Tag Archives: religion

‘Lost’ and Buddhism

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The TV series “Lost” had hundreds of moments that made me think: “That’s so Buddhist!” I know that themes from every major religion appeared during the six years of the series. But the series finale, which aired in the U.S. last night, ended with a dialog between Jack Shephard and his father (the not insignificantly named Christian Shephard) that had to be the most Buddhist conversation ever heard in an American TV series.

SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading now if you have not watched the final episode.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the DHARMA Initiative and the number 108 to Buddhism. Slightly more subtle is the character name “Richard Alpert”; the real Richard Alpert not only co-wrote a book with Timothy Leary (famous for championing the use of LSD) but later traveled to India, where he studied yoga and meditation. He changed his name to Ram Dass. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

At the end of the final episode of the series, however, the Buddhist ideas flowed like free running water. We have Jack finding his purpose in life — to help other people. And Hurley — his purpose is the same. And Kate? She’s helping Claire. Desmond? He’s helping everyone. In the end, everyone finds their purpose. And guess what? They are all the same.

In the church where everyone gathers, there’s a dharma wheel on the stained-glass window and a Buddha statue on top of the bookcase. (Oh, yes, the dharma wheel — all that “turning the wheel” to move the island!)

How many times were the words awakening, awake, and wake up used in the episode? (Shades of The Matrix: “Neo. Wake up!“)

The dialog between Christian and Jack resembles the best conversations between teacher and student in the Zen tradition.

What was the so-called sideways timeline? I think we have to conclude that “mind makes everything.” It’s a delusion, like the lives we live here, the karma we make. That doesn’t make it not real. It is real. But not really real. There’s reality — and then, there’s real reality. When have you ever seen that on television?

And what does Jack’s father tell him in the end?

Let go.

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha!

Breathe.

See also:

The Buddhist Secrets About Lost

Buddhism without the Buddha

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This blog post by Vince Horn of Buddhist Geeks strikes a lot of notes that I hear people asking about when they are curious about Buddhism in Western countries. Or maybe I should say, people who are not familiar with Buddhism — and who live in non-Buddhist countries — frequently ask about these matters:

Secularizing Buddhism — Making It Accessible, or Stripping the Roots?

One of the clearest things I ever read on this topic was in Brad Warner’s book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate — which I lent to a friend and may never see again, so I’m not able to quote it exactly. Warner is not the most reverent or traditional Buddhist teacher you’ll ever meet (not by a long shot!), but at one point in the book he goes off on a short tangent about people who believe you can reap the benefits of Zen meditation without including any Buddha-Dharma.

He finds that idea baseless and unsupportable, basically saying that the people who are trying to do that are eating a sandwich made of bread with nothing in the middle.

Warner is a Zen teacher who’s not fond of days-long silent retreats, endless chanting, or even wearing his official teacher robes (this is all in the book). He’s not talking about rituals; he’s talking about Dharma, about fundamental teachings, when he says it’s no good to cut the religion out of Buddhism.

Vince Horn is on the same track when he writes about secularization of Buddhism in the West. But at the same time, he points out that Buddhism, in its 2,500 years of practice, has been adapted to many different cultures:

If you’ve spent anytime studying the history of Buddhism, you’d see pretty quickly that it is an ancient and constantly evolving religious tradition. It has a series of both practices and beliefs that have spread and mixed with many other influences. Buddhism as it entered Tibet from India melded and mixed with the Shamanistic Bon tradition there. As it entered China it mixed with Confusionist and Taoist influences, and now as it enters America it is mixing with our scientific culture and strange beliefs about the extreme difference between religion and science.

I feel distinctly uncomfortable whenever I hear someone say, “Buddhism is not a religion.” Horn wrote:

… there is a kind of violence in trying to strip something from its historical roots, and also a kind of arrogance in thinking that we can even do that successfully.

Yes, yes — that matters, and it matters very much.

Now, just as Protestants started practicing Christianity without the Latin Mass, without celibate clergy, and without swinging a censor full of incense around inside their churches, I think Buddhists in the West can change some of the external practices of Buddhism as well without destroying (or forgetting) the foundations and the essential teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths. There is a living, breathing baby who must not be thrown out with the bathwater.

This is not to say that secular practices adapted from Buddhist practices (e.g., Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) should be scrapped or changed. However, I think it’s essential to make a distinction and say clearly that there is Buddhism, which is a religion, complete with practices and beliefs and history — and there are other techniques and programs, possibly inspired by Buddhism, which are neither religious nor based in religion.

So, don’t say, “Buddhism is not a religion.” If you’re doing something that’s not a religion, please don’t call it “Buddhism.”

Breathe.

A Buddhist revival in India

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In the country we associate with the earliest history of Buddhism, where today 80 percent of the population is Hindu,* there is a growing interest in Buddhism:

The faith that was started 2,500 years ago by a worldly, disaffected Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, is finding new adherents among the modern princes and princesses of the country’s prosperous élite. They’re facing some of the same tensions that have made Buddhist practice so popular in the U.S. and Europe. “As in America, there are all kinds of new pressures that are at work on people, all kinds of mental stress,” says K.T.S. Sarao, a professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Delhi. The wealth created by India’s technology boom has brought with it the realization that material comfort isn’t the same thing as happiness. Caught in that tender trap, Sarao says, “People turn to meditation.” (Time magazine, July 15, 2008 )

Everything is always changing.

And of course, there’s no need to give up your previous religious practices if you begin to practice Buddhism. So as the article points out, Indian Buddhists do not need to dissociate themselves from the myriad Hindu holidays and rituals that permeate the country’s culture.

Breathe.

*CIA World Factbook: India.