Buddhist Signage




Well this is awkward…expecting to be happy makes you depressed

As I’ve asked rhetorically in the past, when did Buddhism become the religion of happiness?

And now the grand irony: expecting that you ought to be happy is enough to make you depressed. See here.

As I recall the Dalai Lama having said somewhere, it is natural to want to be happy, and it is good to want others to be happy.

But when happiness becomes the norm, and not being happy is treated as a symptom of some problem that needs to be solved, then the ground is set for selling a lot of self-help books, and workshops, and so on. This is the logic of capitalism: create a felt need (whiter teeth, shinier hair, newer car, whatever), and then sell a product to fill that created need. Here the logic is: not happy? you should be, and we’ll make it yours!

Maybe I should close with :-), see I’m happy.

Why “Buddhist Theology” is Not a Good Idea

The careful reader will note that in this essay I am talking about the intellectual category of “Buddhist theology” as such, and not the more general project of adapting Buddhist thought and practice to the present-day.

The even more careful reader will note that the last part of the sentence above does not say “present-day needs,” or some similar expression implicating needs theory. This is because needs theory in the study of religion is an act of bad faith (yes, Sartre once again) in that a construct (“religious needs”) is being passed off as natural entity comparable to the need for air, water, food. And, vague hand-waving in the direction of Maslow’s theory of a needs hierarchy does not solve that problem.

So, here it is: Payne on “Buddhist Theology”

Buddhism and economics: Conceptual and theoretical approaches to a burgeoning field

Interest in the economic study of Buddhism has grown dramatically in a very short time. Initially involving individual scholars pursuing isolated inquiries, enough people have begun to ask similar questions that a field of study has begun to emerge. At this point conversations among those scholars pursuing such studies can help to define the scope of the field and its terrain. Elizabeth Williams-Ørberg responded to this need by organizing a workshop titled “Buddhism and economics: Conceptual and theoretical approaches to a burgeoning field.” The workshop was held on May 25th and 26th, 2017, at Konventum in Helsingør, Denmark. It was arranged by the Center of Contemporary Buddhist Studies as part of the ‘Buddhism, Business and Believers’ research cluster at the University of Copenhagen, with generous funding by the Carlsberg Foundation.

We note that Ann Gleig, Jeff Wilson, Brooke Schedneck, and Elizabeth Williams-Ørberg are all participants in the AAR seminar: Economics and Capitalism in the Study of Buddhism.


May 25

(1) Charismatic Capitalism: Rebuilding the Land of the Buddha in the Golden Triangle

Alexander Horstmann

School of Humanities, Tallinn University

[alexander dot horstmann at tlu dot ee]

(2) The Lao Buddhist temple and the intrusion of statehood. The emergence of (dis)embedded ritual economies in the Vientiane area during the 1950s and 60s.

Patrice Ladwig

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen

[ladwig at mmg dot mpg dot de]

(3) Benjamin and Buddhist materiality

Trine Brox

[trinebrox at hum dot ku dot dk]

Director, Center for Contemporary Buddhist Studies

Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

(4) Sacred sangha economy – Buddhism, Asian capitalism and cultural evolution

Jørn Borup


[jb at cas dot au dot dk]

Dept of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University, Denmark

(5) An Entangled Relationship: Buddhism and Tourist Economies in Contemporary Thailand

Brooke Schedneck

Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, Chiangmai University, Chiangmai, Thailand


 (6) The field of Buddhism in a mediatized culture

Inken Prohl

Institut für Religionswissenschaft, Zentrum für Europäische Geschichts- und Kulturwissenschaften, Universität Heidelberg
[inken dot prohl at zegk dot uni-heidelberg dot de]

(7) Buddhism without merit

Jeff Wilson

Renison University College, University of Waterloo

(8) The imaginative value of Buddhism: Marketing “not-religion” to secure the survival of “religion”

Elizabeth Williams-Ørberg

Department of Cross-cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen

[elizabeth dot oerberg at hum dot ku dot dk]

May 26

(9) The Upper-Middle Way: The Complexities of Dana and Diversity in American Convert Buddhism

Ann Gleig

University of Central Florida, Orlando

[Ann dot Gleig at ucf dot edu]

(10) Theorizing the emotional work of mindfulness

Marianne Hedegaard

(11) Buddhism as religion, Buddhism as self-help

Richard Payne

Institute of Buddhist Studies, at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley

[rkpayne1 at mac dot com]


review of Homa Variations in AAR Reading Religion

from the AAR’s Reading Religions:

Homa Variations: The Study of Ritual Change across the Longue Durée

 Editors: Richard K. Payne, Michael Witzel

Oxford Ritual Studies, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, November 2015.
448 pages. $39.95. Paperback. ISBN 9780199351589.
 This edited volume contains thirteen essays on homa, a ritual of votive offerings that are immolated in fire, often in a ritual hearth. Homa Variations is important in the study of ritual and Asian religions because of its more than 3,000-year old history, its large corpus of descriptive texts and ritual manuals, and its wide dissemination throughout Asia, where it continues as a living religious tradition. While fire and its identification with the ancient Vedic fire-god Agni have been broadly retained, other elements of the ritual have been transformed over time and space. Homa Variations thus provides scholars an invaluable opportunity for historically longitudinal study of ritual change.

Co-editor Richard Payne’s excellent introduction orients the reader to definitional, methodological, and theoretical issues, and dispels the view—now mostly outdated—of ritual as rigid and invariant. The following brief summaries belie the richness of the individual essays.

Section 1 contains symbolic and comparative studies. Holly Grether’s comparison of Hindu and Buddhist tantric homa in medieval India reveals shared ritual technologies that speak to an “overarching tantric ritual universe.” Fire and water are sexually homologized with male and female, using symbols such as fire for the male fire-god Agni, and a hearth for the female earth-goddess Śakti.

Tadeuz Skorupski compares Vedic and Buddhist interpretations of fire. In Vedic doctrine, the fire-god Agni mediates between humans and the gods. In Buddhist tantra, fire is related to the acquisition of wisdom on the mundane path, and to the attainment of enlightenment the transcendent path.

Musashi Tachikawa applies the concept of sacred/profane to analyze the mediation of homa fire between deity and practitioner. He notes that Japanese homa employment of imagery is more similar to Indian puja than to Vedic homa.

Section 2 contains six textual studies. Timothy Lubin counters Frits Staal’s theory of the meaningless of Vedic ritual, asserting that the lexical meaning of ritual words can be understood through the examination of change within Vedic texts as pūja rites were assimilated. He builds on Staal’s theory of ritual syntax, adding the term “interleaving” to describe the process of inserting Purānic ritual elements into the Vedic homa.

Tsunehiko Sugiki compares six tantric texts in order to analyze Buddhist systems of internal fire rituals that developed in South Asia between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. Practices include mandalization of the body, the employment of ritual items, and “psychosomatic fire oblation”—a term Sugiki coins to refer to internalized homa rites, including internalized sexual yoga.

Moving to the Tibetan tantric tradition, David Gray examines a tenth-century manual on internal homa practices, while Georgios Halkias probes a Tibetan manual on external homa rites for pacification, enrichment, subjugation, and sorcery. Halkias provides evidence for the early Buddhist rejection of homa—especially the inclusion of blood sacrifice—but he shows how later Mahāyānists legitimated homa as upāya, or skillful means.

Vesna Wallace discusses internal and external homa rituals in the Indian Kālacakra-tantra tradition. Here, external homa is performed as part of larger, complex public rituals for healing, protection, or initiation. The texts include detailed instructions on ritual elements such as fire pits, sacrificial wood of different colors and aromas, utensils, votive offerings, and mantras. The practitioner manipulates these elements in conjunction with symbolic forms, vocalization, and gestures to mobilize and direct invisible forces.

Charles Orzech traces the appropriation of Vedic homa and its development in China from the sixth to the eighth century. In the Vedic tradition, both Brahmins and ordinary householders performed homa rites. In China, however, homa became the purview of trained monastics and imperial elites. Ritual texts stress the superiority of internal practice for a range of functions including exorcism and identification of the practitioner with various deities.

Section 3 contains four descriptive studies. Todd Lewis and Naresh Bajrachrya discuss the development of Newar Buddhist homa in Nepal. The Newar tradition developed local characteristics such as hereditary married monastics who performed homa at transitional life occasions of householders and elites. The authors argue that the assimilation of Vedic rituals demonstrates Buddhist creativity in adapting to Hindu cultural hegemony.

Nawaraj Chaulagain focuses on homa ritual during the rule of Nepalese Hindu kings (c. 1559–2008). The ritual inverts the image of the king as benevolent, and emphasizes power and cruelty through the king’s participation in blood sacrifice that climaxes with the offering of the animal’s liver to Kāli. The transcendent purpose of the ritual is to awaken the feminine to restore cosmic order, while the mundane purpose is to “legitimate royal authority and state-sanctioned violence.”

Payne then analyzes the Shugendō saitō goma (Japanese for homa), highlighting processes of ritual appropriation and adaptation as Shungendō developed within the matrix of esoteric Buddhism. Payne goes beyond description and applies syntactic analysis to a saitō goma ritual text to reveal its genealogical relation to Shingon—Japanese esoteric Buddhism—goma ritual.

Co-editor Michael Witzel examines textual and oral versions of the agnihotra, a complex 100-sequence Vedic fire ritual closely related to the homa. Both versions exhibit Newari influence and localization seen in the ritual deities, the social status of priests, and the incorporation of local mythology. Witzel’s analysis of the ritual structure shows how ritual units are added symmetrically to frame the basic ritual.

These essays make a significant contribution to ritual studies and Asian religious studies by describing the symbolism and procedures in homa ritual, explicating and analyzing a number of ritual homa texts, and illustrating the wide range of homa variations. They destabilize previous ideas about ritual rigidity and contribute to a growing body of scholarly literature that valorizes ritual as a creative, social process. The essays are grounded in research, and discussions of theory support the central narratives. A map of the region and a chronology, however, would have helped to contextualize and integrate the wide range of material in this volume. But overall, Homa Variations is an excellent study with a consistently high caliber of scholarship, and clear and engaging writing. The material may be difficult for undergraduates, but this volume is highly recommended for graduate students and scholars in the field.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Lisa Kochinski is a doctoral student in religion at the University of Southern California.

Date of Review:

May 5, 2017
About the Editors: 

Richard K. Payne is Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley.

Michael Witzel is Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University.

ego’s rule

This mindfulness stuff is kinda interesting. Today I learned the ego’s rule:


Today was the 40th annual 4 mile Saratoga to Los Gatos Rotary Club community fund raiser walk & run. I always go out alone, so being in a group was a new experience. I was dismayed to listen to my ego come up with lots of reasons for feeling superior:

• I’m not hunched over like that old guy.

• I’m not as badly overweight as that dude.

• Those ladies sure gossip a lot.

• My registration number is much lower than his, and hers, and his, and theirs.

• Spandex is not flattering.

• Those guys are so competitive!

• Yay! I just passed the father walking with his 4 year old daughter.

• How can he dress like that?

• Does she really need to carry all that stuff with her?

and so on and on.

Just in case you need something to feel superior about, my per mile average time as 16:55. But of course, I could have run the whole way if I’d really wanted to.