Simbwala Schultz / Wisdom Publications / RNS

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel. Photo via Simbwala Schultz / Wisdom Publications / RNS

When Zenju Earthlyn Manuel goes to teach somewhere for the first time, she often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.

She doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.

And getting them to acknowledge that her body — her “manifestation,” as she calls it — is different and a part of her experience is crucial to her teaching. If our bodies are sources of suffering, then we ignore them at our peril.

“When I have held and embraced who I am, how I am embodied, it has become a source of enlightenment, of freedom,” she said from a sunny corner window seat in her living room. Draped in a black monk’s jacket, she is a stark contrast to the white walls and white upholstery of the rest of the room.

Jay Michaelson 06-05-2015
Photo via Luna Vandoorne / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Luna Vandoorne / Shutterstock.com

Lama Surya Das, the “Buddha from Brooklyn,” is one of the handful of Westerners who have been teaching meditation for decades. And yet, he says we’re doing it wrong.

“So many people seem to be moving narcissistically — conditioned by our culture, doubtless — into self-centered happiness-seeking and quietism, not to mention the use of mindfulness for mere effectiveness,” he said. True meditation, he said, generates wisdom and compassion, which may be very disquieting, at least in the short term.

Adam Ericksen 06-02-2015
Image via VeNa/shutterstock.com

Image via VeNa/shutterstock.com

The early Christians had to deal with the loss of their most important mandala — the one they called their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Isn’t Christianity weird? I mean, Christians revere Jesus the Messiah, the King. That’s weird because the one Christians revere as the incarnate word of God was killed. He became a victim of human violence. 

How do you atone for that? How do you reconcile with the fact that the one whom Christians worship became a victim of human violence? 

This tag cloud shows the top 15 most discriminative words used by each group studied. Photo courtesy of Lu Chen/RNS.

What does a map of the U.S. religious landscape look like in 140 characters?

A new study of Twitter finds that self-identified religious users are more likely to tweet to members of their own faith than to members of a different one. The study examined people whose Twitter profiles identified them as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and atheist.

And while adherents of all six groups studied tweet frequently, atheists — among the smallest populations in the U.S. — are the most prolific.

“On average, we can say the atheists have more friends, more followers, and they tweet more,” said Lu Chen, a doctoral candidate at the Kno.e.sis Center at Wright State University who co-authored the study with Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn of Rutgers University-Camden. They will present their findings in November at the sixth annual International Conference on Social Informatics.

Christian Piatt 09-17-2014

This Dalai Lama may be the last. Photo via vipflash/shutterstock.

Historically, Christianity hasn’t been very open to the idea of being influenced by other religions. In the early days of the faith, we borrowed from Hellenism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism and various “pagan” religions, repurposing their symbols to mean something new. Following the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, we focused more on converting others to our faith, or at least denigrating the legitimacy of other faiths to establish ours as superior.

Oh, but times, they are a’changin.’

Our numbers are down, our influence continues to wane, and we’re struggling with what I call in “postChristian” both an identity crisis and a credibility crisis. The good news is that, in this newly humbled state, lies a glimmer of opportunity. Not the kind we’ve had previously, to once again dominate the cultural landscape. That time has passed. Rather, as more of us within the Christian faith take less for granted, we’re asking harder questions:

Sam Harris describes how spirituality must be divorced from religion. Photo via Simon & Schuster Publicity/RNS.

Uber-atheist Sam Harris is getting all spiritual.

In his new book, “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion,” the usually outspoken critic of religion describes how spirituality can and must be divorced from religion if the human mind is to reach its full potential.

“Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn,” he writes in the book, but adds: “There is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.”

The prescription, Harris holds, is Buddhist-based mindfulness meditation. A Stanford-trained neuroscientist, Harris is a long-time practitioner of Buddhist meditation. He said everyone can, through meditation, achieve a “shift in perspective” by moving beyond a sense of self to reach an enlightening sense of connectedness — a spirituality.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, speaks to the American Enterprise Institute. RNS photo: Lauren Markoe

Some of the brightest pro-business minds in the nation prodded the Dalai Lama on Thursday to offer a warm endorsement of capitalism.

But during an appearance by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the world’s most stalwart and, in conservative circles, respected free enterprise think tanks, they came up short. 

The Dalai Lama was the star participant in a morning of panels on “moral free enterprise” and “human happiness.”

Asked by AEI President Arthur Brooks and Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard whether he agrees that the free enterprise system is the most moral of economic systems, and why he thinks the U.S. is the richest nation on earth, the Dalai Lama answered in broken English with his own question: What do you mean by rich?

Private yoga instructor Shailendra Singh (far right) leads a group at The Yoga Guru club in Delhi. Photo by Vishal Arora via RNS

The Supreme Court of India is weighing whether yoga has a religious element, as it decides if public schools may teach the ancient discipline in the country where it originated.

India’s school policy considers yoga an integral component of physical education. But the court has expressed caution, and is considering arguments that yoga has a religious component. The issue is complicated because India is a secular democracy but has pockets of Hindu nationals who would like to force their way of life on others.

“Can we be asking all the schools to have one period for yoga classes every day when certain minority institutions may have reservations against it?” the court asked Oct. 18, referring to Christian and Muslim groups.

The Dalai Lama delivers the annual Anwar Sadat Lecture for Peace at the university. Photo via RNS.

His English was terribly broken, and punctuated by sudden fits of giggles. But for nearly an hour, the Dalai Lama entranced an arena full of admirers, who said his message came across just fine.

The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, speaking to an audience of 15,000 at the University of Maryland Tuesday, described himself as “a simple Buddhist monk” with a simple message: We are all human beings and should be good to one another.

“I look at you,” he said, surveying the crowd, a University of Maryland visor crowning his head. “All human beings. No differences.”

QR Blog Editor 01-04-2013

The 113th Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history. New members include the first Hindu, first Buddhist, and the first "none." The Washington Post reports:

The new, 113th Congress includes the first Buddhist to serve in the Senate, the first Hindu to serve in either chamber and the first member of Congress to describe her religion as “none,” continuing a gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole. While Congress remains majority Protestant, the institution is far less so today than it was 50 years ago, when nearly three-quarters of the members belonged to Protestant denominations.

Read more here.

QR Blog Editor 01-02-2013

In November, Americans elected the first Hindu and Buddhist representatives to Congress. They represent a growing number of religious minorities who are becoming more and more visible. The Washington Post reports:

Now that Protestants are no longer in the majority – as reported in a study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in October – even the term “religious minority” will need fresh definition in our newly minted minority-majority nation.

Read more here.

Vishal Arora 10-16-2012
RNS photo by Vishal Arora

Two Bhatanese students carry the national flag. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI — Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation's constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”

A notification by the Election Commission of Bhutan asks people's "prayers and blessings" for the second parliamentary election, expected in June 2013. But it also states that religious institutions and clergy "shall not hold, conduct, organize or host" any public activity from Jan. 1 until the election.

The ban comes a year after the country's religious affairs ministry identified Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.

Emily Kulkus 10-10-2012
RNS photo courtesy The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.

The red leather and wood chair was made especially for the Dalai Lama. RNS photo courtesy The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Lots of rock stars expect cushy perks at the venues where they perform. Requests can include special food and drink, music, video games and even a puppy to play fetch.

For the Dalai Lama, it’s all about the oversized chair.

Syracuse University requested the special seating for the spiritual leader of Tibet who spoke on campus Monday, and it’s obvious he enjoyed the spacious accommodations.

As he should. The red leather and wood Stickley chair was made especially for him — three times.

Jeanie Groh 09-19-2012
 RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

The largest ivory crucifix in the Philippines hangs in a museum in Manila. RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.

“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.

“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.

Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.

Christian Piatt 09-13-2012
Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

Photo: vipflash / Shutterstock.com

My friend, Doug, is not what I’d call a religious person. He grew up in church but has since taken to a combination of practicing martial arts, yoga, and independent study, primarily of Buddhist philosophy. In a lot of ways, his journey is a familiar one for younger adults today (he and I are both 40 so we don’t really qualify as “young” adults anymore).

Doug is, like I am, an intellectually curious guy. He follows my work pretty closely, and he is certainly open to other points of view, even if they’re not ones he embraces for his own life. Sometime we share ideas back and forth, but this quote from the Dalai Lama that he sent me recently really got my attention:

"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."

Tracy Simmons 05-07-2012
RNS photo courtesy Sravasti Abbey

Vens. Chonyi and Jigme in their Chinese Bhikshuni robes. RNS photo courtesy Sravasti Abbey

NEWPORT, Wash.—There aren't a lot of Buddhists in America -- around 3 million or so, according to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. There isn't exactly an abundance of monasteries here either, let alone Buddhist clergy.

Yet just outside of this town of about 21,000 people, Sravasti Abbey sits as one of the only monastic communities in the West for Americans wishing to study the Buddha's teachings. What's even more unique is that the abbey now has five U.S.-born, fully ordained nuns, called bhikshunis.

With the five ordained nuns in place, official sanghakarmas (Sangha ceremonies) can be held at the abbey, including the twice-monthly private Posadha (ceremony of confession and restoration of precepts). To have the special rites, the abbey needed four bhikshunis. By this summer, the abbey expects to have six.

Jack Palmer 04-04-2012
Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

This is not another book that simply critiques religion. In Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, a noted author on a wide range of themes – from architecture to the works of Proust – examines those engaging and helpful aspects of religion (particularly focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism) that might, as he puts it, “fruitfully be applied to the problems of secular society.”

Anyone who might be offended by a work that from the outset (indeed on its very first page) asserts that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense”, is encouraged to steer clear of this book by the author himself.

It is a book that seems to swing between revulsion of religion and the “religious colonization” that atheists are charged to reverse and a recognition that all is not well in the secular world, and that these ills may be somewhat righted by looking toward religion – let me clarify – toward those aspects of religious traditions that de Botton believes are relevant to the world today: community, kindness, education and art, for example.

The very first subject to be tackled is that of community – something that Sojourners knows a little something about (check out Nicole Higgins’ recent review of Wanderlust for some insights) – and what strikes me as interesting is that de Botton’s hypothesis on the loss of community mirrors a phrase often spoken by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis:

Did we lose our sense of community when we began to privatize our faith?

Tim Townsend 03-08-2012
Golden Buddha statue | zhu difeng, Shutterstock.com

Golden Buddha statue | zhu difeng, Shutterstock.com

ST. LOUIS — The Buddha said, "I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering."

The end of suffering is something that Keith Freeman -- a former drug dealer, convict, alcoholic and crack addict -- has been after for decades.

And after taking part in an intense, five-month program at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts that connected former prisoners and homeless veterans with ancient Buddhist artwork, Freeman thinks he may have taken a step closer to enlightenment.

The group is hosting 15 performances in the Pulitzer's galleries featuring rookie actors speaking scripts culled from their own group sessions as they wrestled with Buddhist truths and their own demons.

Vishal Arora 03-07-2012
Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

Monks rehearsing for the Jakar tsechu which is held the next day on Oct. 23, 2010 in Jakar. Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

THIMPHU, Bhutan — In a country that prides itself on measuring quality of life in terms of "Gross National Happiness," this small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas seems to have a problem: at least half its citizens aren't happy, according to its own measurements.

While more than 90 percent of the 7,142 respondents said they were "happy" in a recent government survey, only 49 percent of people fit the official definition of total happiness by meeting at least six of the survey's nine criteria.

Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase GNH in 1972 on the belief that people's happiness did not depend on the nation's economic wealth alone.

GNH indicators -- as opposed to more traditional measures like a nation's gross domestic product based on economic activity -- recognize nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.

Anne Marie Roderick 10-27-2011

Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?

Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?

Of course not.

The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.

I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.