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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Meditations on Inter-Being with the Four Elements

The average human body is 60% water. The brain is composed of 70% water and the lungs nearly NINETY PERCENT water!!! To say that we inter-are with water is an understatement. This current "form" that is named "James" would not exist without mountain glaciers, rivers, lakes, clouds, soft peaceful rain and the great oceans. The oceans are the cradle of life on Earth.

Last night I ate corn as part of my evening meal and I could not have enjoyed that nourishing food without water.

Water is recycled and reborn just as all things. There will never be anymore water on the planet then there is right now but that is fine because of evaporation. Evaporation is the process through which rain is reborn in its myriad forms to benefits all things. Yin and yang.

The rich, grounding soil of the Earth is also apart of our bodies through mostly ingestion of plants. Minerals are critical to our survival. Minerals that come from the soil such as: iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, chlorine. Our bodies contain about 6 percent minerals but that 6 percent is very important to our survival. All of the bodies functions rely upon minerals. Ever taste your blood? Tastes like iron doesn't it? So we can not survive without all forms of iron. Therefore we can say that we inter-are with: Meteorites from space, car components, housing components, railroads, bridges, containers and steel that is partly made with iron. Quite simply iron is the backbone of modern society. And iron products could not exist without man power so this is another example of being inter-connected and dependent upon people that we may not ever meet or know!!
Now let's talk a bit about fire. This is my element being a Sagittarius. The Sun is one of the first things perhaps that we think of when we think of fire and heat. The Sun has been worshiped for eons because of it's power and energy. It seems that there isn't an atom in our body that hasn't be forged in the furnace of the sun. All life is dependent upon it's heat.

Human life only thrives within a narrow range of temperatures. Without heat our body begins to shut down. First our extremities and then our major organs and eventually death. Heat is also critical to release waste through perspiration. However, (as we know with the other elements) heat can not exist alone. It needs fuel to keep going and that fuel is the food we ingest. Therefore (as I mentioned) we are interconnected to the Earth in which our tasty food is grown in, rain that waters our food and helps it grow. As well as oxygen that is turned into carbon dioxide and used by the plants to grow.

Then there are volcanoes. Many scientists now believe that volcanoes helped create life on Earth. Not to mention that volcanoes created our atmosphere, our oceans and are critical in releasing the heat from the core of the Earth. They add to our continents and create islands. Thus, we wouldn't have beautiful island paradises' to visit like the Hawaiian islands without these violent fire throwers. They also leave behind dark, rich soil that produce scrumptious vegetables and fruits. So in a way, we can say that the blood in our veins is no different then the lava that pumps through the veins of a volcanic flow!! How cool is THAT?!! Especially since our bodies share many of the same minerals as those in the liquid Earth we call lava.Then we have air. As we all know oxygen is the breath of life. You can not have oxygen without plants and you can not have plants without heat/Sun/fire. Remember my mention of iron? Well, oxygen in the air is bonded with iron(a mineral from the Earth/plants). This helps the oxygen get into our bloodstream. So even the elements are dependent upon each other!! We could not have rain without air pushing storms in all directions. Thus we can see that wind is nothing short of an extension of our breath. So when we breath in and out during our meditation we should be aware that we are breathing in and out all the air that swirls around on our great planet.

It doesn't take much reflection to realize the truth in the Buddha's words that there is no independent, inherent, "self." Emptiness is form and form is emptiness. I think perhaps those few words contain the essence of Buddhism.

So I would like to take this moment to thank-you for being apart of this being labeled, "James." I couldn't be without you all. I am so very grateful and happy to know that I am apart of the Great Project with you all that is constantly evolving growing, dying, renewing and moving throughout space and time. Honor be to the infinite number of Buddhas. Honor be to the infinite number of Bodhisattvas. Honor be to you--an integral cell in my body.

Namaste dear ones.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Help Over Punishment

When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

PHOTO: Thich Nhat Hanh's humble abode at Plum Village Monastery in France

His insight is like a bright sunbeam that beats back the shadows and illuminates the pathway for us to see and avoid the rocks that might trip us up along our journey. It takes a great understanding of emptiness and no-self to realize a person making us suffer deserves our help and not our wrath.

I grew up on the edge of the "accepted group." I was your classic outsider. I was constantly shunned, insulted and laughed at for my sensitivity, non-conformist nature, crooked teeth and long neck. I was labeled, "E.T." because of my long neck and bulging, large head. Kids can be so cruel as you know. Then came the pain, suffering and struggles with mental illness. So I grew up with and nourished a "chip on my shoulder" (this means defensive, easily angered and ready to fight for my non American friends).

For a long time I have taken things personally. When someone makes me suffer it has instantly watered the seed of anger and revenge within me and before I knew it I would lash out in relatiation without even thinking. It seemed that my seed for fighting and inflicting anger and suffering upon others for the injustices heaped upon me growing up had grown into a large stinging, thorny plant that didn't need much water to grow.

This was all before I found the Dharma and I have come a long way since. That is not to say I still don't struggle with it because I do. Everyday I struggle with my anger, selfishness and my judgements. Especially in regarads to politics, mental illness and whenever I see injustice. So this quote/teaching is always timely for me.

Wow, what wisdom from this great master. It's like, I've been looking at anger in one angle and this quote is Thich Nhat Hanh's way of making a subtle shift in insight and right view that makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes all we need is someone to say, "See, if you look at the diamond from this angle you see a rainbow of color. Pretty neat huh?" I will be meditating upon this quote often. I am so grateful for all the beautiful, wise teachers whose wisdom has been passed down throughout the ages to us today to benefit from.

I sometimes think that a name for Thay should be "the archer" because his way of conveying the teachings is like shooting an accurate arrow right into the heart of the target.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Story of the Cracked Pot

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots , each hung on the ends of a pole , which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water , at the end of the long walk from the stream to the house , the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily , with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course , the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection , and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure , it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. "I am ashamed of myself , because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house."

The old woman smiled , "Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path , but not on the other pot's side?" "That's because I have always known about your flaw , so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path , and every day while we walk back , you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are , there would not be this beauty to grace the house."

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding. You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

UPDATE: I wanted to add this comment to Greenwoman to the post:

I tend to think that my "negative aspects" don't do anything but cause pain. However, everything we are, do, think, etc. is used to grow in some way. We are like an organic garden in that way!! Exciting that nothing goes to waste!!! :)

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, January 15, 2007

The Obstacle of Guilt

If we strive to improve ourselves on the spiritual path without a positive sense of self, it will be hard to look at our shortcomings. The desire to work with our shortcomings is the reason most work with of us enter the path in the first place. But this is not always easy-not because on the Buddhist path there is any shortage of skillful means, but because as human beings we find it difficult to accept our mind as it is. When we sit to practice we often find it hard to face what's "in there." All sorts of undesirable sensations and thoughts arise. Our response: "This is bad, very bad indeed. I need to cut this. I need to get rid of this. I'm so intense!" The more we look, the more we uncover.

When our mind erupts in anger, irritations, jealousy, pride, and arrogance, it is hard to think of ourselves in a positive way. When we express our anger outwardly toward others, we feel like a bad mother, bad father, bad husband, wife or brother. We were supposed to be caring and compassionate, but instead we lost it. Now we are a bad practitioner too! When we feel guilty, we can kiss our good self-image good-bye. Feeling guilty is an indication that we have a strong aversion toward our minds-who we are, how we feel, what we think.

Often we don't notice this aversion because we are too busy revisiting "the scene of the crime," turning it over in our mind again and again as if that could change it. It's like going to see a movie for a second time in hopes that the ending might turn out differently. We simply can't accept our wrongdoing or mistakes, nor can we accept our causes and conditions that produced the undesired result. Of course sometimes we can pin it on others, but we still feel the discomfort: "I wish I hadn't done that thing that I did last week!" "Why can't my mind settle in a peaceful state as described in the teachings?" "Bad me!" It's a little masochistic, and all because we simply don't want to accept and sit with the residue of our actions.

I think guilt is a challenge for those living in the modern world, where people give such weight to their feelings and emotional states of mind. In more traditional cultures, like Tibet, people give less importance to their emotions. I certainly don't mean to say that they don't have emotions, but they don't dwell on them as much or give them much credence. Even in modern cultures, some people feel a stronger sense of guilt then others. Sometimes people who come from a rougher, less privileged backgrounds have less guilt, while those who come from more privileged and educated backgrounds-who tend to analyze their thoughts and emotions and try to find some meaning in them-struggle more with guilt.

It could also be that our guilt has a little pride in it. We just can't stand to entertain the idea that we may have some faults. Seeing them, we feel like crawling out of our skin. Honestly speaking, if there's any skin we truly need to shed, it's our habit of rejecting our experience. This habit gives rise to guilt.

~Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Snow Lion Newsletter, summer 2006
Reprinted in Buddhadharma magazine, winter 2006

James: I think our deep guilt complex in our modern world is largely because of our obsession with the individual. Our narcissistic mind is constantly measuring ourselves up against guidelines set up by our selfish, consumer driven, perfectionist society. We constantly think about ourselves and whether or not we have the right car, job, family, clothes, hairstyle and on and on. We build up this impossible dream with our egos that no one can live up to because the ego is basically an illusion in and of itself!! And then we wonder why we are all neurotic and guilt ridden???

We strive for nothing short of perfection and are not satisfied when we fall short. We'd rather die in some instances then admit our shortcomings and weaknesses. We think there is no middle ground. We are either failures or "gods" in our high stakes, black and white holographic vision. There is no room for a learning curve. We either fail the test of life or pass and that is plain false, egocentric wrong view.

We can't accept that we are imperfect "like all those other losers." Surely I'm different, better. We try to live up to the guy next to us and don't realize that the guy next to us is trying to live up to us!! Insanity.

Making mistakes is apart of being human and to deny that reality is to only make our situation worse. It's like a drug addict denying that they have a problem. We need to admit that we are imperfect and that that IS O.K.!!! In fact, if we didn't make mistakes we would never have opportunities to grow. Mistakes are like powerful yet gentle reminders that things are off a bit and we need to readjust and move forward. Guilt feeds the ego, takes us away from mindfulness of the present moment and only causes us more suffering.

It's like refusing to the leave the jail once your sentence is over because we just can't accept that we deserve a second chance. Or killing ourselves because we got sick with the flu and can't accept the impermanence of our body. Without the chance to start over or readjust our actions--no one would ever reach liberation and that includes the Buddha!! Do we think that we are better then the Buddha?!! That's the other part of the problem. We think we are better then everyone else so we hold ourselves up to a higher standard. We can forgive others because we somehow think that they can't help themselves because they are less then us after all. However, when it comes to forgiving ourselves we just can't do it because surely someone so important as ME should have known better. Blah, blah, blah. We aren't that important. Of course we are important--to a degree, but "this" isn't about "us" it's about "we."

Just because we have a hiccup along our path doesn't mean that it's over and we should just sit down on the side of the road and wait to die. You don't get rid of a car because you get a flat tire. You acknowledge the problem, go about fixing it and get back on the road. So many times we forget that we have a spare tire because we are too busy crying about how awful we are to have not seen that pothole in the road!! We have eons to reach liberation. The Buddha after all went through countless lifetimes to reach Buddhahood. We need to be more patient with ourselves. Of course we want to make as much progress as possible but we don't have to do it all in one lifetime or even in one day, hour or minute.

Of course there are times when guilt is necessary to bring us back into focus but for the most part we are way way too hard on ourselves and our guilt serves no positive purpose.

Be kind to yourself today and tell yourself that you are fine just the way that you are. Keep your head up and smile. You deserve to be here as much as anyone else. I'm just happy to be apart of this wonderful inter-being that we feebly call the "Infinite Universe" or "The Higher Self."

PHOTO: Picture I took of our African violet that is flowering beautifully.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Wisdom From Shodo Harada Roshi

James: These quotes are from an article in the most recent Buddhadharma magazine. Harada Roshi is sometimes called, "The Nuclear Reactor of Zen" because students say that interviews with him are like sitting in front of a nuclear reactor. Anyway, along with the quotes:

But awakening to the true nature of our own minds does not mean that suddenly we can directly affect the world around us. This point is the source of much confusion. Awakening to one's true self does not confer special powers. An enlightened person is not suddenly able to play the piano like a great musician or paint like Picasso or Matisse.

Thus in the spiritual life, awakening must be developed through training, just as great artists train. Such training, in turn, deepens and enriches a person's character. The mere fact of enlightenment does not mean that all of one's impulses are suddenly perfect, but rather that one sees more accurately how one should live. When our daily conduct emerges from a clear, awakened mind, then those in contact with us are subtly yet profoundly affected.

James: Having to keep practicing after enlightenment is an important reminder. Even the Buddha kept meditating after his enlightenment. It is like learning to paint or play the violin. One must keep practicing to maintain the state of being that allows one to see the music in the instrument. The instrument for us in regards to Buddhism being our mind. Or like maintaining one's vehicle. We must change the oil on a regular basis, get tune ups and maintain repairs in general or our beautiful gift will break down and leave us stranded in the middle of nowhere (or samsara in the case of our practice).

And later:

A literal, precept based lifestyle alone is not enough to effect awakening. Following the rules in a mechanical manner can simply be another form of attachment, if it's not accompanied by effort toward the realization of Buddhamind. The precepts can be an effective aid to practice, but clinging to their form is a hindrance.

James: Or as it is said in Christian thought, "It is better to maintain the spirit of the law then the letter of the law." So you know all the "rules." Great but can you see the Buddha within everything including the "law breakers?" Or can you see beauty in the "garbage of life?" I'm not saying that we should all go out and live like animals but we need to be able to find a balance between austerity and hedonism. It is sometimes more difficult to see imbalance in our spiritual practice then in other areas of "outer life."

May we all continue to find and maintain that delicate balance along the middle way. Thank-you everyone for your support and posts on your blogs. I am by no means perfect and I appreciate your comments, reminders, teachings and points of view. I lean on you all and hope you know that you can lean on me too. We can only realize Nirvana with the help of others. It's impossible to make this journey alone as we are all interconnected whether we like it or not! Hehe.

We really do have a great sangha going in the blogosphere and in the Universal, greater sangha.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Heart Huckabees Movie Quotes

I Heart Huckabees is one of my favorite movies. It's a quirky, odd, hilarious movie about two "detectives" (Bernard and Vivian) that investigate people's existential issues. There, however, is a competing philosopher/existential detective (with an opposite theory. So basically the point of the movie is to see the black and the white in life as well as the bits of white in the black and vice versa and see the grey areas in life. It has a lot of Buddhist/Taosit philosophy in it which is another reason that I like it so much. It's a great movie if you haven't seen I highly recommend it but remember it's a bit "outside the box" to use a tired, old cliche. There is also some strong language in it so if you're offended by the "F" word then don't watch it.

This first scene is between the one "detective," Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and a client, Albert (Jason Schwartzman):


(Bernard holds up a blanket between his two uplifted arms/hands):

Bernard: Say this blanket represents all the matter and energy in the universe, okay? You, me everything. Nothing has been left out, alright? All the particles, everything.

Albert: What's outside the blanket?

Bernard: More blankets. That's the point.

Albert: Blanket's everything.

Bernard: Exactly. This is everything. Let's just say that this is me, all right? (pushes hand up under the blanket) And I'm, what, 60-odd years old and I'm wearing a gray suit. Blah, blah, blah. And let's say over here, this is you (pokes other hand up under another side of the blanket). And, you're... I don't know, you're 21. You got dark hair, etc. And over here, this is Vivian, my wife and colleague. Then over here, this is the Eiffel tower, right? It's Paris. And this is a war. And this is, uh, a museum. And this is a disease. And this is an orgasm. And this is a hamburger.

Albert: Everything is the same even if it's different.

Bernard: Exactly. But our everyday mind forgets this. We think everything is separate.
Limited. I'm over here. You're over there. Which is true. But it's not the whole truth because we're all connected.

Another scene (the picture above is apart of the scene below):

Tommy: (played by Mark Wahlberg): Don't start with that magic blanket bullshit, okay?

Bernard: It's not magic. It's just the way things are. You and me and the air are actually tiny particles that are swirling around together. Look right here. You see?

Tommy: Okay. But look at the cracks between these particles and the cracks we fall through, the holes of nothingness.

Bernard: Look closer. There are tiny particles connecting the larger cubes.

Tommy: Yeah, and then tinier cracks between the connections.

Bernard: And even tinier connections.

Tommy: And even tinier cracks.

Bernard: Yeah, but if you look close enough, you can't tell where my nose ends and space begins, because they're unified. See?

Albert: So what? You can't see any of this anyway!

Vivian (played by Lily Tomlin): You live all the time with things you can't see. You can't see electricity, can you? You can't see radio waves, but you accept them.

In another scene in between Bernard and Albert:

Bernard: One, your mind is always occupied on something. So it might as well be something useful...

Two, there is no such thing as you and me.

Albert: So then there's nothing?

Bernard: Three, there is no such thing as nothing.

There is no remainder in the mathematics of infinity.


In another scene between Bernard and his wife Vivian:

Vivian: I need facts, Bernard, to piece together a theory.

Bernard: No time for infinity? Gotta piece together a theory?


~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Changing Like the Weather

The first noble truth says simply that it's part of being human to feel discomfort. We don't even have to call it suffering anymore; we don't even have to call it discomfort. It's simply coming to know the fireyness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth. Nothing in its essence is one way or the other. The four elements take on different qualities; they're like magicians. Sometimes they manifest in one form and sometimes in another.... The first noble truth recognizes that we also change like the weather, we ebb and flow like the tides, we wax and wane like the moon.

--Pema Chodron, Awakening Loving-Kindness

James: Change is a great check and balance to the unbridled ego. And more importantly without change this beautiful life would not be possible. It is important to see change as a friend and not an enemy. Too often I curse change and see it as an obstacle rather then a Great Teacher and guide along the path.

Every element in existence and non-existence is within this body labeled by some as "James." The truth that I am apart of a large web of inter-being gives me great peace realizing that I'm not alone no matter how alone I might feel at the time. I'm am just one spoke in the wheel of a great vehicle (in fact Mahayana translates roughly to "the greater vehicle") that no one started, can name, label or end and being a small yet not insignificant part of that brings great understanding and grounding of what life is about. The Great Project. It gives one profound peace knowing that the Universe is unfolding as it should. There is nothing to do or undo. Things are going to go the way they are going to go and there is frankly not much that we can control. I like being apart of something that is bigger then my whiny ego.

It is very comforting to sit and breath just like the Buddha some 2500 years ago. It is humbling and empowering to know that even the Great Shakyamuni is just another cog in the wheel. It shows just how much we are all in this together. It says a lot about the Buddha that he faced his awesome nature, potential and mission in this life (and others) and knew not to grab hold of that importance and make it his own and say things begin and end with him. Many others who have developed a similar energy have sadly chosen the way of self importance over the many.

How rare an energy (and great gift to all beings) in the Buddha to have realized the Ultimate and given it away to everyone that all might be that bliss.

Namo Shakyamuni Buddha

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Denver Bronco Football Player Darrent Williams Shot and Killed at 24

DENVER - Less than 24 hours after playing in the last game of the season, the Denver Broncos say 24-year-old Darrent Williams was killed.

According to Denver Police, Williams was killed in an early morning shooting after someone with a gun pulled up alongside the white Hummer stretch limousine he and wide receiver Javon Walker were riding in and fired multiple shots.

Three people were shot and police say the limo was sprayed with bullets. At the scene, 9NEWS could see what appeared to be ten bullet holes in the limo.

Authorities say they believe the shooting was a drive-by, and that the shooter or shooters did not know who was in the vehicle. Police say the shots were fired with a semi-automatic weapon.

: Murder is the ultimate act of selfishness, pride and fear. My feelings echo Coach Shanahan's when he stated, I am speachless with sadness. Darrent Williams was a fan (and personal) favorite who had a happy, infectious smile and twinkling eyes. He played with passion for the game and yet was a gentleman on and off the field. I pray to Avalokiteshvara that compassion will be the constant companion to the Williams family as they grieve. Colorado and the city of Denver love their Broncos and see the players as extended family. Our collective hearts ache, cry and hurt over this senseless act of violence.

Killing a fellow sentient being only takes a moment but the repercussions last for lifetimes. These killers will pay dearly for their horrific actions and it will be their own actions that will demand and ultimately receive that justice. We can not avoid our actions any more then we can avoid our shadows. The pain and suffering that the family, friends and fans are feeling right now is nothing compared to the pain, suffering and misery that the murderers will experience for who knows how many lifetimes. My heart aches for the killers too for they have wasted many lives and lifetimes.

Nobody wins when violence erupts and the ripples of such wasteful actions touch many in our interconnected reality. And in a way we all have a responsibility for this killing since it is our collective consciousness that allows the seeds of violence in society to ripen and take their deadly toll.

May we all be more mindful of our actions that we might not water the seeds of anger and violence in ourselves, others and in our greater world. May we also be more mindful of karma for we do not live or act in a vaccuum.

We will greatly miss your energy Darrent but we know that your larger then life energy will be reborn and hopefully as a Buddha.

PHOTO: I picked this photo to show William's lighter side. He wore this hairstyle for a few games that he named a "Frohawk."

~Peace to all beings~

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