Prince Gotama and the Four Sights

Another story for liberal religious kids — well, maybe. I find this to be a challenging story. Buddha walks out on his wife and baby? I’ve known families where one parent walked out, ostensibly to “find themselves,” not unlike what the the Buddha did. But we should tell such a story to kids? Maybe like fairy tales, which put into words some of the things children fear most, this is in fact the kind of story we should share with kids. Another argument for telling this story to liberal religious kids: Sophia Fahs included her version of this story in her book From Long Ago and Many Lands, aimed at middle elementary grades, and Fahs had plenty of insight into the developmental capacity of children to understand difficult stories. Unfortunately, Fahs only included three of the four sights, so I wouldn’t use her version. That’s why I came up with my own version.

For this story I didn’t go back to one original sources, because this story is told and retold so often in the Buddhist tradition. I did the best I could to synthesize what I knew of the story. Consider this a provisional retelling of this tale. Leave any corrections in the comments.

Once upon a time, a prince named Gotama lived in a royal palace in the land of Kapilavastu, which was on the border between the countries we now call India and Nepal. Gotama’s family was very wealthy. As he grew up, the prince had everything money could buy. He had servants to take care of every need. He had the finest food. He had all the toys he could wish for.

The story is told that while Gotama was still young, a sage came to visit his parents, the King and the Queen. This sage was very wise. He looked at the young boy and said, “This child will grow up to be either a great king, or a great spiritual leader.”

Now his father wanted Gotama to become king after the father died. Therefore, the King decided that the young prince must never see anything that might raise spiritual questions in him. The King instructed everyone in the palace that Prince Gotama must never be allowed to go outside the palace grounds by himself, lest he fall into conversation with a wandering spiritual person. The King also ruled that Prince Toama must not see anyone who was ill, or disabled in any way, nor anyone who was old. The King also ruled that if someone died, the prince should hear nothing of it. Thus the King hoped to keep the prince from asking any spiritual questions.

To keep Gotama happy, the King and Queen gave him everything he could want, so that he would want to stay inside the palace grounds. And when he was old enough, they found the kindest and most beautiful young woman in all the kingdom to marry the Prince. Both the prince and his new wife were vary happy, and they became even more happy when they had their first child together. The King and Queen hoped that the prince had forgotten his wish to leave the palace on his own.

One day, when he was twenty-nine years old, Gotama went out of the palace to go hunting, accompanied by his servant Channa. As they were riding along on their two horses, they came upon a man lying beside a rock, groaning in pain.

“What is wrong with this man?” asked Gotama.

“He is ill,” said Channa.

“But why is he in such pain?” said Gotama.

“It is the way of life,” said Chana. “It is just what happens when people are ill.” And they rode on.

When he was back at the palace, he tried to ask the wise men there about illness, but they would not answer his questions.

Gotama and Channa went out hunting again. As they rode along, they passed a woman whose hair was white and whose skin was wrinkled, and who used a cane to walk.

“What is wrong with this woman?” asked Gotama.

“She is old,” said Channa.

“But what do you mean by ‘old’?” said Gotama.

“It is the way of life,” said Channa. “It happens to anyone who lives a long time.”

Back at the palace, Gotama tried to ask the wise men there about being old, but they would not answer his questions.

Gotama and Channa went out hunting again. As they rode along, they came across man lying as if asleep. But Gotama could not wake him.

“What is wrong with this man?” asked Gotama.

“He is dead,” said Channa. “This is the way of life, people must one day die.”

Gotama and Channa went out hunting a fourth time and saw a wandering holy person. Gotama asked Channa who he was.

“He is a wandering holy person,” said Channa. “He wanders around the world begging for his food, and seeking spiritual enlightenment.”

This was something Prince Gotama had never heard of before. That night, Gotama could not sleep. He remembered both the suffering he had seen, and the holy man seeking enlightenment. Gotama realized that he himself would one day face illness, old age, and death.

“I must leave the palace where I’m always protected,” he thought to himself. “I must find answers to my questions.”

He got up, and told Channa to saddle his horse. The he looked in at the bedroom where his wife and their child lay sleeping. If he left the palace, he worried that his his wife and son would not be safe. He didn’t want to make them go with him.

He stood looking at them, wondering what to do. Should he stay? Or should he go?

As it happens, we know what Prince Gotama did. He left his wife and child behind, went out into the wide world, and after many hardships he became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, one of the greatest spiritual leaders the world has ever known. Knowing that, what would you do? Would you stay and become a great king, or leave and become a great spiritual leader? Would you give up the chance of being enlightened to stay with your family?

Siddhartha Gotama taking leave of his wife and baby.
(CC-BY-SA 3.0 Nomu420; modified by me.)

Aizen myo-o

The Asian Museum of Art in San Francisco has a polychromed wood sculpture of Aizen Myo-o, the Japanese name for the esoteric Buddhist deity of love and passion. His original Sanskirt name is Ragaraja. I have very little understanding of esoteric Buddhism, so rather than get some details wrong, here’s a 1916 description of Aizen myo-o’s attributes and iconography from a Japanese English-language publication:

A sculpture of a being with red skin, six arms, and a ferocious expression
The Esoteric Buddhist king of passion (Japanese: Aizen Myoo [sic]), 1600-1700. Japan. Edo period (1615-1868). Gilding and colors on wood. Asian Museum of Art, San Francisco: The Avery Brundage Collection, B6059+

Aizen Myo-o, by Noritake Tsuda (expert in the Tokyo Imperial Museum), The Japan Magazine: A Representative Monthly of Things Japanese (Japan Magazine Co., Tokyo), vol 7, no 7, November 1916, pp. 401-402:

“Another familiar Buddhist deity is Aizen Myo-o, though he is not so widely popular as Fudo [Myo-o], treated in our last number of the Japan Magazine. Aizen Myo-o is the Indian god known in Sanskrit as Raga-vidyaraja. Raga usually means color, especially red, which symbolizes love or affection. Vidya means finding, and Raja a king; and sometimes the Sanskrit name used for this deity is Namu-vajra-raga-vidyaraja, or again simply Ragaraja.

“Aizen Myo-o is said to be a partial incarnation of Kongo-satta, in Sanscrit Vajrasattva, who took an oath to expel from mankind all wicked passions and to hasten the coming of all men to Buddha, giving them happiness and good fortune.

“This god is represented commonly in red with three terrible eyes, six arms, the figure seated on a lotus pedestal with lion headdress. Some ideas associated with the iconography of Aizen Myo-o may be inferred from one of the old masterpieces of painting representing him. The most beautiful and interesting of these is in the Hobodai-in temple in Kyoto. The painting is now a national treasure, and at present is on view at the Imperial Museum, Tokyo. A minute examination of the piece shows that the body and features have been painted in red. In the sutra referring to this deity, his heart and body are said to shine as the sun; and it is probable that the red color was selected to represent this, as well as to suggest reality. The gaping, terrible eyes sparkle marvelously in the red face, one of the eyes being placed lengthwise between the usual two. The three eyes are to give the beholder an impression of terror and awe as well as to suggest that this god has the oversight of three different aspects of the world. The eyes are blue with golden eyebrows. The mouth is open and has a grotesque grin with teeth gleaming, a common characteristic of Aizen to represent truth indestructible; the Logos, which, in Buddhism, is symbolized by the first letter of the alphabet.

“The hair on the head of Aizen stands erect in bizzare fashion, and a cap, in shape like a lion, is placed on the head with a fine-pointed kongo-sho stuck in it. The erect hair is intended to symbolize the subjugation of all evil agents. In his first left hand Aizen holds a bell; and in his first right hand another kongo-sho, both of which are symbols of mercy, bringing the peace of Vajrasattva to men. In the second left hand he holds a bow and in the second right hand an arrow, to dispel the four demons and the three other obstacles of man, shooting especially the pessimistic passions. The third left hand is extended in a grasping attitude with nothing in it, and in the corresponding right hand a lotus bud is just opening, the gesture suggesting that the bud is to be thrown at something. This symbolizes the driving out of all worldly trouble by lotus-like purity. The red lotus on which the god is seated, typifies the stability of his will. In front of the pedestal stands a treasure jar, around which are scattered treasure symbols, which suggest the bounty of the deity to all in need.

“It is noticeable that red is the prevailing color in the icons of this deity; and this is always so, because in esoteric Buddhism red always stands for love and the faculties that make for affection and compassion. The painting just described comes down from the 12th century and may be taken to represent Aizen Myo-o in his most orthodox form.

“Several other forms, however, are found among the representations of him, as, for example, some with four heads or two heads and four hands, but such divergences from the conventional form are rare.

“The Aizen Myo-o is the god of the upper classes chiefly, especially since the Fujiwara period, as he is believed to have the power of staying calamities, or gaining happiness, for those who serve him. On occasions of worship an altar of red is erected and a red image of Aizen is placed thereon; and the officiating priests are also robed in red.

“There now remains in Japan some 21 representations of Aizen Myo-o which are listed as state treasures. In addition to the painting above mentioned there is a very beautiful one on silk in the Gokokuin in Tokyo, as well as a very fine gilt statuette of him in the Imperial Museum, Tokyo, which is dated February, 1297 A.D.”

So wrote Noritake Tsuda in 1916. More recently, as can be seen in the Wikipedia entry for Aizen myo-o, there have been Western attempts to recast Aizen myo-o as a deity of same-sex male love and passion. It’s an interesting possibility, but I don’t know enough to judge if this is merely Western wishful thinking, or a considered appraisal of the historical record.

It appears that Aizen myo-o spread beyond Buddhist circle into Shinto rites. In their book Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami (Routledge, 2018), John Breen and Mark Teeuwen document how Aizen myo-o was part of a kanjo or Shinto initiation rite:

“The kirikami [i.e., written notes] of this [Shinto] initiation further reveal that the syllable un, that is at the heart of the ritual, represents not only the mind of enlightenment, but is also the seed syllable (shuji) of Aizen Myoo or King Raga. This figure (which is also bright red) represents human lust and desire, and personifies the insight that one’s innate desires are no other than inherent enlightenment itself…. The practice revealed in Ise kanjo thus teaches the practitioner that the kami [i.e., Shinto deity or power] dwells in his own heart/mind. The initiate is taught to visualize the kami as the syllable un, representing both the mind of enlightenment and his innate desire, in the guise of Aizen Myoo. The insight to be gained from this is that enlightenment and desire are identical…. The kirikami go on to teach that the kami of the Inner and Outer Shrine of Ise appear in our world as a golden and a white snake…. both the kami of Ise and [of] Aizen Myoo are snakes….” [pp. 103-104]

The case of Aizen Myo-o shows yet again that it’s unwise to assume that a deity belongs exclusively to one tradition and has only certain specified attributes. That’s an assumption Westerners, especially Protestants (and their offspring, the crusading atheists), like to make, but it’s often incorrect. Deities tend to have regional variations, just as Ragaraj became Aizen myo-o when he left India fro Japan.. Deities may move between traditions, just as Aizen Myo-o moves between the porous boundaries of Japanese Buddhisms and Shinto. And deities may have more than one manifestation, just as Aizen myo-o can be both a humanoid with six arms and three eyes, and, at an esoteric level, a snake.

You can find quite a few photographs of Aizen Myo-o sculptures and paintings online. The Cleveland Museum of Art has posted the following photograph with a CC0 license, which allows me to repost it here:

Aizen My??, early 1300s. Japan, Kamakura period (1185-1333). Wood with black lacquer and red pigments; overall: 75 x 59 x 35 cm (29 1/2 x 23 1/4 x 13 3/4 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Elizabeth M. Skala 1987.185

A note on orthography: Usually there are macrons over both “o”s in the Romanization of this deity’s Japanese name: Aizen My?-?. And there are supposed to be macrons over the first and third “a”s in the Sanskrit name: R?gar?ja. However, diacritical marks don’t always translate well in all web browsers, so I’ve left them off.

Part of a series on deities.
My definition of “deity.”

Pure Land

I got interested in the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) after reading Jeff Wilson’s book Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South. Ekoji Temple, the one Wilson writes about in this book, was founded by Rev. Takashi Kenryu Tsuji in the 1980s. Tsuji had retired as a bishop of BCA, and Ekoji Temple was one of his retirement projects. In his book, Jeff Wilson quotes Tsuji extensively, and I found I resonated with what Tsuji had to say. As in this passage from Tsuji’s book The Heart of the Buddha-Dharma: Following the Jodo-Shinshu Path:

“Shinran Shonin and the teachers before him explained that the Pure Land was situated in the western corners of the universe, zillions of miles away. It was pictured as a very beautiful place, free of suffering, where everyone is happy. Philosophically speaking, however, the Pure Land does not refer to a specific location out there somewhere. Rather, the Pure Land is symbolic; it symbolizes the transcendence of relativity, of all limited qualities, of the finiteness of human life. In this transcendence, there is Compassion-Wisdom, an active moving, spiritual force. The Pure Land ideal is the culmination of the teaching of Wisdom and Compassion.”

First of all, Tsuji makes Pure Land Buddhism sound a little like Universalism. The old Universalists, coming out of the Christian tradition, said that everyone gets to go to heaven. Similarly, Pure Land Buddhists said that everyone can can enter Buddha’s Pure land, that is, everyone can achieve Buddhahood. We Unitarian Universalists translated the old Universalist ideas into modern terms, and that’s what Tsuji does for Pure Land Buddhism in this passage: “The Pure Land ideal is the culmination of the teaching of Wisdom and Compassion.”

What I like is that both groups have not only translated their religious traditions into Modernity, both groups say that all persons are radically equal. Maybe this is because I know I’m not good enough to be one of those Christians who gets into heaven, and I lack the self-discipline to become one of those Buddhists who reaches Enlightenment. Whatever the reason, I prefer the radically egalitarian religious groups.

Confucian quiet-sitting

I’m slowly making my way through a 19,000 word article on Confucian quiet-sitting — “A Study of Cheng Yi’s Quiet-Sitting Meditation and Other Contemplative Practices in the Confucian Context” by Bin Song, Mandala Texts (2023), 1-46 ( Accessed October 6, 2023.)

Not only is it a fascinating article, it might have a real-world effect on the way I think about my own contemplative practices.

I’ve tried the the usual sitting meditation practices taught in North America, and I haven’t felt comfortable with them. Most of the sitting meditation techniques we learn in North America are based on Buddhist sitting meditation, or less often on meditation techniques from the Indian subcontinent. Both Buddhist and Indian meditation techniques are based on distinct end goals (e.g, nirvana in the case of Buddhism). Buddhist and Indian meditation techniques also presume a certain social orientation, often involving some kind of retreat or separation from society. So if you’re like me, and you don’t buy into the end goals or the social orientation of the usual sitting meditation, you’re likely to wind up not wanting to do sitting meditation.

The Confucian — or, to use scholarly jargon, Ruist — technique of quiet-sitting offers another type of contemplative practice. Quiet-sitting differs significantly from Buddhist sitting meditation. Bin Song writes:

“The term ‘sitting at ease’ is used in Chinese Buddhist texts to refer specifically to the Buddhist style of cross-legged sitting meditation. These two quotations suggest that [Ruist scholar] Cheng Yi had reservations to this style for two reasons: first, it encourages Buddhist practitioners to talk about miraculous but impractical deeds and events, and second, it detaches meditators from their everyday human affairs. Cheng Yi aimed to distinguish his contemplative practices from Buddhism and Daoism….”

In addition, Cheng Yi taught that quiet-sitting was just one of several contemplative practices that would achieve the same goal. Bin Song describes several of these. I was specifically interested in the one called “beholding the vitality of the myriad things,” which Song calls “among the most emblematic of Ru contemplation.” Here’s how Cheng Yi and his brother Cheng Hao describe this practice:

“By beholding pattern-principles in things, one can examine oneself. Once able to illuminate pattern-principles, there is nothing that cannot be understood. All things in the world can be illuminated by pattern-principles; if there is something, there must be a norm, and every single thing must have a pattern-principle.” — Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, The Collected Works of Cheng Brothers (1981), 193.

Based on this description, “beholding the vitality of the myriad things” sounds like it has a family resemblance to the contemplative practice that Henry Thoreau did while living at Walden Pond. As in this example:

“In front of Cheng Hao’s window, the lush grass covered the pavement. Some people advised him to cut it, but he refused, saying that he wanted to witness the vitality of the creative universe. He also kept a small pond and raised a few small fish, which he beheld from time to time. When asked why, he said he wanted to behold how all things remain content in themselves.” — Huang Zongxi et al., Learning Cased in Song and Yuan —– vol. 14 (the He Shaoji print, 1648): 8, accessed March 30, 2023,

Not the same as Thoreau, but you can see the family resemblance — close observation of the non-human world as a way of deeper understanding.

Bin Song begins the article by pointing out that, in the West, the field of contemplative studies has pretty much ignored Confucian, Jain, Jewish, and Sikh contemplative practices. Popular culture never gets much beyond Buddhist and Christian contemplative practices. Learning more about Confucian quiet-sitting might help all of us better understand the strengths and weaknesses of Buddhist meditation and mindfulness — just as happened a generation ago, when learning about Buddhist meditation helped us in the West better understand the strengths and weaknesses of Christian prayer. Not that we all have to go out and start pretending to be Confucianists — but another perspective might help us better understand ourselves.

Vesak in the White House

Many Buddhists recognize today as Vesak, a day which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. (This is a lunar holiday, so it doesn’t always fall on May 5.) And this will be the third year of a Vesak ceremony in the White House. (Nicely timed this year to lead off Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.)

It’s kind of amazing that there will be any recognition of a Buddhist holiday in the White House. No doubt the usual Christian nationalists and right wing Christian bigots will bemoan the celebration of a non-Christian religious holiday in the White House. No doubt the usual fundamentalist atheists will bemoan the celebration of any religious holiday in the White House. But I like the idea. Personally I don’t celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, or death, but I’m glad of this recognition of the cultural and religious diversity within the United States.

In memoriam: Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk known for popularizing the concept of “Engaged Buddhism,” has just died. (He died Jan. 22 in Vietnam, on the other side of the International Date Line, which was Jan. 21 here in the U.S.) He had been incapacitated by a stroke in 2014, and in 2018 finally received permission from the Vietnamese government to return to his home temple to spend his final days. His name is more properly rendered as Thích Nh?t H?nh, but I’ll use the more common romanization without tonal indications.

Thich Nhat Hanh is probably best known for his series of popular books on Buddhism. Worldcat lists the following titles as the five “most widely held works” in libraries: The Miracle of Mindfulness; Living Buddha, Living Christ; Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life; Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames; and Being Peace. Nhat Hanh arguably did more than anyone else to popularize the concept of mindfulness in the West.

The book of his that I found most interesting, though, one to which I’ve returned a number of times, is The Sutra of the Full Awareness of Breathing (Parallax Press, 1988). This book includes Nhat Hanh’s translation of the ?n?p?nasati Sutta, along with his commentary on the text. This Sutra is no. 118 of the “medium length” sutras that have been collected into the Majjhima Nik?ya. (A later revised version of his translation is now freely available on the website of his Plum Village Buddhist community here.) Nhat Hanh translated the text into French, which was then translated into English; I found the English translation to be lucid, readable, and non-technical. I also liked his The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra; I find Buddhist scriptures difficult to understand, and Nhat Hanh’s commentary helped me understand a little bit about this complex text.

But I think Thich Nhat Hanh’s real impact as a writer and teacher was through his many popular books which give good sound advice for living life. I’ve read a little bit in some of his many books on mindfulness, and was impressed by the good common-sense tone of these books. Unfortunately, mindfulness grew into a fad, and big corporations have learned how to use mindfulness as an opiate to drug their workers into submission. But what Nhat Hanh said about mindfulness had nothing to do with submission to a corporate overlord. Quite the contrary: Nhat Hanh’s writings are permeated with the spirit of Engaged Buddhism, and mindfulness connects one fully with the fate of all beings; instead of quietism and retreat from the world, Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness moves us to become engaged in seeking justice.

If your corporate overlord forces you to do mindfulness — or if your school forces you to do mindfulness — try reading Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness. You’ll find out that mindfulness is not a drug forcing you to submit to your employer or your school. Nhat Hanh used mindfulness as a way to advocate for peace during the long-running war in Vietnam. Mindfulness helped empower him to criticize both South Vietnam and North Vietnam, and also to stand up against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, at great personal cost. Mindfulness helped bring Nhat Hanh to the U.S. in 1966, where he helped convince Martin Luther King, Jr., to speak out against the injustices of the Vietnam War. In short, unlike the mindfulness that corporations and schools teach, which seems designed to ensure passive compliance with tyranny, Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness is designed to resist tyranny, oppression, and injustice.

I’m less interested in Nhat Hanh’s teachings on mindfulness — personally, mindfulness does nothing for my spiritual self — and far more interested in him as a teacher. Everyone I’ve talked to who saw him in person has said he was a riveting teacher. Apparently, his English skills weren’t great — I’m told Vietnamese and French were his main languages — but even through an interpreter his teaching was compelling. I get the sense that it was his presence as a teacher that most impressed those who went to hear him. This has been true of the best teachers I’ve known: there’s something about the way they move, the way they hold their bodies, it is their very being that teaches us. The best teachers, I think, cultivate their persons — or as we might say in the West, cultivate their souls — and it is this cultivation of the person which shines through in their teaching. While I never experienced Nhat Hanh in person, I can catch glimpses of this cultivated soul in his writings. I would unhesitatingly call him a brilliant teacher.

Our troubled world needs brilliant teachers like him, teachers who can empower us to stand up for justice and peace. Thich Nhat Hanh will be sorely missed.

Westerners misappropriating non-Western religious imagery

A broad-based interfaith coalition, including Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, and Jews, has targeted a nightclub chain that uses Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain statues for interior decoration. As reported by Religion News Service, the “Foundation Room” night clubs operated by Live Nation Entertainment in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, and New Orleans uses the following religious imagery as decor: statues of Buddha (Buddhism); statues of Ganesha, Hanuman, Shiva, and Rama (Hinduism); statues of Mahavira and Parshvanatha (Jainism).

Live Nation said in a statement that the Foundation Room clubs are (according to them) all about “promoting unity, peace, and harmony.” Before you cynically respond “Bullshit!” — it may be that Live Nation’s management really did see the misappropriation of these religious images as promoting unity. Since they’re based in the U.S., we can assume that they — consciously or unconsciously — see the “Judeo-Christian tradition” as normative; and while “Judeo” is merely a modifier of “Christian” in this formulation, Judaism is still seen as somehow normative. Since Christianity and Judaism are part of mainstream U.S. culture, Live Nation’s management would never think of putting up a cross or star of David in one of their nightclubs.

Why then is it OK to use religious images from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism? Well, part of the answer might well be that “religion” as a concept is a Western concept that only dates back to the Enlightenment. Prior to the Enlightenment, the West did not have a concept that corresponds to our current notion of “religion.” And “religion” as a concept was developed in part as a way to bolster Western colonialist ambitions: “religion” was defined in such a way that only Christianity (and perhaps Judaism, in a debased way) fit the definition; this allowed Western powers to justify domination of non-Western cultures on the grounds Christianizing them. (For more on the link between “religion” and colonialism, see e.g. Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies [Oxford Univ. Press, 2000]; William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict [Oxford Univ. Press, 2009]).

Not surprisingly, colonized peoples are accorded less respect than the colonizers. This might make more sense if I put this in racial terms, since so many of us are thinking about race these days: in the Western worldview, Christianity is seen as the property of the West, which means it’s a white religion; while Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are generally seen as having adherents who are people of color; while you wouldn’t use white people’s religious symbol in a night club, it would be OK to use the religious symbol belonging to people of color.

However, while colonialism and racism are strongly linked, I find it more helpful to view this dispute over religious imagery in nightclubs as a legacy of colonialism. After all, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism do have white adherents, and there are strong traditions of black and Latinx Christianity. But non-Christian religions are still seen as somehow “primitive” or less advanced than Christianity, and thus may be accorded less respect; and just as in the past, this viewpoint still allows Western nations to see non-Western nations as suitable for colonial domination through both economics and military action.

Maybe I’m making too much out of this. But I do want to explain why Live Nation Entertainment didn’t put crosses or statues of Jesus Christ in their nightclubs; why does Jesus Christ get their respect, but not the Buddha?

Paper bag puppets for a Jataka tale

I’m in the middle of writing curriculum for middle elementary grades, and here’s a children’s craft project I just developed for this curriculum. These are puppets for acting out the story-within-the-story of the Buddhist Jataka tale “The Little Tree Spirit” (which you can read on my old blog here).

You will need:
patterns that you print and cut out ahead of time
glue sticks or paste
black magic markers
paper bags (lunch bag size, 5 x 10 in. folded)
paper or card stock in the following colors:
—pink (for noses and mouths)
—white (for eyes)
—dull green (for Little Tree Spirit)
—bright green (for Great Tree Spirit)
—orange (for Tiger)
—yellow (for Lion’s head)
—brown (for Lion’s mane)

Let’s start by seeing how the Tiger is made.

(1) Cut out the head, attach it to the paper bag:

Trace the head shape from the patterns or draw it freehand on orange paper, then cut it out. Glue the head to what is the usually bottom of the paper bag.

(2) Add details to the head:

Cut out the nose from pink paper, and two eyes from white paper. Glue on the eyes and nose, and draw pupils in the eyes. Using the black magic marker, draw stripes and whiskers on the tiger as shown above.

(3) Add the mouth:

Cut out the mouth, and fold it at about one third of the way across the diameter (about one inch from the edge). Glue the mouth in the flap formed by the bottom of the paper bag where it’s folded over, as shown in the drawing. You want a little bit of the pink mouth to show below the head of the puppet.

(4) Try your puppet:

Put your hand inside the puppet, and make sure the mouth looks right when you open and close the puppet’s mouth.

(5) Make the other puppets:

The rest of the puppets are made in much the same way. (1) For the Lion: use the same head pattern but cut the head out of yellow paper; then cut a mane out of brown paper and glue the head on the mane. (2) For the Little Tree Spirit: use the tree pattern and cut the tree out of green paper. (3) For the Great Tree Spirit: use the mane pattern, cutting the shape out of green paper for the “head.”

Now you have all the puppets you need to act out the story. They’re kind of crude, but they’re effective.