Mantra and Meditation in Buddhist Hospice Chaplaincy to Alleviate Anxiety by Karen Nelson Villanueva

Karen Nelson Villanueva has recently successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, “Invoking the Blessings of the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess Tara Through Chanting Her Mantra to Overcome Fear,”

Mantras are not just the prescribed sound formulas or sentences found in Eastern religions, but they can also be thought of as the words or phrases that we continually repeat to ourselves. The word mantra comes from Sanskrit and its roots are manas-, meaning “mind,” and -tras, which can be translated as “tool.” Thus, mantra is a tool to protect the mind.

How often do we engage in negative self-talk like “It’s my fault” or “I’m to blame for what’s happened to me” or “No one loves me”? These expressions can become mantras, as we believe their messages from constant repetition. In hospice and hospital settings, one often finds patients who have convinced themselves that “This is God’s punishment” or “Everyone has forgotten me” or “I’m so scared.” These phrases, rather than protect the mind, become what is believed by the mind and may lead to increased anxiety, stress, and depression, and consequently the need for spiritual and emotional support.

Chaplains, as members of the care team in hospice and hospitals, provide spiritual and emotional support to patients and their families. Most often, chaplains attentively listen to patients and their caregivers (often family members) about the patients’ life story, their relationships, their dreams unfulfilled, and their wishes for those whom they are leaving behind. Chaplains take part in family meetings where decisions are made about patients’ care, sometimes interjecting to ask for clarification of medical terms and to ensure that the family understands. Sometimes, the chaplain will lead prayer with the patients and their families, and at other times, the chaplain will pull other tools from her toolbox such as mantra meditation.

Continue reading “Mantra and Meditation in Buddhist Hospice Chaplaincy to Alleviate Anxiety by Karen Nelson Villanueva”

Lektrima by 2 Worlds

Lek Trima is a portfolio of photographs expressing reverence for feminine energy.

I had doubts as to whether I should create around this topic, I’m not a scholar, subject expert, or woman, but during flailing phases of the project I counted on sincerity and passion to keep me focused and hopeful.

In fact, after an exuberant start with some reading and research, I became dismayed in that any attempt on my part would seem to contribute to the problem that the majority of world literature on female archetypes, religious figures and myth traits has been written from a male viewpoint and projection. With a tempered demeanor, I continued. My intentions were earnest and as the work began to mature, I regained confidence and felt I could make something interesting and purposeful.

The title, Lek Trima, is taken from a mystical song composed by the first Dali Lama (1391-1475) in celebration of the Tibetan Buddhist deity, Tara. Tara is known as the “mother of liberation,” and recognized as a female Buddha. Ultimately, she represents a set of Buddhas and traits that are called on as focus points in developing inner qualities by practitioners of tantric mediation. Continue reading “Lektrima by 2 Worlds”

Internal Strife – External Conflict by Oxana Poberejnaia

As Po said in “Kung Fu Panda”: “I’m gonna get myself some Inner Peace… Inner piece of what?”

This basically lays out a path of spiritual work for most of us. We aim for peace, yet somehow we feel that we must do something in order to achieve it – rather than just be peaceful.

Another joke that captures this paradox perfectly is:

“My son started doing meditation. Well, that’s something. At least he’s not sitting around doing nothing.”

Sitting around doing nothing seems to be the worst sin in our society. Buddhism is quite radical in this regard. The path to Enlightenment leads through sitting around and doing nothing. Anything and everything else that we do to keep ourselves busy is determined by society, hence impermanent, hence not the truth. Continue reading “Internal Strife – External Conflict by Oxana Poberejnaia”

Ending Suffering for the Sake of Others by Oxana Poberejnaia

I have recently noticed an interesting thing: just like the Buddhist goal of ending suffering requires consideration of others, so often feminist change requires thinking about other women.

I often had conversations with people on both these subjects. I heard actual people say: “I do not want to end my suffering, the reason being…” And the reasons can differ. Some consider suffering to be part of genuine human experience, some find a spiritual advantage in having suffered. While some simply say that they are fine with their suffering; they are used to it; change would bring even more suffering. Continue reading “Ending Suffering for the Sake of Others by Oxana Poberejnaia”

20 Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Become Geshemas — An Update by Karen Nelson Villanueva

KarenIn the winter of 2013, I went on pilgrimage to Kathmandu, Nepal. While there, I visited the Khachoe Ghakyil Ling (Pure Land of Bliss) Tibetan Buddhist nunnery, the largest in Nepal with about 400 nuns. It’s affiliated with the nearby Kopan monastery where I stayed in the retreat housing. The nuns gave a group of us a tour of the gompa  (meditation room), classrooms, workshops, and kitchen. The studies at the nunnery include math, science, and English, Nepali, and Tibetan languages, as well as meditation, debate, ritual arts, and chanting, the same education that the monks receive at the monastery. When not engaged in prayer and education, the nuns produce herbal incense renowned for its healing properties, which clear and uplift the mind. Not surprisingly for their ambitious program, a nun’s average day is 14 hours long.

Young Nuns - KopanSince I am averse to crowds and rebellious by nature, I ducked out of much of the sight-seeing and instead spent my time engaging with the novitiates, the young nuns who were milling about before dinner because they had completed their classes, daytime prayers, and other duties. We asked each other questions like “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?” Then I was treated to “Watch me do this!” and “Can you do this?” because the language of children is universal. Yet, what was special about these girls was that they were being given food, shelter, and an education — opportunities that many their ages, especially girls, would never know. Continue reading “20 Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Become Geshemas — An Update by Karen Nelson Villanueva”

The good vs the better by Oxana Poberejnaia

oxanaToday let’s talk about the relationship between the Ultimate and the relative. I do not have the answers to these tricky questions, I would just like to outline the problems. Why, on the Buddhist path, do I often tell myself and others not to rush to get Enlightened immediately? Why do I often keep silent about my friends’ attitudes that I find not so feminist?

There is an old platitude that the theme of the Soviet films about social problems was the “struggle of the good against the better.” This was the case because in the USSR there supposedly was no class struggle and no problems proceeding from the rule of the Communist Party. So in the scripts the conflict was set up between good Soviet people and even better Soviet people, the latter even more dedicated to the Communist ideals.

The fact that I am a feminist and follow a Buddhist path must mean that in principle I am all for “the better” and even, “the best” – that is, a social world where women and men enjoy equal rights and everyone is enlightened.

Continue reading “The good vs the better by Oxana Poberejnaia”

Buddhism and Feminism: Is Female Rebirth an Obstacle? by Rita M. Gross

rita1Feminist foremother in the field of women and religion and Buddhist feminist theologian Rita Gross died on November 11, 2015 in her beautiful home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, surrounded by symbols of Buddhist art and the loving presence of her cats. Rita suffered a massive stroke in late October, and in accord with her wishes to refuse extraordinary care, she was provided with hospice care in her home, which kept her comfortable as she died. Those who were with her said that she entered into an advanced meditative state in her last days.

In gratitude for her life and work, FAR republishes her reflections on the Buddhist notion that female rebirth is an obstacle.

Buddhist teachings recommend appreciating obstacles because they are helpful to our practice.  Without obstacles we would never develop profound understanding or compassion.  Buddhists have also frequently claimed that female rebirth is an obstacle.  If obstacles are of great benefit, shouldn’t women, who encounter more obstacles than  men, rise to the top of the hierarchy of  revered Buddhist teachers? But that has not happened.

Is this obstacle actually of benefit to women, as teachings on the helpfulness of obstacles would suggest? After practicing Buddhism for almost forty years, I have come to appreciate how much the many obstacles I faced over the years have taught me.  For a woman of my generation (born 1943), none has been greater than the limitations placed on me as a woman, both by Western culture and by Buddhism.   Continue reading “Buddhism and Feminism: Is Female Rebirth an Obstacle? by Rita M. Gross”

AM I SUFFERING? by Carol P. Christ

carol christIn response to a recent blog on Buddhism and feminism by  Oxana Poberejnaia, I stated that while I would agree that “clinging” to an identity is a cause of suffering, I am not in favor of “giving up” identity altogether.

Oxana replied that “if you are not suffering,” then you do not need Buddhism. I responded that for the most part I am not suffering because years ago I gave up “having to have” certain things in my life. I added that I often wondered if that made me “kind of a Buddhist.”

One of the things that I gave up was the notion that I “had to have” a lover and life partner. The other was the notion that I “had to have” the job teaching graduate students in women and religion–for which I was eminently qualified.

Not having these “things” that I thought I deserved (and why not?) caused my younger self a great deal of suffering.  In fact, it often seemed to me that a life without a partner and lover simply was not worth living. My suffering was so great that I considered suicide—more than once.

As a result of my first Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (a story I told in Odyssey with the Goddess), I finally realized that I really could not control all of the conditions of my life–not through hard work, not through desire, not through mental focus, not through magic. This realization led to a major transformation in my life.

Instead of focusing on what I did not have, I began to focus on what I did have.  I realized that though I did not have a life partner, I had many good friends who loved me a great deal. And though I did not have the job I thought I deserved, I had the great good luck to have written books that changed the lives of thousands of women.

I recognized that I had given up exactly the kind of “clinging” to ideas about life that Buddhists say create suffering.

At the same time, I was not drawn to the Buddhist path.  I could never accept the fact that Buddha considered his wife and child an impediment to his spiritual path. Nor was I ever drawn to give up my “ego” or “identity” altogether. Later, I would write in She Who Changes that all paths of spiritual “rebirth” seemed to me to be based upon “matricide” which I defined as the idea that birth through the body of a mother into a life that includes death “just isn’t good enough.”

I consider this life to be a gift.  For me a life that includes death is the only life we have.  Although I too suffer the loss of those I love, I accept this as part of life. I do not expect that “I” should live forever, and in fact I consider the idea that “I” should be immortal or reborn, to be the height of folly.  I do not seek to escape what Buddhists call the “cycle of birth and death” but rather to affirm the cycles of “birth, death, and regeneration.” For me it is enough to know that life will continue: I do not need to imagine that “I” will live forever.

My comment to Oxana that “I am not suffering” was belied in the days after I wrote it.  I have been suffering this week as a result of the thought (and most likely fact) that I have been “cheated” by the man who sold me a new computer and promised to reinstall all of my programs and documents so that the new computer would work exactly like the old one.

This afternoon I was told by the technician who failed to turn up for several appointments that I should not contact the man who sold me the computer again, because he has my money and does not intend to fulfill his part of the contract.  The technician said he would finish the work “for me” even though he would not be paid by the store owner.

I was so angry, my stomach tensed and I feared that I would fall victim to the stress for which I have been under doctor’s care in recent weeks.  I was about to call the man who sold me the computer to read him the riot act,  but instead called a friend to ask what I should do. She said she had also heard stories about the man who sold me the computer. We agreed that we live in the countryside with people who don’t have any idea of how to run a business.

After I hung up the phone, Oxana’s words “if you are not suffering” came into my head.

I realized that I was suffering because of the idea that because I am a person who should not be cheated or lied to.  As soon as that thought came into my mind, I let go of it. I accepted that the young man who sold me the computer – whether out of ignorance or out of cunning – had cheated and lied to me. I still think I am a person who should not be cheated or lied to, but I gave up the idea that therefore, being cheated or lied to would not happen to me. I decided to pay a technician to finish the work, even though this was not the agreement I had made.

My suffering ended.

Carol P. Christ is looking forward to the spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institutespace is still available on the spring tour. Carol can be heard in a recent interview on Voices of Women.  Carol is a founding mother in feminism and religion and women’s spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions



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