June 20, 2004

Land of the Medicine Buddha

In the Santa Cruz mountains just outside of Soquel in Santa Cruz County, CA, lies a Tibetian Buddhist retreat devoted to the Medicine Buddha. Yesterday was the annual Festival of the Medicine Buddha held deep in the Redwood forests with prayer wheels, Buddhist temples, a dancing snow lion, the chanting of the Tibetian monks, a Chinese orquestra and the Pacific Voices choir (formerly known as the Unity Choir), under the direction of Josh Gitomer.

Finding a Buddhist retreat in the Santa Cruz redwood forests is not as strange as one might think. The native Americans had always felt that the towering redwoods were places closest to the spirit world. It is hard to deny the peace found under the protection of these trees and it is quite something to come upon the temples and icons of Buddha found inside the retreat.

Tibetian buddhist monks always seem so calm, peaceful and joyful. Being in the presence of those whose lives are devoted to meditation and mindfulness is deeply moving and healing when living with the fears and disappointments of a country at war for all the wrong reasons. According to scientists, the happiness expressed by the Buddhists manifests itself in the physical world.

Thursday May 22, 2003 - LONDON (Reuters)
Buddhists really are happy, calm and serene people -- at least according to their brain scans. Using latest scanning techniques, neuroscientists have discovered that certain areas of the brain light up constantly in Buddhists, and not just when they are meditating, which indicates positive emotions and good mood. "We can now hypothesize with some confidence that those apparently happy, calm Buddhist souls one regularly comes across in places such as Dharamsala, India, really are happy," Professor Owen Flanagan, of Duke University in North Carolina, said on Wednesday. Dharamsala is the home base of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. The scanning studies by scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison showed activity in the left prefrontal lobes of experienced Buddhist practitioners. The area is linked to positive emotions, self-control and temperament. Other research by Paul Ekman, of the University of California San Francisco Medical Centre, suggests that meditation and mindfulness can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory. Ekman discovered that experienced Buddhists were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry as other people. Flanagan believes that if the findings of the studies can be confirmed they could be of major importance. "The most reasonable hypothesis is that there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek," Flanagan said in a report in New Scientist magazine.

Perhaps the blessings and chants from the Land of the Medicine Buddha can heal the anger, hurt and confusion our poor country is experiencing these days. It certainly helps to know there are some that are actively working and praying for a more peaceful and happier world that works for everyone, and not just a select few.

Posted by Mary at June 20, 2004 09:25 PM | Religion | Technorati links |

But the thing most people never learn is that you can't wish peace and happiness for others and have it mean much unless you work to obtain it for yourself. I speak from the authority of many failures to increase the world's quotient of peace or happiness by so much as a millismile.

Posted by: natasha at June 20, 2004 11:24 PM

Good point, natasha. This is exactly the same problem the idealistic neocons had believing they could create a world that satisfied the Iraqis without asking them if they agreed or not. My post shows how easy it is to assume our desires are so compelling all others would agree to our wisdom.

One of the reasons these Buddhist monks are so compelling is they are their own best example of why Buddhism works - calming and joyful all at once. It does make one think it would be worthwhile understanding more about how they come to this space.

Posted by: Mary at June 21, 2004 08:07 AM