From Past to Present...
Meditating Gnu
...From East to West

Insight Meditation in the Theravada Tradition
The Theravada tradition preserves a wide variety of meditation techniques for cultivating the mind, derived from the early Buddhist teachings. The two major forms of meditation practice are samatha (calm abiding) and vipassana (insight). The practice begins with increasing one’s attentiveness to a specific object to focus the mind and achieve calm abiding. One then proceeds to the practice of vipassana to develop insight into dukkha [suffering], anicca [impermanence], and anatta [no eternal self], the three marks of existence.
Mahasi Sayadaw (Burmese Meditation Master)As taught by the famous Burmese meditation master Mahasi Sayadaw (1904-1982), vipassana practice begins by simply watching one’s breath as it flows in and out, focusing attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen. To keep the mind concentrated on the present movement, rather than being distracted by uncontrolled, conditioned responses, one continually makes concise mental notes of what is happening: “rising” and “falling.” Other vipassana masters suggest observing a point on the upper lip as the breath goes in and out of the nostrils, posting one’s attention like a gatekeeper at that point. Despite the attempt to hold the restless mind to one point, inevitably other thoughts and feelings arise in the restless mind. As they arise, one simply notes these thoughts and feelings — “imagining,” “wandering,” “remembering” — and returns one’s attention to the rising and falling of the breath. Body sensations are handled in the same way, noting “itching,” “tight,” “tired,” and so on, as they arise, but maintaining an observer’s attitude rather than letting one’s mental equanimity be diturbedby reacting to the sensations. Periods of sitting meditation are alternated with periods of walking meditation, during which one notes the movements of the body in great detail: “lifting,” “moving,” and “placing.”
Vipassana (Mindfulness Meditation)
If ecstatic states or visions arise in the process of meditation, one simply notes them and lets them pass away without attachment. In the same way, emotions that arise are simply observed, accepted, and allowed to pass away, without evaluating them as “good” or “bad.” ... Dukkha (suffering and dissatisfaction), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (no eternal self) — become apparent during the process of meditation. As one continues the practice, the mind becomes calm, clear, attentive, flexible, and free from the disturbances of likes and dislikes. The next step is to carry this same type of mindfulness over into every activity of everyday life. (Living Religions, 151-2)
Waldo Finds Himself
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Rows of Jizo Statues
Jizo BodhisattvaFrom the earliest times Buddhist sources have been quite clear that individual human life begins at conception, a view widely shared in contemporary Buddhist societies. ... Paradoxically, despite the clear anti-abortion position in textual sources, in Buddhist countries abortions are common. In Thailand (where abortion is illegal) there are something like 27 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, which compares with 24 in the United States. Abortion rates have also been extremely high in Japan and South Korea. In Japan, an efficient (and profitable) abortion industry has emerged to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancies, and a special ritual known as the mizuko kuyo memorial service has evolved. Although only ever resorted to by a minority of women who had abortions or miscarriages, the ritual became extremely popular in the 1960s and 70s, since which time its popularity has declined. The mizuko kuyo service is generally a simple one in which a small figure of the bodhisattva Jizo represents the departed child. Jizo is a popular bodhisattva in Japan who is regarded as the protector of young children, and statues and shrines to him are found throughout Japan. He is shown dressed in the robes of a monk carrying a staff with six rings on it, which jingle like a child’s rattle.
Jizu Saving Children at the Sanzu River
The legend of Sai no Kawara is attributed to the Jodo Pure Land Sect from around the 14th or 15th century AD. According to the legend, children who die prematurely are sent to the underworld as punishment for causing great sorrow to their parents. They are sent to Sai no Kawara, the riverbed of souls in purgatory, where they pray for salvation by building small stone towers, piling pebble upon pebble, in the hopes of climbing out of limbo into paradise. But hell demons, answering to the command of the old hag Shozuka no Baba (also called Datsueba, or Jigoku no Baba), soon arrive and scatter their stones and beat them with iron clubs. But no need to worry, for Jizo comes to the rescue.
Jizo (Bodhisattva of Hell-Dwellers)The majority of Buddhist organisations in Japan do not endorse mizuko kuyo, regarding it as a modern innovation based on questionable theology and lacking any basis in the sutras. One of the largest Buddhist organisations in Japan, the Jodo Shinshu, actively opposes the rite for this reason, pointing out that according to orthodox Buddhist teachings a ritual cannot wipe away the bad karma caused by an abortion. The more unscrupulous temples in Japan have also sometimes exploited the ritual commercially, promoting the idea of tatari, or retribution from departed spirits. Undoubtedly, many temples saw the ritual simply as a money-making scheme and ruthlessly exploited vulnerable women.

Opposition on the part of the Jodo Shinshu and others, however, has not taken a political form, and Japanese Buddhists have not campaigned to change the law on abortion or sought to influence the practice of the medical profession. Japan has not seen the kinds of attacks on abortion clinics and their personnel which have taken place in the United States. This approach is in line with the non-judgemental stance that Buddhism traditionally adopts on moral issues. Buddhism is also renowned for its benevolence, toleration and compassion. It recognises that the pressures and complexities of daily life can cloud judgment and lead people to make wrong choices. The appropriate response in these cases, however, is compassion and understanding rather than vociferous condemnation. (
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Reflection Paper 28
Contemporary Issues

Choose one of the following two topics:
  1. Discuss the relationship between mindfulness meditation and any other religious practice with which you are familiar.
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  1. Does the mizuko kuyo ritual serve a significant religious purpose or does it merely condone abortion by relieving the parent(s) of any guilty feelings they may have for taking the life of their unborn child?