Notes on Buddhist Journalism—9-Examples of BJ picked from current paradigm show its feasibility to take off as new genre
Posted on July 20th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne © 2011 Professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead

 When a namarupa consciously writes a news story or a feature from the Buddhist perspective as elaborated in this series, it results in BJ. The Lankaweb, a nonprofit online Web site, has demonstrated the ability of a news medium to function without being at the mercy of conglomerate advertising.  Lankaweb exists on the news feed of a team of citizen journalists, who constitutes its readership as well. The vision of Dharmasiri Weerasinghe, who has run the Lankaweb for more than 15 years, has provided a platform””‚a sort of Hyde Park corner”””‚for everyone, including those who are denied a voice in the mainstream press by egocentric editors.

BJ is no stranger to Lankaweb. It carries news and views from a Buddhist perspective almost every day. Below, I have reproduced the headline and lead of two of my stories in the Lankaweb that fall into BJ category:

  • http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2009/06/13/china-diagnoses-ti-lakkhana-anicca-dukkha-and-anatta/ (13 June 2009)

 China, the emerging superpower, has achieved its success through the pragmatic application of its three-pronged cultural inheritance based on a hybrid of Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist principles. Pragmatism, defined so elegantly by the illustrious Deng Xiaoping””‚”It does not matter whether a cat is black or white; if it catches mice, it’s a good cat”””‚illustrates the crux of Chinese multi-dimensional thinking, which stands in contrast to the one-dimensional thinking of the West that arrogantly identifies Western ideology with universal values. “¦

It would not have occurred to a Western journalist or a non-Western counterpart beholden to the mainstream news paradigm to interpret the enormous changes occurring in China from my unique Buddhist point of view. Parenthetically, my interpretation of China would have never met the New York Times’ criterion of “all the news that’s fit to print.” 

  • http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2009/10/24/humans-should-ponder-their-place-in-universe-focus-on-no-self-can-help-resolve-many-problems/ (24 Oct. 2009)

This story is best told in pictures. It’s the story of planet Earth and its place in the universe. Once upon a time, long before the Hubble Telescope, humans thought that Earth was the center of the universe. Now we know that Earth is a mere speck in the still expanding universe, 90 percent of which is dark matter. Buddhist philosophy asserts that the universe is a giant cooperative network, which operates in consonance with paticca samuppada (the principle of dependent co-arising). This means that every part of the universe is interconnected, interdependent and interacting. Thus the entire universe exhibits three irrefutable characteristics: anatta (no self/interdependence) anicca (impermanence/change) and dukkha (sorrow/unsatisfactoriness), collectively called ti-lakkhana. “¦

I found the Buddhist interpretation of the universe supplemented by the ancient Yijing model of 64 hexagrams (evolved from the interaction of yin and yang) to be the most plausible onto-cosmological approach to understand the mystery of the universe, which science alone cannot do. The Earth is but a mere speck in the unfathomable cosmos of which we still know very little. Even within our own solar system, the Earth’s size is so small that it’s absurd to think that human beings are superior to Nature. This story, written at the universal level, was an attempt to show the wisdom of applying Buddhist ideals to life on earth.

Lankaweb published another story of mine headlined

 A monk in yellow robes was somewhat of a novelty to the audience of 50 or so people gathered at the Parkway United Church of Christ in Minneapolis (3120 Washburne Ave.).

Kathy Itzin, the pastor of the church, had invited the monk to speak to her congregation on Buddhism about which they knew little. “¦

I wrote the story as a news feature that fits the Western news paradigm using all the facts I could muster to boost up the monk’s individuality rather than to portray his three virtues: ci (compassion), jian (frugality) and Bugan wei tianxia xian (humility). My story would have been a good example of BJ had I bypassed boosting up the monk’s ego and focused on the social good that the Minnesota Buddhist clergy led by Ven. Seewalie has done through its rehabilitation program involving some 30 prisoners in the South Dakota State Penitentiary, its increasingly popular meditation programs, and its efforts to involve college students in Dhammic discussions.

Using Wikipedia and other online sources, the BJ practitioner could have focused on the success of the rehabilitation program in which Minnesota Buddhist clergy is involved. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009, the rate was 743 incarcerated per 100,000 people. The United States has 5 percent of the world population and 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. The U.S. also tops the world in the total number of crimes committed.   Overall, the total crime rate of the United States is similar to that of other highly developed countries.  A BJ practitioner could link the Minnesota Buddhist monks’ involvement with the rehabilitation program at the South Dakota State Penitentiary to analyze crime and punishment in the U.S. from the Buddhist/Oriental point of view that the putative material wealth of a country cannot eliminate the extent of dukkha (suffering) in a particular society.

Analysis and interpretation or process is the forte of BJ. Its goal is to help society minimize individual and social suffering.  Therefore, it cannot add to the extant level of suffering by catering to the lower temptations of human beings. Neither can it compete for scoops on scandal (involving prominent people like Rupert Murdoch) based on “women, wampum and wrongdoing” formula.

Answer to Rating Stories

This reasoning leads us to place the two stories I asked the readers to rate (in Notes””‚8) closer to the lower/lowest level of the rating scale. The Forum story clearly follows the “www” formula applying four of the news values””‚proximity, timeliness, conflict and the unusual/bizarre; the story is unlikely to reduce dukkha in society. The Apostolic Tribune story is an amateurish attempt to promote the ego of an individual, the Rev. Ranjith Aponso, to the transcendental level of Christ in disguise; its Biblical diction and the tortuous use of Holy jargon fail to accomplish a reduction of dukkha.

 Three-way comparison

Further to my exposition of the interdependence, interconnection and interaction of the Daoic and Dhammic faiths (in Notes “¦ 6), I  wish to add the following three-way comparison:

Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism are similar in the sense that the Five Constants (of the Analects)””‚ren, li, yi, xin and zhi; the Three Jewels (of the Dao)””‚compassion/ pity, moderation/ frugality, and humility; and the Sila dimension (of the Noble Eightfold Path)””‚right speech, right livelihood and right action: all aim to foster peace and good behavior.

However, the goal of a Buddhist is to reach Nirvana through understanding the Four Noble Truths and adhering to the NEP. The goal of a Confucian is to find his/her peaceful and harmonious place in life, while the goal of a Daoist is to live in harmony with the Dao free of social shackles.

The Law of Karma and Rebirth embedded in Buddhism added an extra dimension to the Chinese belief systems. [The anti-Buddhist view that the truth of existence””‚the interaction of anatta (no-self), anicca (impermanence) and dukkha (unsatisfactoriness)””‚reflected Buddhism’s antipathy toward life is a misrepresentation. It omits to reveal the Buddhist assertion that unbridled tanha (desire/ greed) is the cause of dukkha.]  The Principle of the Dialectic Completion of Relative Polarities (or the yinyang principle) embedded in Chinese belief systems strengthened the explanatory power of the Buddhist paticcasamupada doctrine.

All three have a different view on life. The Confucians believe that individuals should improve themselves through education and development of character. The Daoist believe that living a life in consonance with the way of Dao would be good whereas living a life following the ways of society would be bad. The Buddhists see life on earth as unsatisfactory because of the interplay of avijja, samkhara, vinnana, satayatana, phassa, vedana, upadana and tanha. Therefore, the Buddhist tries to minimize his/her mental defilements through meditation thereby improving life on earth.  

Each of the three philosophies has a different view of society. Confucians believe that a person develops good character through a good life and that everyone has his/her own role. Daoists consider society to be negative because it was an artificial construct that stood against belief in the Dao. Buddhists believe that society can improve itself if everyone follows the NEB and not let tanha go beyond the limits of his/her basic needs.

A Chinese wears all three hats at the same time. He is a Buddhist, a Confucian and a Daoist at the same time. He is a namarupa of yang (nama = four psychological elements) and yin (rupa = material form) that can balance all opposites in the bhavacakra of anicca (impermanence), anatta (no self) and dukkha (suffering).

The namarupa labeled BS who keeps barking at the moon perennially laboring on the same point should learn to wear multiple hats and practice the art of empathy. Four attempts by three Chinese emperors (from the 6th century to 10th) failed to kill Buddhism in China. The Buddhists killed by the Muslims in the 1193 Nalanda massacre were Bharata people who believed in ahimsa irrespective of the Dhammic faith they followed””‚Vedic, Buddhist or Jain””‚none of which believed in forced conversion. Why is BS not praising Buddhism for its impressive success in East Asia?

One Response to “Notes on Buddhist Journalism—9-Examples of BJ picked from current paradigm show its feasibility to take off as new genre”

  1. Nanda Says:

    I wouldn’t call even Namarupa to BS. He probably has rupa and very very very little nama only. His research is WIKIPIDIA only.
    Ahimsa will not end at itself in Buddhism. Whether Nalanda Buddhist killed because of Ahimsa or not irrelevant.
    Success of Buddhism with full Nibbana is exponential currently. America , Australia, Europe or UK, more and more people with brains joining Buddhist practice everyday.
    We should let go nMARUPA BS to end our suffering.

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