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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections on Meat by a Buddhist Vegetarian

As some of you know, I am a vegetarian and have been for 3 years this past August. It has been interesting to watch my perceptions about meat change over this period of time. At first and for the first two years I didn't really feel sickened when I smelled cooking meat but now I do from time to time. I also sometimes have a hard time looking at raw meat or cooking meat without feeling horrified as if I was looking at human flesh.

The main reason that I decided to become vegetarian was from an immense love of animals and compassion for their suffering. I feel a very deep connection and bond to all sentient beings and feel that eating them is no different then eating my mother.

That being said, I do not, however, look down on those who wish to eat meat nor do I have a problem eating meals with meat eaters. True, I do not like the smell or the idea but I would rather try to focus on the joy of being able to come together and rejoice in the pure presence of others then focus on our differences. Yes, I could turn up my nose and walk out on dinners that serve meat but that is not the middle way. Besides I am sure that I wouldn't (and don't) live up to someone else's standards and we all have to walk our own path and make decisions that seem the most logical to us in adherence to the famous Kalama Sutra. To criticize others for eating meat is less skillful and not conducive to creating and maintaining the environment of peace for all sentient beings including my meat eating friends and family whom I love dearly just as much as any other creature.

I'm not always skillful in my life but then who amongst us is? Which reminds me of something one of my mother's fellow Christian friends said when the subject of perfection came up in a conversation. She said, "You know what they do with perfect people don't you? They crucify them."

Anyway, It has just been interesting to watch my reactions to seeing and smelling meat being cooked. It has been (and continues to be) a fascinating and worthwhile practice in mindfulness. I am still amazed at what a powerful teacher just mindfully watching our lives unfold is to us all.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Heading South for Thanksgiving

Some of my family plus my wife and I are going down to Florida to visit the Disney World amusement theme park over the American Thanksgiving holiday. I haven't been to Disney World since I was a child and I am really looking forward to wearing some shorts in November (it's usually quite cold here where I live in November whereas down in Florida, USA it will be a balmy 78 degrees--about 26 celsius--). I am also excited to ride the rides and just act like a kid again. Should be a nice break. I'll be back in about a week.

If you still want to read posts while I'm gone then just check out my archives.
I hope everyone has a peaceful week and to my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving!!

Everything is as it is. It has no name other than the name we give it. It is we who call it something; we give it a value. We say this thing is good or it's bad, but in itself, the thing is only as it is. It's not absolute; it's just as it is. People are just as they are.


-Ajahn Sumedho, "The Mind and the Way"

PHOTO: Cinderella's Castle in Walt Disney World amusement theme park.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Buddhism and Secular Humanism

I am one of those "Western Buddhists" who is also a secular humanist. So what exactly is secular humanism you ask? Well, this post will be my attempt to answer that question and show how my interpretation of Buddhism fits into it.

Humanism is often described as a philosophical system/way of life that emphasizes reason, ethics and justice and specifically rejects the supernatural. In this regard I do not believe in the supernatural reality of Bodhisattvas as I can not confirm their existence via reasonable, scientific means which is a hallmark of the Humanism that I bring to my Buddhist beliefs. It is actually also a hallmark of Buddhism as seen in the pragmatic, famous teaching found in the Kalama Sutra that is interestingly somewhat similar to the scientific method:

Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."
In fact, Buddhism has a very accepting, positive attitude and view toward science. The Dalai Lama has even stated before that if science proves an aspect of Buddhism in error then Buddhism must change to reflect the new reality:

“One fundamental attitude shared by Buddhism and science is the commitment to keep searching for reality by empirical means and to be willing to discard accepted or long-held positions if our search finds that the truth is different,” he writes in his 2005 book, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

If science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understanding, Buddhism must change accordingly. We should always adopt a view that accords with the facts.”

That is all a little off track from my train of thought regarding Bodhisattvas. Part of my rejection of supernatural aspects of Buddhism comes from my practice of Zen Buddhism which tends (and I emphasize tends) to de-emphasize Bodhisattvas. I can not absolutely deny their existence and despite what many say, science doesn't and can not deny the possibility of something new being discovered and I, like many science based folks, am very open to new discoveries. That being said, either way, liberation from suffering is ultimately left up to us humans with the exception of perhaps Pure Land Buddhism. I do, however, believe in Bodhisattvas in a metaphoric sense as the ideal of altruistic excellence. As well as believing that certain living people can share many characteristics of the seemingly mythical Bodhisattva. I do take great hope and refuge in the idea that we all have (sometimes latent within us) the wonderful attributes that the many Bodhisattva icons represent and we practice to cultivate those.

In addition, I do not believe all the fantastic stories told in many of the ancient sutras as literal. I prefer to study, contemplate and ponder the essence of the teachings from these sutras rather then focus on the magical nature of some of their accounts.

In addition, Humanism and Buddhism both share the belief that there is no separable soul within sentient beings.

Another aspect of Humanism is the belief in the value of this life. Humanists do not believe in an afterlife as such and thus emphasize realizing happiness now rather then constantly dreaming for some better life to come. For Humanists, the present moment is the only moment that exists and therefore it is in this moment, right here, right now where we find meaning and purpose. This is an idea that fits squarely within the Dharma and is in fact crucial and critical to the Buddha's teachings.

This point could perhaps be a sticking point between the two because of the Buddhist belief in rebirth. Although an argument could be made that evolution is not much different from rebirth as physics allows for the concept that nothing actually disappears but rather changes molecular composition into something entirely different, not unlike what the theory of rebirth postulates. That being said, many Buddhists (especially western and Zen Buddhists) give concepts of an after life (rebirth) little thought preferring instead to focus simply on present circumstances and let any afterlife that might occur take care of itself. I personally believe that seeing the change and rebirth in every present moment to be more beneficial to our practice then constantly obsessing about an afterlife and what kind of rebirth we might experience. I believe that the bliss of enlightenment occurs in the seemingly mundane events of this humble human life. I do not spend much time contemplating Nirvana either as it is often said that such a "state" or concept to be beyond explanation or understanding.

Humanism also gives prominence to individual responsibility which harmonizes with the Dharma as there is no savior in Buddhism. While teachers are very helpful, again, in the end our happiness and liberation from suffering is up to us.

Humanism also believes that to better the world we all need to work together through reason, tolerance and an open minded exchange of ideas which is important to Buddhism as well. We Buddhists believe that we are interconnected and therefore interdependent upon others. We are therefore encouraged to work for the greater good of humanity rather then just for what is good for ourselves. Humanism (as does Buddhism) believes that all lives are precious and equal regardless of religion, faith, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or creed.

For me the secular aspect of my Humanist philosophy definitely emerges from my western culture, upbringing and education. I firmly believe in the separation of religion and state for the good, betterment and survival of both.

I find it important to state one more thing, not all Humanists think alike (in fact some believe in a religious form of humanism) as not all Buddhists think alike. This post has been my simple attempt at explaining the Secular Humanist framework in general terms as compared to Buddhism.

And finally, of course I do not and would never assume that my interpretations here should be taken as "better Buddhism" or in any way taken to mean that others should adopt them. They are merely the result and conclusions that I came to from following the Buddha's advice in the Kalama Sutra.

And before you determine that I am a heretical Buddhist (whatever THAT means) I would refer you to a post made by Zen Master Gudo Nishijima who has been practicing for nearly 60 years where he too finds comparisons as well between Humanism and Buddhism.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Introducing, The Enlightenment Visa Card!!!

Because nothing says Buddhism like materialism and accruing debt.

I'm a little late on this but what great news!!! Here I was wasting hours and hours meditating to realize enlightenment and now I can just buy a piece of the Nirvana pie at a mere 15% APR!! Now I have an enlightened way to buy my Zen liqueur!!

The late fee for past due payments is $25 which is apparently this credit cards version of accruing less skillful karma. If you keep missing payments then you will be reborn as a "credit liability." Here's a question you might want to ask before signing up, would my credit card debt follow me into my next rebirth if I sign up for this card?

You know those Visa commercials, well here is a suggestion for one that they could do to promote their new "Enlightenment Visa" card.

Meditation cushion: $35

Buddha statue: $20

Buying your way toward enlightenment? Priceless.

Finally there is a way to become enlightened AND stay greedy!!

But seriously. Yes, at first glance this seems quite offensive but I think we should have a laugh over it as Buddhism will be just fine. Buddhism has been around for some 2,500 years and it has survived much more serious threats to its survival then a Visa "Enlightenment Card." It will shake this off like a bunch of annoying fleas. This Visa shtick is like throwing pebbles at a mountain as columnist Mark Morford says. It's annoying but not damaging to Buddhism.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Buddhism and Sin

The Buddhist challenge to conventional Western notions of spirituality illuminates the way we set flesh and spirit at war with each other. In Buddhism there is no original sin.

Although noticing how we express our sexuality can certainly lead to an awareness of right conduct, the flesh is not regarded as representing a corruption or punishment of any kind, nor as an obstacle to the attainment of enlightenment.

The root of human suffering is not sin, but our confusion about ego.
We suffer because we believe in the existence of an individual self. This belief splits the world into "I" and "other."

- Stephen Butterfield, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol. I, #4

James: This is something that really rings true for me. There is no emphasis upon guilt in Buddhism as there is no one that is going to "punish" us for "sin." I like the idea that we are our own "saviors" and "judges" so to speak. In Buddhism, If we wish to engage in actions that are less skillful, (whether sexual or others wise) then that is absolutely our choice and no personal Supreme Being is going to condemn us for it.

Yet just like smoking usually shortens ones physical life, less skillful actions will most likely prolong our future lives within samsara. It just all depends on how much progress one wants to progress toward realizing Nirvana. So in that regard rebirth is compassionate as it gives us as many chances as we need. Some believe rebirth to be cruel, that we have to redo the suffering in life over and over but that is only because we choose to stay in that cycle of rebirth and death.

In addition, not everyone has the same karma and some lessons of samsara might be easy for one person and difficult for others and vice versa.

We are the masters of our own destiny and path and sometimes we need to take side-tracks in order to be convinced that the path we were on was more direct.

PHOTO: Yab-Yum (Tibetan for "mother-father"). It is a symbol showing a male deity in sexual union with his female consort. The image of male and female united as one in intimacy is a powerful (and sometimes overtly "shocking") symbol to depict the natural transcendental unity of all things. It is also meant to be symbolic of the important and strong union between wisdom/insight (consort) and compassion (deity).

~Peace to all beings~

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