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Friday, June 29, 2007

Volunteering

Yesterday I had such a rewarding, touching and profound experience. I went with my father to volunteer at a community kitchen in the basement of a downtown Presbyterian church that offers free meals to those who need them. I helped out in the kitchen preparing the food and then was stationed out in the dining room to offer people something to drink. I then went around and asked people if they wanted refills of their drinks.

It was a great chance to give back to the community and meet some really wonderful people that have fallen on hard times.

In Buddhism we speak of dana (giving) and perhaps what comes to mind at first is a monetary donation--which is very generous and needed indeed. Yet, there is something about giving of oneself that is more rewarding--at least for me. My wife and I donate a little money to different charities every month online but it seems so impersonal. Yesterday gave me a chance to be there with the people in need. I was present--literally. I was being present to not only fill physical needs but to also give out smiles to weary faces. I saw them *not* as people that have "less then me" but people who are me and have as much as I do. Despite some of the tired faces--I saw Buddha in them all. I recalled the Buddha's days as a wandering ascetic and saw the same desire to be free in them--as he did. The desire to be free from the suffering that they were enduring. There journey is no different then mine, yours, or that of Thich Nhat Hanh for example. It may manifest in different forms but the search and the yearning to break free of samsara is exactly the same in all beings.

I saw in their faces my struggle in obtaining my social security benefits to keep us financially afloat. I saw in their faces the moment I was admitted to the hospital under suicide watch and in all those moments--someone was there for me and now too, here I was there for them. I can't convey how rewarding that realization was for me. I also saw in their faces the smile of my grandmother and the twinkle in the eyes of my niece. I met one little girl named Angel and it gave me so much joy and satisfaction to make her smile and in turn to make her dad smile in reaction to seeing his daughter smile. For that moment--that present moment--all was right in the world and helping them see that was a priceless gift from them to me.

As I filled each persons cup I concentrated on them as if they were the only person in the world. I saw the water I poured as precious gold. On such a hot day these folks gulped water as if it was the only thing that mattered--and in that moment it was. In that moment, offering them water was the most important thing I could do.

Another under emphasized side of giving is that of listening. So often the thing that we need most in life is to just. be. heard. I listened to their plights and desire for a home for example. Of course I couldn't give them a house but I could (and did) offer them a home. A house is different then a home. A house is an object but a home is love, respect, peace and understanding. For the afternoon these folks could come get a meal, a smile and someone who cared enough to listen for a few minutes. They were part of a home--they belonged. Someone cared for them and cares about them.

In the end, the only thing that we really have to give is indeed ourselves.

I was reminded how lucky, loved and looked after I am. My problems seemed to vanish into the warm summer air as I saw how grateful these folks were for a simple glass of cool water and a warm lunch. I walked on air back to the car. It reminded me how often I take things for granted and get cranky with people over stupid things. I was reminded of how silly it is to complain about being a little over-weight because of the medicines I have to take. Everyday, every moment, every breath is a precious gift and an opportunity for us to be who we know we truly are.

It was so wonderful to work together to help people get though one more day--helping them concentrate on one thing at a time--eating and drinking. We were Buddhists, Mormons and Presbyterians expressing the reality of our Oneness to help bring assistance to others and in turn they helped us.

Speaking of my Christian brother and sisters I could not help but remember the words in the Bible under Matthew 25:30-4o:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

This reminds me that when we give to the monks in their begging bowls we are giving unto the Buddha and therefore all beings.

Those folks will forever live inside of me.

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO: The Buddha with begging bowl.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

New Rock Candle Holder for the Altar


A new picture of our main alter. We finally got a matching rock candle holder to the one on the left when we went to the Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs, Colorado. It glows up nicely--you can see the reflection glowing in the three-tier, vertical, red candle holder.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Travel Shrine from India

My oldest brother (and sibling) went on a business trip recently to India and brought us back this lovely, beautiful, little Buddhist shrine. The neat thing about this little shrine is that we can take it with us when we travel. Anyway, this gift is very meaningful to me as we follow a different religion from the rest of my family and this shrine represents respect, tolerance and acceptance of our faith. I was very touched emotionally and am honored and grateful for such a loving gesture. Thank-you dear brother.







~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Addressing the Question of Why Predominately "Buddhist Countries" Seem to be So Violent and Waring

I received an excellent question on one of my older posts regarding Buddhism and violence from Bangkokker. He wanted to know how Buddhists can explain the violence that one often sees in predominate "Buddhist countries." The following was my humble attempt to answer. Feel free to add your opinions in the comment section. One words of caution--this is a long post:

I think that most Buddhists (especially the monks--although Thai monks are getting rather militant as of late) in Buddhist dominated countries do not want war. However their governments often do not lead their country by Buddhist principles.

Part of the violence in Buddhist countries stems from abject poverty and extreme corruption in their governments who take advantage of the poor and under educated populace.

Additional reasons for such militancy in many of these "Buddhist" countries is due to a lack of eduction and necessary health care. A lot of the failures in regards to these important issues stems from that corruption.

Education is a major brick in the the foundation of peace. If people are not educated in the importance of peace and why it's important--as well as what Democracy is really about then they will often make terrible decisions in both their personal lives but as well as in their jobs and government positions.

As well as knowing that the Buddhist monasteries are not going to engage them in the political arena for the most part. Government officials take advantage of their peaceful nature.

This is the importance of embracing engaged Buddhism taught especially by Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Engaged Buddhism encourages involvement in the political process while still maintaining a path of peace. Engaged Buddhism, however, does not mean following it to engaging in violence.

And yet all of these important areas of life: education, health, a vibrant economy, etc. aren't a guarantee of peace and harmony unless one works to let go of greed for power and control.

Buddhism also teaches that critical aspect of peace involves understanding and engaging in interconnection. If we truly understand that we are all dependent upon each other then we are a lot less likely to cause others harm.

Another important concept to understand in Buddhism to help maintain balance and peace in society is that of love for others. If we build on our understanding of interconnection then we feel more love and acceptance toward those we previously saw as our inferiors.

This is because if we love ourselves then naturally we will want to love others because they are apart of us and our happiness depends upon that of others.

Then there is the importance of understanding that all beings want happiness and no one wants to suffer. This helps cultivate patience which is a trait the helps prevent violence and disharmony.

So just because there might be much violence in Buddhist dominated countries does not mean necessarily that those Buddhists agree with it.

I would submit that most violent and oppressive governments in Buddhist countries such as Myanmar is because of militant dictators that have eschewed the peaceful, accepting teachings of Buddhism long ago.

You are correct in saying that many Buddhist countries are not living in peace but I do not think that one can blame Buddhism for that. Buddhism does not preach hate or violence and if a monastery does do that then they have strayed from the Dharma severely.

Perhaps the most important issue to keep in mind is that peace should be first and fore most about peace in ones own heart. As long as one practices the Dharma then one will find the peace that perhaps is denied them from their government. Nothing can stop the power of inner stength.

One only need look at the strength of the Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. The Nazi's hoped that they could break the Jews from their religion but instead it only strengthened their resolve to maintain their faith.

From what I've researchedI can not find a war that was ever waged in the name of Buddhism.

Of course, many Buddhist individuals have taken part in wars, and wars have been waged by countries that are nominally Buddhist. But these wars have been waged over territorial, economic or political disputes, not in the name of the religion itself, and the dictates of Buddhism have never been used to justify or rationalize a war.

Any Buddhist who wages war or engages in violence for violences sake is not following the Buddhist path--they have fallen astray.

Next I'd like to address the specific examples that you raised:

-The Vietnam War was not waged over Buddhism. It was waged by Communists who are not only non-Buddhists--they are non-religious altogether.

-The Cambodia genocide was not waged by sincere Buddhists, nor was it condoned by Buddhists.
-Burma's military junta was waged by a military that was certainly not following the peaceful Buddhist teachings. They took power because of greed, selfishness and disregard for human rights. None of which are taught or condoned by Buddhism.

-The Laos cleanings are most certainly not carried out by Buddhists--at least not Buddhists who actually follow the teachings of the Buddha. Anyone can call themselves "Buddhist" but to live as a Buddhist is to follow the teachings of the Buddha which means more then anything--non-violence.

-Bhutan's case is one of corrupted Buddhism. They are attached to a lust of power which is a form of attachment which Buddhism does NOT condone in the least. These actions are extreme examples of why duality is so poisonous.

Buddhism does not usually concern itself with where it ranks on the peace scale in relation to other religions--that is a form of attachment to the stroking's of the ego. The maintenance of peace amongst Buddhists is a personal experience--something that must be accomplished by each practioner alone.

One can not force fellow "Buddhists "to be "peaceful." In doing so one is engaging in a type of violence.
The Buddha emphasized personal experience in realizing peace and harmony because otherwise one is doing it for others and that is a peace that can never last.

Buddhism is not exempt from corruption and perversion of it's teachings and anyone who tells you otherwise is living in a thick cloud of delusion.

Living a certain way because you are "Buddhist" and that's what "Buddhists" do is wrong action and intention which will always lead to difficulty due to grasping and craving of the desire for "enlightenment" and "perfection."

It is called spiritual materialism.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Inspirational Father's Day Story

James: This is an inspiring, beautiful, tearful, joyous story of a father and son bonding and accepting each other for who they are and celebrating that relationship:

My name is Richard E. Hoyt Jr., and I have cerebral palsy. I cannot speak or walk. To write this story, I'm using a computer with special software. When I move my head slightly, the cursor moves across an alphabet. When it gets to the letter I want, I press a switch at the side of my head.

I am half of Team Hoyt. We are a father-and-son team, and we compete in marathons and triathlons around the world. Our goal is to educate people about how the disabled can lead normal lives. We started racing in 1979. My high school was having a road race to raise money for a lacrosse player who was paralyzed in an accident. I wanted to show this athlete that life can go on, so I asked my dad if he would push me. My wheelchair was not built for racing, but Dad managed to push me the entire 5 miles. We came in next to last, but in the photos of us crossing the finish line, I was smiling from ear to ear!

When we got home, I used my computer to tell Dad, "When I'm running, I feel like my disability disappears!" So we joined a running club, had a special running chair built, and entered our first official race. Many of the athletes didn't want us to participate, but the executive director of the event gave us permission. Soon we were running three races a weekend, and we even did our first double event a 3-mile run and a half-mile swim.

Dad held me by the back of the neck and did the sidestroke for the entire swim. We wanted to run in the Boston Marathon, but we were not allowed to enter because we had not done a qualifying run. So in late 1980, we competed in the Marine Corps Marathon, in Washington, D.C., finishing in 2 hours, 45 minutes. That qualified us for Boston!

A few years later, after a road race in Falmouth, Massachusetts, a man came up to my dad and said, "You are quite an athlete. You should consider a triathlon." Dad said, "Sure, as long as I can do it with Rick." The man just walked away. The next year, the same man said the same thing. Again, Dad said he'd do it, but only with me. This time the man said, "Okay, let's figure out what special equipment you'll need."

So on Father's Day in 1985, we competed in our first triathlon. It included a 10-mile run, during which Dad pushed me; a 1-mile swim, during which Dad pulled me in a life raft with a rope tied around his chest; and a 50-mile bike ride, during which he towed me in a cart behind him. We finished next to last, but we both loved it. Soon after, we did our first Ironman Triathlon. We've now competed in more than 950 races, including 25 Boston Marathons and six Ironmans. During every event, I feel like my disability has disappeared.

People often ask me, "What would you do if you were not disabled?" When I was first asked, I said I'd probably play baseball or hockey. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that I'd tell my father to sit down in my wheelchair so I could push him. If it weren't for him, I'd probably be living in a home for people with disabilities. He is not just my arms and legs. He's my inspiration, the person who allows me to live my life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. And thank you.

James: Are you crying? I know I did after I read this story. What a wonderful expression of love and commitment. I am reminded by this story that I really have nothing to complain about in life. As some of you know I live with schizo-affective disorder and am disabled because of it so this story hit me even closer to my heart.

I'd like to share with you an email that I wrote to my father after reading this wonderful story:

Dear Dad. I was reading this story (link below) here in our hotel room in Manitou Springs and It really touched me to the point of tears--tears of joy because It made think of you and I. All the times that we spent backpacking together but especially I thought of my disability and how you have pushed me along in my "chair" (refer to the story)--and I want to push you in your "chair" as the son in this story would like to push his father in the father's "chair." You and mom have done so much to push me along and keep me going in my life before schizoaffective and since. You have been so understanding of my illness, comforting and supportive both financially and otherwise---I could never have done it without you and still can't. I think of all those years growing up when I didn't understand why you worked so much and so hard but now I know why--you were pushing me in my "chair." Dear Dad, the tears that I am shedding as I type this email are tears of utter joy, love and appreciation for all that you have done and sacrificed so that I might have a better quality of life. How could either of us known that I would be diagnosed with a major mental illness--and yet, here we are--surviving and thriving together, as a team. Buddies. Dad, you're my buddy and I love you so so so much. I look forward to many years to come together. Love, James

James: I hope all the American father's have a joyous father's day today and I hope the father's from other countries around the world will appreciate the wonderful relationship between parent and child. Those relationships are definite lessons on interconnection, inter-being and understanding its importance.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Selfishness is "Heaven and Hell"

I once heard a story about a visit to heaven and hell. In both places the visitor saw many people seated at a table on which many delicious foods were laid out. In both places chopsticks over a meter long were tied to their right hands, while their left hands were tied to their chairs. In hell, however much they stretched out their arms, the chopsticks were too long for them to get food into their mouths. They grew impatient and got their hands and chopsticks tangled with one another's. The delicacies were scattered here and there. In heaven, on the other hand, people happily used the long chopsticks to pick out someone else's favorite food and feed it to him, and in turn they were being fed by others. They all enjoyed their meal in harmony.

--Shundo Aoyama Roshi

James: Now I don't believe in a physical, separate "Hell" or "Heaven" from the ones that we create and live in right here, right now. However, I agree with this parable in the sense that it points out the problems that come from being selfish, dualistic and trying to fight the Universal Law of inter-dependency and co-arising.

When we try to go it alone then we will always suffer sooner or later but when we work together we all grow, benefit and reduce our collective suffering. This all reminds me of the story of the monkey and the orange:

Apparently there is a trick to catching monkeys. You find a tree with a hole in it and put and orange in the tiny, tight hole. Then wait until the monkey arrives at the tree to take the orange. According to the story the monkey will hold onto the orange which prevents him from freeing himself from the hole in the tree because he is so greedy and thus you can come up and grab him without much fighting. I remember reading from Dr. David R. Hawkins (who's books are fantastic by the way) that the ego is so selfish and deluded that it will is willing to let the body die in order to get what it wants--such as drug addictions.

May we all always remember that liberation and true freedom comes from remembering our interconnectedness and striving for the good of all. If we only look after ourselves then we are sowing the seeds to our own destruction because as Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25, verses 31-40 in the Christian Bible). So in other words when we hurt others we are hurting ourselves. In not caring about the environment or thinking that animals are not our equals we kill ourselves because as the animals, plants, fish insects, etc. go--so goes man.

PHOTO: The Dalai Lama in profile.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Being a Buddhist

Have confidence in your own spiritual potentiality, your ability to find your own unique way. Learn from others certainly and use what you find useful, but also learn to trust your own inner wisdom. Have courage. Be awake and aware. Remember too that Buddhism is not about being a Buddhist; that is, obtaining a new identity tag. Nor is it about collecting head-knowledge, practices and techniques. It is ultimately about letting go of all forms and concepts and becoming free.

--John Snelling, Elements of Buddhism

James: This is some of the best advice for those who are looking into following the Buddhist path and an excellent reminder to long-time practitioners. It is also great advice for those of other faiths and spiritual paths.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Buddha Clouds

The supreme water spirit Ocean covers the earth with clouds; the rain in each place is different, but the spirit has no thought of distinction. Likewise, Buddha, sovereign of truth, extends clouds of great compassion in all directions, raining differently for each practitioner, yet without discriminating among them.

--The Flower Ornament Scripture, trans. by Thomas Cleary

James: This is such beautiful prose and underscores my realization that there is a slightly different version of the Dharma within each individual based on ones karmic journey. It is this flexibility and emphasis on personal experience that brings me so much peace.

I also like this quote from Stephen Batchelor regarding the issue of the adaptability of Buddhism:

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

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Man Eats Dog

LONDON - A British artist has eaten chunks of a corgi dog, the breed favored by Queen Elizabeth II, live on radio to protest the royal family's treatment of animals.

James: This is the ultimate in irony and flawed logic. The man protests the treatment of animals by the British royal family by eating a dog?? That's the kind of logic that says it's o.k. to kill an abortion doctor to keep him from "killing" babies.

It also reminds me of the argument that torturing people is o.k. if it means we will save another life-- It is a slippery slope indeed.

Protecting animals from poor treatment and lack of dignity is a very worthy and noble cause but just like anything that is good it can become corrupted if we allow ourselves to become too emotionally charged and blinded by said, "cause." Soon we are making all kinds of flimsy justifications to try and back up the end justifying the means.

This man let his emotions take over and not surprisingly his charged ego led him astray. His anger clouded his judgment to the point where he no longer cared about the treatment of animals but was instead driven to hurt others including this poor dog to try and make his point that was long forgotten. His act ended up being a very selfish act rather then a peaceful, inclusive one. His actions in the end did the opposite--they alienated and horrified people and that is what is so sad about this situation. He could have held a peaceful march that would have united people in an uplifting, educational and positive way which would have had a much greater impact.

I am reminded of so called "revenge killings" by this story. Killing another being for having killed a loved one. In the end only more suffering is inflicted upon the people involved thus creating more problems then before. It is very easy to simply react through emotion rather than act out of mindfulness and that is what is so important about practice through meditation. So that road will be well worn and clear to find in such situations.

Mindfulness allows us to constantly be aware of our actions and emotions checking to see if they are rational, balanced and beneficial to ourselves and other sentient and non-sentient beings. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we are not the center of anything--we are another cog in the wheel. A very worthy and noble cog but nothing special or not special from anything or anyone else.

I have found that when we make decisions out of selfishness we are led astray and eventually find ourselves walking down dark and twisted alleyways that we would not have gone down otherwise. It turns out that this man is known for his shocking "protests" which shows to me even more that this has turned into being "all about him" rather then the animals which have ironically and tragically become props to his selfish game.

Social activism is a wonderful and important activity but we must be very careful as emotions can run high and in the heat of the moment we can easily cascade into making some very damaging decisions.

All that being said--sometimes I much prefer the company of animals then human beings.

---End of Transmission---

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