Jubu is Dead. My Condolences…

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Fellow Buddhists, Jews, Jewish Buddhists, Buddhist Jews, etc. There is a sad matter that we need to discuss. There is no sense in prolonging our collective pain, so please excuse me while I cut to the chase: Jubu is dead! Worse yet, I’m afraid; I killed it. This afternoon at 1:20 PM, I took Jubu out onto my backyard and “Old Yellered” the heck out of it. I know this seems like a grave infraction against both The Five Precepts and The Ten Commandments, but please understand: Jubu was out of control and my action was a mercy killing.

I never thought it would come to this. I always thought that if I simply ignored Jubu, it would go away on its own after a while like a mosquito bite, pimple, or violence in the Middle East. Unfortunately though, Jubu did not leave while the leaving was good. Instead, Jubu stuck around and collected cheap laughs at a disturbingly high frequency. Cheap laughs alone I could perhaps forgive, but let’s remember that Jubu also caused a great deal of confusion.

To what confusion am I referring?  Well, for starters, I understand why the temptation to create a label like Jubu arose. After all, among western Buddhists, those from a Jewish background do account for a disproportionately high percentage of the overall group. Additionally, quite a few of these Buddhists are famous actors and authors or monks and nuns… ummm… there’s also that. Calling all these folks simply “Buddhist” wouldn’t single them out nearly enough and calling them by their names, well, that obviously wouldn’t work either. No, no, no… Jubu was too irresistible to not gain common usage. I mean, it rhymed! It rhymed for crying out loud!

Anyhow, back to the topic of confusion. You see, there are some figures like say, a Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who assuming they liked the term, could appropriately be described as Jubus. Rabbi Shalomi, after all, was a prominent and important Jewish thinker who was additionally well-versed in Buddhist and Sufi meditation. Heck, you could even have called him a “Jubusu!” Eh, see what I did there? Pretty clever, huh?

Unfortunately however, the majority of those who are called Jubus are either supremely well-read, well-informed, Buddhists who have a vague ethnic or cultural connection to Judaism or they are Jews who simply enjoy meditation, yoga, or reading non-academic western Buddhist literature. Neither group seems to be the equal or near-equal parts “Jew” and “Bu” suggested by the addictively catchy rhyming neologism.

Before anyone accuses me of be a self-hating Jew, let me just nip that right in the bud. I couldn’t be prouder of my Jewish heritage. I had a Jewish/Buddhist wedding, love celebrating the Jewish holidays with my family, and plan to keep certain traditions alive for my own future children as well. All that being said, my knowledge of Judaism is completely, utterly, and indescribably dwarfed by my knowledge of Buddhism. And my practice of Judaism is pretty much non-existent. Whereas my practice of Buddhism is quite lively by contrast. Hence, giving the two equal or even near-equal grounding when identifying me is simply misleading.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has come to this: please stop using the word “Jubu.” No, I am not trying to police your use of language. I have absolutely no interest in doing so. Don’t stop using “Jubu” because you fear the wrath of some special interest group; there isn’t any.  Heck, don’t even stop using “Jubu” because it’s offensive. That’s not the case I’m trying to make. Unless by “offensive,” you mean to say that “Jubu” is offensively stupid. In that case, I completely concur. No… please just stop using Jubu for the same reason you stopped calling spaghetti “pasghetti” and stopped collectively referring to all of your cuts, bruises, and scrapes as “owies.” That’s right! I’m suggesting we abandon Jubu because it sounds childish and keeps people from using more accurate, thoughtful, and carefully-selected descriptions when discussing sensitive matters of culture, religion, and personal identity.

Remember, “Friends don’t let friends say ‘Jubu.'”

Okay, fine. They probably do, but they are definitely rolling their eyes every time their friends say it.

Building Extropia Together

How to Help1

In my previous posts at 3Ratna3Kaya and Dharma Dialogue, I have written a little bit about the concept of Extropia. Extropia, a non-Utopian/non-Dystopian future characterized by continual successful efforts to meet societal stretch-goals, probably sounds like a distant ideal. In actuality, I have a strong conviction that Extropia is not only our future, it is also being built brick by brick at this very moment.

Decade after decade, the technologies that enable the achievement of societal-stretch goals are developing at an accelerating rate. Consider for example, the ninety years that passed between the invention of the Light Bulb and the Moon Landing vs the mere nine years that passed between the invention of the World Wide Web and the Sequencing of the Human Genome. The best news about this current stage of progress is that we can all play a meaningful role in it.

When people think about most forms of charity, various obstacles arise: “I hardly have two nickels to rub together. How am I supposed to make a difference?” “I’d volunteer my time and labor, but I am swamped with academic and professional obligations.”

Luckily, there is a new way to practice philanthropy and help build a better future. The method I am speaking of is the relatively new phenomena known as “Online Crowdsourcing.” Within Online Crowdsourcing, there is a movement of “Citizen Scientists” that I find particularly impressive.

The advantages of online philanthropy is that you can help without “opening your wallet.” In terms of labor, you do not even leave your home, and  with regards to time investment, as little as five minutes can still produce valuable data for researchers.

Unfortunately, not nearly enough people know about Citizen Science, its successes, its value, and ease of participation. For this reason, I have decided to start a project to promote Citizen Science websites that collect data for bio-medical, psychological, and other scientific research.

My project is mainly built around my Pinterest Page: 3Ratna3Kaya. However, I will also try to garner interest by featuring teaser pins on my more established Word Press Blog: 3Ratna3Kaya and a couple relevant Facebook pages of which I am a member. For a full look at the content I have created for this project though, people will still have to access my Pinterest page.

My page features three boards and 12 total pins currently. These boards are as follows:

“Building Extropia Together” – The pins on this board are advertisements I have made to get viewers interested in current Citizen Science projects and the websites that host these projects.

“Call to Action”- This board looks at Transhumanist thinkers and frames their ideas through a Buddhist lens.

“Inspirational Case Studies”- The pins on this board highlight Buddhist spiritual leaders’ ideas on science and technology. Most of these pins feature quotes from those leaders.

East Asian Buddhist Chaplaincy- Japan

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The Original Webpage in Japanese- Click Here

 Unauthorized English Translation, Analysis, and Suggested Further Research by Jason Greenberger

An Introduction to Vihāra Monks

The Activities of Vihāra Monks

Based upon the principles of Vihāra activity, Vihāra monks (resident monks) carry out residencies in our hospital. The role Vihāra monks play in hospital activities is that of primary spiritual care facilitators for the alleviation of suffering and spiritual pain.

“I wonder why it was me who became sick”

“What have I lived for up until this point?”

“Death frightens me”

“How does the process of death occur?”

“I am certain that even though I will die, I have not yet been saved.”

Attempts to determine the meaning of existential crises such as the onset of disease result in suffering. Vihāra monk will be happy to stop by and listen to feelings like these, and help you reexamine your life.

Religious Conversion is Prohibited.

Jōdo Shinshū monks (affiliated with Nishi Honganji Temple) operate in our hospital, but they are completely prohibited against performing conversions. Additionally, no one else who enters the hospital may perform religious conversions. Anyone can stay at our hospitals for treatment no matter what their religion is or even if they are not religious. Be assured, with utmost confidence, that we are respectful of all the various religions of our patients.

Please Feel Free to Discuss Anything

Vihāra monks are not only spiritual care facilitators, they listen to all sorts of concerns. Even though Vihāra monks are Buddhist monks affiliated with Jōdo Shinshū (Nishi Honganji), they listen to religious concerns that transcend religious and sectarian boundaries. Please feel free to speak your mind and allow our monks to act as  intermediaries helping you with familial concerns.

 

Analysis:

This article appears on the website of Asoka Vihāra Clinic in Kyōto, Japan. On the righthand side of their webpage there is a button titled “Information on Asoka Vihāra.” Clicking this button reveals a list of hyperlinks, one of which is labeled, “An Introduction to Vihāra Monks.” Following that link will take you to the page I have translated. In this article, we can see a very deliberate embrace of Western style chaplaincy values and pluralism. In Jōdo Shinshū monks, it is also fascinating to see Buddhist chaplains who don’t feel a need to fidget nervously when their clients ask them about salvation. Recitation of Amitabha Buddha’s name is easier to learn and practice than meditation, and I am sure this is a comfort to many people. Looking around other sections of the website, it looks like they celebrate major Japanese festivals, Buddhist Holidays, and Jōdo Shinshū Holidays.

Further Research:

The brochure style that this article was written in was well-suited to my Japanese reading ability, but it didn’t have much in the way of “meat and potatoes” so to speak. I would welcome others to work on more translations in this vein. My use as a Japanese translator is pretty limited. Furthermore, as with Taiwan and Korea, there are plenty of other Japanese Buddhist groups who are quite possibly involved in chaplaincy. More research and translations should definitely be produced at some point in the future.

East Asian Buddhist Chaplaincy- Korea

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Korea

The Original Article in Korean- Click Here

Unauthorized English Translation, Analysis, and Suggested Further Research by Jason Greenberger

The Fresh, New Religion that does “Mind Study,” Won Buddhism, has Taken Off

Covered by Gang Beopjin (Journalist)

 

At the army drill site, the Won Buddhist lecture hall is once again packed. All of the 1,200 seats that had been prepared for the cadets who came to take part in the Dharma Service were filled up, and an additional 200 plus cadets had to be seated on the floor. But all this was done gladly by the cadets who had come seeking Won Buddhism; the reason for which they say was curiosity about the draw of this “fresh, new religion that does ‘mind study’.”

As a bonus for them, “Choco Pies” (a popular brand name chocolate pie snack) and other snacks were passed out. On this day, a cadet from division two recorded completing sixty reps of jump rope and was rewarded with five boxes of Choco Pies. If Dharma Services that rationed out snacks like this were held every week, obesity certainly would not be a laughing matter, but it seems all right. It can be said that Won Buddhism, a religion that had once been unfamiliar, was now steadily finding its way into their hearts.

Archbishop Yang Jewoo explains, “Won Buddhism received approval as a chaplaincy religion (a religion that meets the necessary target enrollment for recognition) in March of 2006. People said this should not have been possible in a mere five years. They have called it the miracle of the one percent, but actually, it is due to the effort of those who have ceaselessly advanced this cause over the last 31 years; one drop in the ocean after another.

Especially in 2009, Won Buddhism became a recognized force by acting as one of the four major religious groups that participated in former President Roh’s two funeral services: the National Service and Citizens’ Funeral Service. “We had been approved for chaplaincy, but Christianity, Catholicism, and Buddhism were the only coexisting religions within military culture at that time. Won Buddhism’s plan to join this stable system was taken as a cause for alarm; a concern that we would come in and break up long-standing traditions. However, after the funerals, military staff had a change of heart. In an instant, a gigantic barrier had come down. After that, the number of attendees at military Dharma Services and new membership in Won Buddhism increased significantly nationwide.”

“Now the time of sowing seeds has finished.”

Executive Director Bak Jeonggwan remarked, “It’s as though scaffolding has been erected for the crucial foothold of military edification, and finally we can breath a sigh of relief. The chaplaincy parish has been preparing a foothold for edification on behalf of the troops for a four long years; it’s been just like marching.”

“Well then, what is the state of the chaplaincy parish?”

“At first, the troops took whatever they could carry from the Dharma Hall and started Nonsan Training School as a non-commissioned officer academy (NCOA) at Gyeryongdae military installation. There’s the fifth division and fifty-third division (still being constructed), and outside of that, there’s a place for civilian clergy edification at Sangmudae military installation. We also have spaces at the military academy, Gangweondo Gimhwa, Jeolweon, Hongcheon and Inje Temple. As well as Taean, Munjang, Bolmok, Yeosu, Hwasun, Namweon, Yangpyeon, Cheongju, Ulsan, EonYang Temple, and Yeongcheon Army Academy and a thirty-ninth division.

Last October, we were made especially proud of the reverends in charge of military edification when the three branches of the military (Army, Navy, and Air Force)  held a Buddha Offering Ceremony at Gyeryongdae Temple in the headquarters. Having done this through private edification teams was also additionally meaningful. Gyeryongdae is a land where Won Buddhist history runs deep. This is because Second Generation Prime Dharma Master Jeongsan and Third Generation Prime Dharma Master Daesan used to pass through and stay there. Many outstanding individuals also came out of Gyeryongdae. It’s an land that hosts the living, breathing spirit of edification teams.  This is where the dream about Maitreya Buddha occurred and the prophecy “Buljong Bulbak (佛宗佛朴), was carved into stone (This Buddhist prophecy is taken by Won Buddhists to refer to “A Preeminent Buddhism of Bak Jungbin” [Founding Master So Taesan’s secular name]). It was unfortunate immediately upon entering Gyeryongdae, they had to start clearing out. Twenty years later, however, again people came for a Buddha Offering Ceremony held there. Therefore, the chaplaincy perish prepared a “Walk in the Footsteps of the Won Buddhists of Early History” for those who came to the Dharma Service there.

 

Analysis:

This article is written about the appeal of Won Buddhist “Mind Studies,” but unfortunately does not describe what “Mind Studies” actually entails. Luckily, I have experience living at the Won Buddhist Headquarters in Iksan and have also taken a semester at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies in Philadelphia. “Mind Studies” is a contemplative system wherein practitioners set a mindfulness item and then keep track of how many times throughout the course of a day they have been “Mindful” or “Unmindful” in regards to this item. This is practiced in conjunction with Won Buddhist Journaling wherein one records these numbers and other information regarding the state of one’s practice.

This combined practice, so long as it does not become too complicated or tedious a checklist, is really useful in amending bad habits and cultivating good habits. I think it probably has great potential in helping people overcome addiction, and could be quite useful in many forms of chaplaincy.

 

Future Research: The Jo Gye Sect is also involved in military chaplaincy and, no doubt, has contributed greatly to the field. I am sure there is a great deal more research that could be done here. I am also curious to see whether or not the Taego Sect (of Korean Seon [Zen]) or the Jin-Gak Sect (a sect of Korean Vajrayāna) are involved in chaplaincy. Both have interesting potential for family and couples therapy since their clergy are allowed to marry (actually required in the case of the Jin-gak Sect) and may have more personal insight due to this.

Buddhist Chaplaincy in East Asia- Taiwan

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Taiwan

The Original Article in Chinese- Click Here

Unauthorized English Translation, Analysis, and Suggested Further Research by Jason Greenberger

“The 100 plus Prison Chaplains who Allowed the Buddha’s Radiance to Shine through the Barred Windows”

Taiwan’s Buddhism Online News reports:

The Rehabilitation Protection Association of Taiwan and the “New Taipei City Government” organized a banquet to celebrate the 67th Rehabilitation Protection Festival titled, “Embrace Hope, Spread your Wings, and Soar.” This event was held on November 9th 2012 in the New Taipei City Government’s ceremonial hall. Among the attendees, Fo Guang Shan Compassion Foundation awarded Fo Guang Prison Chaplain Li Jinling and Buddha’s Light International Association’s instructor Yang Xiumei with awards honoring them as “Meritorious Persons Engaged in the Task of Rehabilitation Protection” under the award category of “Prison Edification.”

“The Award for Academic Administration” handed out by Venerable Yongfu was given to the president of Fo Guang Shan Compassion School, Venerable Yilai, who accepted the award on behalf of his school. When giving his acceptance speech, Venerable Yilai congratulated the Prison Edification award recipients. He praised their efforts in edification and protection as greatly meritorious, and he thanked those who had silently participated as groups or individuals in improving society’s moral and ethical standards.

Venerable Yilai made certain his appreciation saying that he believed the glory belonged to the one hundred plus Fo Guang prison chaplains and their far-reaching, meaningful work. He pointed out that since the inception of Fo Guang Shan Compassion Foundation, they have followed in the footsteps of Venerable Master Hsing Yun, the founder of Fo Guang Shan, by upholding the heart of compassionate monastics, and continually caring for disadvantaged groups in an effort to bring warmth to all corners of society.

And how should one go about preparing the content of their prison courses? Venerable Yilai offered that content could be adapted from Master Hsing Yun’s books, “Between Confusion and Awakening,” “Fo Guang Cai Gen Tan (a collection of Chan poetry),” “Great Wealth,” and from the hymns of Humanistic Buddhism. This year, a “Buddhist Studies Society Test” was held for prison students (inmates) to voluntarily sign up for and could be used to measure the extent to which they had retained lecture content. The test emphasized how the triple refuge and five precepts aided practitioners in following a proper path, finding direction in life, and setting and achieving life goals. Due to this, since 2006, over eight thousand inmates have voluntarily received precepts and participated in the annual Buddha Washing Ceremony, guided other students in how to wash the Buddha, and wash away their own greed, delusion, attachment, hatred and ignorance. Also they learned to paint Buddhas, draw calligraphy, perform tea ceremonies, meditate, join in book clubs, and many other course offerings including courses on prison edification.

In 1995, the chief recommended Yang Xiumei undertake counseling work at the Rehabilitation Protection Association’s Taipei Branch. She used her time in the afternoon to visit people who had been placed under protection and were seeking jobs, seeking education, undergoing hardships, being treated for drug addiction, and those looking for therapy. She indirectly and directly received thirteen such people. At the present, she has also served on the Judiciary Committee, accompanying members of the Ministry of Justice and Restoration. Li Jinling said, three years ago it was extremely difficult to pass the prison chaplaincy exam, so at the time in order to actively direct inmates towards right-thinking, he just took prison advocacy as continuing education course and donated to the rehabilitation association.

 

Analysis: This article goes into some interesting details about the particulars of Taiwanese Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. I admire the multi-faceted approach they take to edification. Long seated meditation sessions do not suit everyone, and people who have an initial aversion to meditation should not be made to feel like Buddhism isn’t for them. Painting, calligraphy, tea ceremonies, and other Buddhist cultural arts can also be utilized as contemplative practices.

 

Further Research: Aside from Fo Guang Shan, Taiwan has other lively traditional Buddhist groups and also Neo-dharmic/neo-Taoic groups that may be involved that may be involved in chaplaincy, as well. My first search turned up Fo Guang Shan chaplains and little else, but this might be due to nuances in the wording of the searches I conducted.

Modern Day Buddhist Chaplaincy in East Asia- Introduction

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This next series of posts first appeared as my final project in MDIV 525 last semester. The Project was titled, “A Reader on Modern Day Buddhist Chaplaincy in East Asia: Initial Findings, Selected Readings, and Suggestions for Further Research.” I have slimmed it down and altered it slightly to work better as blog posts:

Preface and Methodology:

While taking the course MDIV 525: Chaplaincy Roles, I started to become curious as to what modern day Buddhist Chaplaincy looks like in the traditional Buddhist communities of East Asia. My interest specifically in East Asia is due to my previous work abroad, involvement in local Buddhist communities, and ability to conduct research and translation in languages from the region.

Throughout the course, it became apparent to me that the dominant voices and popular approaches to pastoral care among Buddhist Chaplains in the west tend to advocate an increasingly secular, philosophical Buddhism that takes Buddhist contemplative practices as its core. While this approach certainly has its place and value, I became disappointed by what I consider to be a lack of variety in Buddhist Pastoral Care strategies. More and more, I wondered about what form Buddhist Chaplaincy has taken in predominantly Buddhist cultures wherein clients would expect and seek out pastoral care that emphasized the sort of doctrine, ritual, and devotional elements that are often marginalized or eliminated entirely in Western Buddhism.

Chaplaincy outside of the West: A Rose by any other Name?

Determining what constitutes chaplaincy in East Asia is somewhat difficult because “Buddhist chaplains” are unlikely to call what they do “chaplaincy.” Translations of “chaplain” into East Asian languages result in words that sound western, foreign, and in many cases, Christian. Hence the literal equivalent of “Buddhist chaplain” in East Asian languages is as unlikely to produce search results as “Jewish Imam” would in English. The exception, however, is “Buddhist military chaplain”  which is a well understood, native development with a long historical legacy. Eventually, refining my searches and learning a slew of new chaplaincy-related words helped me find the elusive “East Asian Buddhist Chaplaincy” for which I was searching.

One Last Note:

Although not part of East Asia, I believe that Vietnam could also be another interesting voice in this line of research. Vietnam is very much part of the Sino-sphere: the countries neighboring China that received Mahāyāna Buddhism and a common vocabulary through China. Unfortunately, my Vietnamese is not up to par for that sort of research or translation. I would love to have someone else help me conduct research into Buddhist Chaplaincy in Vietnam though.

 

*Also, the pictures I have used in this post and the other post in this series use logos associated with the various Buddhist sects/groups that the articles have been written by or about. Do not take the use of these logos to mean my translation have been authorized by those groups. My translations in this section are unauthorized.

Class Field Trip to Skid Row (Reflections on Poverty Part 3)

On March 19th, my class took a trip to LA’s Skid Row to act as observers. We were instructed not to bring food or clothing or any other materials to hand out. This is actually a good rule of thumb for anyone entering Skid Row for the first time. Charity is a wonderful endeavor of course, but it is best to arrange charitable offerings or donations through an established charitable group. Otherwise, despite good intentions, more harm may come than good from whatever items are distributed.

I woke up early that day and took a bus from Rosemead to Pershing Square. I opted not to take my man-purse, ahem… “male tote-bag” which I usually use to carry my tablet, mālā, and school supplies. Instead I packed simply bringing only one book of scripture to read on the bus. The scripture I selected that day was a special copy I have of the Principle Book of Won Buddhism (圓佛教正典/원불교 정전). The copy is written in the old Korean writing system known as the “Korean Mixed Script System” (國漢文混用/국한문혼용) which was used throughout Korean history up until the 1970s when it started falling out of use. To explain it simply, using this system, loan words from Chinese (about 70% of literary Korean) are written in Chinese characters, whereas native Korean words are written in the Hangul alphabet. This is my preferred system to read Korean in because of my Chinese language background. I tend to read faster and with higher comprehension using the mixed script than I do with pure Hangul (phonics only; etymology only indicated through spelling).

I had about a forty minute bus ride which gave me time to read through some of my favorite sections I like to study. I almost always begin with the Doctrinal Chart which I regard as the essence of Won Buddhism. I read through a number of sections, but one particular part stood out in my mind. Towards the end of Chapter One: The Founding Motive of the Teaching, the final paragraph describes the founding motive as “expanding spiritual power and conquering material power.” The ultimate expression of this is supposed to result in “a vast and immeasurable paradise.” “Paradise” (樂園/낙원) always struck me as an interesting and provocative choice of words. Traditional Buddhism certainly has a slew of Pure Lands (極樂世界/凈土/ sukhāvatī/ buddha-kṣetra) and Heavens (天界/ devaloka), but “Paradise” has a decidedly Abrahamic connotation. When I project current trends out far enough into the future, I do not envision a utopia or dystopia. Instead I find myself contemplating “extropia.” Noted Transhumanist Max More defines “extropia” as a future world characterized by its “ever-receding stretch goals for society.” For me, this seems very close to what Founding Master Sotaesan probably meant when he used the term “paradise.” Many Transhumanists believe extropia will be brought about through technological advancements alone. The Founding Master believed it would take “faith in a religion based on truth and training in morality based on facts.” I think it will probably take a bit of both, but “faith in a religion based on truth” might have to be re-engendered as ” a commitment to a lifestyle based on authenticity.” I would love to see the words “faith” and “religion” get de-stigmatized, but it is an uphill battle that I and like-minded others will probably lose in the decades to come.

With these thoughts playing in my mind, I walked from the bus stop to Pershing Square. After arriving, I quickly met up with my professor, Reverend Danny Fisher and my classmates. Danny asked myself and another classmate if we could act as two extra sets of eyes by walking at the back of the group while Danny walked in front. We all understood the implication. We knew that, in all likelihood, there would be no problems, but, just the same, Skid Row has its dangers and in terms of security, proceeding with caution made perfect sense.

While still in Pershing Square, a few presumably homeless people wandered around the perimeter of the square. Once we were ready to start our brief tour of Skid Row, we exited Pershing Square and began walking through the end of the jewelry district which lead right into the heart of Skid Row. The poor and the homeless grew in numbers with each street we passed. We must have looked quite strange to them; a group of monks, a nun, a teacher, and students.

We tried to keep a forward momentum throughout our stay. We did not linger in any areas, and we passed through each location quite quickly. Just the same, it was had to keep such a large group together since we had to cross so many streets. Some of my classmates towards the back of the group nearly feel behind “the extra two sets of eyes.” We reminded them that they had to keep ahead of us, and the group did stay together fairly well throughout the morning.

There was one heavily populated street we passed down with a series of tents that reeked of urine. I involuntarily began gently dry-heaving; which quickly escalated, but I did my best not to draw attention to myself. We kept moving forward. In Chinese Folk Religion (a lively mixture of Buddhism, Taoism, and various other Chinese occult beliefs), there are two popular conceptions of Hell both of which blend, borrow, and expand upon Taoist Hells and Buddhist Narakas. One conception of Hell is “The Ten Halls of King Yama (十殿閻羅王)” and the other is “The Eighteen Levels of Hell (十八層地獄).” The second hall of Hell in “The Ten Halls of King Yama” is presided over by King Chujiang (楚江王) who is in charge of sixteen minor hells. The second hell in that grouping is called “The Minor Hell of Mud Composed of Feces and Urine (糞尿泥小地獄).” There was something undeniably hellish about this street. My heart went out to the tortured inhabitants of those tents and tarps.

糞尿と泥の河

As we walked on slowly the locals began interacting with us. It started with simple greetings. Just a “hello” or “good morning” here or there. One man saw some of the Thai and Vietnamese Venerables in our class and greeted them with “nǐ hǎo (你好),” the standard Chinese greeting. Evidence of drug use was present, but by no means, rampant in Skid Row. There were beer bottles and cans in some locations, cigarette butts, and the occasional waft of marijuana. We passed by several different missions such as “Union Rescue Mission” and “Midnight Mission.” As we crossed one of the streets, a man called out to us, “We got bills that need to be paid.”  Some others greeted us briefly and asked the occasional question like what group we were with or, noticing our school’s emblem on our clothes or bags, they might ask about our school. Everyone who approached us was courteous and friendly.

Towards our departure from Skid Row, one of the Thai Venerables stopped to take a picture of a public restroom. A local lady yelled at him in anger and frustration. She shouted something along the lines of “Why would any one want a picture of that?” We moved along making our way towards LA Public Library. After arriving, we began debriefing, and shortly thereafter, a middle-aged local man approached the Venerables in our group and asked to speak to the wisest among them. The group volunteered our Vietnamese nun for his query.  The man brought out a book he had on Buddhism and pointed to a picture of a man in meditation. He asked about the location of the “seat of the soul.” Our Venerable pointed to a spot on the drawing that I could not quite see from my vantage point. He told her where Muslims believe the “seat of the soul” resides, and his phrasing implied that he was Muslim. He was genuinely interested in her answer though, and he was not looking to debate her on the topic. He came back about a minute later and asked her if her answer came from intellectual learning or her own experience. She replied that she experiential knowledge that it was true. Satisfied, he walked away.

This trip left me pondering the current hells of poverty in America, and wondering about the ways in which a future extropia might be able to alleviate sever forms of material poverty. For more details about my thoughts on that matter, please read my previous entry in this series which can be found here:

https://3ratna3kayawp.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/poverty-and-scarcity-reflections-on-poverty-part-2/

Waiting for the future is never an option though. I also began to think about what could be done in the here and now. This daunting challenge followed me as I left Skid Row.

 

Notes on this entry:

*I did not use any of my classmates’ names out of respect for their anonymity. My own name is likewise not used. Reverend Danny Fisher’s name was used because he already has an online presence, and as far as I know, is comfortable with his real name being used online.

*All the quoted sections from Won Buddhist scripture are not my own translations, but instead were taken directly from the English translation released by “The Committee for the Authorized Translations of Won Buddhist Scriptures (원불교 교서 정역위웡회)”

*The terms regarding the hells from Chinese Folk Religion were my own spontaneous translations, but might be similar to other existing translations; I did not check or compare.

*The picture I used has been altered to avoid any potential copyright infringements, but I doubt the original poster has copyrighted the image. The poster seems to just be a native tourist in Japan who, while in the city of Izu in the Shizuoka Prefecture, visited “The Pure Land Garden of Izu (伊豆極楽苑)” which is famous for its “Tour of the Pure Lands and Hells (地獄極楽めぐり).” The writing I added at the bottom of the picture identifies it as “A River of Urine, Feces, and Mud (糞尿と泥の河).”