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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thoughts on Enlightenment During Meditation

During my meditation session yesterday I had an interesting thought enter my mind:

"Enlightenment is a practice not a prize."

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO CREDIT: Standing Buddha statue from the 2nd or 3rd century in a museum (not sure which one). However, Tom Armstrong sent the picture to me. Thanks Tom!!

It's amazing how well intact is appears to be considering it's age.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Guilt, Shame and Buddhist Practice

Remembering a wrong is like carrying a burden on the mind.

James: This reminds me of something that my mom told me in regards to guilt. Carrying guilt around in our minds is like hiking up a mountain and picking up every rock we stub our toe upon and throwing it in our backpack. That is unskillful. It is unnecessary suffering and it stems from a belief in a separate self. That somehow we are so important that we should suffer more than anyone else. It is also the belief that we are so powerful that we can actually revisit these past unskillful actions and somehow in reliving them change the result.

I personally have greatly suffered from the vicious cycle of guilt and shame and understand this process very well. I have worked hard on being in the moment and am now slowly learning how to let go of guilt through meditation and concentrating upon mindfulness.

Through meditation we can practice letting go of the burdens within our mind via deep breathing. Further, meditation is like a reset button that we can push to return us to the sharp wisdom of the present moment. Bringing us back to our natural state of peace, relaxation and freedom from the specter of invented ghosts which the ego-self creates for it's need of chaos and drama to feed "itself" and survive.

Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment as well. It keeps our attention upon what is going on in our present reality. Keeping us focused and aware. This keeps us from falling one step behind ourselves which leads us to trip over obstacles along our path because we are so focused on reliving the past that we do not see them coming. Obstacles which throw us off of the trail of balanced Reality of the present moment and into the waiting arms of the ego-self. Staying mindful of the present moment allows us to be aware of obstacles rising up and have the mental clarity to move safely around them.

May we all be more aware of the present moment and not pick up rocks. And if we do, may we only hold them for only a moment and throw them innocently back down onto the path and not into our backpacks to carry around like a martyr.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Grasping Fire

The Buddha's teaching is all about understanding suffering--its origin, its cessation, and the path to its cessation. When we contemplate suffering, we find we are contemplating desire, because suffering and desire are the same thing. Desire can be compared to fire. If we grasp fire, what happens? Does it lead to happiness? If we say: "Oh, look at that beautiful fire! Look at the beautiful colors! I love red and orange; theyre my favorite colors," and then grasp it, we would find a certain amount of suffering entering the body. And then if we were to contemplate the cause of that suffering we would discover it was the result of having grasped that fire. On that information, we would hopefully then let the fire go. Once we let fire go then we know that it is not something to be attached to. This does not mean we have to hate it, or put it out. We can enjoy fire, can't we? It is nice having a fire, it keeps the room warm, but we do not have to burn ourselves in it.

--Ajahn Sumedho, Teachings of a Buddhist Monk

James: It seems that a lot of us "Buddhists" forget the Buddha's teaching on the middle-way even though we know it on an intellectual level. What I mean is that we like to become martyrs and punish ourselves because we have passions and enjoyments. We do not have to be robots and statues to enjoy the fruits of the Buddha's teachings. The key, as Ajahn speaks of is to not attach to them one way or the other.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Good News

Well, it's official. L got a new job!!!! We are so excited and I am unbelievably proud of her and her dedication. I am humbly grateful. The pay is about the same but the insurance is awfully expensive. She's covered 100% but to cover me we'd have to pay a $400 a month premium so we're taking the medicare route for me to cover all the drugs I have to take.

L told me that now that she has a new job that she's going to buy me a pair of non-leather, cruelty-free, sweatshop free shoes!!! I'm so excited!!! And they look pretty cool. I'm buying them through my new favorite store, mooshoes.

Here is a picture:
The Buddha picture is of the world’s biggest outdoor Buddha at the top of a mountain on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. I wish I took this picture but I found it on Google images.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

I saw this book in the bookstore months ago and knew that I would be reading it sooner of later but that I was backed up on my reading. Well, yesterday I picked it up and began reading and let me tell you that so far it doesn't disappoint. I've read up to page 23 but already the author, (Richard Dawkins) has made some intriguing points. This will be the first of many posts on the book.

First of all I want to share a great quote from Carl Sagan on the matter of a supernatural "God:"

Carl Sagan put it well: '...if by "God" one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.'

This quote pretty much sums up my attitude about and toward a "God." However, I would add the following: My personal view of a "God" is most closely to that of a pantheist (if I have to delve into definitions). I try not to put limits upon such a force. Even though I do not believe in a supernatural "God" I do believe in an Unfathomable "God-force."

I think that such a force is so Enlightened that it is not limited to a permanent body (as my friend David alludes to in my cross-post at my Buddhist blog). That all sentient beings and non-sentient things have a piece of this "God-force" within "their" very DNA and molecular structure. I call myself a "Buddhist" to make it easier for people that think in structured, dualistic 'religious' terms. However, as a "Buddhist" I see that there really is no such thing as a "Buddhist" or "Buddhism" as both are always changing--as are all things according to the Buddha. Being a student of "Buddhism" I promptly looked up "Buddhism" in the index of the book and found this lonely reference.

And I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as religions but as ethical systems or philosophies of life.

I do not believe in a "God" that can be conceivable to the average theist either and I would submit that Dawkins believes the same. That his belief in science is a 'religion' but as the below quote explains, he purposely does not call himself 'religious' because that word is loaded with centuries of preconceived ideas.

He seems to be a pantheist:

Pantheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs it's workings. ...Pantheism is sexed up Atheism. He then goes on to quote Einstein's religious beliefs and agrees with them: 'To sense behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.' In this sense I too am religious, with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever graspable.' But I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading. It is destructively misleading because for the vast majority of people, 'religion' implies 'supernatural.'

James: After reading this quote I sank my teeth into the first, real meaty issue of the book. That being the idea that anything religious deserves an abnormal amount of respect and even a state of untouchability. He gives a couple of great examples regarding this issue:

I have previously drawn attention to the privileging of religion in public discussions of ethics in the media and in government. Whenever a controversy arises over sexual or reproductive morals, you can bet that religious leaders from several different faith groups will be prominently represented on influential committees, or on panel discussions on radio and television. I'm not suggesting that we should go out of our way to censor the views of these people. But why does our society beat a path to their door, as though they had some expertise comparable to that of, say, a moral philosopher, family lawyer or a doctor?

James: This is an excellent point. Abortion for example is a medical issue and not a religious issue. Sure religions have a right to be against abortion but why should a religious belief influence our laws that are supposed to be independent from any religion? Especially if we believe in a separation between church and state? Religions have a right to be free from governmental imposition of beliefs but the government has a right to make decisions based on science, reason and sociological data rather then on faith, based on what an arguable, mythical, "man in the sky" tells us to belief or do. History has tried many, many times to run government by religion and it has made a serious mess of things. That was one of the major reasons that the American revolution took off and was so successful. If religious groups are going to be invited to discuss and decide major government and political issues then they should lose their tax exempt status.

Here's another weird example of privileging of religion. On 21 February 2006 the United States Supreme Court ruled that a church in New Mexico should be exempt from the law, which everybody else has to obey, against the taking of hallucinogenic drugs. Faithful members of the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal believe that they that they can understand God only by drinking hoasca tea, which contains illegal hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine. Note that is sufficient to believe that the drug enhances their understanding. They do not have to produce evidence. Conversely, there is plenty of evidence that cannabis eases the nausea and discomfort of cancer sufferers undergoing chemotheraphy. Yet the Supreme Court ruled in 2005, that all patients who use cannabis for medical purposes are vulnerable to federal prosecution (even in the minority of states where such specialist use is legalized). Religion, as ever, is the trump card. Imagine members of an art appreciation society pleading in court that they 'believe' they need a hallucinogenic drug in order to enhance their understanding of Impressionist or Surrealist paintings. Yet, when a church claims such an equivalent need, it is backed by the highest court in the land. Such is the power of religion as a talisman.

James: This is going to be a great book.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Poem and A Passage

James: I'll start with a lovely poem that I've seen on the lastest Macy's commercial:

The Earth has come to life today.
Spring is here, horray, horray. The flowers are happy. They wave delight. The sun shines bright with all her might. So fly little fairy, fly, fly, fly. Fly through the meadow & touch the sky. When you get to where your going, Remember this day. The day the Earth came out to play.

James: The following are some excerpts from the book, Buddhism is Now What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs regarding rebirth and reincarnation. There is some confusion in Buddhism over these two different concepts:

One common understanding of Buddhism is that it involves reincarnation. But if we go back to the original insights of the Buddha, we don't find this teaching. What the Buddha taught was rebirth, not reincarnation. Though they are often confused, they are not the same at all. And we sometimes come up with thoughts of reincarnation: "I'll come back as someone else." Sometimes these notions are coupled with the idea that if we're good, we can come back in more fortunate circumstances. What all of these concepts have in common is that they suppose some enduring entity--incarnate, here and now--that persists and, after it dies, disintegrates, only to reemerge as something else again. But there's a problem here. If it becomes something else, then in what way is it the same? How is it still, in some manner, what it used to be? And if it's not, then how is this reincarnation? Indeed, what does the term it even refer to?

Here is what many people miss (or ignore) about the Buddhadharma: the Buddha himself pointed out that this view is inaccurate and extreme. It's called the eternalistic view--but the awakened see directly that permanence is never found, that the eternalistic view simply doesn't hold up. As the great thirteenth-century Japanese Zen teacher Dogen Zenji said, "Just as firewood does not revert to firewood once it burns to ash, so a person does not return to life after death." The fact is, within this one life span, as we live from moment to moment to moment, we are never a particular, unchanging person. You are not the same person you were ten or twenty years ago. In fact, you're not the same person you were ten or twenty minutes ago.
Nothing persists. Nothing repeats. Nothing returns. Each moment is fresh, new, unique--impermanent. There is no way to hold a view of reincarnation without holding a view of permanence.

This moment has been born again and again, innumerable times while you've read this chapter. Learning to see this, and not the recycling of souls,
is the liberation the Buddha pointed to.

James: The other extreme wrong view is that of nihilism. That we die and we are snuffed out but this is false thinking because there is nothing to "snuff out." Believing that we cease to "be" is Wrong View because it presupposes a belief in materialism. That there is something that can be "born" out of nothing into something and back to nothing it returns. It is a view that acknowledges pain, suffering and death that comes with life but then says that a "person" ceases to exist forever. Meaning that death or non-existence is permanent. "Things" can not be permanent and impermanent at the same time.

Just wanted to point out the other side of the issue.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Aspen Leaf Trembles Through Out the Galaxies

Under the loving rays of the sun I watch the Aspen leaf dance and flutter in the gentle breeze. I focus on the tiny network of veins hidden within. I follow them and enter into a tiny maze of a fragile yet vibrant world. Traveling through the labyrinth I go through smaller and smaller pathways until I explode into the largest Universe.

An infinite number of galaxies exist within the tiniest of cells and the largest of galaxies contain an infinite number of microscopic cells.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "I have arrived, I am home."

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Faux Leather Belt

I've been slowly (slowly only because of lack of money) phasing out my leather goods since becoming a "Buddhist" and becoming a vegetarian. Well, the other day I took my first step toward being "leather free." I ordered a "faux leather" belt and it is really nice. In fact, I like it more then any leather belt I've owned!! Part of it I think is the satisfaction and peace of mind knowing I'm not supporting the killing of animals. However, functionally speaking It is just as thick, pliable and supportive as any leather belt I've ownd. It appears very durable and I expect it will last a long time. My next step is getting a non-leather wallet, then non-leather, sweatshop free shoes and finally getting a new couch. Unfortunately the non-leather products tend to cost more but they are worth the peace of mind for my money. And the more people purchase these products the more the cost will inevitably go down.

We also try to buy as much organic food as possible. As well as non-toxic products. Every little bit helps. We are also big recyclers. The town we live in has a great recycling program. They sell bins for recycling. One (a blue one) for all paper products (including paperboard which includes most grocery boxes and other products. And then a green one for glass, certain plastic bottles, and tin cans. You just leave the bins out on the curb next to the garbage and they actually pick it up for you! It's really nice. Plus, we have a recycle plant near by that takes cardboard, phone books and the other products mentioned above. So it really annoys me when people around here throw glass bottles in the regular trash. We have such a great recycling program but people are too lazy to hold on to that bottle, take it home and put it where it belongs. I guess though I can only do my part and encourage others to do the same. I can't (nor should I) force people into doing it.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Right Speech and Thought

This post will be about the steps on the Eight-fold path of Right Speech and Right thought.

However, I do not wish to talk about the nuances of these two steps but rather talk about how they are influencing me right now.

There was a time when I didn't care much about life or anything else and I developed a pretty nasty habit of cussing. And sadly it still lingers with me to this day despite finding the Dharma. The seeds have been heavily watered so that there are great trees rooted in the fertile soil of my mind. This means that my habit of cussing is easily triggered and before I know it I am speaking in a very vulgar manner. Just about every dirty word you can imagine springs from my mouth now and then. The one that bothers me the worst is when I use the name "Jesus Christ." It makes me feel bad that I used the name of such a Holy Being in such a crass manner. It's such a strong habit to curse that way, however, that it's hard to catch it before it's said and "out there."

The other aspect of this is that I have a tendency to judge people and gossip. I find myself doing it all the time and I despise it. I try to just accept people for who they are but before I know it I'm criticizing people again!! Plus, having A.D.D. my mind tends to go where it shouldn't. My mind seems to enjoy taking me to the deepest, darkest places. Oh how it loves to torture me!! Ha!! I need to work on having good, non-judgmental, thoughts about people. I think my critical viewpoints have their genesis in a low self-esteem that I struggled with for many years.

Now I am much more accepting and loving toward myself but the critical judgments and attitudes toward others continue. It's also important not to judge and condemn myself too much either!!

I think (and am told that I am) a very loving and kind person. And I am toward my friends, family and most strangers. However, it is very difficult for me to not judge people I see that I have strong disagreements with. People that I guess I see as my "enemies" and that is part of the problem I think. I have a strong "us" and "them" mentality toward some people. Especially those that I see as opposite me. Such as neo-conservative, fundamentalist Christians. In some way I feel threatened by such polar opposites and so I feel like I have to be defensive and that leads to talking negative about them. I find it difficult to realize that certain people are apart of me whether I like it or not. It's hard for me to be loving toward President Bush for example.


So, when does positive criticism (say of our government and leaders) become an unskillful thing versus a civic duty? I follow engaged Buddhism that says it's important to work toward peace and other good things but to what degree does one "fight?" Where is the balance between our civic duty and our Buddhist practice?

Therefore, I have made it my goal to work on my speech and thoughts this year. It is my spiritual goal for this year. I am going to work hard to try and eliminate the dirty words from my vocabulary. It will be difficult but I am determined. Any suggestions on how to go about this goal? I know that I can't eliminate such talk right away but I want to reduce it as much as possible and hopefully overtime I can eliminate such words and judgmental talk altogether. Perhaps that's a dream to think we can "stop" our judgments. If we didn't have those kinds of thoughts then I guess we'd all have experienced parinivana by now, eh?!!

Perhaps it's shocking and maybe even disappointing that you know this about me but know that I am not perfect as none of us are. We all have our weaknesses and I have many but I am determined to work on them. And I do. Everyday. I work with each moment to see it as a new chance to begin a new with my thoughts, words and actions. Practicing the Dharma isn't always easy and it is a life-long, journey but it's worth it and I am making slow but steady progress. Thank goodness we have many chances to get it right.

Anyway, I'll stop rambling now. I hope some of this makes sense!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Warrior Monks in Buddhism

I was reading my latest copy of the Buddhadharma magazine when I came across a reference to the Tendai school of Buddhism and being curious started reading about it online.

I began reading and soon found reference to "warrior monks" and had to chuckle. What was a "warrior monk" I wondered and read on. Apparently there was a time when different Buddhist temples in ancient Japan fought with each other and developed these "warrior monks" that would fight to defend their temple and attack other temples. Most of the violence erupted over political feuds surrounding imperial appointments to the top temples. On some occasions the "rival temple" was burned to the ground with their holy relics and statues inside.

If any of this sounds not very Buddhist then you're not alone. The idea of a "Buddhist warrior monk" is just well (for lack of a better term) bizarre to say the least. Can following the Buddha and engaging in violence be congruent?? Nope. Especially if you're an "ordained monk!!" Buddhist monks take a vow to never kill or use violence and lay people are highly encouraged to do the same.

Just another example of how fundamentalism can really screw up a religion.

Fascinating though.

This isn't the only example of militantism creeping into Buddhism in ancient Japan (such as the Samurai). However, one can not say that all Samurai were Buddhist per se. Many were just influenced by Buddhist philosophy and practices--especially meditation. Perhaps that is the case with these "warrior monks" as well.

UPDATE: Speaking of "militant Buddhism" I just read something about the DKBA. It stands for, "Democratic Karen Buddhist Army." Apparently it is the oldest and largest insurgent group in Burma.

Again, bizarre.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Missing the Moment

It is often the case that whatever we are doing, be it sitting, walking, standing, or lying, the mind is frequently disengaged from the immediate reality and is instead absorbed in compulsive conceptualization about the future or past. While we are walking, we think about arriving, and when we arrive, we think about leaving. When we are eating, we think about the dishes and as we do the dishes, we think about watching television. This is a weird way to run a mind. We are not connected with the present situation, but we are always thinking about something else. Too often we are consumed with anxiety and cravings, regrets about the past and anticipation for the future, completely missing the crisp simplicity of the moment.

--B. Alan Wallace, Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up

James: This is funny because as I was reading this quote I was also listening to the radio. Ha!! I often catch myself trying to do two things at once. Sometimes I find myself turning on the t.v. just to have some noise in the background. Silly monkey mind. The ego-self is like a drug addict. They seek the drug to feel good but that's not good enough because as soon as they're high they're already thinking about where they're going to get their next dose.

~Peace to all beings~

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