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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't Miss the Sunrise


"Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?"

"As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning."

"Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?"

"To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise."

-Anthony deMello, from One Minute Wisdom

James: I feel that enlightenment is better understood as awareness. Thus, the seeker's question would then be, "Is there anything I can do to make myself aware?" He might as well be asking, "Is there anything I can do to make myself breath?" Being aware means letting go of our conceptual "understanding" and queries so that what remains is the Pure Awareness of observations and experiences as suchness unfolds and we are then free to simply delight in the process. I reminded of the story of Buddha, the disciple and the flower: By Thich Nhat Hanh, in Peace Is Every Step

One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1,250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha's gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. . . . To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you, he wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.

James: While intellect is important in Buddhism, too much thinking gets us no where because it is based on the mind--which is where the so called, "problem" arises from in the first place!! We think so hard that we miss the bigger picture because we are looking instead at each individual pixel. It is like saying, "No. I can't see the forest because there are too many damn trees in the way!!" When you stand back and just let yourself be apart of the grand tapestry then there ceases to be a need to "make sense" of it all. This is the reality of Oneness where there is no longer a "questioner" and a "question." There just simply is.

We don't need to understand every little detail to enjoy life, to experience blissfulness and peace. Our questions will never cease and one day our intellectual understanding will fail us and we will become disillusioned unless we have learned, again, how to let go and just experience (and accept) life for what it is. The mind will never be satisfied and that is why it is skillful to let go of it's biased "revelations." The mind can not experience Oneness because all it knows and desires is separateness, specialness, desire and greed.

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO: Borobodur at Sunset in Borobodur, Java, Indonesia by Jon Toma

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Zen Story: A Cup of Tea

James: This is one of my favorite Zen stories:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, August 27, 2007

My Interview with Mala Maker Brian McIntyre. Part II

CLICK HERE FOR THE FIRST PART OF MY INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN MCINTYRE:

6). What are a few (2-3) of your favorite books on spirituality? Play of Consciousness! By Swami Muktananda. This will forever stand as the book that clarified my path and make all previous experiences clear and understandable.I am amassing a library of books in hopes that any one of the books will iPmpact their lives as this book has for me.

7). What is your view of the world today?

FEAR brings ignorance and despair. Living in fear forever roots us in samsara and believing that we are separate from one another will never heal the state of the world.The more people can sit in reflection of themselves and realize that we are all related in light and LOVE than the world will be a space of LOVE and devotion. A world where we all live together and help each other realize our own divinity.

8). Your website mentions that incense is available. What is your favorite incense and why? (You can choose two if you’d like).

“Temple Incense” I call it this because I am not sure what the name is but it comes in bunches and you can buy them in Chinatown’s…with red sticks holding the incense together. It reminds me of my many visits to North East Asian temples.“Prasad Incense”. This is any incense that has been gifted to me by monks off Shrines where people have worhsipped and offered to the gods. After the evening winds down these offerings are taken off the shrines by resident monks and passed out to people.

9). Have you visited any other Buddhist and other religious holy sites? Which ones and what did you think of them?

Too many to name! Haien-sa, Korea. The location that has over 10,000 tablets of wood encompassing the entire Pali Canon! Borobodur, Indonesia. The largest Buddhist complex in the world, it is a representation of Buddha’s life from birth to Nirvana and requires the devotee to walk clockwise around the complex and once a full round is done you walk up to the next level and repeat until you make it to the 9th “floor”.“Vulture’s Peak” near Hangzhou, China where caves are carved out into images of the Buddha. AMAZING!
(Above: Brian at "Vulture's Peak" near Hangzhou, China).

10). What do you think of the spread, growth and adaptation of Buddhism in the West?

In the consumer culture of the West some people become jaded believing that Buddhism has been “marketed” but in the end the image of a divine being is the best for a society. Simply having an image of the Buddha in your home or work space creates a tranquil and peaceful state of mind.

There have been some people who have “jumped on the band wagon” because of Buddhism popularity. But only the true at heart will live through this popularity and show the way, leading by example. Buddhism has created a present culture or mindful citizens and compassionate beings and it is a matter of time before our society as a whole benefits from the actions of these beings.

I always tell people that you have to believe the West is becoming a more conscious and connected culture when someone can make a living being a mala maker.
(Above: Gazebo in a lake. Hangzhou, China).

James: I think you would agree that Brian is a very fascinating, kind, talented and wise person. Thank you Brian for the interview. Once again I would like to recommend Brian's malas. They are the best malas that I have ever used/worn and I have worn many. If you would like to learn more about his malas then just check out his website by clicking on the name, Destination Om: Custom Malas and Prayer Tools.


~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO CREDITS: All photos are the sole property of Brian McIntyre. The image on the top left of the blog is credited to Brian's website: Destination Om: Custom Malas and Prayer Tools.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

My Interview with Mala Maker Brian McIntyre. Part I

(Above: Brian sitting with some of his malas).


Brian McIntyre is a deeply spiritual mala maker and world traveler from Canada who learned his ancient craft in Bodhgaya, India (the alleged site of the Buddha's Enlightenment) from a local artisan. The design of his malas are unique: Reading from his website, Destination Om: Custom Malas and Prayer Tools:

The most obvious design that sets these malas apart from others is that I incorporate a "stretcher" into every mala which is a slip knot placed either at the top of the mala (opposite the guru bead) or as the guru bead itself. This slip knot allows for the practitioner to choose the spacing between the beads ideal for them by sliding the stretcher this can be accomplished.

James: I have had many malas over the years but they always had some kind of design flaw that made them uncomfortable and cheap in quality. Brian's malas are the best I've ever seen or worn. The beads are gorgeous, the thread is strong and the design is excellent. The unique "stretcher" construction allows the mala to easily slip over my thick hand and still tighten up snug around my wrist time after time. The stretcher conversely allows for a quick removal. These quality meditation beads retain their shape day after day and Brian will even restring them should they break!! He knows that despite using this brilliant design the malas will one day break and thus he will restring them for free as he doesn't want to see a mala go unused. You can't beat that deal!!

Thus it is without any reservation that I recommend his malas. In fact, I won't use any other mala from now on. Now, on to my interview with Brian:

1). How would you describe your spirituality? When did you become interested in spirituality/religion?

I have followed a path guided by my guru from the time I was able to hear the inner voice. I had a near death experience at the age of 16 that was a wake up to my potential in this life. From that day forward I had delved into Eastern philosophy and religion in search of answers to my inner questions. As time went on I read about Taoism, Confucianism, all levels of Buddhism, and Hinduism. From this I felt compelled to follow Buddhism and was given the blessed occupation of being a mala maker and learning to do so through a mala maker in Bodhgaya, India. Just recently I have awakened to my guru who sits as the head of Siddha Yoga, Gurumayi. It is a branch of Hinduism much like Dzogchen called Kashmir Shaivism. In this practice I have been able to bridge the gaps of my understanding in both Hinduism and Buddhism and adopted both as my practice in this life.

2). What got you interested in making malas?

I have been travelling since 1999 and while living in numerous places in Asia I would come across temples (especially in North East Asia) that would sell beads to assist in funding the monasteries and construction of new temples. When I returned to Canada there was nothing of the sort so I began making simple bracelets. At one point a friend came to me with yak bone and rudraksha and said “You should be a mala maker.” Two months later I was taken to India, guided to Bodhgaya and graced with a mala maker willing to teach me his craft! Now I sit in service to all that feel that a mala is a required tool in their practice.

3). You have visited Bodhgaya--can you describe for us a bit what visiting this sacred ground was like for you? And secondly, can you describe the atmosphere there a bit?

(Above: Brian in front of the Mahabodhi temple. Bodhgaya, India).

Below are two stories written about this question, that feed the emotion from being there in that moment!

Bodhgaya and the cave. March 4, 2006 1:36:09 AM

Bodhgaya is an interesting place, everything centres around the Mahabodhi Temple...the location where Buddha obtained enlightenment, an offspring of the original tree still stands today...an off-shoot was cut from an original in Sri Lanka and brought back here when the last tree died in the early1900s.

The temple is impressive and a towering stupa of over 50m defines this town...the gardens surrounding the complex are dotted with smaller stupas built by devotees from various countries...around the temple worshipers walk barefoot on marble and circumnabulate in a clockwise fashion, many with malas in their right hand reciting mantras as they continue in their meditative walk...the Bodhi tree also known as The Root Tree of Knowledge is enclosed by a sandstone fence, beneath the tree is a diamond throne which protects which is believed to be the very sandstone tablet that Buddha sat on...
( Above: Brian
sitting in front of the Diamond Throne at Mahabodhi temple, the wall behind stops too many people from viewing the sandstone marker that is meant to be the EXACT location where Buddha sat!

he would sit here for seven days straight before achieving nirvana and the answer to the entire understanding of human suffering and realizing all his previous lives, understanding the cosmos and communicating with other realms...for 49 days he would sit under a different tree for a period of 7days, each tree would give him different insights and feelings...He would goto Sarnath from here and find his first 5 disciples.

The prayers reverberate from every spot in the complex, millenia of prayers can be heard in the walls, flowers, trees, and ground...there is a sense of over-whelming awe...you enter the complex in a sort of hyper-reality and sensitivity, everything is more intimate and people are together for one reason...to understand this life we live in and overcome the burdens that are unnecessary...when you sit in the temple you can imagine the Buddha sitting next to you in his sublime state...the world is a happier place here...then as he would have it planned...AS SOON AS YOU LEAVE THE COMPLEX...BAM!!!

Indian reality and the perpetual struggle of BIHAR state, the poorest state on this subcontinent...the lack of education and industry have been their downfall, in addition to their state being divided, with the wealthier southern part taking on a new state name and reaping the royalties of their riches...leaving Bihar to struggle. Buddha warned the people of Bihar to be weary of feud, flood, and fire...of which, feud is an everyday occurrence in this region...bandits stroll the countryside to steal riches from vehicles on the roads and they are not afraid to hold entire villages ransom!!It only seems right that the region where Buddha travelled the most would be one of the poorest in a monetary sense...I feel that these people may have more then money, they most likely have the spirit and soul that Buddha graced upon this area...it opens your eyes to the struggles of the world and a need to find some sort of equilibrium...in time I believe we will find a balance of justice...we must for the sake of humanity...time will tell, we can only do our best to make a difference.

There is a cave near Bodhgaya where Buddha spent six years meditating and wasting away in his search for the end to human suffering...plagued by his lack of answers he fast and periods during these six years would eat one grain of rice...he would later write..."In truth, O Aggivessana, if I thought " I will touch my spine", it was the skin of my belly I also took hold of...I was so wasted away with fasting that the skin of my belly cleaved to my spine. Realizing this was not the way he left the mountain cave for a village close by where he took food from a woman called Sujata(the name of the village today)...in these fields he would conceive the idea of the Middle Way.

(Above: Brian in the Mahakala Cave).

Spending a couple of hours in the cave today you could only imagine the mental struggles that he was going through in his mission to SAVE HUMANITY!!... skin and bones are replicated in a golden statue of Buddha during this period in his life, sure to be one of the few statues of Buddha one will ever see in a skeletal form! I take all of you in my heart through my travels and every tear that is shed is for a greater happiness for all...with love and compassion...know you are all close to me...with love.

Mahabodhi Temple – Bodhgaya, India.

(Above: Brian in the shrine room inside the Mahabodhi temple. Bodhgaya, India.

Approaching the town is like a passing through time, the pastures give rise to a waterway that once was. Buddha would have came down from the cave he was meditating in for six years, just in the distance it can be seen…a white temple marks its location.
Bodhgaya is a collection of buildings with a monolithic temple as the “core” of this town and the heart of the world…the location where Buddha obtained enlightenment under the bodhi tree.

Time is immemorial, it stands still, a testament to prayers and mantras that have been chanted and stored in its every crevice…a veil of universal proportions consumes your every thought, until it is only you and the love of prayer reverberating your being. Time is nothing; the only indication is the movement of the sun and the change of hues and shafts of light that illuminate various parts of the temple grounds.
The realization cannot be missed by any; we sit here, one and all…in divine oneness.
The temple pulses, the tree drops its leaves to offer pieces of itself for worship…devotees scurry about picking every last leaf off the ground Others sit eagerly watching a branch, hoping to dart out and catch a leaf before it hits the ground. Honour, love, respect, compassion, and devotion. The Buddha watches on. I am home.

4). You mention visiting 19 countries in seven years—which ones stand out the most in your travels? In other words, which ones are your favorites if you had to chose a few?

Borneo – isolation and raw beauty. Mozambique – scuba diving at depths of 35m (100’) with 6m (18’) Manta. India – heart of the world. Indonesia – walking Borobodur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world! On Java, now home to the most densely populated Muslim community in the world.

5). Could you speak a bit more on your focus to build a meditation and retreat centre?

I want to build a period style Hindu temple and a period style Buddhist temple (likely in Korean architecture) with a library in the middle (of what I am presently amassing for the public)Temples have been a refuge for me while living in Asia, when I am without a place to stay on my walk I often sleep in temples (that are open 24 hours) or sleep within the grounds of monasteries.

The space is always welcome to all and I want to develop a place of worship and divinity where people can come to temple and perform whatever practice caters to them. What lacks in Canada are traditional style temples akin to what is found in Asia. The centre will be open 24 hours. The plan will be to host different events and celebrate holidays of importance to both Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

James: This is the end of part I of my interview with Brian McIntyre. The last five questions and answers will be posted on Monday. I hope you all have a peaceful, happy, loving weekend.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Eco-Hangers. Recycled Cardboard Clothes Hangers

This from CNET:

The idea for the company--which makes a dry cleaner hanger made entirely from recycled paper--came after founder and Chief Operating Officer J.D. Schulman's mother asked him to throw away a bunch of old wire hangers. He put them in the garbage, the hangers poked a hole in the bag, and gravy dripped on her white carpet when Schulman took the garbage out, says HangerNetwork CEO Bob Kantor.

The result was the EcoHanger, a sturdy replacement for wire hangers that can be folded and tossed into the ordinary household recycling bin. Because they biodegrade relatively quickly, the hanger conceivably could displace significant amounts of difficult-to-dispose-of garbage every year.

"3.5 billion wire hangers go into U.S. landfills every year, and they sit in there for over a hundred years," Kantor said.

Perhaps just as important, the company says it can bring these hangers to market in an economical way that makes it attractive for dry cleaners to switch. HangerNetwork doesn't sell its hangers. It gives them free to dry cleaners, who ordinarily have to pay about 8 cents per wire hanger.

So who foots the bill? National advertisers pay HangerNetwork to put ads on the hangers, which then stare consumers in the face when they get dressed in the morning.

"We have Van Heusen shirts, L'Oreal, Dunkin' Donuts, Mitchum antiperspirant," Kantor said. "On average, (the hanger) stays in your closet six to eight weeks."

The company is already pulling in "multimillions" in ad revenue, he said. Ad campaigns can be targeted at men or women and will be available nationwide or aimed at specific markets. The ad campaigns start at 250,000 hangers.

Technically speaking, the EcoHanger is made from 34-point paperboard (a relatively thick paper) that is folded onto itself. The hanger is then glued and laminated for extra strength. In the end, the hanger is strong enough to hold clothes, but remains flexible. The company has sought patents on the device.

James: My only complaint is that I can't figure out how to order some for my personal use!! I want to replace all my hangers with these environmentally friendly ones.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Epiphany: My Spiritual Awakening and Path Toward Forgiveness

Taking a nod from Peter I decided to write about an epiphany in my life. This is the epiphany of my spiritual awakening. I had just returned from a difficult, trying, scary, confusing and exhausting two year Mormon mission from Cote D'Ivoire, West Africa where my world had been turned upside down. My unflinching commitment to the Mormon faith was unraveling by the day as I began to do some research into what were the opposing views. You see, I had been taught to not question the veracity of the church let alone read a different viewpoint on the history and teachings of the Mormon faith.

Yet I had questions that nagged at me day and night that even invaded my dreams. I could not push them away. There were too many things that were not logically lining up or making sense to me as I looked further into the looking glass of (what was for me) honest investigation. I had to know what was out there in the spiritual garden to choose from that I hadn't even glanced at before. I had never before looked at both sides before making up my mind on something so important as my spiritual path. I firmly believe in knowing all the information out there before making decisions. I had simply borrowed from my parents testimony in the church and those of my teachers/leaders. I thought I knew that the Mormon faith was the only truth possible on the Earth but I began to realize after my mission that I was simply parroting what I was told in Sunday school class. I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else who had such seemingly undeniable faith.

Yes, I did feel some wonderful spiritual moments growing up in the Mormon church and I've always had a deep spiritual foundation yet the older that I became the less the same old answers and explanations made sense. The more I read the more disillusioned I became yet I still attended meetings in hopes that maybe something would change because although I wanted to know what was true for myself--I was afraid of making such an earth-shattering change to leave the faith. It wasn't long, however, before I knew that I couldn't carry on the charade anymore. I had to leave if my integrity meant anything to me.

I left and didn't look back which was difficult for me because it meant possible alienation from my family and friends who were at the time all Mormons. But how could I stay--living a lie?? No, for once I had to be brave and set forth on my own path in life. So, for the first time in my life I was free to be who I wanted to be and think for myself. I dined at the spiritual feast of options and engorged my hungry appetite for knowledge. Yet nothing seemed to fit--just as Mormonism didn't seem to fit. In the meantime a monster was brewing in my brain--Schizo-affective disorder.

I was living with a brain disorder--a chemical imbalance in my brain that was causing wild mood swings, depression one minute and mania the next. However, this monster hand many heads. Along with the mood swings came hallucinations in the form of voices, visual disturbances, paranoia and delusional thinking. This combined with a raging anger at a feeling of being misled by the religion of my youth made a dangerous mixture. In short, I was growing more and more isolated from people and more and more disillusioned with all things spiritual, material and otherwise. I was in deep suffering not knowing where to turn, not knowing there was medicine out there that could help my chemical imbalance. Hell, not even knowing I had a chemical imbalance!! I saw everyone as my enemy. I finally saw a psychiatrist who started me on medicines but they didn't work and that began a journey of jumping from one psych to the next. None of them were helping much and the medicines seemed to just make things worse.

I was listening to angry music, reading about bizarre spiritual practices and becoming more enraged by the day. The climax of my spiral through this Hell though came when I was so angry, fearful and depressed that I just wanted nothing more then to blow up the entire planet (or for someone else to. I wanted to take a nuclear bomb straight to the head). Just end the misery that I saw the Earth experience to have become. I wanted to end my suffering, that of others and destroy all those whom I perceived had done me wrong. I was in a very bad place. Enter my friend "Charlie" I'll call him. We met in a summertime class at the university--I can't remember the name of the class now but I remember him, yes, indeed I always will for "Charlie" opened my eyes. He introduced me to a man named, Dr. David R. Hawkins via his books. He was some sort of mystic I gathered and agreed to read his first book, "Power vs. Force" and I couldn't put it down.

There for the first time I learned about Oneness, mindfulness, impermanence, ego, karma and the description of a "God force" that made much more sense to me. This force taught by Hawkins is one that is intrinsic within all things and goes beyond a physical being. There were some things in his books that I didn't really get or agree with but over-all I was astounded at what I found. It was no less then finding not only the meaning of life but the meaning of the existence of everything that ever was, is and will be!! Talk about an epiphany!!! I was spun around and "reborn" to use a heavily loaded word. The more I read these books the more the very world around me shifted into a new light. I didn't just see the trees around me as "scenery" but as living breathing brothers and sisters that I was dependent upon and vice versa. That my friends as many of you know has a powerful effect. I was apart of something powerful, loving, beautiful and perhaps most importantly--meaningful. It was about this time that I met my current psychiatrist and psychologist who finally found a combination of medicines that help me manage my condition as best as possible. I knew that from that point onward I would be a totally different person and I wasn't scared--I was relieved. It also through his books that I was introduced to Buddhism and four years later--here I am.

Now, I try to see the good in all religions and I often succeed but I still struggle with the Mormon faith. Never the less, I am working on forgiving past wrongs and healing scars. I still have some strong opinions about that church but I am trying to put that all behind me. It is a personal challenge for me to forgive those people and accept that faith as having value and benefit to society. There are times when I see much good in their teachings but still others when I see them as dangerous. I am by no means a perfect man. Yet, there are many wonderful people in the Mormon church who's lives have been greatly improved by their faith and who have beautiful, pure, loving hearts--my mother, father and two older brothers are a few. In fact, there are even some things that I agree with them about after all these years. It isn't always easy but I am determined to let this anger, bitterness and hurt go one day once and for all.

PHOTO: The temples of Bagan in Myanmar by Stuart Clyne.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Buddhism and Children

I read an interesting article in the latest Tricycle Buddhist Review regarding Buddhism and children. Basically the author, Clark Strand, was saying that American Buddhists need to teach their children to be Buddhists to make sure the religion continues to grow or it risks dying out.

While I'm sure that his intentions are good this article raises a big red flag for me. That is because I do not feel that children should be indoctrinated or forced into their parent's religion. Perhaps it stems from being raised in a religion that told me not to question the things being taught to me as absolute and unassailable truth. And the strong feelings of anger, being lied to, mislead and being spiritually and mentally abused that came with realizing that there was more out there then I was blindly taught to believe in.

Author and Atheist Richard Dawkins has some interesting things to say regarding children and religion:

I think we should all wince when we hear a small child being labeled as belonging to some particular religion or another. Small children are too young to decide their views on the origins of the cosmos, of life and of morals.

James: Dawkins is on to something yet I do not feel that this means we should not teach our children certain things such as ways to relax and calm themselves when feeling afraid and scared. This could come in the form (for Buddhist parents but also for those of other faiths) of teaching a type of basic, dogma-free meditation or just simple breathing techniques. I also see it important to teach them basic humanity--right and wrong, kindness, compassion, love, acceptance and other life lessons.

This also means that we must look into whether children should be allowed to join monasteries or if a person must be at least 18 before being allowed to enter into such a major life decision/commitment. We Buddhists (and most importantly monks and lay leaders) should study and re-evaluate what the monastic life does to a child. However, I understand that most children do not take actual monastic vows. I also realize that in many Buddhist countries the monasteries act as schools and homes for poor, unwanted children but monks aren't trained to be parents either. These are murky, difficult issues to wrestle with to be sure. I need to meditate upon this more.

In my opinion, however, forcing hard religious opinions and beliefs upon children blocks their own ability to decide things for themselves and sets them up for intolerance and distrust of others in their adult years. At the very least I think that parents and monasteries should emphasize this important teaching by Buddha from the Kalama Sutra:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Nor traditions because they are old and have been handed down from generation to generation and in many locations. Nor in rumor because it has been spoken by many. Nor in writings by sages because sages wrote them. Nor in one’s own fancies, thinking that it is such an extraordinary thought, it must have been inspired by a god or higher power. Nor in inferences drawn from some haphazard assumption made by us. Nor in what seems to be of necessity by analogy. Nor in anything merely because it is based on the authority of our teachers, masters, and elders.

However, after thorough observation, investigation, analysis and reflection, when you find that anything agrees with reason and your experience, and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, and of the world at large; accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it; and live up to it.

These words, the Buddha went on to say, must be applied to his own teachings.

James: There is nothing wrong with also teaching the basic, general teachings of the Buddha and Dharma but I believe that it should be coupled with telling children that there are other beliefs out there. In addition, teach them not to let anyone tell them what to believe or not to believe. To quote Dawkins again:

Let children learn about different faiths, let them notice their incompatibility, and let them draw their own conclusions about the consequences of that incompatibility. As for whether any are "valid," let them make up their own minds when they are old enough to do so.

PHOTO: Buddhist Children Ceremony in Seoul, South Korea taken by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Touching Suchness

This is one of my favorite quotes/teachings from the Great Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh:

I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child--our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, "Miracle of Mindfulness"

James:

This has certainly been my experience as well. Some of my greatest teachings, lessons and profound insights have come from nature and the small things that our modern world all too often tramples over as unworthy of our time, energy and attention. For example, I yearn one day to visit the sacred ground of Bodh Gaya (the place where it is said that Buddha obtained Enlightenment) yet I wonder what the Tathatgata would say about my desire and attachment to such zeal? I imagine that he would gently yet convincingly remind me of inter-being--that the Holiness of Bodh Gaya is no further then the end of my nose or the unassuming mock pear tree in my front yard.

He would remind me that the little sparrows that visit our humble abode are no different then the wise monks to be found at Bodh Gaya. They remind me that each moment is precious and that all places, times and people are sacred if we but look deeper into ironically what will be discoved as the obvious.

I am honored, blessed and profoundly thankful to live close to some stunning mountains that are just as stupefying as the most sacred temples. The rushing sound of the breeze blowing through the pine trees in those pristine mountains is no different then the resonating sounds of singing bowls and shrine bells.

There is no other place to be then here--in this moment. All we need or could ever want is right here, right now within us.

The ego desires specialness and religion can often feed into that fervor. It seems sometimes that we think that Enlightenment is discovered in ancient temples or that we expect to see angels or Bodhisattvas to tear the sky and grant us that which is already within us--nothing short of Buddhahood.

Perhaps I will make it one day to the sacred and historic Bodh Gaya but in the mean time I will rest and meditate in the Bodh Gaya of my home, mountains and pear tree. May we all see the sacred temples in all places and Buddha in all beings.



~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dick Cheney the Unpatriotic Liberal

I don't usually talk politics on this blog but this video was too much to pass up.



To hear him talk in this clip he's one us. Those "nasty, stupid, unpatriotic liberal" war critics that he has cursed. The Cheney camp claims that things were different because of 9/11. Yep, he is still beating that long dead (now decomposing) horse that Saddam had something to do with those horrible attacks. And I'm sure he'll be dragging the picked clean, parched bones with him to his grave.

---End of Transmission---

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rocky Mountain Lotus Pond

The summer tourist season saw its usual swarm of people bustling around the shopping district of the normally sleepy mountain town. The crowds were much deeper then most summer weekends, however, since the internationally known sculpture festival is now playing down the canyon in my hometown of Loveland. Our destination was in opposite direction of the herd.

Nestled in between a back country road and a sparse cluster of cabins lies a graceful lotus pond high in the town of Estes Park, CO, USA at the mouth of Rocky Mountain National Park. This humble little pool of brackish water with lazy koi fish is dwarfed by the giant, jagged cirque of mountains that tower over and surround it--yet its profound beauty can not be denied. These are pictures that I took upon visiting this quaint, sacred pond community this afternoon:







(Above: I really enjoy how you can see ripples along the edges of the lily pads).



It was a beautiful scene and a very peaceful visit. The lotus flowers stretched out to the sky and it seemed as if light was shooting up out of them into the heavens. The other feeling I felt was that each lotus represented a Buddha to be. I thought of you all in those mindful moments.

(Above: Buddha decided to come along for the ride. I think he was happy to get out of the house, stretch his legs and breath in some fresh mountain air).

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Buddhist Health Survey

Take part in an interesting Buddhist Health Survey put together by The Northern University of Arizona in the United States of America. CLICK HERE. UPDATE: This survey takes about 45 minutes.

For more information regarding this survey read below:

Buddhism is a growing religion and practice in the United States and despite the growing number of individuals practicing basic elements of Buddhism, surprisingly little is known about the individuals who practice Buddhism. This survey assesses a number of important aspects of everyday life, including questions about your Buddhist beliefs and practices, lifestyle behaviors, and your thoughts and feelings about yourself and others.

During the survey you will be presented with instructions for each section of the survey and a series of yes/no questions, multiple choice questions and brief open-ended response questions. The first section of the survey will ask questions about your participation in Buddhist religious activities and understanding of Buddhist teachings; the second section consists of questions about your health, medical history and health practices; the third section, questions about psychological characteristics and the final section consists of demographic questions. The survey will take, on average, about 45 minutes to complete and must all be completed in one session.

You will be provided with an indicator of your progress toward completion as you take the survey.
The survey is anonymous. No information will be collected by which you could be identified. The responses to the survey will be maintained in an electronic database and only aggregated responses will be analyzed. Your participation in the survey is entirely voluntary and you may refuse to participate or stop taking the survey at any time without prejudice or penalty. This study is sponsored by Northern Arizona University. If you have any questions about the survey you may contact the prinicipal investigator with an e-mail at Bill.Wiist@nau.edu.

By clicking on "I consent" you indicate your consent to participate in the survey. When you click "I consent" you will be presented with the survey.
Thank you for considering participation in this survey. At the end of the survey you will be given an opportunity to request results of the survey when they become available. You will also be given the opportunity to indicate your interest in participating in any future studies on Buddhism and health we might conduct.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Meditation with the Buddha Within

I have been having some awful nightmares of late and was talking with my therapist about it and she had a suggestion. She said that since meditation works so well for me that I should try and do a mini-meditation before bedtime--one that concentrated solely upon getting ready for sleep. So a big part of that for me has been breathing deeply and letting the days events bubble up into my head as I lie there on the bed and physically breath them out of my mind and body. So last night I was doing this and kept letting go of things and felt things really fall away from my True Nature of Oneness and soon I merged into a soft, deep sleep.

The next thing I realized I was sitting on the steps of a Grecian style pool floating out in the middle of the stars. It was Grecian in that it had a couple of steps all around the edges of the pool rather then a sharp wall like a traditional western style pool and the corners of the pool were squared a bit with little landings just above the water level. There were small Cyprus style tress on the outer edges of the four corners and on the very outer borders was a crystal clear, light sapphire colored water that flowed around the perimeter of the pool and cascaded down the steps into the pool at four locations along the sides of the large basin.

In a flash I was comfortably floating in the pool that had no bottom--just more stars twinkling down through the crystal cool sapphire-like water. I was surrounded by beings--all of whom I knew one way or another and they knew me. A few I recognized from this life and others I knew from previous lives but our meeting was like we had never left each other's sides. It was state of pure realization that emptiness is form and form is emptiness. Human bodies were only being presented as means to interact with these various frequencies of energies. It was a joyous reunion for everyone. I have never seen such beaming smiles, sparkling eyes and sincere embracing. It really was energy reuniting with other forms of energy--the various energies of ones karma--pure being reuniting with those of others to form the all-uniting enegry of pure love. The love was so powerful yet soft and comforting--it was the oxygen.

Soon everyone's attention came to these two beings of light that were sitting on chairs at the head of the pool where a second little jacuzzi style pool formed behind them. They took the form of humans but it was easy to tell that these beings were Buddhas. Interestingly enough, one was a barrel chested man with a long, wirery grey beard and tattoos down his arms and legs--my kind of Budda!! The other was a woman who looked very much like my mother in white flowing robes and hair of spun gold that danced like the stars in the background. It seemed from others' reactions, however, that they saw a different man or woman depending on their own experiences and then it dawned on me--the man or woman we were seeing was who we are as Buddhas!! We were looking at our True Natures!!! That realization made my body pulse and vibrate with love, compassion and thankfulness to the Universe and the power that is within all things that has always been and will always be in one form or another.

In the next moment we were all being given various clothing to wear--all the while floating in this water which has some kind of spiritual rejuvenating power within it. These clothes were to be taken symbolically rather then to be taken literal. I was given a lovely suit that had all kinds of sparkles and ruins on it that glowed when I put it on. The minute I laid my eyes upon it I recognized it as a past life--and a wonderful one at that. I can't remember all the details of this life but I do remember it was a powerful one that reminded me of my True Nature and potential.

There were other revelations and teachings during this "reunion" of sorts that I can not remember and I wish that I could. However, sometimes you do not need to know the specifics of something to remember the more important essence behind the teaching--and that is the feeling of understanding and peace that comes with it. From what I can remember however, these were direct one-on-one meditations sessions with your inner self--my inner Buddha. The old tattooed guy with a long, stringy grey bread. Hehe. I seem to recall that there was a joining of minds, a oneness that was achieved to where I could have clear vision, insight and awareness of my Buddha nature. Wisdom that I dearly needed to be reminded of at this time in my life.

Perhaps the reason that I can not describe it further is because there are really no words to describe enlightenment and that floating along the edges of Nirvana. I had no sense of time while I was in that intense union meditation with my inner Buddha so when I ended my session and rejoined the group I was sad to see it was time for everyone to depart company. Tears flowed like water but they were tears of joy--tears that we had had this precious moment--this wonderful, present moment to reunite in form to grow and learn in a "power session" and remember that we do not need form to reunite in the beautiful emptiness of Oneness that is in our nature at all times and places.

I awoke earlier then usual but feeling more rested then I would otherwise at this time in the morning. As I slowly returned to my awakened state I would feel tears of joy slightly leak from my eyes and I realized that my tears were of that same liquid that was in that pool. Our tears are precious liquid--powerful aids in our lives. Those drops of joy were joined by a soft yet resolved half-smile. I then closed my eyes for a time to try and remember as much as I could to write this all down. Then got up, made some coffee and typed this out. I hope that you will find something in this journey of mine that might spur you on or remind you of how precious and wonderful you are and that this moment is. How cherished a gift that this human state is from our Buddha within.

I am so thankful to my Buddha nature and to all those wonderful beings that I reunited with and to all things, beings, energies and Buddhas throughout space and time for giving me that wonderful moment. I had a rough couple of weeks with my illness and I really needed that healing, reminder and retreat to give me the energy to recommit to my practice.

May all beings and energies remember the True Nature of things and remember the beautiful power of Oneness. May we all remember and feel that Oneness so that we can awaken from our samsaric slumber and help each other awaken as well--and remain awake. In order that we realize our Buddha Nature that was always there and always will be. So that we might all merge brightly with the indescribable pure suchness of Mahaparinirvana. The unconstrained, True Self that is said by the Buddha in the Nirvana Sutra to be "indestructible as a diamond."

I bow to the Buddha within you all and within this body they call "James."

~Peace to all beings~

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