna denies all charges, he remains in police custody and there are fears that a fatwa may be issued against him.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), which his church belongs to, has written to the Government of Jammu and Indian Kashmir asking them to intervene on the pastor’s behalf.

The GCIC believes the charges were brought against the pastor because he failed to get a local Muslim’s son into the Christian school of his choice.

The church body said that tensions have risen in the region following the burning of a Koran in a Florida church this year.

Bishop Nazir-Ali, patron of Release International, knows Pastor Khanna personally. He described him as a “respected” priest who would “never use underhand methods to evangelise”.

“I am astonished that such a person can be arrested by an India committed to religious freedom and democracy,” said Bishop Nazir-Ali.

“I call not only for his immediate and unconditional release but also for protection for him and his family.

“Let us pray that freedom and justice will prevail in Kashmir for everyone: Muslim, Christian and Hindu.”

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