International Lay Buddhists Forum Pt. 2 — The Good Stuff

I usually don’t post two days in a row, especially about the same topic. But I started thinking about what I wrote yesterday and worrying that it might have sounded like I’ve had a really terrible time here in Spain, or that I hated the Int’l Lay Buddhists Forum. In fact, though, this has been terrific fun for me and I regard it as incredibly positive.

I’ve come to realize that a lot of what I consider to be a good experience is not what most people think of that way. I find a rich and interesting but somewhat difficult experience preferable to something that’s easy and fun (in the standard way) and turns out exactly the way I expected it to. I also think it makes for better reading to pull out some of the more challenging and weird aspects of what I’ve gone through rather than deal with the things that were more enjoyable and effortless.

So for anyone who might have thought I was whingeing about having a bad time in Spain, here’s a little of what I’ve enjoyed at the Lay Buddhists Forum.


I’ve never been to Spain. But I kind of like the music. It’s a beautiful country and I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to be here.


One of the presenters, Dr. Tashi Zangmo, talked about her experiences growing up in Bhutan and living as a Buddhist nun there. It was an amazing story. She then presented an appeal to donate to the Bhutan Nuns Foundation, a charitable organization founded to help these nuns make a difference in their country.


Kanae Kawamoto presented a paper called “Abandonment of Purity Quest: A Paradox in the Modern Buddhist World.” She shares my belief that one of the biggest problems for Buddhists today is the fixation on arbitrary ideas of “purity.” She sees this as the main reason for some of the real tragedies of contemporary Buddhism, such as Aum Shinrikyo’s attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. But best of all, she explained this with a PowerPoint presentation based on Dragon Quest! It was absolutely precious!



What can I say about Burkhard? I knew I was in for something interesting when he phoned me from the hotel lobby to come down and meet him for the first time. We’d only spoken by email up to that point. He said I’d recognize him by his bright pink beret. Note that I have been using the pronouns “he” and “him.” Burkhard prefers to present as genderless and would like people to refer to B only as B and not “him” or “her.” I respect this, but in writing just now I realized I would have to introduce B first before I’d be able to do so without simply being confusing. B is one of the most amazing characters I’ve ever met. I’m very glad to know B.


“What an amazing group of young people!” he said in a wheezy old man voice. But really, it renews my faith in humanity to hang out with a group of such intelligent and interesting college students. Maybe the future won’t be so fucked after all. Actually, I have a lot of faith in the generation currently coming of age. I think they’re, on the whole, a hell of a lot smarter than people my age were.

That’s just a small sampling of a few of the things I have enjoyed about this trip. I need to get packed up and check out of the hotel now. So I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that I could go on for another 2,000 to 5,000 words about things I’ve liked about this experience.


And just to clarify one point. I was not trying to make fun of that Sri Lankan monk and his accent. I lived in Japan for eleven years. I know what it’s like to try to speak a foreign language with a heavy accent. Ask some of my Japanese friends about conversing with me! I was just attempting to describe the situation, part of which included hearing several long, long, long lists of obscure Buddhist terms recited slowly, slowly, slowly in a thick — and actually quite beautiful and appealing — accent.


If you donate to the upkeep of this page I won’t complain about that!

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17 Responses

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  1. boubi
    boubi November 5, 2012 at 7:48 am |

    Who is that cutie in the second pic making the V sign?

    What does it mean for japanese people this V sign?

  2. King Kong
    King Kong November 5, 2012 at 10:19 am |


  3. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 5, 2012 at 5:08 pm |

    Brad, I forgot to mention that you are also dead wrong about the historical Gautamid not believing in “returning, nonreturning, twice-returning” and other synonyms for reincarnation, at least if the best historical record of his teachings is to be trusted.

    His attendant Ananda asked him so frequently to describe the situation of the deceased that the Gautamid told him to just figure it by their deeds.

    Ok, so he believed in miracles although he said the greatest was successfully teaching others dharma, and didn’t perform any himself. And he believed in fairies, little ones, I mentioned that but you might have missed it.

    Are you looking for a hero, is that why you refuse to believe the historical record? A friend of mine went to see Johnny “Rotten” Lyden in the eighties, she was never so disillusioned in her entire life. I’m just unclear about why you don’t read a little bit of the Pali Sutta volumes for yourself, since your life is currently based around this man’s teaching, and Ananda is generally assumed to have had a photographic memory for sound.

    Done on that, glad you are enjoying your trip and I’m still looking to donate a tank of gas when my ship comes in- maybe next year!

  4. SoF
    SoF November 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm |

    I’m pleased that you are enjoying the Iberian Peninsula. Try to get to Catalonia or Portugal if you have the opportunity. The Buddhist Jesus at Santiago de Compostela (the capital of Galicia) is worth the trip.

    I’ve had a lot of ‘other fish to fry’ of late. I’ll check back in a few days.


  5. Fred
    Fred November 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm |

    Were they sugar plum fairies? How come Dogen didn’t say anything about

  6. Fred
    Fred November 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  7. Fred
    Fred November 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm |

    A man of no distinction who had transcended culture, sexuality and dropped the
    body-mind probably would not make a big deal about the shape and color of form.

    Or the separation of self and universe, or the bottom of the bucket falling out
    without any specific exercises.

    Fairies and magical powers. Ha.

  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 5, 2012 at 9:59 pm |

    Sugar plum fairies must be about the right size. Leprechans in India. Hippies in San Francisco. Chas in San Leandro (or somewhere). Fred, in Toronto?

    The clock change is killin’ me.

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm |

    I mean, killin’ me.

  10. Janina
    Janina November 5, 2012 at 10:11 pm |

    as I understand the Buddha himself took very rarely if ever a stance on religious questions like god or rebirth. He used actually quite cautious style in descripting things like that and he said often “If I born again”, “If god exists”, and “even if there is no god”. As I simple Zen-Buddhist practitioner understand these things the point was not in telling if something is truth or not but more in request to people to give a try to his practice and see the truth theirself.

    Believe in miracles is not essential question when we discuss about Buddhism. Some might believe, some not. Main thing is to do your practice. Pali Canon obviously knows the terms like “once returner” and “non-returner” as part of Buddha┬┤s teachings, but I guess this kind of argumentation is more way to motivate than simply try to tell some invariable religious truth. Practice is the base, believe in miracles again is individual practitioners own business.

    Anyway, nice blog Brad. Hope you like your time in our European continent!



  11. Fred
    Fred November 6, 2012 at 3:38 am |

    Well Dogen may have talked about a dynamic tension between enlightenment and the ever deluded self, a clearer vision is that this self has no substance.

    It is an image projected on a screen through a cultural lens. Strip away the
    illusion of a subject and object, there is just action in a universe transmuting

    To say that an “I” is coming back is nonsense. The universe is manifesting itself
    to itself.

  12. Fred
    Fred November 6, 2012 at 3:58 am |

    Broken Yogi said that he could communicate psychically with Adi Da, and that
    the transmission from an enlightened being to others went off the tracks

    This is the problem with holding onto this deluded self. Or sugar plum fairies.

  13. Andy
    Andy November 6, 2012 at 7:00 am |


    “a clearer vision is that this self has no substance.

    It is an image projected on a screen through a cultural lens. Strip away the
    illusion of a subject and object, there is just action in a universe transmuting

    As far as I understand what Dogen was getting at, the above view is dualistic: the illusion and the essence are nondual; form and emptiness are nondual; duality and nonduality can’t be split – or stripped apart.

    Form is emptiness AND emptiness is form.

    Take good care of that self!

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 6, 2012 at 9:38 am |

    Fred- “Can we describe now how these states are nothing more than the necessity of breath, in this time and place ? And the lack of these states, equally?” Enlightenment/delusion and the lack of an abiding self in either one, in practice. my go.

    you go. ha ha!

    Janina, thanks for your comments; my take is that it’s good to distinguish science from myth and history from myth, to the extent that that’s possible. But what’s a mother to do, Bradley has made up his mind; it’s like concrete, all mixed up and permanently set (as my father used to say about his mind)!

  15. AnneMH
    AnneMH November 7, 2012 at 8:12 am |

    Spain does sound pretty cool. They never have this events in ugly parts of town, if there are ugly parts. I walk away from things like this with my head so full that I can understand not writing about all of it up front.

    I am trying to learn Spanish, already know some French, and wow. I tried to talk to some ladies at school with my little bit of Spanish but they didn’t understand enough to have a conversation so back to my classes. So here is my question, how many Spanish speakers are Buddhist, or Buddhists are Spanish speakers? I am learning Spanish for my career however I have thought a lot about leading a simple meditation in Spanish in my area since we have so many Spanish speakers (as in many areas of the US). There may already be loads of Spanish speaking qualified Buddhists compared to me, just thinking.

  16. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi November 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |

    “Broken Yogi said that he could communicate psychically with Adi Da, and that
    the transmission from an enlightened being to others went off the tracks

    “This is the problem with holding onto this deluded self. Or sugar plum fairies.”

    Haven’t checked in here in a while. Must have psychically noted mention of me here. /snark

    yeah, I’d have to say I’ve had too many psychic communications with/from/to Adi Da in my days there to dismiss such things. Also with other spiritual sources, and ordinary people too.

    In my view, it’s not a miracle if it’s real. Meaning, if it actually happens, there really is some sort of cause and effect thing going on. Cause and effect doesn’t mean materialism. There can be cause and effect operating at all kinds of levels.

    Here’s a fun example. I used to like to play party games with friends. One of my favorite games was “Pass The Bomb”. It’s a simple word game, involving cards with partial letter groups, like “ke” on it. The object of the game is to come up with, depending on the roll of the dice, words that either start or end with that “ke”. So it might be “like”or “rake”, or it might be “keep” or “ketchup”. The trick is, one starts the round by starting a small play bomb ticking, and as soon as you come up with a word that fits, you pass it to the person to your left. A random timer makes controls the bomb, so that no one can count out the time left and know when the bomb will go off. Whoever is left holding the bomb when it goes off (making an exploding sound) loses that turn.

    Anyway, we had several couples over one night and were playing this game. One of my friends is supersmart and highly competitive, and he couldn’t lose, it seemed, because he always had a word saved in his head he could say immediately when the bomb was passed to him. We all got tired of his perfection, so I decided to mess him up. He sat immediately to my right, so when the bomb came to me, I would hold it in my hands, waiting until I could “feel” the right moment when it was about to go off, then say me word and immediately pass him the bomb. Then it would go off before he could even say his word. This would of course be impossible by normal ideas of cause and effect, because the controller was completely random. But somehow, I did this trick at least ten times in a row, sticking him with the losing explosion, just to teach him a lesson about trying to win all the time. It was very funny, and we laughed the whole time.

    So, anyway, that’s just not possible except by the strangest of coincidences, unless there’s something to the idea of psychic connection in the world. I’ve never even tried to do that again, and wouldn’t bother trying. Anyway, is that a miracle? I don’t think so. It’s just an indication that cause and effect happens beyond the material plane as we generally understand it.

  17. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi November 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |

    And btw Fred, I am taking your suggestion to heart, to write down the story of my relationship to Adi Da and describe how sincere people can get caught up in a cult. Should be fun. Will publish it as an ebook and keep it affordable. Maybe in a few months. Will let you know when I’m done.

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