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Sunday, December 31, 2006

When the Self is Known

When the Self is known,
All illusions vanish.
The veil falls,
And you see clearly.
Your sorrows are dispelled.
For the Self is free
And lives forever.
Everything else is imagination,
Nothing more!
Because he understands this,
The master acts like a child.

-Ashtavakra Gita 18:6-7

James: For the Self is free and lives forever. This reminds me of the old saying that united we stand and divided we fall. Or my favorite verse in the Tao Te Ching:

The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.

It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older then God.

James: The master acts like a child. There is a lot of wisdom in this statement of acting like a child. Not in the manner of being immature, throwing tantrums and being impatient, etc. However, being innocent, without gile, accepting, expressing pure, unconditional love and being open to new ideas. May we all follow the child within and just be in the moment as children are.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Zen Teacher Brad Warner Writing a Column on a Porn Site

Brad Warner: A reader wrote me this week to ask:

Why are you writing for Suicide Girls? Seriously, why? I think there are real repercussions to a respected Zen teacher writing for a soft-porn website. Please give us an explanation, is it your idea of skillful means or what? Someone is getting rich by pandering to base desires, and you seem to be endorsing it through Zen. I don't understand how you came to this. Who cares how many tattoos or piercings they have, it is still internet porn, they just do a better job than most sites of making people feel OK about it. Your presence on the site, I'm sure, will help to justify many a lonely night in front of the computer screen. If I may be so presumptuous as to offer a blog title for you... "Get your hand off your cock and touch your thumb tips lightly!"

Warner: I expected a lot of this kind of reaction when I started writing here. As for SG getting rich pandering to base desires, lots of people get rich pandering to base desires. And lots of us wouldn’t have jobs at all if it weren’t for them. When something sells, it indicates a need for human beings to explore that particular aspect of their collective consciousness. I have a lot more problems with some of the base desires I see being pandered to in Buddhist publications than the ones pandered to here. When I see ads for instant enlightenment seminars and meditation machines, I wonder if everything I say about Buddhism will be taken as an endorsement of that kind of garbage. At least here I can be reasonably certain most readers don’t think I’m pushing naked boobies — not that I have any problem with naked boobies. It’s just that there’s no instant association with the rest of what SG sells the way there is with any of the scams that choose to call themselves “Buddhism.” (Which is not to say that all or even most of what goes by the name Buddhism is a scam. But scams do exist.) Am I “endorsing Internet porn through Zen” or “justifying many a lonely night in front of a computer screen?” Seriously, I have no idea what that even means. If anyone is waiting for justification from me in order to masturbate, I just don’t get that at all. I asked my teacher what he thought of my writing for SG and he said, “I think that it is very good decision for you to accept such a job. I do not find any kind of moral problem in them (the pictures on SG), however, I found only whether they are beautiful, or not. I think that we are usually influenced by old-fashioned religious criteria, but on the basis of Buddhism, there seems to exist a kind of criterion that what is moral is always beautiful, and what is beautiful is usually moral. Even though my idea is not so affirmative to me yet, I think that there are some kind of criteria to identify morals and beauty in Buddhism.” Depictions of naked women have been a part of human artistic expression — including Buddhist art — as long as humans have been expressing themselves artistically. Deal with it, already. American society is still strongly influenced by Puritan ideas of morality. When Buddhism was first introduced to this country, it was interpreted through these ideas. A long-standing misunderstanding of Buddhism has it that Buddha’s formula for achieving peace of mind was through the destruction of all desire. For people raised in a Christian society the worst of all desires is the desire to get one’s rocks off. When you examine it clearly, though, the idea that you should destroy all desire is absurd. You can’t even survive without the desire for food, water and air. The human race wouldn’t exist at all without the desire for sex. But this hasn’t stopped lots of people from engaging in a futile struggle to produce some magically altered mental state in which they want for nothing. It ain’t gonna happen. The real trick is to see all of your thoughts — desire just being one type of thought — for what they really are. How about your desire for a Buddhist teacher that doesn’t write articles for soft porn websites? Where does that come from? I’ve long felt that the reason Buddhism has been relegated to the junk heap of hippy philosophies that didn’t work in the Sixties so why bother with them now is because it’s been presented so exceedingly poorly, mainly by people who don’t have a clue what it is anyway. It’s not about some kind of mystical serenity available only to those rare beings among us who have freed themselves from their base desires. Buddhism is for everyone. It’s for what you are and who you are right now, warts and tattoos and naked pictures saved on your hard drive for those lonely nights and all.

James: Now call me a "rebel Buddhist" or whatever but I thought this was timely for our modern culture and well written with some great points. Why do some of us fear sexuality so much?? I think sexual expression of the human body has it's time and place and to deny ourselves such pleasure is too be miserable, pent-up people. Just like all pursuits of pleasure (eating, watching t.v./movies, music, sports, etc.) it comes down to balance and mindfulness. I think there can be such a thing as mindful sexuality/sexual expression.

O.k. now go ahead and stone me as a Buddhist heretic but before you do remember that the Buddha rejected both worshiping the body as well as denying the body. I believe that pleasure in and of itself isn't bad at all but it's the attachment (or addiction might be a better word) to pleasure over everything else that is the problem.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Tranistory, Insubstantial and Conditional

To say that Buddhism is transitory, insubstantial and conditional is merely to restate its own understanding of the nature of things. Yet its teachings endlessly warn of the deeply engrained tendency to overlook this reality.... Instead of seeing a particular manifestation of the Dharma as a living spiritual tradition of possibilities contingent upon historical and cultural circumstances, one reifies it into an independently existent, self sufficient fact, resistant to change. Living continuity requires both change and constancy. Just as in the course of a human life, a person changes from a child to an adolescent to an adult while retaining a recognizable identity (both internally through memory and externally through recurring physical and behavioral traits), so does a spiritual tradition change through the course of its history while retaining a recognizable identity through a continuous affirmation of its axiomatic values. Thus Buddhism will retain its identity as a tradition as long as its practitioners continue to center their lives around the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and affirm its basic tenets. But precisely how such commitment and affirmation are expressed in different times and places can differ wildly. The survival of Buddhism today is dependent on its continuing ability to adapt.

--Stephen Batchelor, The Awakening of the West

James: This post/quote dove-tails somewhat into the last post/quote. The realization and right action of inter-being with all things (including our obstacles,weaknesses and challenges). Sometimes I fight the energy expressing itself through me in a certain, time, place and state of being. This often causes more problems for me then if I just accept the energy, ride it out and realize that the karma playing out is normal, beautiful and even good. It's like trying to rebuild a house that has caught fire as it's burning out-of-control. It just doesn't make sense. As hard as it maybe, we have to let the fire burn itself out before we can rebuild.

Then there is this aspect (mentioned in the quote) of trying to force Buddhism to "be" a certain way. This is a dangerous action. We need to stay vigilant of our emotions, thoughts and actions that might cause us to judge people on their path saying that they may not be "true Buddhists."

"Oh that person drinks. They're not a "true" or "good" Buddhist." Or, "Their meditation posture is off and aren't doing it right." It is not our place to say that people should do this or that or be this way or that way. The only person who can even come close to such admonishions on one's path is one's teacher. Even then, the teacher can not force a person to act a certain way. In fact, doing such things could be trying to control change and the natural process of burning off karma and living out one's path. Some teachings in Buddhism are pretty much unchanging. However, a lot of the way Buddhism works with each person is fluid and dependent upon so many factors and conditions.

We have no place saying who or what is a "good Buddhist." The Buddha laid out the path but did not say that one must follow his path, "or else." His basically taught that, "This is the way that I did it so if you want to realize what I have realized then follow my discoveries."

As the Bible teaches, (and I'm paraphrasing here) "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw rocks" and "He who is without sin let him cast the first stone."

I just saw a commerical that stated, "No matter where we are going, we are all going in the same direction." That pretty much says it all doesn't it. We are all walking in the same direction but taking different paths. Just like any path, each of our paths differ slightly from that of others. We have rocks/obstacles in different places then others as well as twists, turns and dead-ends. We each have radios to stay in contact though and the best use of that communication is to encourage one another rather then telling people what to do and how much better a hiker we are over them, etc.

I hope this post finds all of you in the Greater Sangha well.

PHOTO: One of my favorites. Zen master D.T. Suzuki with a kitty poking out of his robes. So very precious and cute.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thich Nhat Hanh on Aimlessness

Does the rose have to do something? No, the purpose of a rose is to be a rose. Your purpose is to be yourself. You don't have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just the way you are. This teaching of the Buddha allows us to enjoy ourselves, the blue sky, and everything that is refreshing and healing in the present moment. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become. We are already a Buddha so why not just take the hand of another Buddha and practice walking meditation? Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. The Heart Sutra says that there is "nothing to attain." We meditate not to attain enlightenment, because enlightenment is already in us. We don't need to search anywhere. We don't need to practice to obtain some high position. We can enjoy every moment. People talk about entering nirvana, but we are already there. Aimlessness and nirvana are one. We have everything we need to make the present moment the happiest in our life, even if we have a cold or a headache. We don't have to wait until we get over our cold to be happy. Having a cold is part of life. I am happy in the present moment. I do not ask for anything else. I do not expect any additional happiness. Aimlessness is stopping and realizing the happiness that is already available.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation, p.152-154.

James: These are such beautiful reminders. His words and way of explaining the Dharma is like a breath of fresh air, a gentle touch of reminder and reassurance or a deep refreshing breath. They are like a cooling wash cloth placed on our warm fore head by our mother after a long, exhausting cry. Or a cup of milk and some chocolate chip cookies after a tough day at a school.

I hope you enjoy these words as much as I have.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

I've Missed Meditating

I've missed several days of meditating lately and I've noticed the difference. I've felt more disjointed and anxious then when I meditate daily. I got back to meditating yesterday and today and I'm back on track but it was interesting to notice the change.

My practice for me is like medicine in several ways: 1). It it s medicine that helps me balance out my ego and 2). it is a literal medicine that helps me stay stable (in combo with my meds) in regards to my schizo-affective disorder.

I do think though that it is o.k. (and necessary) to take a break now and then from meditating but what's important is to not let that break go on for too long. And there are many ways of meditating. One does not have to practice formal, sitting meditation all the time to get the benefits of meditation. I like to quite literally meditate all day long doing the seemingly insignificant activities but with mindfulness!! :)

I don't feel that I am attached to the practice. Rather it's more of an understanding of it's importance as a tool. It's like going without a spoon to eat with. I could eat with my hands but I'd I rather eat with a utensil. It's easier, less messy. I could try to just drink all day long but I'd rather meditate. Less of a headache and I've never thrown up from meditating. :)~

PHOTO CREDIT: Click here.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Colorado Holiday Blizzard of 2006

Pictures of the big holiday blizzard from here in Colorado from yesterday and today. It's stopped snowing but it's still rather cold with the wind chill and all.

Snow drifted up on our neighbor's van and truck. You can see the blizzard effect coming off the room of his house really well in this picture.

3 foot snow drift on our porch right out our front door.

Cornice hanging off our roof.

Massive cornice hanging off the roof and snow drifting up to his front window.

View of drive-way from the sidewalk.

Digging out the drive-way.

Car snowed in on our street.

Tractor digging out a main road intersecting with our street.

Bushes piled up with snow in front of our neighbor's place. They look like Himalayan peaks.

Me shoveling out from our porch. I always look like a gangster in pictures for some reason.

Snow piled up along the side of our drive-way against the mini-fence.

Lori shoveling the drive-way.

Snow piled up on our juniper hedge.

Finch sitting on the snowy juniper hedge off our front porch.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Do Kids with High IQ's Grow Up to be Vegetarians?

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter Fri Dec 15, 2:01 PM ET

FRIDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- As a child's IQ rises, his taste for meat in adulthood declines, a new study suggests.

British researchers have found that children's IQ predicts their likelihood of becoming vegetarians as young adults -- lowering their risk for cardiovascular disease in the process. The finding could explain the link between smarts and better health, the investigators say.

"We know from other studies that brighter children tend to behave in a healthier fashion as adults -- they're less likely to smoke, less likely to be overweight, less likely to have high blood pressure and more likely to take strenuous exercise," Gale said. "This study provides further evidence that people with a higher IQ tend to have a healthier lifestyle."

In the study, Gale's team collected data on nearly 8,200 men and women aged 30, whose IQ had been tested when they were 10 years of age.

"Children who scored higher on IQ tests at age 10 were more likely than those who got lower scores to report that they were vegetarian at the age of 30," Gale said.

Vegetarians were more likely to be female, of higher social class and better educated, but IQ was still a significant predictor of being vegetarian after adjustment for these factors, Gale said.

"Vegetarian diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk in a number of studies, so these findings suggest that a such a diet may help to explain why children or adolescents with a higher IQ have a lower risk of coronary heart disease as adults," Gale said.

One expert said the findings aren't the whole answer, however.

"This study left many unanswered questions such as: Did the vegetarian children grow up in a household with a vegetarian parent? Were meatless meals regularly served in the household? Were the children eating a primarily vegetarian diet at the age of 10?" said Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"In addition, we don't know the beliefs or attitudes of the parents of the children, nor do we know if there was a particular event that led these children to becoming vegetarian in their teens or adulthood," Sandon said.

As the study showed, more women than men chose a vegetarian diet, Sandon noted. "Other research shows that women in general will focus more on their health than men. So, if they believe that a vegetarian diet will have health benefits, they are more likely to follow it," she said.

Given these factors, "we cannot draw any solid conclusions from this research," Sandon added.

Another expert agreed that a vegetarian diet is healthy.

Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Snowflake and Plant Inter-being

It's snowing as I type out these strange symbols known to us as letters, words and language.

Big, soft, fluffy, lazy flakes fall without worry where they land or which direction they go.

Look at that picture of that beautifully balanced snowflake. The design of a snowflake is like a natural yin and yang symbol. And what stunning colors!!!

Within each snow flake I see water droplets from every body of water in the world.

As I look at my mini-tropical jungle of plants cradling around me in my front room one would think that the warm plants and cold snow have nothing in common. However such is not the case. I can see plants in the water droplets of snow. Plants emit oxygen that is essential for the creation of snow. Then, on the other hand snow/water feeds the plants.

Ah, inter-being (sigh).

Oh and the birds are taking advantage of the ample food supply and shelter of our huge hedge. They look so cute with their feathers fluffed out.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Meditation Alone is Not Enough

When we practice sitting and walking meditation in ways that cause our body and mind to suffer, our effort is not Right Diligence and is not based on Right View. Our practice should be intelligent, based on Right Understanding of the teaching. It is not because we practice hard that we can say that we are practicing Right Diligence. There was a monk in Tang Dynasty China who was practicing sitting meditation very hard, day and night. He thought he was practicing harder than anyone else, and he was very proud of this. He sat like a rock day and night, but his suffering was not transformed. One day a teacher asked him, "Why are you sitting so hard?" and the monk replied, "To become a Buddha!" The teacher picked up the tile and began polishing it and the monk asked, "Teacher, what are you doing?" His master replied, "I am making a mirror." The monk asked, "How can you make a tile into a mirror?"and his teacher replied, "How can you become a Buddha by sitting?"

Thich Nhat Hanh from his book, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation. Page 99-100.

James: Although meditation is important on the path it seems that quality is more beneficial than quantity. As well as putting the lessons we learn from meditation into practice in our daily lives. Meditating to the point that one has no time or vision beyond meditation to put things into practice reminds me of a dog who finds a bone and buries it. Every day he digs it up to look at, protect and make sure it is still there but doesn't do anything with it other then that.

However, he is so obsessed with guarding his treasure that he has no time to enjoy it and use it to nourish his body.

So it is with us when we fall into the clinging of spiritual materialism thinking that if we meditate enough then all our suffering will magically disappear without having to actually "do" or "be" anything. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us in this quote that marathon meditation without works is like trying to put out a fire by spitting. It is not Right Action.

PHOTO: My altar. From right to left (Picture of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, statue of Shakyamuni the Buddha and a statuette of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Kwan Yin. Avalokiteshvara is the name for the Bodhisattva's male form.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Enlightenment is Always Present

Even before we practice it, enlightenment is there. But usually we understand the practice of zazen and enlightenment as two different things: here is practice, like a pair of glasses, and when we use the practice, like putting the glasses on, we see enlightenment. This is the wrong understanding. The glasses themselves are enlightenment, and to put them on is also enlightenment. So whatever you do, or even though you do not do anything, enlightenment is there, always. This is Bodhidharma's understanding of enlightenment.

--Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

James: So true. Enlightenment is not something to obtain but rather some thing to be. Perhaps just like the oxygen in the air that we do not see or always think about. We breath oxygen and think nothing of it. So to, Enlightenment is there within and without going along with us like our shadow.

Sometimes we hold Enlightenment to be some rare, unobtainable jewel to be found (and possessed) in some high Himalayan cave guarded by some 400 year old master. We think it is more difficult then it is. We set out after it as if we were looking for the Holy Grail. We can't fathom that it is already there waiting for us. It is as if we deny our shadow being apart of us.

Look!! It is there in every thought. In every breath. In every pump of our heart. In the vast blue sky. In our moments of despair. In the compost of the garden. In the song of the fragile sparrow. In the smile of a child or the Dalai Lama. Even in the death of a loved one.

Enlightenment is our birthright and our destiny. As the lotus flower blooms out of the murky, muddy waters of an over grown pond let us reach for the sky and allow our inner Buddha to break the waters of confusion, fear and Self doubt. So that we may be in the present moment of pure Being. We inter-are with all things and that very much includes Enlightenment.

Let us not be discouraged.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy Bodhi Day!!

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.
Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.
Namo Shakyamuni Buddha.

Today we celebrate and honor The Buddha and our Buddha within in celebrating Shakyamuni the Buddha's Englightenment. May we use this day (and weekend) to do something charitable.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

"You are here" Painting

This is my newest painting titled, "You are here." It was painted with acrylic paints. Click to enlarge photos.


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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Beyond Language

The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is
no yesterday
no tomorrow
no today.

-Seng-Tsan, “Verses On The Faith Mind”

James: And yet here I wade into the word pool. Just wanted to emphasize this basic yet profound and far reaching wisdom. Language is to walk in the shadows rather then coming out into the silent yet illuminating sunshine of the Moment. In the shadows we need reassuring voices to direct us where to go yet when we live in the sharp, bright light of The Way then we need no words to direct us where to go--we just know and see and walk in noble silence.

PHOTO CREDIT: N.Design Studio

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