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Buddhism in the News


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Former Racist Prisoner Embraces the Dharma


Associated Press, Nov 24, 2006

NEWTON, Kansas (USA) -- Tony Farnan's back tells a story. "White Trash" is tattooed across the lower portion. A handcuffed, clenched fist with lightning bolts and a swastika takes up much of the middle. Farnan got the tattoos when he was younger, doing drugs, picking fights and living up to his identity as a pretty rough racist.

But now "White Trash" is covered up with another tattoo, a large purple lotus blossom. The clenched fist has been turned into a great big foo dog, the mythical Chinese protector of sacred places. If you look hard enough, you can make out the fist. But you have to know it's there.

He now takes care of his 95-year-old grandfather at their farmhouse outside Newton. He has sworn off drugs, violence and anything else that helped land him in jail. He's no longer racist.

Farnan owes this new life to a discovery he made in prison.

"Buddhism has basically saved my life," Farnan says.

Farnan is one of a growing number of people who have discovered Buddhism while behind bars, thanks in part to the popularity of the religion nationwide and to the scores of Buddhist volunteers heading into prisons to tend to inmates, male and female, who were raised Buddhist or those who discovered the ancient religion later.

Several organizations nationwide now serve Buddhist inmates. The Prison Dharma Network in Boulder, Colo., gives yoga and meditation classes to inmates and also sends books and correspondence to prisoners across the country. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Berkeley, Calif., has meditation, yoga, and journal writing programs in several California prisons. The National Buddhist Prison Sangha in Mt. Tremper, N.Y., has been supporting prison inmates with visits and letters since 1984.

He [Farnan] got books on Buddhism, which gave him some guidelines. But months later after he had been sent to the Norton Correctional Facility, Farnan needed a teacher. He looked for a Buddhist session - or callout as it is referred to in prison. Norton didn't have one, so Farnan got by with his books and meditation.

Then he was moved to the Lansing Correctional Facility, where a Buddhist group had been meeting regularly.

"I wasn't looking for a religion. I was looking for some direction and something that could help guide me."

The callouts helped. But for the most part Farnan did "a lot of deep meditation and thinking," trying to keep things simple.

"I don't know, it was probably 2002, early 2003, when I really understood that compassion was kind of the answer.

He started curbing his impulses, too. If another inmate was playing music too loud, the old Farnan would have gone over, picked up the radio and smashed it.

"Now I realized that everyone is suffering, and he's probably playing the music loud to ease his suffering. I still might ask him to lower the volume. But I wouldn't smash it."

James: I would love to volunteer with a program bringing the Dharma to prisoners. They mentioned a group here in Colorado that does such a thing and so I might look them up and see how I could help. If nothing else I can donate some of the Buddhist books that I've read to the program.

It is time that we really institute adequate rehabilitation in the prisons across the world. Bringing spirituality and teaching meditation to those who are suffering in prison is a great way to help others help themselves. There is no way that we can hope to reform prisoners with out addressing their suffering first. Punishing violence and hatred with more violence and hatred doesn't help anyone. Which reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once about the death penalty. It went something like, "Why do we kill people to show other people that killing is wrong?"

The ideal goal is sending prisoners to prison to learn to change their view of the world and their way of thinking and thus their way of acting. The easiest way that I know how to do that is through mindfulness/awareness and meditation. Prisons, however, don't do much of anything to help them confront and change their habit energy and so they simply revert back to what they know and end up coming out of prison a smarter, better criminal!!

Everyone deserves our compassion.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, November 27, 2006

We Don't Need to Move at a Snail's Pace to be Mindful

One of the most difficult things to learn is that mindfulness is not dependent on any emotional or mental state. We have certain images of meditation. Meditation is something done in quiet caves by tranquil people who move slowly. Those are training conditions. They are set up to foster concentration and to learn the skill of mindfulness. Once you have learned that skill, however, you can dispense with the training restrictions, and you should. You don't need to move at a snail's pace to be mindful. You don't even need to be calm. You can be mindful while solving problems in intensive calculus. You can be mindful in the middle of a football scrimmage. You can be mindful in the midst of a raging fury. Mental and physical activities are no bar to mindfulness. If you find your mind extremely active, then simply observe the nature and degree of that activity. It is just a part of the passing show within.

--Henepola Gunaratana

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Things That I am Thankful for and Smells I Like

These are in no particular order:

Being able to walk, being able to see, being able to speak, being able to smile, being able to hear, being able to drive, being able to sit, being able to eat, being able to breath freely, being able to sleep. Hot showers (and showers in general), clean drinking water, clean air to breath, adequate medical care in comparison to much of the world.

Medicine/herbs/vitamins, Earth, the body, teeth, snow, sun, mud, plants, socks, shoes, fingers, the stars at night, the moon, waterfalls, sunrises/sunsets, the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. Parks, mountains, forests/trees (I LOVE TREES!!!), the taste of water when no other liquid will do. Salt, glasses, art, music, light/electricity, heat, candles, animals, oceans, beaches, clouds, bells, friends, family, teachers, warm wash cloth, remote controls,

Having a roof over my head, a bed (love my bed), warm clothes in the winter, air conditioning/fans, tents, warm sleeping bags, furniture, tables, drawers, television, radio, DVR, a little money just to survive, indoor plumbing, cars (wish we had more hybrid cars though), airplanes. Fire/fire place, oxygen, computers, the internet, arms to hug with, hands to hold, kisses, blankets, pillows, tooth brush, flannel pants, gloves for the winter, stocking hats, pebbles in little, gurgling streams. Carpet, flannel slippers, meditation cushion, my country, towels, soap, fresh sheets, eye drops, fire fighters, reliable mail service, music, art.

Smells: wet potting soil, rain before and after, flowers (especially lilacs, gardenia), newspapers, books/magazines, coffee, perfume, incense(Nag champa, patchouli, sandelwood, aloeswood, jasmine), oil paints, fresh cut wood, fresh laundry, pine trees, baking cookies, lavender soap, newborn babies, baby powder, cinnamon, cloves, coconut, mountain air, peanut butter, hot tubs, pine sol cleaner, cucumber melon lotion that my wife wears, my wife's hair. Brown sugar, cedar, gingerbread, crayons, my oatmeal shaving cream, popcorn, bubble gum, new car smell, walking along a river, the musty smell of Louisiana, wine, chai, leather (although I hate the idea of leather), clean sheets, green apple liquid dish soap, pencil shavings, pencil erasers, blueberry candles, Sharpie markers, Vick's VapoRub, Sauteed onions/green onions and garlic, black licorice, scotch tape, pancakes with maple syrup on them, weeds burning and many, many more.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blood Cell Cars and Roads of Arteries

Today I was running errands and the traffic was pretty hectic being the day before Thanksgiving and all. I was getting a little anxious and caught up in the stress when I remembered to breathe. Then things shifted into focus. I started actually being in the moment rather then be carried off in the moment and I saw things in a more mindful, interconnected way.

I had a vision in that moment of the roads being veins and arteries as the cars (blood cells) moved along through the system. Every cell (person) going in different directions but all for the good of the Greater Body.

Reality is like a face reflected in the blade of a knife; its properties depend on the angle from which we view it.

-Master Hsing Yun, "Describing the Indescribable"

PHOTO: One of my paintings depicting blood cells (the blood cells can also been seen as atoms) emanating out from the Infinite Eye. It is titled, "Atomic Adonai."

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Introducing: "The Buddha" and "The Medicine Woman" Paintings

I finally got the prints back for the, "Buddha" and "The Medicine Woman" paintings. I usually price these 11x14 prints at $30 but for my bloggin' buddies I'd price them at $25. Let me know if you want one.

"The Buddha"

"The Medicine Woman."

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sitting Upon the Cushion

Sitting upon the cushion,
this body feels like a delicate bug,
softly resting upon a lotus flower.

Each breath is sweet nectar
And with these breathes,
Awareness comes into focus
like a sharpening telescope.

Sharpening in on the bright, twinkling stars
waving back from the furthest corners,
of the Universe.

This sharpened awareness is crisp,
crisp and clear,
as a cobalt blue, Colorado sky
in November.

My wife's pitter-patter typing
on the keyboard is one.
One with the pitter-patter
of the rain outside.

Soon I find my breath,
in sync with the typing
and the rain.

All in the One unfolds
and yet again,
peace and harmony
is revealed.

All is revealed in time,
as even time is an illusion,
that can be decoded.

And soon only silence

Breathing with the silence,
a bell rings gently off in the distance.

And the bug separates.
Separates from the lotus cushion.

PHOTO: This is a picture that I took of our Avalokiteshvara statue.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Your Comfort Music and/or Musician?

So I've lit some candles, pulled the front shades closed and am listening to my favorite "comfort music/musician" (and favorite music/musician of all time) the Great Prophet Bob Marley. His mystical music has some magic in it that lifts up my mood no matter what state it might be in at the time.

A rainbow of music with two lovely pots of gold o happiness at either end.

It's like a reassuring hug from a Great Bodhisattva--perhaps Avalokiteshvara him/herself and it calms my troubled mind and warms the heart. Marley is a Great Sage singing relaxing, peaceful, compassionate blessings in the form of mystical, magical, notes that descend upon my body like light, golden leaves lazily descending around me.
His musical Enlightenment shines forth as sun rays beaming through parting clouds to touch the precious hearts of untold numbers.

I honestly feel that Bob Marley will be remembered as one of the greatest musicians of all time. Right up there with Mozart and the like. I know that musical purests will disagree with that one but give Bob a chance to convince your heart. I am sure that you will see his Divine genius.

Shine on Robert Nesta Marley.

Shine on.

So what, or who is your favorite comfort music or musician?

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, November 12, 2006


The Self seems to move, but is ever still.
He seems far away, but is ever near.
He is within all, and he transcends all.

-Isha Upanishad

James: The lavender incense floats effortlessly into the air and dances with my nostrils as I breathe in it's soft, relaxing nature. The breath fills every cell with invigorating oxygen as the body rises from it's dreamy dualisitc self to settle yet again into the perfect Oneness of the awakened Self.

A bird softly chirps as a train sounds it's haunting cry in the distace cutting through the cool, crisp morning air like an arrow straight and true. Mindfulness continues to unfold as the Self becomes aware of the fridge emitting it's mythodical, hypnotic, heart-like tick tick noise. Each of these noises beautifully combines to realize a symphony of the moment.

Breathing in, the wave of the moment recedes and breathing out a new wave arrives. Two different moments yet connected through the true nature of suchness. The wave is form and the water is emptiness as Thay teaches. Waves are born from emptiness and waves return to emptiness. Thus the cycle of inter-being Infinitely unfolds beyond words, perceptions, labels, questions or answers.

A bird chirps again as a smile arrives.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Answer to my Question

Picture of "James" taken with the new camera in the black and white function.

Remember the question that I asked about "Buddhism" and mental illness? Well, I finally got an answer so here it is!!

1- What does Buddhism say about "mental illness" and why does it occur in people? Is it considered a biological condition as it is in the West or not? And is it seen as an issue of burning off negative karma?

Buddhism doesn't have one particular thing to say about mental illness as we think about it since 'Buddhism' doesn't really exist as a formal entity in its own right. The teachings of the Buddha have moved through a number of cultures over the past twenty-five hundred years, interacting with and influencing the local ways of thinking. Many Buddhist cultures, like those of Tibet or ancient India, have indigenous medical systems that were influenced by the variety of ancient cultures rubbing up against each other for hundreds of years, Greek, Persian, ayurvedic, Chinese, etc. In the Tibetan medical system, severe mental illness, conditions that we would call bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, are seen as imbalances in the vital energies that sustain the mind and body. Causes for the most severe disturbances are often thought to be inborn. We would call these causes genetic, or biological, but these explanatory systems evolved before knowledge of genes existed. Less severe mental illness, what we would call neurotic, is thought to be rooted in the mental afflictions of greed, hatred, ignorance, pride, and so on. When these mental habits are left unchecked, they become fixations which begin to twist or torment the mind. One of the great opportunities of a human birth, it is said, is that there is always a potential for taming wild thoughts through self-awareness. It is this effort that burns off negative karma.

I also liked the answer to the second question that someone else asked:

2- My teacher discourages use of antidepressants but my therapist recommends them strongly. I'm at a loss and am not finding middle ground. What is your take on this?

I always think about those beautiful Tibetan thangkas, or paintings, of the medicine Buddha when this question comes up. He sits there with a vast array of medicinal powders, pills and potions spilling out in front of him, all vehicles of reducing suffering. The Buddha wants you not to suffer if you don't need to. If there is a pill that works (and the Western treatments do not always work; but when they do, they are a godsend), he would want you to try it. Even with a successful treatment with antidepressants, there is more than enough suffering left to work with meditatively.

Thanks again everyone for helping me out and voting for my question!!

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My New Camera and Gandhi on the Many Religions of the World

My lovely wife just bought me a new digital camera for my up-coming birthday and one of my favorite features available is the ability to take black and white pictures. This is a black and white picture that I took of my photo of Thay (as Thich Nhat Hanh is known by his students) on our altar. The beads wrapped around the picture are of my old 108 bead mala.

I thought I'd also add a great view on the different religions of the world by the Great Mahatma Gandhi:

Religions are different roads converging on the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? I believe that all religions of the world are true more or less. I say "more or less" because I believe that everything the human hand touches, by reason of the very fact that human beings are imperfect, becomes imperfect.

-Mahatma Gandhi

This is great wisdom. No matter how much we believe in a religion they are all run by imperfect beings. The Buddha understood this problem with organized religion. This is why the Great Awakened One taught us to not believe what he said (or anyone says) unless we have come to that conclusion from our own internal investigation. Also the teaching that attachment to the trappings of a "religion" will not get us very far on the path to liberation. It just becomes another hobby. This is why I often refer to myself in writing as a "Buddhist." The quotes present because after all what is a "Buddhist?"

However, (as you know) it is inquiring within through grounding, personal practice is what sets us free.

Above is a picture of one of the cute little finches that visit our bird feeder on a daily basis (with a section of the yellow prayer flag in front). Late this morning as I was meditating they were really talking up a storm and it made me smile in many moments during my sitting practice today.

With my eyes closed all I could sense was their chirping and in that moment I was transported to all the different places that finches live. I was there in all those places at once. It was a beautiful experience of non-self, suchness, interconnectivity, inter-being or whatever feeble words one might use to explain the moment.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Introducing: Plumline Online Sangha!!

Wow, it's been a week since I posted?!! Sorry about that dear friends.

Now, on with the show!!

Introducing, Plumline. Plumline is a new online Sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Plumline was started for those of us who are disabled or otherwise unable to attend a traditional Sangha. This is such a wonderful gift from modern technology to those of us who would otherwise not have any contact with other Buddhists. I thank those who have made this possible. What a blessing!!!

Buddhism is such a wonderful path as it is able to adapt to the times and changes of the evolution of life and society. It is after all all about dealing with change with grace and peace.

~Peace to all beings!!~

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