Buddhism

CNN: Was 'The Last Jedi' officially Buddhist or a dose of Hollywood existentialism?

CNN: Was 'The Last Jedi' officially Buddhist or a dose of Hollywood existentialism?

Not long ago, my daughter and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie. The content has always been New Agey and I’ve been under no illusions as to it being otherwise.

So I was interested to see how CNN’s Dan Burke dissected “The Last Jedi” in terms of its religious content, or lack thereof.

You may ask if this is really a "news" subject. Look at the size of the "Star Wars" audience and its influence over multiple decades. Next question?

Burke sees this new movie as a symbol of a higher indifference to traditional forms of religion found among today’s Millennials and suggests that this attitude got picked up by the filmmakers. I’m not so sure the makers of “Jedi” thought it through to that point. Still, read on:

"Star Wars" has always kept its fingers close to America's spiritual pulse. 
In the '70s and '80s, the interstellar saga explored Eastern traditions, mainly Buddhism and Taoism, just as many "spiritual, but not religious" dabblers were doing the same. 
At the turn of the millennium, "Star Wars" caught the McMindfulness craze. "The Phantom Menace" opens with two Jedi talking about the benefits of meditation. Riveting, it was not. 
But the latest film in the saga, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," touches on trends in American religious life in some surprising ways, especially for a franchise that's so nakedly commercial. ("The Last Jedi" was the highest-grossing movie in the United States last year and raked in nearly $1.3 billion worldwide.) 
"It is very much a movie of this time," said the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a Buddhist teacher, social justice activist and "Star Wars" aficionado who lives Berkeley, California. "It draws on ancient teachings, as well as what is happening in this country right now."

Is the movie trying to make a statement about organized religion or its demise? And if “Star Wars” really kept its finger on America’s pulse, it sure didn’t reflect any of the Christian revivals that happened in that same period. And there was a lot more going on in America amongst the monotheistic religions than the non-theistic ones.

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Religion writers in Los Angeles: Do religion (and religion news) need to be 'reimagined?'

Religion writers in Los Angeles: Do religion (and religion news) need to be 'reimagined?'

When you live in a near-rainforest climate as I do, the chance to spend a few January days in the sunshine is irresistible. That (plus the fact I got some scholarship money) is why I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles for a few days to attend “Reimagining Religion 2018: New Stories, New Communities,” a conference co-sponsored by the Religion News Association and the Religion Communicators Council.

I was one of 225 people (a mix of students, journalists, ministers, writers, activists and educators) who spent a day in the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism building. We listened to a parade of folks tell us how or why so many religious groups are reinventing themselves or “reimagining” their faith in different ways. There was quite a bit devoted to how the “nones” -- people who are spiritual but practice no organized religion -- see the divine.

One problem covering the latter, said Jason DeRose, the West Coast bureau chief for NPR News, is that reporters don’t know how to ask questions to “nones” and the “nones” have not figured out how to articulate the answers.

Also: Are the “nones” a movement or lack of a movement? And is a lack of doctrine actually a kind of doctrine?

So there was a lot of thinking through of the what-will-the-future-of-faith-look-like question at this conference. Which made for some really intriguing panels plus some discussion on the present state of the religion beat. 

I arrived at the meeting 15 minutes late, thanks to the really nasty LA traffic on Interstate-5. (Must say, if you’re not a person who prays before coming to LA, you will become one.

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Washington Post hints at big changes afoot for Tibetan Buddhism. Is there a local story in that?

Washington Post hints at big changes afoot for Tibetan Buddhism. Is there a local story in that?

Tibet ceased to be an independent nation nearly six decades ago. Moreover, the likelihood is that Tibet — birthplace of the Dalai Lama and home to a unique and dramatic form of Buddhist practice — will remain under Chinese domination for the foreseeable future.

In short, the Dalai Lama’s immense international popularity (primarily in Western democracies) and the good deal of advocacy on behalf of Tibet by Western supporters over the decades has, politically speaking, achieved virtually nothing.

Why’s that? Because China’s massive economic and military power trumps, on the international stage, any sympathy for Tibet in Western capitals.

If that’s not enough, there’s now a new -- and surprising -- threat to Tibetan nationalism. The Washington Post wrote about it last month.

That threat is Indian citizenship.

India, home to some 122,000 Tibetan exiles, earlier this year decided to grant many of them Indian citizenship. Until now officially stateless, the Tibetans who accept Indian citizenship will gain a slew of government perks withheld from non-citizens. That includes an Indian passport, allowing them to leave India and travel the world with far greater ease than previously.

That raises at least three questions. One’s political, one’s religious and one’s journalistic. As usual, the three are interrelated. To begin:

* What does accepting Indian citizenship mean for the Tibetan national movement?

* What impact will this have on Tibetan Buddhism?

* Three, why did the Post story not address question two -- given how central Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is to Tibetan cultural and political identity?

Yes, we're talking about the possibility of a slow but eventual assimilation into Indian cultural identity.

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Real fake news: Facebook's role in Buddhist Myanmar's deadly war against its Rohingya Muslims

Real fake news: Facebook's role in Buddhist Myanmar's deadly war against its Rohingya Muslims

Before I get to the Facebook angle of this post, please indulge me as I note what I believe are two widely held beliefs that we'd be better off dropping. Blame it on a recent The New York Times piece on Buddhist Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

The first is that Buddhists are all about peace and compassion. This idea persists in some circles, thanks to how Mindfulness and other Buddhist meditation practices are sold in the West. Well, get over it.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist religious leader Tenzin Gyatso, better known by his title, the Dalai Lama, is a rare exception. In Myanmar, Buddhist monks are some of the fiercest instigators of nasty anti-Rohingya ethnic cleansing.

Two, we tend to believe that all Nobel Peace Prize winners are saintly advocates for equal justice for all. Well, what about Myanmar’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the esteemed prize in 1991 while under house arrest for her peaceful opposition to her nation’s dictatorial military government.

These days, as her nation’s prime minister-equivalent, she defends the way the Rohingyas have been treated by her Buddhist brethren. She argues that the Rohingya are simply Muslim Bangladeshis who, in essence, are illegal squatters in Buddhist Myanmar.

So what do you know? Buddhists and Nobel Prize winners can be just as broken as the rest of us.

Now for that New York Times piece out of Myanmar written by the paper’s new Southeast Asia correspondent, Hannah Beech. She’s new to the Times, but certainly not to the region or elite journalism.

What struck me most about her excellent piece, however, were not the naive beliefs cited above. Rather, it was what she reported about the role that Facebook and other social media have played in the conflict. (Facebook and other social media are also the subject of Congressional hearings this week because of how the Russians used them in an attempt to confuse voters in the United States' 2016 president election.)

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Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

How does potentially good journalism go bad? Perhaps it's when reporters fail to find (and editors fail to insist upon) more than one side to a story. Let's call it a context deficit disorder.

Today's nominee is MarketWatch.com, part of the Dow Jones media group, which no longer includes The Wall Street Journal, it should be noted. (That daily is now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

MarketWatch readers are promised an explanation of "Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology." Instead, we're treated to what essentially is a puff-piece for some firms in the metaphysical realm without much, yes, context about whether this really is a thing.

Let's start with the introductory paragraphs. This is long, but essential:

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”
“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry -- which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services -- grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Can you say non-sequitur, gentle reader?

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Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Here at GetReligion we're constantly going on about the sources journalists rely upon when reporting religion stories. We keep asking, for instance, why religious liberals are the only voices quoted in stories critical of this or that traditionalist position.

One reason for this is Kellerism, the GetReligion term for when editors at a news outlet decide that it only needs to quote one side in a debate because the other side is simply on the wrong side of history or is flat out wrong.

However, there are many other times when appropriate positions are missing simply because journalists do not know they exist or how to find them.

That’s the case with Buddhist views on the goings on in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being harshly persecuted and forced to seek safety in neighboring, and Muslim, Bangladesh. Even the presence of a Nobel Peace Prize winner as Myanmar’s ostensible leader has not helped the Rohingya minority.

Why? Because Myanmar’s overwhelming Buddhist majority simply has little sympathy for its Muslim neighbors.

Surely, though, there must be some Buddhist leaders who are more sympathetic and who can be contacted for a quote or two that expresses another Buddhist viewpoint? Or do we have to make do with global political leaders and humanitarian groups for comments critical of Myanmar’s handling of the situation, as has generally been the case.

No, we don't. #JournalismMatters

Still, other than the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader that Western journalists, in particular, seem to think speaks for all Buddhists everywhere, prominent Buddhist voices are generally absent from the many stories being produced about the plight of the Rohingyas.

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In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

In meditating on business, 'morality' and Trump, New York Times sees but one side of story

It is a, well, mantra here at GetReligion that we don't analyze the reporters who write a given story as much as we discuss the story itself and the outlet that produced it. But I'm going to plead for an exception here, and I believe with good reason. More on that in just a moment.

First, the facts: Acrimony surrounding President Donald J. Trump's reaction/tweets/statements concerning the tragic events of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a protester was killed by a car driven by an alleged white supremacist, has caused a number of business leaders to rethink any association, however cursory, with the current administration. Two of Trump's business-related advisory groups have folded as a result.

This leads us to a New York Times story on "The Moral Voice of Corporate America," in which reporter David Gelles uses 2,718 words (subheads included) to explain what's going on. Well, almost, since I believe some crucial voices are missing.

Four paragraphs in, we learn how corporate America has found its voice:

In recent days, after the Charlottesville bloodshed, the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, called on people to “come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us — tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan said, “The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”
Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, criticized Mr. Trump by name for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville, and called for healing. ...

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Hey, kids! What's missing from Los Angeles news reports about Buddha statue's vandalism?

 Hey, kids! What's missing from Los Angeles news reports about Buddha statue's vandalism?

Not to encourage the mistreatment of any animal, but from time to time the phrase, "It's like shooting fish in a barrel" pops up when the GetReligion team discusses (via email) a given story.

The news this week about an apparently very misguided individual vandalizing a statue of the Buddha that was placed in a Los Angeles traffic median is, I believe, very much one of those kinds of stories. Spotting the key journalistic issue here is just like taking aim at the proverbial barrel-dwelling fish.

Some background first, however. There is a little piece of pavement (some call it a traffic "island," others call it a "median") in the Palms neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, not far from where your correspondent spent seven very happy years living in Marina del Rey. (I miss that neighborhood, and the adjacent Venice Beach, greatly.)

The traffic island triangle became a dumping ground for sofas and other debris until -- as both the Los Angeles Times and the local CBS Los Angeles TV affiliate report (video above) -- someone placed a concrete statue of the Buddha there. Take it away, LA Times:

The stone statue, raised on a large planter, prevented people from dumping bulky items at the traffic island. It’s unknown whether that was the intent, but neighbors embraced the Buddha, dropping off roses, daisies and other types of flowers.
“It really rallied the community, and people started taking care of the Buddha,” [Motor Ave. Improvement Association director Lee] Wallach said.

The neighborhood Nirvana didn't last long, however:

All was peaceful in the Los Angeles neighborhood until one evening last month, when a man in a white sedan pulled over, got out and used a sledgehammer to decapitate the statue. Wallach said two people witnessed the incident but were unable to write down a license plate number.
“He was heard yelling about Al Qaeda and Muslim extremism and things of that nature,” he said. “I think this gentleman is a little confused and obviously a little violent. It's important we find him, educate him and help him.”
The crime left residents stunned.

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Old question in a New Age: What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

Old question in a New Age: What does the Bible say about reincarnation?

MARK’S QUESTION:

What does the Bible say bout reincarnation? Was it an esoteric teaching of Jesus that was censored by church councils in the 4th and 5th Centuries?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

According to historians, nothing and no.

Forget pop novels, conspiracy theories about church censorship, or supposed secret knowledge from Jesus. The academic experts say the Bible, and thus Christianity, never taught reincarnation. That’s not to say individual Christians haven’t pondered the idea along with some mystics in Sufi Islam and Judaism’s medieval kabbalah movement.

Some basics on what’s also called transmigration of souls, metempsychosis, or samsara (Sanskrit for “running together”). With certain differences the belief is central for Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism (a synthesis of Hindu elements with Islam’s worship of the one God).

The late Professor J. Bruce Long said the soul’s succession through a series of human or animal lives was often taught by early preliterate cultures, then by certain Egyptian and Greek thinkers, and reached elaborate form in ancient India.

In this developed system “the circumstances of any given lifetime are automatically determined by the net results of good and evil actions in previous existences” through the Law of Karma (meaning “action”). Assessment of each soul’s moral performance is a “universal law of nature that works according to its own inherent necessity,” not judgment by a God or gods.

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