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Monday, December 31, 2007

Wishing You a Wonderful 2008.

May this new year, 2008 bring more peace, tolerance and happiness to people of all religions, philosophies and those who follow no religion. May this new year bring an end to all wars and strife in the world so that harmony will increase amongst all sentient beings. May we rededicate ourselves to our practice so that we will feel more stability and insight into our lives and help us not to be so swept away by our egos.

It has been a memorable year for The Buddhist Blog and I want to thank all of you for making this blog possible. I am so appreciative of every single one of my readers and give thanks for the conversations that we have had. I have been touched deeply by you and It is my humble hope that I can continue to serve you and all the people I will meet in 2008. Please know that I am bowing before you all to honor the Buddha within you. I look forward to watching Buddhism evolve further into this new century and millennium. This is a perfect time to post a great quote regarding the beautiful fluidity of our faith. The Buddha warned against trying to anchor Buddhism and all Dharmas too firmly into one way of thinking or any one culture. This leads me to a wonderful quote on this matter:

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 from Everyday Mind, a Tricycle book edited by Jean Smith

While remaining solidly upon the foundation of taking refuge in the Triple Gems, the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path let us rejoice in watching our beautiful faith blend with new cultures such as here in America. It is my wish that Buddhism will continue to influence my country in positive ways.

With a smile to you all, I will see you on the other side in 2008.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas from Buddha Santa!!

I hope you all had a peaceful, serene day.

Today on Christmas I was thinking about Jesus and how in the Buddhist tradition he would probably be a Bodhisattva, and that is exactly how I see him--a great, wise and wonderfully compassionate teacher. Or perhaps a Buddha. It's another way for me to feel apart of the season with my Christians brothers and sisters. It's a time to celebrate common ideals such a peace on Earth and good will toward every man, woman and child.

He did so much for the poor and down trodden seeing the clear importance of taking care of one's brother like oneself. Just as the Buddha lived and taught. Let's hope that by this time next year the present giving tradition will be replaced with donating money to charities that others support. Or at least reduced to only giving a few simple gifts in addition to donations.

It is sad to see such a sacred tradition of celebrating the serene and glorious birth of one of the greatest spiritual leaders on planet Earth stripped and warped into the commercial, materialistic orgy it has become today.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Cheerful Belated Winter Solstice Wish to my Pagan Friends!!

So yesterday was the official day of celebration for Winter Solstice. I apologize for missing the specific date but I wanted to pass on my well wishes to all those who celebrate this wonderful, peaceful, accepting holiday/tradition. I didn't know much about the celebration so I did some studying for this post. I hope you find some things in this short essay that you didn't know before and find a new respect for a great holiday with a long, proud history.

May the year to come bring many happy days to everyone. This is a time of celebrating rebirth of the seasons as from now on the days will get longer. The celebration of rebirth during the Winter Solstice is also because it represents the end of one year and the beginning of another, Stonehenge is a perfect marker of this event.

Another extremely interesting site that marks the Solstice is Newgrange, a megalithic structure in Ireland which is estimated to be 5,000 years old which is older then Stonhenge by about 1,000 years and even older then the Great Egyptian Pyramids!!! It is a tomb that lights up with the allignment of the sun of the Winter Solstice and is believed to symbolize the rising of the dead into the Heavens upon the rays of the sun.

Since many didn't survive the cruel winters within the ancient communities, the Solstice was (and still is) a time to reflect on the previous year, celebrate surviving another year, give thanks for the many benefits received and look forward to the arrival of spring, pregnant with possibilities. Is it any wonder then that spring was/is linked to the goddess veneration and celebration of sexuality, what a beautiful and sacred time.

There is a Taoist element to this time of year as well. It can be seen in the East Asian celebration Dongzhi or Toji Festival which celebrates the balance and harmony between dark and light, sun and darkness. It is usually celebrated around 21 December.

These are but just a few of the Winter Solstice type celebrations, it is venerated throughout the world which places it as one of the most popular and widespread holidays of all humanity.

May all realize harmony during this time of year and look forward to a new year of happiness, joy, good health and much love for all people.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, December 17, 2007

New Jersey Abolishes Death Penalty

TRENTON, N.J., USA (AP) — Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed into law Monday a measure that abolishes the death penalty, making New Jersey the first state in more than four decades to reject capital punishment.

The bill, approved last week by the state's Assembly and Senate, replaces the death sentence with life in prison without parole.

"This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder," Corzine said.

The nation has executed 1,099 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. In 1999, 98 people were executed, the most since 1976; last year 53 people were executed, the lowest since 1996.

James: As someone who as opposed the death penalty for years, I am rejoicing today. One of the main pillars of Buddhism is the concept of non-violence. Yes these criminals must be isolated from society because of their choices by spending life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, executing them lowers our collective consciousness to the level of these killers and other criminals and we lose our innocence and peace as a society. In addition, the person who's job it is to execute the prisoner faces their own suffering. You can not engage in killing without losing a certain degree of peace. I can't imagine having to be the executioner and face the terrible dreams that must come with the job. We become desensitized to the very violence we are trying to prevent by killing these offenders. It is up to us to rise above the violence and break the cycle of suffering.

I feel deep sadness for the families who have lost loved ones and for the victims who have suffered immensely from the crimes of these individuals. I have compassion for their suffering and cry with them. That being said, I do not think that exacting revenge helps them heal. I say this because killing these criminals doesn't do anything to bring those loved ones back from the dead. It would seem to me that a person embraces more suffering than happiness by taking joy from watching one be executed. After the execution the criminal is gone but they still haven't dealt with their grief and anger which leaves one feeling hollow inside. Anger prevents us from healing and letting go of the chains that keep us imprisoned. How ironic that the victims and their families end up in a sort of prison themselves by clinging to their anger and bitterness. Anger shackles them (just as it does all of us) and the angrier they (and we) become the tighter the chains dig in.

It reminds me of a great story told by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh which I have mentioned here before. Imagine your house is set on fire by an arsonist, you escape but instead of trying to put out the flames you chase after the criminal fueled by anger and a blinding lust for revenge. You run and run and perhaps you catch the person who did this but in the mean time your house has burned down. The point being that holding resentment and anger in our hearts slowly kills us (literally). We know that all things are connected and medicine has proved that elevated stress levels (which occur from extreme anger and anxiety) can shorten ones life. Anger can build and build until often it is released through violence and by committing violence we have turned into the person that we hated so deeply in the first place.

How can we convince others that killing is wrong by killing people?

The very real chance of executing an innocent person is another big reason why we shouldn't have a death penalty. There are many, many cases of people who have been proven innocent through DNA testing but often only after spending decades of their lives in prisons. It seems quite likely that there have indeed been those wrongfully executed.

Also, the Buddhist principle of impermanence implies that all people have the capacity to transform themselves and we must allow these criminals the possibility of redemption. Perhaps the criminal kept alive could one day write books and give interviews/speeches to help others avoid a life of crime. The example of Stanley "Tookie" Williams comes to mind.

A reformed gang member who committed murder but then wrote books to keep kids out of gangs and help them avoid the terrible choices that he made. Instead we executed him and in doing so lost a credible voice in preventing future crime and that is our burden to carry. We were so consumed with our anger and lust for revenge that it blinded us to the greater good that was unfolding. Allowing the criminal life in prison gives them a lot of time to think about what they have done and think of ways to redeem him/herself. We just never know what benefits change can bring and by executing someone we take that possibility not only away from the families and the offender but also from society as a whole.

While I haven't faced the tragedy of losing a loved one to murder or watched a family member suffer from the pain of being the victim of other heinous crimes, I do know that eventual forgiveness and acceptance is the key to healing.

I hope that I never have to face such a terrible choice but I would hope that through meditating upon compassion and forgiveness that I would be able to let go of such horrible anger and pain. I have told my family that should I be killed that I do not want them to advocate the death penalty for the criminal.

It is time to focus on working toward getting to the roots of violence and therefore help reduce it rather than perpetuate it.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Blending Christmas with Winter Solstice and Bodhi Day (Rohatsu).

First let me say Happy Bodhi Day to all. This is the day that we not only celebrate the enlightenment of Buddha but the birth of Buddhism as well. In the west it is a time dominated by the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ. For many Western Buddhists this can be a time of isolation feeling disconnected from society which brings us suffering. Anytime that we feel we are not apart of all things (interconnection) we will most always feel some sort of emotional distress: depression/sadness, isolation, anxiety and even anger.

For many years I have felt anger during this time of year from feeling like I was left out and pushed aside but this year I have found a way to link myself to the season while staying true to my Buddhist beliefs. We bought a wreath which is traditionally a symbol of Christmas but is more neutral then other Christmas symbols as it is also a symbol of winter solstice which is celebrated the world over. As many know, the Christmas tree and wreath were both originally pagan symbols to celebrate the winter solstice but have since been incorporated into Christianity and Christmas.

The wreath is also a symbol of the circle of life which blends well into observance of Bodhi day. And as we know, Bodhi day celebrates the Buddha's enlightenment when he transcended that endless circle of life and death. After which he set the Dharma wheel in motion thus disseminating it throughout Asia and now the world, rolling over and crushing ignorance along the way. Thus, the circular wreath is also a symbol of the Dharma wheel for me so that whenever I look upon it I think of the precious Dharma that was so graciously given to us by Buddha.
In addition, the center of a circle in often seen in Buddhism as representing emptiness, the boundless openness of one's Buddha Nature. It represents that all things are empty of any inherent existence, that the space in the center can be the same space within a house or a cup. Inside the circle is the Universe. The idea that the wreath and all "things" are dependent upon other phenomena and elements for their existence. Thus, looking upon the wreath reminds me of that True Nature.

The circular wreath can also be seen as a symbol of completeness (containing all things) in Buddhism, Paganism and Christianity. It that regard I also see it as representing the world wide sangha, a giant circle to remind us all that we are interconnected and interdependent.

May we all find a way to make this time of year meaningful.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, December 03, 2007

My Father's Stroke Emergency

I'm very shaken right now. I just got off the phone with my mother and it turns out that my father had a mini-stroke last night!! I'm on the verge of tears here as I type this out because my dad and I hadn't had the best relationship when I was growing but now (in the past decade) we've really become close and have become real friends and tight buddies. We see each other twice a week and I'm am so thankful that I have had this time with him.

Apparently he went into the middle bedroom in their house early last night to get something and was hit with a wave of exhaustion, so he decided to lie down and before long an hour had gone by. My mom just figured he needed a cat nap and didn't think anything of it until he woke up. He sat down at the table with my mom and they began discussing things when my mom noticed that he wasn't making any sense in the conversation. He was confused about what my mother was saying and was having trouble forming the right words. He was able, however, to express that he felt foggy in his head and like he was just coming out of anesthesia. Having just talked about risk factors and signs of as stroke my mom knew something was wrong and rushed him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with having had a mini stroke. He's alive and doing well now but still tired and surely concerned. He will see a specialized doctor to discuss the way forward this afternoon. The doctor that saw him in the hospital last night said that they will most likely get him on blood thinners.

I guess the good news here is that while he came close to disaster he is now aware that he is prone to such a problem and can make the changes necessary to increase his chances of avoiding a major stroke in the future. It is a time of fear that can be changed into a moment of personal growth. It is time to be reborn into a new reality that can catapult one into a more meaningful quality of life. Meditation is a great way to release the fear of sickness and death by relaxing the body and mind through concentrating on deep breathing. This kind of meditation is like pulling the plug on a bathtub to drain the water. It helps us drain all the fearful thoughts that are preventing us from finding happiness and peace in the present moment. It helps us keep up with the stress and worries in life. It is like a mini-vacation for the mind and once you relax your mind you relax your body which helps one heal.

It is times like right now when my understanding of impermanence also comes to my aid. I haven't taken my time with my dad lately for granted. I know that he is aging and even though he is in great health he isn't invincible. I love him dearly. This is a powerful reminder to me that nothing in this life is unchanging. It is a lesson in making the most of the present moment. So give your loved ones hugs and enjoy their presence because the present moment is the only moment we have. We have no assurances that there will be a tomorrow.

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