Saturday, December 8, 2012

Emptiness in the Age of Oil

Think the United States has never invaded another place for oil?

Ogoni State, Nigeria

The Ogoni people of Nigeria have recently been forced off their land for the last forty years.  Big oil companies such as Shell have been the chief sponsors of the Nigerian government’s human rights abuses.  The cause, of course, is the oil rich fields on the Ogoni territory.

So can we stop this human atrocity?  Some would say we can’t because we need to drive to get from one place to another.  True, but is oil the only source of fuel we can use?  If we truly tried, don’t you think we could find a way to transport from one place to another without oil?  Well, according to the Buddhist notion of Sunyata (emptiness), as explained by quantum theory, all things in this world can be reduced to particles.  They have no real existence from their own side and do not become real until the mind interacts with them and gives them meaning.  They have no inherent existence of their own and are filled with limitless potentialities.  A chariot is not merely a chariot but several pieces of wood and nails holding them together.  Thus we could find a new thing with the same potential to allow us to commute and change our world?

Equanemity After My Friend's Loss

Jack’s mother died on September 4.  Emily, one of Jack’s close friend’s cried and I put my arm around her.  I had a friend loss a parent before now.  My friend Elizabeth lost her father in a lawn-mowing accident.  After I heard about it, I kept looking at a little Ganesh pendant my uncle gave my for my high school graduation present.  Ganesh, I believe, symbolizes impermanence.  It’s the nature of all things.  When things go, you just know the world hasn’t.
                I knew Jack’s father, since he got a terminal diagnosis, stopped eating as much.  I understood this yet was wishing he wouldn’t for the sake of his health.  I realized however that this kind of behavior, according to the Dalai Lama, like all behaviors good and bad, are done for seeking happiness.  It made me realize since we seem to seek happiness, all of us in some way, believe it’s possible.
                I went to Jack’s mom’s funeral and afterwards Mom and I got a card from Jack’s father thanking us for our support.  I started carrying my little Ganesh in my coat pocket but found it a little uncomfortable.  I didn’t have a good space for it though but then I remembered learning on-line how to make little “jewelry boxes” with origami.  I made one for that pendant and several other necklaces I acquired over the years but I liked having something to carry around with me to symbolize the nature of impermanence.  Then I found a pebble someone I knew gave me one time, knowing I collect pebbles, and remembered the “Shiva’s egg” stones in the store It’s A Beautiful Day in Westport and carried it around in my coat pocket.  It was also rather relaxing to carry.
                I had the card on my desk for a while though and it was just taking up space.  But at the same time, I didn’t want to get rid of it because of the things it symbolized.  Then I remembered about how the Buddha said about letting go and I recycled it.  I also knew that the card is just a symbol for something, not the thing itself.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Six Lessons Mitt Romney Could Learn From Hank Hill

After failing to get the presidency for a second time (though nothing compared to Nadar, truthfully), maybe Mitt Romney should think about do some more inner pursuits, than outer ones.  There are, for starters, six good lessons, the Six Paramitas, the Buddha could teach him that could change his life.

Wisdom: Prajna Paramita.  May I gain wisdom and give the benefit of my wisdom to others.

Meditation: Dhyani Paramita.  May I practice meditation and attain the oneness to serve all beings.

Diligence: Virya Paramita. May I be strenuous, energetic, and persevering.

Patience: Kshanti Paramita. May I be patient and forebear the wrongs of others.

Morality: Shila Paramita. May I be pure and virtuous.

Generosity: Dana Paramita. May I be generous and helpful.

                Of course, I think, these words sound a little bit Sunday schoolish and even a bit Mitt Romneyish, so why don’t we consider someone, who happens to be one of my favorite people, Mike Judge’s loveable cartoon character from his beloved show, Hank Hill.  If we put these virtues into Hank’s down-to-earth, street smart, Texan way of speaking, I think they would sound a little more meaningful to people’s daily lives, like this.

Wisdom: Quit bein’ a jackass!

Meditation: Ya can’t pick and choose, Bobby.

Diligence: The great ones practice the basics.

Patience: Wait your turn, Bobby.

Morality: You do it because it’s the right thing to do!

Generosity: We all got to do our part, Bobby.

                You can see that there’s a lot of great wisdom Mitt Romney could learn from Hank Hill.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Egoic Clinging in the Sahel


Shocking?  Well for the black Africans of Mauritania, these are mild.  These Africans known as the Haratin, have Sub-Saharan African origins, yet there culture and language are derived from Arab-Berber culture due to centuries of enslavement even today after slavery has been outlawed as government officials turn a blind eye.

The fact is that the Haratins of Mauritania not only have lost a chunk of their population to slavery, but for freed slaves, the suffering goes on.  The Haratins cannot find good education or employment; they are harassed by police and marginalized by governments.  Their women and children are disproportionally affected by slavery.  Even though Mauritania has made some strides towards the twenty first century and ethnic national unity the fact remains that tribalism runs deep in the elite of Mauritania, who are ethnically Arab or Berber.

Buddhism teaches that we should not cling to identities we have.  Self is merely an illusion.  We are much more than our ethnic background or cultural identity.  To accept the true nature of who we are is to see beyond our ethnic background or cultural identity and do the same with others.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Happiness Gives us the Incentive, Vision, and Strength to Transform Our Lives: A Humanist Response to Norman Fischer

As a Buddhist and a Westerner I am proud and pleased to see that as Buddhism makes its way into the West, it is adopting more egalitarian, less monastic, sectarian, ritualistic and more gender equal structures.  However, even in the West I tend to notice that in terms of authenticity of Buddha’s teachings, there has been backsliding among the truly authentic Buddhist teachings (such as Zen and Tibetan Buddhism) and even the more deviant sects (such as SGI).  One aspect I find particularly troubling is the tendency of some Buddhist teachers to “indulge” in suffering, meaning pain as opposed to physical suffering.  Last spring Buddhist teacher, Norman Fischer, wrote an article in Buddhadharma magazine called The Real Path on “how suffering gives us the incentive, vision and strength to change our lives.”  No offense to Mr. Fischer but I can find several things wrong with such a premise.
                Above all, my real objections to Mr. Fischer’s ideas are not that they are wrong.  I am saying simply that they are misleading.  Suffering, including pain, can give us the incentive to transform our lives.  We can learn lessons that enrich them in many unfathomable ways.  But from reading his article, one would believe that suffering, mostly meaning pain, is the only thing that can lead us to change our lives.  But indeed by experiencing more pleasant situations than others we have experienced we can to learn to transform our lives.  What many don’t know for example is that the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s had its in Black American soldiers who fought in World War II.  During the war these soldiers served in France where the independent French government clashed with the Vichy Nazi-collaborationist French politicians.  From serving in WWII, these black soldiers got to experience for the first time what it was like to live in a more integrated society, and as they returned home, they campaigned to make America a more integrated society.
                Had these soldiers only experienced pain (the racist attitudes of American society), they may not have fought for change (the integration of blacks and whites).  To say suffering gives us the incentive to change our lives is not wrong, per say, but it can overlook the fact that happiness to, can help us change our lives.  If we only knew pain, it we may accept it having not known another way.  To say pain alone is the real spiritual path would be as if to say that social events alone are the real way to succeed in college.  Both have their place but they are only part of the equation.
                Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Western Buddhists saying suffering in and of itself is to be sought as a companion to change our lives is that without suffering, we could not know how other people feel.  An obvious flaw I find in this argument is that when we suffer, we are simply at one with everyone else in the universe, who are also suffering.  Though this seems like a profound idea, I find it inherently flawed.  A person who loses his bike could not possibly know from that experience what it is like to have cancer or be in Darfur.  Having suffered does not merely give us the ability towards seeing other people as feeling a certain way.  I think people can show empathy towards people how don’t have something (such as money, a home, or a job) by realizing how it feels to have what you do have because then you can know how you’d feel if you didn’t have them.
                Perhaps another equally big reason for the Western Buddhist idea that suffering is the way to change our lives is the first noble truth which translates in English as “Life is suffering.”  If one were to learn the first noble truth’s proper translation, they would know it means, “All living things suffer.”  Of course we don’t all suffer to the same degree or in the same ways first of all, and this ignores the third noble truth, “Desire (the cause of suffering and therefore suffering) can be overcome” and the fourth which gives a coherent solution to do it.
                Another big reason for this notion that suffering is the true way to redemption I American Buddhism is our culture.  American Buddhism has to adapt to our culture.  In the West, many of us were taught that Christ suffered so we could be saved.  Since then, many Westerners have seen suffering as the true way to redemption.  Jews and Christians have both been taught that the suffering that goes on in the world is merely God’s will.  My objection to this is that we are not believing these things because it is based off credible evidence and reason.  We are believing it because that is what we have been told.  We say we must believe it however, because Buddhism needs to adapt to Western culture.  This idea greatly misses the Buddhist notion of impermanence.  Cultural values change and hanging onto them when they are unable to be saved, like other things, causes suffering.  Buddhism is also its own system.  It is not Jewish, Christian, Sufi, Hindu, Taoist, Atheist, or Agnostic.  Nor does it belong to other schools of ideas such as Indian philosophy or Western psychology or any culture Eastern or Western.  Buddhism is a universal path that has been around for two thousand five hundred years.  It may contain values of ideas like secular humanism (hence the title of this article) but it does not find itself subservient to these ideas.  To merely follow Buddhism to conform to other schools of thought is to miss its essence. 
                I also could not help but notice that in saying, suffering allows us to change our lives, we are truly implying that there is always something to change.  This belief is probably due to the Western notion of self-improvement belonging to Western psychotherapy.  But Buddhism as I see it, talks more about accepting ourselves even though we may need to change certain parts of how we act.  But self-improvement for self-improvement’s sake is not in line with Buddhism because it is separate from Western psychotherapy as it is free of monopoly from all other different ideas.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Dharma of Relationships, Part Two

They say there are a number of people who can satisfy us romantically not just one.  In Buddhism there is the notion of karma which teaches our actions shape what we become.  Though there are infinite doors in life, each leading to a different reality, because we choose something or someone, it has a way of becoming special.  Buddhism is also great in relationships as it teaches non-attachment.  We often think that having to be devastated if we lost the love of our live is true love.  But really I see it as a way of making ourselves a slave to the people we love.  Our partners are always alive in us, is what Buddhism teaches, and the people they matter to and those people who matter to them and vice versa.  Also the more we can admit there are many people out there, the more we can love and therefore love our partners, just as the more we love ourselves, we can love others.
            When you listen to your body, such as when you kiss or touch a loved one, you are in touch with the fact that you are alive because our bodies allow us to be so which means we have a supreme chance to achieve awakening.  It also helps us realize we are mortal, which is good to know because we are more motivated to do it, knowing we only have a limited time to do so in this life we identify with.  Lovers change and can leave us unpredictably.  That is a good way for us to learn the nature of impermanence.  Through love, we can learn to become awakened.  

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What We Mean When We Say We Are Our Best Voice

The Seven Deadly Sins in the World of Autism

There is often talk about the fact that autistic people are the best advocates for themselves.  However, some people seem to generate some confusion about what that actually means.   What "autistic people are the best advocates for themselves" does not mean:

-Having a token autistic spokesperson.
-Listening to one person with autism before deciding to speak for all of them
-Speaking on behalf of all people with autism or any person with autism no matter how well you know them
-Taking what an autistic person says to try and justify your own agenda on autism
-Using a person with autism to advance the agenda of a predominantly non-autistic group
-Saying your view of the issue (e.g. cure all people with autism) instead of an autistic person's view (give me the services I need to thrive in the world) because you believe you and he are saying the same thing
-Simply quoting someone with autism when you try to speak for all autistic people

What real autistic representation means is: having autistic people be the predominant group speaking their own entire platform exactly as it is for themselves without it being used for one person or groups advantage directly to the people they want to communicate with for their own purposes in whatever venues they choose to express themselves through.  Anything else, no matter how well-intended, is an affront to our right to speak for ourselves.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Dharma of Relationships

See the past as a dream.

What I've experienced, and know others have too, is that after being with a girl for a certain amount of time, the relationship just isn't the same as it used to be.  After being someone with so long, it's know longer knew which often makes a relationship so great.  Fortunately, Buddhism has answers to these problems.
One of the teachings of the Buddha that inspires me so much is that partners should serve as each others spiritual mentors and teachers.  To me that means that partners ought to act as spiritual role models whether they are Christian, Buddhist or atheist.
Buddhism also teaches about how the world is illusory.  Sometimes when we've been with a partner for so long, another person tends to come our way and we think I'm in love with this person. despite already having a relationship.  You might find yourself torn, thinking I've been with my partner for so long, but this person brings out something in me I never new.
Fortunately, as Buddhism teaches the world is illusory, we can realize that this new person represents in us a part of ourselves we are not currently aware of.  It may be helpful to explore ourselves.  We can often find new parts of ourselves when we visit another country, help out a needy child or take a walk in an unfamiliar part of town.
The Buddhist teaching is the Law of Karma, that everything we do leaves an imprint on ourselves.  We are often, a humans, "in love with the idea of being in love."  I've felt before that I've wanted to feel in love again, for the first time.  Fortunately, that you that fell in love is still there hidden inside you.  You may recapture the imprint, in which memories survive, through making a love journal of all your past experiences with your lover or going to a place with special significance to your relationship.
Finally, as the Buddha said, the past should be viewed as a dream.  From that point of view, one's relationship aught not to matter how old it is, because that memory, though important, is like a dream.  Identification the ego can be loosened by practices that cultivate compassion.
My favorite is the Mantra of Chenrizig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who Tibetan Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of.  Often chanted one hundred eight times for the number of beads on a Buddhist prayer bead mala, it goes:

Om Mani Padme Hum

This translates roughly as "Hail, Jewel in the Lotus."

The next chant that I particularly like is the Metta chant.  It goes something like this:

May all beings be happy.

An Update on My Roommate's Mother's Condition

When I last heard, my roommate's mother, who has had cancer, has been doing a lot better.  She has recently gotten chemotherapy and seems to be recovering.  I recently remembered a Tibetan Buddhist practice that maybe could help her if ever she still needs it: the Medicine Buddha practice.
The Medicine Buddha is a Tibetan Bodhisattva believed to be able to heal people when his mantra is practiced.  The Medicine Buddha Mantra for Healing goes:

Bhagawan, with equal compassion for all,
whose name when just heard dispels the lower realm's suffering,
dispeller of diseases and the three poisons (ignorance, hatred and attachment),
I prostrate myself to the Medicine Buddha, Lapis light

Tadyatha om bekhandzye bekhandzye maha bekhandzye radza samudgate svaha.

–Tadyatha means "like this" in Tibetan.  
–Om is made of of the three pure sounds that signify body, mind and speech.  Bekhandzye means "eliminating pain."  
–Bekhandzye bekhandzye maha refers to the path to enlightenment: the ultimate medicine.
–Radza means "king."
–Samudgate means "who has come forth."
–Svaha means establishing a foundation in the heart: the blessing, the devotion from which realization arises.

"If one meditates on the Medicine Buddha, one will eventually attain enlightenment, but in the meantime one will experience an increase in healing powers both for oneself and others and a decrease in physical and mental illness and suffering."
—Lama Tashi Namgyal

Monday, March 19, 2012

Blind Faith in Bangladesh

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

-The Buddha
Having no oil, Bangladesh does not get the same media attention as countries like Iraq or Sudan.  Yet if most Americans knew the harsh treatment of Bangladesh's Jumma people, areas of regular news interest would fall under the radar.

The Chittagong people (the Jumma) of eastern Bangladesh are a distinct people who follow Buddhism, Shamanism, Hinduism or Christianity.  During the last decades they have been victims of an ongoing genocide by the majority Bengali Muslims.  Rape and murder by the Bengali government has been perpetuated to make room for Bengali settlers.  In CHT, the settlers now outnumber the indigenous Chittagong.
The settlers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are driven by the Islamist ideology of the Saudi-sponsored "missionary" group Al-Rabat, meaning "Students of God."  The Islamist sect of Al-Rabat is called Wahhabism which declares followers of other religions, including non-Wahhabist Muslims, as "infidels."  Osama bin Laden himself, was raised in the Wahhabist sect.  Saudi Arabia, a state where Wahhabism is the official state religion, bans the practice of all non-Muslim religions for naturalized Saudi citizens (Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Jewish foreign workers in most of Saudi Arabia may only practice their religions in private).  
Chittagong mother and her dying child in and Internally Displaced Person's Camp.
According to Right View, part of the Buddhist Eightfold Path, we should consider that all things can be seen from many different viewpoints.  The first precept of the Buddhist order founded by Thich Nhat Hanh is, "Do not be idolatrous towards any doctrine, belief or theory-even Buddhist ones."  It is being able to not be attached to viewpoints that can allow us to become more compassionate people.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Holy War": "Us" vs. "Them"

The Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda

For the last two decades, the rebel Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda has been fighting for an overthrow of the Ugandan government and replace with a theocratic Christian government.  The rebel group lead by the insane Joseph Kony uses terror tactics including killing, rape, torture, mutilation, abduction and forced child recruitment.  Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal's Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Photos four and five: victims of the LRA

"Us" vs. "Them"

According to the Buddha, a leading contributor of suffering is dualism, which includes ideas such as "good vs. evil," "heaven vs. hell," civilization vs. nature," and "saved vs. the damned."  When we use these distinctions, we may do anything to the "other."  We may exploit the earth's resources, abuse women and so on.  It is only being able to overcome the illusion of separateness that ensures true peace.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

In the Name of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha

The Celtic people say that three is a special number.  It was said that if you could harness the power of three, you could dramatically change your life.  With this in mind, they used to start their days off by saying three-pronged affirmations known as triads.  These statements could be about the particular day, or they could be about life in general.  The three statements in a triad would be positive and not negative.  For example:

1.  I am committed to the teachings of the Buddha.  His teachings give me great happiness, creativity and excellence.
2.  I enjoy the time I spend with the girl I love.  She and I really connect and we share a lot in common.
3.  I enjoy writing.  I am getting better and better at it each day and it gives me a way to express who I am.

What is the Buddhist view towards all this?  Buddhism is about the Three Gem: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  Saying three affirmations at the beginning of each day is perhaps a great way to embrace the three gems in modern practice.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Well-Known Autism Charity isn't all it May Seem

Many 'charity' organizations have a shameful history of acting like corporations, paying more to their executives than to the causes they speak on behalf of and end up being out in the world to promote themselves, rather than the people they talk about.  And when they spend more money on themselves, rather than on the issues, it drains communities of being able to solve these issues they are involved in and cause good real charities to go underfunded and fall apart.  
When I was sixteen, I had the fun of going to Camp Determination during the summer of 2006, funded by the Autism Asperger Resource Center, where me and several other friends, also with autism, got to swim, make crafts, practice archery, and go horseback riding.  When the fall of that same year begin, I heard the AARC closed down because they did not have the funds they needed to stay afloat.  It was around that time that the organization Autism Speaks began with their advertising and public fundraisers.
As many people will undoubtedly be thinking, "What is wrong with Autism Speaks?  They have raised so much money and gotten so large in only seven years of being around."  I have heard this rhetoric a thousand times and hope this article will make people think more clearly about the organization if they currently do not know what is wrong with it.
The group was founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism.  It's goal is "to find a treatment, prevention, and a cure for autism."  Bob Wright is a former General Electric CEO and a former NBC executive.  Despite his and his wife's claim that Autism Speaks champions on behalf of parents "suffering with autism," Suzanne Wright specifically told her daughter Katie, the mother of an autistic child and the one who suggested they start an autism organization, that she was not allowed to speak for the organization in any capacity.  This incident ended up being on the front page of the New York Times.
The truth is Autism Speaks has been criticized and condemned by over sixty disability organizations around the world.  These organizations, which include the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Mothers from Hell, the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey, and the Elementary Inclusive Education Program at Teacher's College, Columbia University are organizations made up of autistic people, their parents, families, teachers, social workers and caregivers, the very people who would have an interest in autism.  An anonymous social worker at the Wise Mind Therapies in Kansas City once said that Autism Speaks looks more like a corporation rather than a charity.
Many people associate Autism Speaks with a desire to help those afflicted by autism. On their IRS Tax return, which all charities are required by law to fill out and publish, Autism Speaks showed that they spent 17 million dollars on executive salaries while they spent only 60 thousand dollars on services for people with autism.  And of the 68 million dollars they spent in that year, two-thirds of it went to biomedical and genetic research on autistic people.  When the organization first started, co-founder Suzanne Wright, a grandparent of an autistic child, claimed the organizations mission was "to eradicate autism for the sake of future generations."  On their website, Autism Speaks has a page devoted to honoring the efforts of James Watson, chancellor of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, to find genes susceptible to autism.  Watson resigned from his position after making grossly racist remarks.  He has also had long advocated getting rid of disability which he claims is "getting rid of stupidity."  Meanwhile, all the money Autism Speaks has spent on finding a 'cure' and executive salaries could have gone to people with autism and their loved ones.  Despite this hypocrisy, Autism Speaks has the nerve to portray autism as costing families and societies as costing millions of dollars every years.
Charities that do more for themselves often rely more on sensationalism rather than honest raising of awareness about the issues they are about.  In a video Autism Everyday former Autism Speaks executive Alison Tepper Singer claimed that when she found out her daughter was autistic, she wanted to 'drive the car carrying her daughter into the Hudson River,' but she didn't do it because 'her non-autistic daughter was waiting for her at home.'  Mrs. Singer made these remarks on The Oprah Winfrey Show in from the of the daughter she professed to wanting to murder.  Mrs. Singer also claimed that if you have an autistic child, you are twice as likely to get divorced.  Apparently, it is an autistic child's fault if his or her parents cannot resolve their issues together.  As if that were not enough, after Mrs. Singer made her notorious statement, two Autism Speaks board members came onto Oprah's stage and claimed that after having found out their children had autism, they frequently wished their children would drown in the plastic pools they played in.  Mrs. Singer resigned from Autism Speaks but only after she disagreed with their long-held conviction that vaccines are the cause of autism, which has led to thousands of children across the world dying because their parents did not give them vaccinations.
Autistic Self-Advocacy Network protests Autism Speaks a Ohio State campus

The organizations adds have also compared having an autistic child to being struck by lightning or being in a fatal car wreck.  In the video I am Autism another Autism Speaks video produced by filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, who has a son with autism, the narration said, "I am autism!  I work faster than AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined!" (emphasis added)  This video was unfortunately showed at the United Nations 2006 Autism Conference to first ladies from around the world.  To Autism Speaks apparently, dying of cancer is a much more preferable fate then having autism.
Autism Speaks has long used the element of fear in order to convince people that what they say about autism is true.  They have a history of claiming that autism is rising at a rate 'never seen before,' in order to spread fear of this condition, a view at odds with modern psychology, psychiatry and sociology, which sees autism as having appeared to be larger because of changes made to the DSM in 1994.  Studies have recently shown that there are as many adults with autism as children.  Unfortunately, the notion Autism Speaks claims to be true would lead people to believe that there are more children with autism than adults, which could mean that adults wit autism will not get the services they need because so few people know they exist.
Unfortunately charities in it for themselves have another dark characteristic, which is they seem to be made up almost entirely of people who are the least affected by the issue they revolve around.  Currently Autism Speaks is not made up of any autistic members, whether in their board or general membership.  If Autism Speaks were a charity organization of those most affected, they would include largely autistic people, but also their parents, relatives, spouses and children, as well as social workers, teachers and caretaker.  Yet Autism Speaks seems to only have parents and only parents with their persuasion on autism serve on the board of Autism Speaks.  Ari Ne'eman, head of the Autistic Self-Advocacy network claims, "Autism Speaks talks about us without us."
As with other pseudo-charity organizations, Autism Speaks wants to protect their image at all costs.  In 2008, an autistic teenager started a website called Neurotypicality Speaks parodying the policy of Autism Speaks of having only non-autistic members on their board.  After she set up the website, thirty Autism Speaks lawyers wrote to her threatening to sue her, an autistic teenager, for $90,000 for copyright infringement if she did not shut down the website.  As the website was a parody, the threat was legally absurd and as far as most people with autism are concerned, the girl was merely expressing her opinion, making her within her right to free speech.  The girl did shut down the website, but only because Autism Speaks was better suited to influencing the courts with their vast sums of money, not because they had a superior legal case.  Autism Speaks, like a corporation, used it's money and power to influence the minds of America's legal system.  A few months later, Autism Speaks threatened to sue a website called Zazzle for copyright infringement because they had a line of shirts which said, "Autism Speaks can go away.  I can speak for myself." 
Like a corporation type charity, Autism Speaks spends more money on themselves, use sensationalism, rather than honest facts to promote their views, exclude people who are most affected by the issues they talk about, and work harder to protect their image than the welfare of the people they talk about.  To me, we should judge charities not by what celebrities endorse them or how many, but whether they go out of their way to help those afflicted by what they talk about.  Instead of judging them by how much money they raise, they should be judged by how they make that money and how they use it.  I hope people learn about the reasons why Autism Speaks is not worth supporting because I believe in a world of dignity, rights, access and opportunity for people like myself who live with an autism spectrum disorder.  There are much more worthy autism organizations such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, the Autism National Committee and GRASP.  Hopefully people will learn to stop investing their money in organizations like Autism Speaks so that these organizations will not go the same way as the AARC and societies will get closer to having the awareness and support for people with autism to thrive without having to change their abilities.

If you would like to do more for autism you may help two boys who were physically abused by a teacher in order to remove his autism at and

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Engaged Response to the Horn of Africa

Darfur: the Story Not Told By George Clooney

The civil war in the Sudanese region of Darfur, between pro-government Arab nomads and anti-government African farmers, has been one of the most brutal yet grossly misunderstood conflicts of the century.  Darfur activists, known as the Save Darfur Coalition and its supporters such as George Clooney and Mia Farrow, have claimed that the region in Western Sudan, known as Darfur, is undergoing an official policy of genocide carried out by the Sudanese government.  And when asked to justify this they point out that up two 300,000 civilians have been killed in Darfur.  What they don't mention however is how these people died.
For the vast majority of civilian deaths in Darfur, they were a result of a lack of access to nutrition and medical care that stemmed from war.  It is true that rape has occurred in Darfur, but many of these were actually spontaneous, occurring due to the breakdown of social order caused by war.  The anti-government rebels in Darfur, such as the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, have been lauded as heroes by the Save Darfur Coalition.  But the fact is they too have been responsible for atrocities against civilians, including rape, torture, murder, and looting.  In both sides of this war children have been forced to fight as soldiers.
The fact that Darfur's problems have have been labeled genocide has not helped the people of Darfur.  On one hand, attributing most of the deaths to murder may have caused the public and the international community to overlooked the real causes of death (disease and malnutrition) and consequently have, instead of providing Darfuris with food and medicine, provided them with African Union soldiers, whose presence may have only increased tensions in Darfur.  Secondly, the claim of good vs. evil stories of evil Arab government militias fighting saintly African rebel soldiers has done two things.  One, it has allowed the rebels like the JEM and the SLA to get away with atrocities.  These rebels main support came from Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and the Sudan People's Liberation Army.  Each of these groups and countries received large amounts of foreign aid from the U.S.  Had the U.S. been aware of the rebels atrocities, they could have pressured these countries and groups into ceasing their support of the anti-government rebels in Darfur by threating to withhold foreign aid.
Second, the claims that the rebels were good and the Arab militias, such as the Janjaweed, were bad overlooked crucial information about the Arab militias.  By and large, Arab militias have been fighting in Darfur, not to exterminate, but to gain control of land to help them through droughts common to West Sudan.  Had the West been aware of the suffering of the Arabs in Darfur, we might have also given them aid to help them survive, which could have curbed their need to take land from African farmers in Darfur.  The American stance on Darfur may also have encouraged the rebels not to engage in peace negotiations.
Top: children from the Justice and Equality Movement
Bottom: Soldiers from the Sudan Liberation Army

Politics Behind African Famine
Above: an Ethiopian man starving

The North African country of Ethiopia has long been thought to suffer from famine due to drought and a lack of food being able to be grown there.  In truth however, Ethiopia has suffered from leaders who rose to power in the 1970's.
Around the 1970's the Marxist ideals became embraced by university students and left-wing intellectuals.  Protests were held throughout Ethiopia and in the streets of Addis Ababa.  All this eventually culminated into a coup against the Ethiopian monarchy in the 1970's led by Colonel Haile Mariam Mengistu.  He and his followers known as the Derg (committee) overthrew Haile Selassie and came to power becoming the first African country to attempt to implement Communism.
The promise Mengistu made to the four largest oppressed ethnic groups and the Eritreans however, were not held.  Later the Tigray, Afar, Somali, Oromo and Eritreans formed in opposition to Mengistu.  Backed by the Soviet Union however, Mengistu was able to put down these rebels.  Furthermore in the predominantly Muslim Oromo south, lands and cattle were taken away from the people in order to subjugate them with hunger.  This caused many Oromo to flee into Somalia.  The Tigray were relocated from their traditional homelands and forced to work on government projects.  The sheer labor was done with only a few loaves of bread a day.
Eventually, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, Tigray Liberation Front, Afar Liberation Front and Oromo Liberation Front launched into action, fighting the Derg for over a decade against the Derg and his Soviet weaponry.  Eventually with the Tigray, Afar, Somali and Oromo people's liberation movements they merged into the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front working with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front.
Tanks rolled into the streets of Addis Ababa.  The Derg was overthrown and Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe where he was given asylum.  The Eritreans became free and independent and Ethiopia's five largest ethnic groups (Amhara, Tigray, Afar, Somali, and Oromo) were granted their own regional states.  When it was over, Mengistu was found guilty of genocide.
We see only a small portion of the world which informs our view of reality.  Our world is so saturated by media.  Meditation allows us to see a bigger picture which can help make us agents for social change in our world.

Sutras on Autism Discrimination

Several days ago I remembered a quote by the Buddha that I believe has great relevance to the autistic community.  When governments act moral, people act moral.  And when governments act immoral, people also act immoral.  If the American government were to change the way it neglects the needs of people with autism, perhaps the stigma attached to it wouldn't be so strong.
The Buddha also said that hatred (or it's variations like stigma) are self-defeating.  When you can't accept another person, whether it's because of their race, religion or disability, you only make your own life more miserable.  People with autism probably aught to not worry for too much longer because people who are prejudiced will eventually bring about their own implosion.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stone Age People Timeless Religion

Papua New Guinea

The island of Papua New Guinea has over 1,000 languages.  The western half, known as Irian Jaya to Indonesians and West Papua to the Papuans, has at least 800 languages and 312 tribes.  The eastern half has at least 715 languages.  Papua New Guinea is made up over 600 islands.  The western half is controlled by Indonesia while the eastern half is run as an independent nation.  It's biodiversity is legendary.  Many researchers believe these wet mountainous lands could even contain a cure for cancer.

The Indonesian government was believed by most of the world to have liberalized with the ousting of dictator Muhammed Suharto.

For the West Papuans that is not the case.

Settlers from Java and Sulawesi have increased the islands population and marginalized the native Papuans.  Nearly all jobs go to Indonesian settlers.  The forests of this vastly forested country have been torn down.  Pro-independence supporters have been thrown in prison, tortured, beaten and killed.  Women are routinely victims of rape and sexual violence.  Throughout West Papua military personnel are garrisoned to prevent rebellion.  The Indonesian government denies that it is committing such atrocities.

Transforming Our Greed, Transforming Our World

The entire western half of New Guinea came to be occupied during the Suharto regime, a two decade long rule that ended years ago and brought democracy to the country of Indonesia, with the exception of the Papuans.
Why is the west so slow to intervene on the behalf of Papuans living under Indonesian rule as has been China?  Is it that these countries don't want to upset trade relationships with Indonesia?  How could this greed be transformed for the people of West Papua?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Not Losing the Lesson When You Lose a Childhood Treasure

Two days ago I was unfortunate enough to lose a childhood treasure of mine.  It was a wooden yoyo I had since I was fifteen that I got in Philadelphia in a sort of recreation of an old colonial town and it had great sentimental value to me.  Today though I wrote some haiku which teach of the nature of impermanence and I felt a lot better.
Jack's mother meanwhile, after struggling with cancer, actually seems to be doing a lot better.  I have heard from Jack that she had it twice before now, so she already has experience in surviving cancer.  Not all can say that.  What comes, come and and that is when we will have to deal with it.

Dharma in Your Wallet

I have seen the "million dollar bill" with the gospel message on it and I thought What if there was a Buddhist version of this?
Thich Nhat Hanh advised all his followers to carry in there pocket a card that said, "Wherever you are, you are your true person."  How about this:

This way, modern day American Buddhists could better learn to reconcile money with their spiritual principles.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tibetan Dream Catcher

At my "home" at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, I have a "dream catcher" hanging over my bed that is an imitation of a Tibetan dream catcher.  I used some carnelian beads, some tiger's eye beads, and some sandalwood beads on a red string which at the end below the beads and at the end there I tied an "eternal knot" (Buddhist symbol representing eternity)

My Altar

Left to right: a statue of the Buddhist saint, the Green Tara; a picture of the Dalai Lama; a Celtic poem called Song of Amergin; a miniature bronze stupa, a gong; and a bowl.

The Green Tara is a Buddhist saint similar to the Virgin Mary in the Catholic faith.  She was said to be the Nepalese wife of the Tibetan king around the third century C.E. and introduced Buddhism to him and his people along with the king's Chinese wife known as the White Tara, another Buddhist saint.

I am the wind on the sea.
I am the wave of the sea.
I am the bull of seven battles.
I am the eagle on the rock.
I am the flash from the sun.
I am the most beautiful of plants.
I am the strong wild boar.
I am the salmon in the water.
I am the lake in the plain.
I am the word of knowledge.
I am the head of the spear in battle.
I am the God who puts fire in the head.
Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills,
Who can tell the ages of the moon,
Who can tell the place where the sun rests.

Song of Amergin from World Prayer Index

Monday, February 13, 2012

Keeping a Meditation Journal: Gaining a New Perspective on Your Spiritual Life

A meditation journal can help you keep track of your meditation practice over the years and help you understand how your meditation is going for you.  First you will need one sturdy notebook.  Things you might want to include in a meditation journal include:

-General comments like about a local charity, an event in today's news or something from your life; books or films you have read or seen.  Also poetry you have written or by other people.

-Mantras, chants or hymns you use in your spiritual practice.

-Prayers you have said and answered prayers.  George Washington was said to have kept a daily journal of all his prayers which can currently be viewed through the library of Congress.

-Topics covered in your meditation.

-Notes on Dharma talks, Buddhist books and texts

-Excerpts from Dharma texts that our relevant to your current situation.

-Dharma passages, what they mean and how you can apply them to your life.

-Definitions-of words that come up in your spiritual practice

-Questions or concerns about your spiritual practice or teachings.

-Talk about people who give you inspiration.

-New insights you have had about your life or the world in general.

Basically there are no limits to what you can put in a meditation journal.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Little Reminder to Myself

The truth is my greatest weapon.

                                         -Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, February 10, 2012

Buddhism for Uncertain Times

I recently found out is that my close friend and roommate's mother has cancer.  She has had it two times before so it seems to be in remission.  Nobody knows for sure how it will turn out.  However I know the Buddha would say that whatever happens, we have no control over it, and thinking about it won't change anything.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rescuing from the Hell-Realms in Southeast Asia

Socially engaged Buddhism is about being aware of the suffering that happens to to people outside your doorstep without discrimination so you can cultivate true unbiased compassion for all beings.

When people talk about genocide, they nearly always talk about Darfur or Rwanda.  They hardly ever talk about Myanmar.

In Myanmar, there are over one-hundred ethnic minority groups.  These people for fifty years have been victims of rape, torture, random shootings, abductions and forced labor.  Over 3,500 villages have been burned down completely.  It is time for the American people to take a stand in Myanmar.

Service Dogs and Autism: More than Just Seeing

Rather than just being for seeing, service dogs for people with autism and other disabilities can be used for several other things.  These include:

Protection: For many people with autism, who often cannot tell untrustworthy people, dogs can sense danger.  A service dog could growl at a man who pulls up in the streets asking someone with autism to get in their car.  This growling could also alert police if they are nearby.  For autistic people who have parents or caretakers who try to harm them, a dog could attack in defense of their owner.

Company: Service dogs can provide a person with autism company when they feel alone.  A dogs loving, nonjudgmental company can give autistic people a feeling of self-worth and the ability to feel loved.

 Alarm System: Over a year ago, an autistic man died in a van after being left alone in there for hours.  Four years ago, an autistic child became traumatized by being left on a bus because he wasn't able to communicate where his home was to the driver.  This left his scarred but with a service dog, who could bark if the driver missed their house, this could be prevented.  An autistic man dying from being left in a car because of neglectful parents or caretakers may not happen because the dog's bark could alert people walking by the car that someone is locked in there.

Second Opinion: Dogs have the ability to tell if humans are telling the truth or not.  Dr. Andrew Wakefield produced counterfeit evidence last year suggesting that vaccines are the cause of autism.  Several autism "charities" also pay more money to their executives then they do to services for people with autism.  This unfortunately drains communities of their ability to provide services for people with autism.  If a service dog was around a person such as Dr. Wakefield or an organizer of a charity that didn't give it's money's worth, they could bark or growl to alert people to their dishonesty.