Category Archives: Buddhism

Buddhist, Christian holiday fall on same day this year

By Contributor Pearce Fujiura

Pearce Fujiura

This April 8, while millions (dare I say billions) of Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, thousands (dare I say millions) of Buddhists will be celebrating the birth of Buddha.

In a somewhat infrequent confluence of holy events, Easter Sunday this year corresponds perfectly with the Japanese Buddhist holiday Hanamatsuri.

Hanamatsuri has been on April 8 every year since Japan converted to the Gregorian calendar in the late 19th century.  Hanamatsuri literally translates into ‘flower festival’ and is one of my favorite holidays.


Hanamatsuri celebrates the folklore surrounding the story of the birth of Siddhartha Gautama. According to versions of the Buddha’s birth, Buddha could walk the moment he was born. He took seven steps with his right hand pointing towards the heavens and his left hand pointing to the earth said, “I alone am honored in heaven and on earth.” At which point sweet nectar rained from the heavens (or in some versions perfume was poured over the Buddha by two dragon kings). Because of this story Buddhists in Japan and other East Asian countries celebrate the birth of Buddha by pouring sweet tea or sprinkling water over statues of the Buddha and decorating alters with flowers.

I have always enjoyed Hanamatsuri, and have looked forward to the ama-cha (sweet tea) made that year. Regardless of whether you believe the story about the events that transpired during the birth of Buddha, I think anyone can enjoy the beauty behind the ceremony. For Buddhists it is a holiday with traditions stretching back centuries, and it still holds a lot of meaning.

This is a concept that I find refreshing, especially during this season in which many people paint and hide eggs for reasons that are largely unknown by the common practitioner. While the church pews fill and everyone begins the conversation about the transformative power of the resurrection of Christ, temples are also filling with practitioners bearing flowers and tea celebrating the gift of Buddha’s arrival on earth.

I like to celebrate Buddha’s entrance onto this planet and reflect on my own contributions towards greater understanding. I would like to imagine it is not mere coincidence both of these significant events happen to fall on this date in the calendar. It’s nice to think that this time of year is holy to all. As I watch all my Christian friends file out of church this coming Sunday, I’ll smile knowing we share a common reverence for those who came generations before us to give us the gifts that provide spirituality to their children even today.

Dalai Lama wins Templeton Prize for work on science, religion

Chris Herlinger

Photo of the Dalai Lama by Tracy Simmons

The Dalai Lama is best known for his commitment to Tibetan autonomy from China and his message of spirituality, nonviolence and peace that has made him a best-selling author and a speaker who can pack entire arenas.

But somewhat under the radar screen, the Tibetan Buddhist leader and Nobel Prize laureate has also had an abiding interest in the intersection of science and religion.

That interest won Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the 2012 Templeton Prize on Thursday (March 29), a $1.7 million award that is often described as the most prestigious award in religion.

The Dalai Lama is the highest-profile winner of an award that in recent years had been given to physicists and theologians not well known to the general public, but earlier had been given to the likes of evangelist Billy Graham and the late Mother Teresa.

“With an increasing reliance on technological advances to solve the world’s problems, humanity also seeks the reassurance that only a spiritual quest can answer,” said John M. Templeton, Jr., the president and chairman of the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation and the son of Sir John Templeton, who founded the prize in 1972.

“The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being.”

For his part, the Dalai Lama, in a video statement released during a live webcast announcing the prize, struck a modest note. He said he was nothing more than “a simple Buddhist monk,” despite the 2012 Templeton or his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Templeton honor, he said, was “another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly, nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions.”

The Templeton Foundation noted that the Dalai Lama has long had an interest in a variety of scientific subjects, including astrophysics, behavioral science, neurobiology and quantum mechanics.

As one example, the Dalai Lama helped initiate a “Science for Monks” program, based at Buddhist monasteries in India. The program hosts Indian and Western scientists who wish to explore possible connections and overlaps between science and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

In turn, the program also provides education in scientific inquiry to monks interested in biology, chemistry, cosmology, mathematics, physics and quantum mechanics.

In its announcement, the foundation noted “the rigorous commitment of Buddhists to meditative investment and reflection similarly follows the strict rules of investigation, proof and evidence required of science.”

But the Dalai Lama also has been involved in many academic conferences on science and religion. Some of these have resulted in best-selling books like “The Art of Happiness,” “The Universe in a Single Atom,” and “The Dalai Lama at MIT.”

Aside from the “Science for Monks” program, the foundation noted that the Dalai Lama co-founded the Colorado-based Mind & Life Institute in 1987, dedicated to “collaborative research” between science and Buddhism.

Among other things, the institute hosts conferences focusing on contemplative science, consciousness and death, and destructive and healing emotions.

Another institution formed with the Dalai Lama’s collaboration is Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

In his recommendation to the awards committee, Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote: “More than any other living human being, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has served humanity to catalyze the advancement of ‘spiritual progress’ and to help us all to cultivate a better understanding of the spiritual dimensions of human experience.”

The Templeton Prize — the world’s largest annual monetary award given to a single individual — will be presented to the Dalai Lama at a May 14 ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The Dalai Lama becomes the second Templeton Prize laureate who has also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa won the first Templeton, in 1973. Six years later, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Recounting The Life of the Buddha

By Tracy Simmons

Statue of Siddhartha Buddha/Fotopedia Photo

More than 2,500 years ago an Indian prince, Siddhartha, abandoned his privileged life in order to understand how to overcome suffering. Eventually, he became the Buddha, “the Fully Awakened One,” attaining peace through transforming his own mind. He spent the next 45 years teaching others how to do it too.

Next month, on Sharing the Dharma Day, the Sravasti Abbey community will examine the lessons Americans can glean from the Buddha’s life story.

According to a press release, the Buddha’s teachings (the Dharma) explain how to live ethically and avoid harming others, how to develop love and compassion and how to cultivate wisdom that understands the nature of reality. Learning and living these teachings — and sharing them with others — is the purpose of Sravasti Abbey, a Buddhist monastery near Newport.

One Sunday a month the abbey opens its doors to people of all faiths and backgrounds who would like to know more about the Buddha’s teachings and to share in community fellowship.

Topics for each month’s Sharing the Dharma Day are drawn from the books of its founder and abbess, Ven. Thubten Chodron. Topics for 2012 are based on “Buddhism for Beginners.”

According to the abbey, Sharing the Dharma Day includes a guided meditation and Dharma talk, vegetarian potluck lunch and facilitated discussion.

Sharing the Dharma Day is from 9:45 a.m to 3 p.m. on April 15.

The full Sharing the Dharma Day program is available here.

Meet Sicco Rood, our kindness, compassion and understanding contributor

Sicco Rood

Sicco Rood is originally from The Netherlands, and has lived in the United States since 1992.

He began exploring spiritual ideas in his teenage years and was drawn to those who followed a path of understanding, kindness, compassion and non-separation. This led him to Zen Buddhism and the practice of meditation. Rood is an active member of the Zen Center of Spokane.

He hopes that people regardless of faith, persuasion, and wisdom tradition, will come together to help heal the divisions among people and the systems created, as well as animals and the earth. He believes that authenticity, compassion, tolerance and the realization we are not separate, are essential in understanding each other and as responsible caregivers to the planet, he said.

He is married to Kristina and together they have three rescued dogs.

BRIEF: Zen meditation retreat to be held in April

By Tracy Simmons

On April 14 Daya Goldschlag will host a Zen meditation retreat called, “Getting Out of the Way So You Can Be Here.”

The retreat will be from 2 to 5 p.m.. Those wanting a brief introduction on meditation form are asked to arrive at 1:30 p.m.

Goldschlag said internal chatter easily gets in the way of “just being yourself.”

“A meditation practice can bring us back to our home-breath and a clear base so
we can be more fully present,” she wrote.

The retreat will include an afternoon of sitting and walking meditation, a short  dharma talk and time for questions.

Cost is $25. The retreat will be at 1604 W. Riverside Ave.

To register call (509) 328-6215 or email

Daya Goldschlag is a SpokaneFAVS contributor.

PANEL: Did your faith change in college? How and why?

By Tracy Simmons

In February Rick Santorum told an ABC reporter that conservative students are singled out in college because most campuses are liberal. Then he said, “Sixty two percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”

He admitted the statistic was a bit dated, even though he used the stat in a January interview as well.

The Social Science Research Council, however, show that Santorum is incorrect. In fact, those not attending a college institution are the ones who are likely to stop attending worship services.

We asked SpokaneFAVS panelists about this.

Did your faith change in college? How and why?

Rev. Bill Ellis

My faith changed in college more dramatically than at any time before or since. Prior to college it seemed to me Christianity was a prescription for how to live one’s life, and faith was the intellectual assent to the value of that prescription together with an attempt to live according to that prescription.

During college I realized Christianity is in fact far better understood as a description of the predicament of humanity in the face of an otherwise incomprehensible universe.  The Judeo Christian tradition, as I came to understand it, is the refutation of the human attempt to cloud the truth of our finitude, limitation and mortality in the haze created by the human striving for security in an insecure universe, and power when in fact we are ultimately powerless.  Faith is therefore the positive response to that description, the realization that real and true life, as opposed to the denial of life, happens precisely when we abandon our attempts at gaining power and security, and live in accordance with the truth our powerlessness.  Such a life necessarily leads us to abandon the dehumanizing things we do to each other and to ourselves, and I might add, to the earth, because when we are no longer competing for a false sense of power and security the destructive and dehumanizing things that make perfect sense in the world of the denial of our finitude no longer make any sense at all.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Gracie Kiernan

Many atheists and agnostics will say that they “lost” faith in college. I stopped believing in God while in college, but that’s when my spirituality began to coalesce. I read more than ever before. I conversed with people with whom I did not agree, but still respected. I was exposed to philosophies and mindsets I’d never encountered. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge.

As this glut of information sifted itself out, the important concepts remained on my mind. Some aspects of the religion I was born into started to seem a little far-fetched. The things I’d looked to God or religion for in the past (such as compassion, a sense of community and faith) were still being fulfilled, but not by God. In college, I became active in social causes, honing my compassion for those who suffer. College gave me access to a supportive community.

I learned in college that faith doesn’t mean blind following, nor does it require a lack of intellect. Faith isn’t something your parents give you at birth. Faith is most effectively built when you learn about how the world works and you love it anyway.

Gracie Kiernan

Daya Goldschlag

My faith, or actually my belief in formal religion, changed way before college.  I must have been about 7 or 8 years old when I noticed that on the Jewish high holy days my neighbors and family got all dressed up and headed to shule (synagogue), but the emphasis seemed to be on their new outfits rather than any  religious interaction or teaching.  At that point I began to doubt the need for religion.

When I was even younger, probably around 6 years old, I asked my father what God was.  Because I was so young my father answered simply.  He said, “Some people think there is someone up in the sky who looks after all of us and some people think God is in everyone, in all the rocks and trees and animals and everything.”  I responded, “That’s what I believe.”  He said that was fine.  All these years later, that is basically what I still believe.  So, I guess my faith is still strong but it is not based on a particular religious belief system.

Daya Goldschlag

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

I was a lifelong Lutheran when I enrolled at a Jesuit university (Gonzaga) and in 1978 most Gonzaga students were Catholic, the school was much smaller — around 1,500 or so. My faith was changed in college. It was strengthened. I think I understood grace a little better than my Catholic friends, good thing since I was in need of it A LOT!

Some of my Catholic friends stressed about going to private confession. After they went, they would come back with their “assignment” as I called it (say five Our Fathers and 10 Hail Mary’s etc.) Meanwhile I prayed with my community and church family in “corporate” confession every Sunday and was reminded of the promise of God’s grace and love and forgiveness. My friends said it was like cheating and I wouldn’t remember it since I didn’t have to “do” anything. I said, “exactly right,” Jesus did it for me, I am a sinner, and I sin boldly, as Luther suggested, but I believe in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he brings even more boldly! College experience with roommates and friends strengthened this for me through practical everyday experience.

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

Matt Wise

Yes, I feel like it became deeper and more mature. By the way, my college was BYU-Idaho and it was a great experience.

I think my faith grew as I took responsibility for training and developing the gifts I have been blessed with. Also having a community of peer’s to be involved with, sharing and growing together by hearing of each others spiritual experiences and witnesses of the gospel really did improve and broaden my understanding of the gospel and the various aspects in which it effects people’s lives.

Matt Wise

M.C. Paul

Growing up in a non-denominational church in the south, authority to interpret Scripture was given to the congregation’s minister; a man who more often than not, had little or no formal training in theology.

When I attended a Presbyterian college for my undergraduate degree, I suddenly found myself required to attend chapel regularly and take core courses in biblical studies. It was in that first course that I discovered exegesis. The world opened up to me in a new way once I had been given a methodology for approaching Scripture in a critical way.

Before college, my faith could have been said to be inherited from my family of origin — with little more than the minister’s word for what I should believe. During and after college, I found myself doubting everything I had been taught in my faith tradition, then rebuilding my faith on more solid ground; faith seeing understanding of the principles on which that faith was built.

Many years later I attended a Jesuit university and found myself again doubting, questioning, and affirming, in my own theological spiral. That is a place I continue to find myself  today, and I am forever grateful to my teachers who taught me to think critically and seek understanding.

M.C. Paul

Do you have a question for the SpokaneFAVS panelists? Email it to


Buddhists shout to be heard

By Contributor Pearce Fujiura

Pearce Fujiura

As the election year chatter begins the deafening crescendo towards November, the tone and tenor of the dialogue approaches a familiar chord: Christianity versus atheism.

I realized as I typed this was a gross over-simplification of the complex debate that occurs within our diverse society, yet it accurately describes how I perceive the discussion as a whole.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 close to 76 percent of American adults defined themselves as some form of Christian and just below 16 percent defined themselves as atheist or Agnostics, making these two groups the majority of the voting population. So it makes perfect sense that the debate would involve these two seemingly opposite yet, very influential ideals.  However it is often during this time of year I can’t help but feel a tiny twinge of something akin to neglect or disenfranchisement. I am part of a minority, the non-Christian religious (8 percent of the adult population), moreover Buddhist represent one of the smallest subsets of that group representing only 13 percent of non-Christians religious adults (0.5 percent of American adults).

So why should my political opinions matter?  What impact does my interest have on the political landscape? I would guess next to zero.  No politician stays up nights fretting about the Buddhist vote or alienating Buddhist voters.  So when election season comes into full swing I often find myself as a Persona non grata in the political conversation.

Sometimes it can be a relief and sometimes it can be really annoying. It’s like sitting at the kiddy table at a wedding reception, there’s no stress, drama, or arguments that really involve you but no one is offering you champagne for  the toast either. Maybe that is not my best simile, but I hope you get my meaning.

Everyone is talking about religion but they are only really discussing one religion.  Politicians must somehow reassure the country of his or her Christian faith and either ambiguously or flamboyantly cater to the needs and desires of his significantly Christian constituency. I realize it is unrealistic to expect people to segregate and compartmentalize such an important part of their identity away from complex issues, but I do sometimes long for that mythical separation of church and state.  That being said, I understand that the world would likely be a scarier place if we were truly able to completely separate religion from matters of the state.  We can’t have law without ideals, and we can’t have ideals without cultural and social contracts, which are ultimately rooted in some sort of religious foundation.  Yet it would be nice if some issues could remain religiously neutral so that everyone else could get involved without feeling at odds with the clear majority of the population. I would also like to add religiously neutral does not mean godless.

There is an interesting phenomenon in politics where opinions counter to Christian opinions are often assumed to be anti-religion.  Which statistically speaking would be a safe assumption, but practically speaking is demeaning to non-Christian religions. Upon deeper evaluation I find that I don’t really want separation of church and state, I want inclusion of churches into state.  If there is room for Christianity, which there obviously is, why can’t there be room for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists?  Why can’t Wiccans matter the way Christians do? If there isn’t room enough for everyone, how do we choose who to leave out? It is such a fine line we tread, bringing religion into the political arena, it is a wonder the whole thing doesn’t fall apart constantly.

Usually I offer up some insight or knowledge my religion has given me about a controversial topic, but this time I wanted to ask for input.  What can be done about this feeling of un-involvement I get from my demographic non-presence?  Is this just a natural and unavoidable byproduct of a democratic society?  Should I just shut-up and let the adults speak, or does the relatively tiny voice of the Buddhist community have as much to offer to the political conversation as everyone else? Unlike other demographics a person’s religious affiliation is (for the most part) a choice, so am I choosing to be left out?  This little post of mine is filled to the gills with questions, perhaps I am in an inquisitive mood; I hope that everyone else can help me find some of the answers.