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Monday, April 30, 2007

What is Vesak Day and Why Celebrate It?

Jack asked that I blog a bit on Vesak Day (celebration of the birth of the Buddha) so here is my offering on the day.

Perhaps some might think the celebration of the birth of the Buddha is odd as Buddhists are encouraged not to attach too much importance to birth, death and the body in general.

However, I feel that the true essence of Vesak Day is to celebrate the Dharma rather then the physical presence of the Buddha himself. Indeed the Buddha did not want his followers to worship him but rather follow and honor his teachings. The Buddha was a human being--not a God. However, he was indeed a special, rare being who was inspired to bring us the timeless Dharma.

Thus, Vesak day for me is a special day to honor not only the Dharma that the Teacher Buddha so generously taught but also to celebrate the Buddha within us all. After all being interconnected to all things seen and unseen we are natural continuations or roots of the Tathagata. It is also a day for me to remind myself of what is possible and why I follow the path of the Middle-Way taught by the Buddha. It is a day of re-dedication to the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-Fold Path as well as the The Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

The date of celebrating Vesak Day seems to change from country to country and tradition to tradition usually in accordance of the first full moon in May. According to my Thich Nhat Hanh calendar the first full moon in may is on the 2nd. In places such as Thailand and Singapore the day is celebrated on the 31st of May.

In some places the day is a celebration of not only the Buddha's birth but his enlightenment and continuation from this life of samara (suffering) into Nirvana and Parinirvana. He did not die in a special way nor was seen ascending into the sky as a God would. He died just like any other human being.

In addition, in certain countries caged birds and fish are set free as a compassionate and lovingly kind gesture to show respect to all living creatures.

I plan on celebrating the day spending some time looking for trapped insects in our house in order to set them free. We have a fun device that allows one to gently and humanely catch insects in order to set them free outside in the garden. However, If I find a spider for example in a nest then I will leave them be as to not disturb their babies and cycle of life.

I also would like to purchase a lovely spring Lilly plant to grace our altar. As well as candles in honor of our founding father's enlightenment who pointed out the Way of the Infinite Dharma, the Buddha within us and the community of followers who keep the teachings alive. I will also meditate as usual and maybe attend the Tibetan Buddhist Stupa located in the mountains near by here at the Shambhala Mountain Center.

I see Vesak Day as being very different then the Easter of Christianity because the celebration of the birth of the Buddha is not the honoring of a Savior or God. Rather it is the celebration of the teachings of a great teacher.

Growing up and living in the western United States and spending several years in Africa I have, in addition, been highly influenced by the spirituality of the native peoples of those places. Thus, I also see this celebration as the honoring of spring arriving to bring life again to the world. Just as the great teacher the Buddha brought True Life to this time and place where we find ourselves.

Jack, I hope this gives you an idea of how I plan to celebrate this auspicious day. I shall blog again on the actual day on Wednesday.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dishwasher Mindfulness

Upon emerging from my formal sitting meditation I decided to unload the dishwasher with deep concentration and mindfulness. As I slowly began the process of unloading the clean dishes I thought about each cup, each plate and each utensil. How many wonderful meals have these plates and bowls held for this body to enjoy!! How many times have those forks and spoons helped me eat??

Yet I could not have savored these many wonderful tastes without water for more then one reason but mostly I was concentrating upon the cleaning aspect of water. How wonderful that we have this beautiful, soft, cool manifestation to cleanse our body and dishes amongst so many other gifts. When later washing dishes to put into the dishwasher I ran my fingers through the water cascading out of the facet. Here I had a little waterfall right in my home!! I couldn't help but think of all the beautiful waterfalls that I saw upon our visit to Oregon a few years ago. However, mostly I thought of the world famous Multnomah falls (pictured above) outside Portland--the water pouring into the sink through my hands was no different then the water pouring down the Multnomah falls!! What a great thing to have a waterfall in one's house!! How lucky that I am to have such a delightful and generous gift.

It made me think about my brothers and sisters around the world who do not have such access to clean drinking water. I remember the difficulty that some Africans had in obtaining water during my two years living in the Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), West Africa. They cherished every drop because of all the effort that went into obtaining it. It reminded me not to take that fresh water available right inside my house for granted. Water is so precious and as we know we'd die without it so let us treat it as the precious treasure that it is and keep our rivers and lakes clean.

However, let us return to the dishes. My focus then settled into the make-up of the plates themselves. How wondrous and curious a thing is a plate. I wouldn't even know where to start to make manifest a plate from all the non-plate elements within it. I don't even know how to make a paper plate!! However, I do enjoy them and honor all the things that go into their creation including the artisans who invest their time, energy and concentration into making these dishes possible. I care for these plates as to not break them and waste the efforts of these wonderful people.

There is no magic other then what is already around and within us. How amazing that we can create any number of things from the joining of individual elements and other materials!! A bowl is a bowl and yet it is not--it's also a rock. A table is a table and yet it is not--it is also water and iron. This warm hooded sweatshirt is a warm hooded sweatshirt and yet it is not--it's a sheep and a sowing machine. The fingers that type this post are fingers and yet they are not--they are oxygen and tomatoes. Why tomatoes? Why not? All things are found within an one isolated "thing" (as well as anything can actually be isolated). In a more precise answer, however, my mother ate many tomatoes when she was carrying me in her womb and I would not have grown into a human being without those tomatoes--amongst so many other things that she ingested and did NOT ingest.

My focus also settled next upon my beautiful, kind and compassionate wife who was the last one to touch these dishes. She was in those dishes and I gently caressed them before placing them gently in the cabinets because I wasn't just handling fragile dishes--I was handling my fragile wife at the same time. If I slammed the dishes into the cabinets without care then I was doing the same to my wife and I didn't want to bring discomfort to her so I handled them with the careful attention that they deserve.

And I also saw you, my friend reading this right now--and I smiled to you. I hope that you see my smile the next time you use a plate. And when you do? Please smile back to me to maintain an infinite circle of smiles. Thank-you in advance for your smile blessed one.


~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The World is an Illusion

When the world arises in me,
It is just an illusion:
Water shimmering in the sun,
A vein of silver in mother-of-pearl,
A serpent in a strand of rope.

From me the world streams out
And in me it dissolves,
As a bracelet melts into gold,
A pot crumbles into clay,
A wave subsides into water.

-Ashtavakra Gita 2: 9-10

James: This is an appropriate message today as it is has been raining heavily all day and it has been such a calming energy. I stare out into the driving rain and I am one with each droplet. It has been a wonderful meditation for me through out the morning and now afternoon.

I subside into the rain.

As the rain poured down I wondered why I wasn't seeing a huddle of birds that I normally see on stormy days such as this and then I realized the feeder was empty!! I ran outside and went to fill the feeder and in doing so found two wasps stuck in the feeder that were barely moving. I rescued them with a stick and put them up against the wall under the patio to dry out. I hope they make it through this day but I doubt it. If they do have their continuation day today then I hope that they are reborn in a state where they can find and realize liberation.

PHOTO: "Rain Drops on Pine Branch Needles" by Eric Kamp.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Enjoy Earth Day

Take a deep breath, enjoy your breathing and thank a tree or plant for that breath. And don't forget to recycle!!

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

~Chief Seattle

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

~John James Audubon

Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Each time you look at a tangerine, you can see deeply into it. You can see everything in the universe in one tangerine. When you peel it and smell it, it’s wonderful. You can take your time eating a tangerine and be very happy.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

This Body is Not me Poem by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the poem I was looking for yesterday that I wanted to add to yesterday's post on the Virginia Tech killings. It is a great poem to meditate upon to find peace in regards to issues of violence, death, pain and suffering that come with samsara:

This body is not me.

I am not limited by this body.

I am life without boundaries.

I have never been born,

and I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars, manifestations from my wondrous true mind.

Since before time, I have been free.

Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.

Birth and death are a game of hide- and seek.

So laugh with me,

hold my hand,

let us say good-bye,

say good-bye, to meet again soon.

We meet today.

We will meet again tomorrow.

We will meet at the source every moment.

We meet each other in all forms of life.

~By Thich Nhat Hanh, Chanting and Recitations from Plum Village. Page 188.

James: Isn't that lotus gorgeous!! I wish to extend a lotus to you all to hopefully bring a smile to your heart, face and eyes.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Correction about Blue Cliff Monastery plus a Commentary on the Virginia Tech Massacre

PHOTO: "Non-Violence" sculpture donated to the United Nations from the government and people of Luxembourg in 1988.

In an earlier post I had announced the purchase of land to build the new Blue Cliff Monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat hanh located in New York state in the U.S.A

Well, I misunderstood why the monastery will be named, "Blue Cliff." Originally I thought it was named for the hills near by. However, I received a new letter yesterday thanking me for my donation and explaining in more detail how the monastery got it's name. The following is from the letter I received from Thay's Unified Buddhist Church:

The center is named Blue Cliff Monastery after the monastery in China where the famous Blue Cliff Records (a record of the most famous koans) were compiled in the 12th century.

On another more serious subject I wanted to also write on the Virginia Tech massacre that occurred yesterday. My heart breaks in sadness for the victims, surviving students and their families involved in this cruel act of fear and delusion. May they be reborn in a world that will provide them the best chance for liberation. However, as this story unfolds even more I must also have compassion for the shooter as he is just as deserving of our love. Maybe even more so because he will most likely have some major karma to work off from this powerfully attaching event. May he be reborn in a scenario that will provide him the best chance to liberate himself from these strong karmic attachments and aversions.

How do we understand such unspeakable acts of violence? I know for myself that I felt fear and anger creeping into my mind after this incident. As panic began to set into my mind and kicked into high gear I recalled the Dharma--suffering is everywhere I reminded myself. We can not avoid it no matter how hard we might try to. I can either live in fear of every moment of my life and suffer even more or I can accept that one day I might indeed find myself caught-up in such a situation and perhaps even killed or injured--accept that potentiality and move on to enjoy my day. If I do not attach to the self then why should I be worried about losing my life or becoming injured? I try to meditate upon death and violence on a regular basis to train my mind not to fear such a natural and normal event. As my acceptance of death becomes stronger it frees me up to truly be in the moment and enjoy it because it may be my last moment in this particular space and time. When I remember that the present moment is the only moment I have--I do the best to live it to the fullest and try to pass that enjoyment and peace on to others.

The Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (amongst others) are excellent examples in these violent times about letting go of hate, anger and fear. These two great men saw so much bloodshed in their homelands and yet they remain calm, peaceful and happy because they have fully accepted such suffering is the reality of this world. They do not let it attach and weigh down the infinite opportunities that the beautiful gift of each precious, present moment offers us. Both were driven out of their homelands, saw horrific things and lost friends and colleagues to war. Yet they do not let that get them down. They don't attach to that energy. They realize that where ever we find ourselves--that is our home. Accept it for what it is and if it is a rough moment then make the best out of it. Just as we'd decorate a cheap, run-down, ugly apartment to make the most of it. One might have to live in a run-down apartment in a dangerous neighborhood for a time but we accept that and try to make it the most beautiful run-down apartment we have ever seen. And realize that this won't last forever--one day one will live in a different situation.

This is a moment as well where we should meditate upon inter-being/interconnectivity for it is support networks that keep us connected together and not feel alone and unaccepted as this man seems to have been. Let us reach out to those "loners" in our lives and let them know that they are loved, thought of and supported. Understanding inter-being isn't enough for us--we must reach out and look after each other. This dove-tails nicely into the refuge of sangha but sangha means so much more then simply our circle of fellow followers. I believe that sangha (in a broader context) involves everyone in the world. When we realize these connections and our interdependency we want to care for others because they are us. Please hug someone today or send them a message of concern and thoughtfulness. Let us have the courage to rise above hatred and anger and soar in the reinvigorating and cleansing heights of compassion and love.

I can't imagine what pain and suffering these victims as well as their family and friends are going throw right now. May the victims come to one day forgive this man for their own peace of mind and happiness because as we know-hate begets hate, anger begets anger, revenge begets revenge and violence begets violence.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, April 13, 2007

My Meditation "Rituals"

I thought I'd write a bit about how I start and end my meditation sessions. I will also speak of a new adaptation to the taking refuge vows at the end of the sitting.

(Most of my "rituals" come from Thich Nhat Hanh's recommendations) First, I breath in and out deeply three times in front of my altar taking in the moment and preparing myself to enter meditation. Then I say the following gatha before sounding the bell three times:

Body speech and mind in perfect oneness, I send my heart along with the sound of this bell. May the hearers awaken from their forgetfulness- and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.

Then I breath deeply as I ring the bell threes times and bowing after each sounding. During the bowing and ringing of the bell I saying the follow while breathing deeply yet naturally:

I listen, I listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.

At this point I light a tea light candle as say:

Respectful of countless Buddhas I light this candle--brightening the face of the Earth.
I then bow.

Next, I light the incense saying:

In gratitude I offer this incense to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas throughout space and time. May it be fragrant as Earth herself. Reflecting our careful efforts, our whole-hearted mindfulness and the fruit of understanding--slowly ripening. May all beings be companions of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. May we awaken from forgetfulness and realize our true home.

I then sound the bell and bow to the Buddha within us all.

Finally I bow to my cushion and settle in for meditation.

Upon finishing my session I ring the bell three times, again reciting the gatha (I listen, I listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home). Then I get up slowly and take refuge in the three jewels. I use to just simply say: I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha but I have since added a few words to make it sink it more.

Now I say:

Aware of the Buddha within I take refuge in the Buddha. Aware of the 4 Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path I take refuge in the Dharma and aware of interconnectivity of all things I take refuge in the Sangha. And of course I bow between each refuge.

And that's my usual session.

Today I am headed over to my parent's house to teach some basics of meditation to my father. I'm excited but I'm also nervous--I've never taught anyone before. I do have a natural teaching talent, however, in other areas so I'm sure it will go just fine. We will be going slowly anyway so it should be fun. It's a lovely way to bond with my friend and father. :)

Enjoy your breathing!!

PHOTO: Image representing the Three Jewels of Buddhism--found HERE.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Blog Over-Haul Update

Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I've decided to basically stick with the template the way it is right now.

I switched the font back to trebuchet and enlarged the font a bit so it's easier to read. As well as switching the title from bold and whitened up the description of the blog.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

We need to understand the concept of practice and what makes it spiritual. Practice is an activity that is regularly performed and is an open-ended process, never reaching a point of perfection. We can develop skills or even mastery with practice, but there always remains a quality of something new to learn. If approached with a dull mind, even the most exotic practice becomes a rote expression. A person could spend a lifetime in practice this way and accomplish no more than a perfunctory exterior form without any spiritual substance. Unfortunately, many people find themselves following a traditional practice for the wrong reasons. They make all the right moves, but there is no heart in it. We should approach the most mundane practice with a bright, open beginner's mind and regularly discover new insights, whether brushing our teeth, washing the dishes, or making the bed.

--David A. Cooper, Silence, Simplicity and Solitude

James: I think this is why practicing mindfulness is so important. I see meditation as the key and mindfulness as the door to Buddha nature or awakened being. I like to use the word awakened instead of enlightenment because enlightenment has become so charged and over-used. It has come to mean that there is some kind of "Ah HA!!" moment in one's practice that marks the end of one's journey. The reality is that every moment is an "Ah HA!!"

This can only be achieved in combining meditation, chanting, memorizing sutras with living in mindfulness.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Help Wanted: Over-Haul the Blog

So I am getting a bit restless here at TBB. I'm looking to change up the style of the blog a bit but my html is limited and my ability to customize and design is ZERO. I tried to change my font style to papyrus via my html "skills" and it got all jacked--defaulting to Aerial. In short, I had to change it back to the font the template was designed with. Although, I did increase the font size a bit--what do you think? Is it too big?

So it all comes down to this--I'm looking for someone to revamp the blog. Does anyone know how to customize blogs?? I'd be willing to pay someone a bit (depending on the price) to do this so let me know.

I'm looking to keep the minimal design with the black and white as much as possible to reflect the Tao. However, I'd like to have the background be of a stand of colorful green bamboo or bamboo forest and the Buddha picture stone, black and white or grey color.

Anyway, if anyone wishes to take on such a project and possibly get paid--let me know!! How many of you like the blog just the way it is?

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Working with Where We Are

When people start to mediate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, the often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It's a bit like saying, "If I jog, I'll be a much better person." "If I could only get a nicer house, I'd be a better person." If I could meditate and calm down, I'd be a better person."... But loving-kindness--maitri--toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.

--Pema Chodron

James: It's so difficult sometimes to just accept who we are already isn't it? We constantly yearn to be something else, something better--anything other then "us." Yet we can't be any better then we are in this present moment because this is the only moment we have. Radical acceptance is such an important lesson to learn in our spiritual journey.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Help Build Blue Cliff Monastery

I received a letter today saying that Thich Nhat Hanh's Unified Buddhist Church and Plum Village monastery are announcing that they are purchasing land for a new monastery in the Walker Valley of Ulster County, New York, in the USA.

This monastery is much needed as the UBC has no monastery on the East Coast and will serve 28 sanghas in New York alone.

The property is 80 acres, 65 of which are forest. How peaceful that will be for walking meditation!!! The land was formerly used as a conference and retreat center. There is a forest, creek (would love to meditate next to the creek) and two small ponds (two other great places to meditate or just contemplate). In includes 13 buildings with 35 rooms. Each room can accommodate 4-6 people with a private bath. The dining room holds about 200 people.

The owner is selling it for the sum of $2,650,000 and the monastics have all but $450,000 of it and are asking for donations to help pay that off.

Thay has named the center Blue Cliff Monastery because on top of a hill it has magnificent views of the surrounding mountains and cliffs. The picture I've attached to this post is of the Trapps Cliffs and Clove Valley of the Mohank Preserve which is near the site of the monastery--I think.

This monastery will be a great place for East Coast practitioners within Thay's tradition of Zen Buddhism to attend retreat and days of mindfulness. Of course, those of different traditions, no tradition or non-Buddhists are allowed and encouraged to visit and attend the different monasteries and retreats offered by Thay and the monastics.

If you wish to donate to this wonderful project then you can send a check written to GMDC (or you can spell it out, Green Mountain Dharma Center). GMDC is a center under the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition located in Vermont.

Here is the address:

Unified Buddhist Church
P.O. Box 182
Hartland Four Corners, VT 05049

If you do not trust me that this is a legitimate project and do not wish to send your money without more verification and information then please contact:

Brother Phap Dang and Brother Phap Duyet at 802-457-9442


Sister Annabel - True Virtue at 802-436-1103

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Resentment Against Suffering

The suffering itself is not so bad, it's the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.

-Alan Ginsberg

James: Today I'm dealing with the resentment against suffering. Sorry it's been awhile since I last posted. It's been a rough week with my illness. Any words of comfort and support would be greatly appreciated.

~Peace to all beings~

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