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.