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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Limitless Sky of Pure Being.

This journey that we find ourselves upon is like floating through the limitless sky. Sometimes it is blue as the bluest eyes as far as one can see and other times there are amazing sights to see such as rainbows but the sky behind them remains the same. other times it is cloudy blocking out the sun but the sun is always there, just above the clouds.

Sometimes it is black with little twinkling stars that shine at us as if especially for us but they do not belong to anyone or anything, they just are. Nor do they remain motionless although it may seem to our limited mind to be thus, they are in motion perhaps subtle motion in orbits but constantly changing position just as all things change. Our own planet twirls around in constant patterns much like ones mind follows habitual patterns. Even our giant galaxy is in flux.

Despite all this knowledge learned through science it is all empty of any inherent form or definition. In the final analysis, we really know only a tiny dust particle resting upon a pin head worth of information about the mysterious Universe. This information is nothing more than symbols that our limited minds use to try and explain our place in the Universe.

Yet try as hard as we might our place is forever in motion rotating other planets and galaxies that in turn rotate around us. We are constantly chasing the mysteries of the Universe that will always be a step ahead of our minds because mind can not perceive the totality of the vastness of Pure Being. It is like what the Native Americans say is, "Chasing the wind." It is nice to understand some of the physics of our Universe and I am indeed partly a man of science and appreciate Buddhisms embrace of science. However, sometimes science can become an obsession and an attachment to the ego that forever chases which often ends up frustrating us and creating despair and feelings of isolation.

Each moment we breath we are constantly arriving at a new present moment in this limitless sky of emptiness pregnant with beauty and joy. Sometimes we only see the dark clouds and turn around thinking that we can never make it through them. We perceive them as impenetrable obstacles that will surely crush us into a million pieces. However once we let go of our perceptions and begin to move toward them we realize that even the largest, darkest cloud (painful emotions, stress, etc.) can be penetrated and we emerge out the other side to continue on our journey. Yes passing through these clouds can be bumpy and scary at times but with a mind concentrated upon the true nature of that cloud we can realize right understanding. We can see that these clouds/obstacles are mostly made of nothing and can fade away into the limitless sky as quickly as they formed.

Perhaps some of these clouds knock us around enough that our bodies do break apart (cancer, heart attacks, etc.) and die but that is merely the end of the body, not the end of the Universe which our energy will always be apart of. We came from star dust and will return to star dust. Just like planets are born and die only to be reborn again somewhere else within the limitless Universe, so too then there is a good chance that we too will be reborn in one form or another.

Perhaps that will take the form of a gas that creates a new planet to sustain sentient beings or perhaps we will take the form of a rock, a mineral to benefits other sentient beings. Still too we could be reborn again as a sentient being living in some form not recognizable by humans off on a distant planet from Earth. The possibilities that exist within this great project of the Universe and beyond into the indescribable parinirvania are limitless.

Nothing to be or not be, this is the Self.

PHOTO CREDIT: "Light of the Dharma" by Anya Langmead. Her other works are brilliant and just as beautiful. I hope to buy a print one day. Check out the rest of her stunning work here.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Healing Our Environment and Ourselves.

In one sitting meditation, when I focused my attention on my heart--breathing in, I am aware of my heart, breathing out, I smile to my heart--suddenly I realized that this is not the only heart that I have. I have many other hearts. Suppose that I look at the sun in the sky. I know that it is also another heart of mine. If this heart failed I would die right away. But if the other heart, the sun, explodes or stops functioning as the sun, I would also die right away.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Mindfulness Bell, winter/spring issue 47, 2008.

James: Another heart is our planet Earth, it is literally alive and very much like our own bodies. For example, most of our planet consists of water just like the human body. Deep inside the Earth a constant movement of hot liquid rich in iron keeps the planet alive much like our blood (also rich in iron) keeps us in health. If this plasma like layer where to cool and harden then life would eventually cease, not unlike too much blood loss causes the heart to stop.

The Earth's ozone and magnetic field act as shields that protect life here from harmful radiation emitted from the sun. Radiation is important and helpful in some respects but in small doses just like some bacteria is helpful in our bodies but again in small doses. If too much bacteria grows within our body then our white blood cells are stimulated to neutralize the dangerous levels of bacteria to return our body back to a stable, balanced environment. In that regard the Earth's atmosphere acts as those white blood cells to maintain the right balance to enable life to flourish on this planet.

So when seen through mindful openness an intricate interconnection unfolds within this Universe from the tiniest molecules to the largest stars until it can no longer be described and becomes parinirvana which is beyond our limiting labels, concepts and knowledge.

But let's return back to the present moment as I look out the window and gaze upon the gentle breeze dancing through the branches of the mock pear tree out front. That tree is apart of me as it relies upon the same sun to grow as I do, therefore if I do not care for that tree and millions like it then I will in turn die off. Trees thrive off of the carbon dioxide that we emit from breathing oxygen which is in turn partially created by those very trees and other plants. This leads to recycling.

We humans have not existed in harmony with the other organisms that share this planet with us, we have not been good neighbors over time. We have become in many ways a parasite or a cancer on the Earth because we have taken so much and given so little back to the circle of life that is our environment. Yet all is not lost, we can heal the scars that we have inflicted and return our lovely celestial body back to a more balanced state of being by recycling and using renewable energy sources.

In our city we have a recycling program that we participate in. We save our plastic bottles and recyclable metal and plastic containers in one bin and all our newspapers and paperboard waste such as old pasta boxes go in another bin. Then once a week a truck comes along and picks it all up to be sorted through at the recycling factory who then sell the metals and paper back to companies to make more metal and plastic containers and paper products and the cycle continues. Every time I put those bins on the curb I smile in peace knowing that I am giving back to my fellow organisms that share this planet with me.

The same goes with renewable energy, we harness the abundant clean energy available to us in using solar power, wind power, water, geothermal and others to meet our needs without harming the very body (Earth) that we are apart of. Through these measures we begin to cease being the separate, destructive cancer and return to being just another variation of being on a vast and beautiful heavenly body.

It is true that we can not prevent the eventually destruction of Earth but we do not want to have the karma of speeding up that process by our less than skillful actions. Life ebbs and flows of it's own accord and it is not our right to take life away from any living being and that includes our living Earth.

The Deer Park Monastery in the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh threw the switch that makes their property environmentally friendly. They are now completely off the grid, what a great example for the rest of us!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Peacefulness.

Peaceful be heaven, peaceful the earth, peaceful the broad space between. Peaceful for us be the running waters, peaceful the plants and herbs! Peaceful to us be the signs of the future, peaceful what is done and undone, peaceful to us be what is and what will be. May all to us be gracious!


-Atharva Veda 19.9

PHOTO: My wife took this picture in 2003. This lake is up in the tall mountains north of us here in Colorado where we backpack into. It's deep into the forests and high into the mountains. You usually don't see another human being for days up there but you see plenty of animals: Moose, deer, elk, coyote, birds/hawks/eagles/owls, fish, and some bears I've heard but I've never seen one. I have a special spot up there where I sit between dense pine trees and meditate listening to the wind flow through them creating a sound that is like hearing the trees whisper all together in unison. It's pure peace to be up there.

I haven't been up there in a few years because I have gained some weight from the medicine I take and because of those drugs I have a hard time keeping my weight down even when I exercise. This is because the pills act like a fat pill but they are necessary to keep me alive. It takes a lot of work getting up there as you have to carry 40 pound packs on your back with everything you would need to survive for a week. I do hope to return again someday soon.

I guess I say all of this to bring up the point that we can be anywhere we feel like being through meditation and mindfulness on pictures, memories and writings describing the atmosphere and energy of a place. As we know we are interconnected with all places so that like Thich Nhat Hanh says, wherever we are--that is home.

There is something else that I'd like to mention on this topic and that is feeling happy with where we currently find our bodies living. I tend to daydream about traveling to new and exotic places often and forget to see the wonder where I live currently. It is important for me to rediscover the great aspects of where I live. I have a home, live in a realitively stable country, live in a safe place in regards to crime and environmental disasters and get to enjoy slices of nature even in my urban location. There is a delightful, noble pine tree across the street that I can see out my front window as I'm typing. So whenever I gaze upon it mindfully I can easily see myself up at that special place in the mountains and the peace of that pristine land washes over me as if i was literally there at this moment.

I also have animal life right here out my window that I am honored to experience. Yes I don't get to see live moose walking around but I have a wonderful opportunity to watch the little birds eatting at our bird feeder, listen to their joyful songs and watch their adorable antics. I also get to watch the squirrel who comes daily to eat the peanut and hazelnuts that I leave out for him every morning. Squirrels are so cute, full of life and I love to watch how playful they are, watching them flick their bushy tails and jump from tree branch to tree branch. Yes I live in a great place. I do enjoy visiting new places and feeling the greatness of them but I truly am home where ever I find myself.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Don't Forget Burma. Plus, Announcing the "Free Burma" T-Shirt Recipient.

Perhaps the greatest chance for change in Burma lies with the very military that oppressed the non-violent protests of monks and civilians.

The probability of a Burmese soldier also being a Buddhist is great considering an over-whelming majority of Burmese citizens follow the religion. This means that probably most of these soldiers know that in their hearts that their violent actions not only create suffering amongst the people but within themselves as well and perhaps more importantly their family members. Surely many of these soldiers have family members who are devout Buddhists and maybe even have a family member who is a monk or nun. I think that these connections with their devoted Buddhist families will eventually wear down their loyalty to the government just like the soft strength of water erodes through the hardest rocks. It is true that Buddhism is very passive but it's strength lies within its devotion and unflinching love of everyone whether "enemy" or friend. It has been my experience that change for the better can only come when anger is matched with love and compassion.

It is only a matter of time before the average soldiers suffering becomes so great that they stage a massive desertion of the military and when that happens the violent government will collapse from it's own weight. This is because without their soldiers (who are increasingly conflicted) they are nothing. A major abandonment from the military is the best chance to end the suffering with the least amount of violence. If the majority of soldiers refuse orders to engage in hurting their friends and family as well as revered Buddhist monks and nuns then the Schwe inner circle has no one left to defend and fight for them. They would be over-whelmed by the masses that wouldn't be stopped by the soldiers which would quickly lead to throwing the sycophants into prison. Yes some people would surely die as the inner forces within the government would surely use violence to try and beat back the tide of change. However, if the majority of the military is with the people then that would be the best option in keeping deaths and injuries down to a minimum.

May peace come to the people of Burma sooner rather than later.

I just passed my 500th post here at The Buddhist Blog so I thought now would be a great opportunity to announce the recipient of the "Free Burma" t-shirt. And the name that I pulled out of the hat was Marie Roshi. Email me Marie (jaymur-at-gmail.com) with your address so that I can send it out to you. I hope that you wear it often and keep the Burmese cause alive.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Animal Cruelty. Enough is Enough.

WARNING: If you are sensitive to any description of animal abuse then you might not want to read this post.

If you don't know by now, there has been a massive meat recall here in America because of treatment of sick and crippled cows. There was an undercover investigation at a slaughter house including hidden video which showed horrific and inexcusable treatment. I didn't want to post the video here on this blog but if you really want to see this disgusting video then click here. I warn you though that the images are very disturbing and shocking. Don't see watch this video if children are present and can see the screen. It is not fit for children's eyes. It's not even fit for the eyes of adults but those who are perhaps a bit out of touch as to what goes on in slaughterhouses--I suggest you watch it.

In one part a crippled co is picked up by a forklift and dumped later onto the ground from about 4 feet in the air. Other clips from the video show lame, undernourished cattle being poked and prodded with an electric pole. Still another shot shows a worker kicking a crippled cow in the head over and over. In addition it shows a cow lying on the ground being pulled across the ground by it's leg which has been tied to a chain in an awkward and clearly painful manner. Then there is footage of cows being blasted in the eyes and noses with high power water hoses which keeps them from being able to breath properly and ends up drowning some.

Not only are these animals being treated with the most cruel intentions possible but their meat is possibly very dangerous as their sick and cripple bodies lie in their own fecal matter which can contaminate the meat with salmonella, mad cow disease and e-coli just to name a few.

The news agencies are reporting that these animals aren't being slaughtered in a humane way which begs the question, "How is there a humane way to slaughter an animal?" In my opinion there is no humane way to kill animals because it is murder in my eyes. Would we consider killing and eating the flesh or another human being humane and justified? Absolutely not and so if you believe in interconnection then we are in fact not only killing animals when we eat meat but also killing apart of ourselves in the process--not the least of which being our compassion and love for all beings.

The company has a contract with the government to ship the meat to schools for children's lunches as well as used to feed the needy and elderly. It is shameful that American tax payer dollars have been paying this company as the business has been abusing these animals and as if this incident wasn't bad enough, this kind of practice occurs in many slaughter houses across the country.

When will we stop abusing and torturing our animal friends who have at one time been our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children if you believe in rebirth and inter-being. I am not here to condemn those who are meat eaters but let me just say this one thing, think about that meat which you are eating and sincerely ask yourself, "Could I kill the animal who's flesh and muscle I am eating?" If the answer is no then you might want to make a change in your eating habits. I know I'm being a bit in your face meat eaters with this post but I needed to speak up on the animal abuse that goes on every minute of every day.

Avoiding eating meat is in keeping with Right Livelihood because if everyone stopped eating meat then no one would have to work in the business of killing animals. Buddha didn't mandate that Buddhist be vegetarians but it is strongly recommended to avoid adding to the suffering of all sentient beings. In specific, the Mahayana branch of Buddhism urges those wishing to follow the Bodhisattva path to avoid eating meat to build more compassion in one's heart.

In this day and age there are plenty of eating options that still give you plenty of protein without having to eat meat. If you want to know of some of those ideas then email me and I will give you some suggestions.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Western Influenced Buddhism.

Today’s post is a continuation of this post (click here to read).

I think many would agree with me that words/labels/symbols are limited in their reach but still necessary to navigate this samsara that we find ourselves within. Yet descriptors can sometimes help us understand each other and therefore increase our realization of the Oneness of Consciousness. It is within those parameters that I return to one of my favorite topics, the controversial subject of Western Buddhism.

I am distancing myself from the term Western Buddhism that I’ve been using on this blog because it is too limiting and unwieldy.

I tend to agree with the position that Western Buddhism is not establishing a totally new and unique branch of Buddhism. It could still happen at some point down the road in the evolution of time and space but for right now It is still very debatable and blurry.

At this point the way I would define the term “Western Buddhism” to simply mean that a western Buddhist’s perspective toward the Dharma might be a little different then a traditional Asian Buddhist cultural view. Both are beautiful and to be respected but they differ because of slight cultural differences. It’s like speaking two slightly different languages such as French versus Italian, many of the words are quite similar and sentence structures are somewhat similar as well. Doesn’t make one better or worse but just a different variation of the system of tonal symbols that we use to communicate ideas and concepts that enable us to grow and succeed as a global community.

Another example could be shown via the prism. It is generally known that a prism refracts the light of the sun into the varied colors of the rainbow. Each one is vivid, bright and beautiful. We can see that they each add something slightly different to the stunning and blissful tapestry of color than the rest and we wouldn’t say that red is better than green as they are both equally brilliant.

Well the different cultures that influence the tableau of Buddhist schools are like these different colors. These diverse cultures have various characteristics that can’t help but slightly influence Buddhism. However, despite these varied cultural aspects, Buddhists across this diverse planet Earth are interconnected and blended together by the strong bonds of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. The inter-locking connectors of impermanence, inter-being and no self strengthen the bond. And the five precepts act as another bridge between cultures although some cultures might disagree as to the particulars of certain precepts but that is a post for another time.

So It is with all that in mind why I find it more accurate to say that I am a Zen Buddhist with a western influence, rather than using the cumbersome, amorphous, vague moniker of Western Buddhism. Especially since this theory that Western Buddhism is a totally new and unique branch of Buddhism is still very debatable and blurry right now.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Buddhism is Watering the Western Cultures like Rain Waters a Field of Flowers.

The Buddha compares his teaching to the rainfall that descends without discrimination on the earth. That this rain causes some seeds to grow into flowers and some into great trees implies no differentiation in the rain but rather is due to the capacities of the seeds that it nurtures. Thus, the teaching of the Buddha is of a single flavor but benefits beings in a variety of ways according to their capacity.

- Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Buddhism in Practice

There are many that criticize and condemn the new tradition of Buddhism that I align myself with which is most commonly known as Western Buddhism. I'm more on the Zen end of that spectrum. I know that this is a hot button issue for some so I am going to chose my words carefully and I want to emphasize that I don't profess to be a teacher. In my eyes, Western Buddhism is no different than when Chinese Buddhism, or Korean, or Tibetan Buddhism was the newest tradition in the vast Buddhist community. Buddhism always blends and adapts to different cultures when introduced to that new society but I don't believe that makes it any less useful. Tibetans for example have incorporated many aspects of their traditional Bon beliefs when Buddhism arrived from India. Yet not many would say that the proud Tibetan Buddhist tradition isn't an "authentic" (whatever that term means) form of Buddhism.

In Japan, Buddhism merged into the native beliefs related to Shinto and yet not many would say that Japanese Buddhism isn't "real" or an invalid extension of Buddhism.

The native Chinese Taoist beliefs (and overall Chinese culture) have greatly influenced Chinese Buddhism which became integral aspects to the formation of Ch'an/Zen that is so prevalent today.

Part of the uneasiness with Western Buddhism is that it is still taking shape and it's hard to tell how the exact form will be but one thing is for sure, it's here to stay. I realize the western culture that it is mixing with is different than the traditional Asian Buddhist culture but that doesn't make it any less beneficial, nor does it make it inferior. Whether we like it or not, culture influences the tradition that Buddhism develops into when introduced to a different culture than a "mother culture."

Western Buddhism seems to be developing as an umbrella structure from which slightly more western styles of each tradition are appearing. That's the beauty of Buddhism, it is pliable to everyone and each culture depending on where they are in their karmic journey. It is my belief that we should focus more on the things that we have in common then on the things that we see slightly different because of our culture.

All of this isn't to say that Western Buddhists are "better" but my goal by posting this was to show it isn't inferior either. I think the main thing that unites all these forms of Buddhism is taking refuge in the three jewels, the four noble truths and practicing the eight fold path. Again, I realize that this is a controversial subject for many Buddhists of more established, traditional schools but just remember that Mahayana Buddhism for example was seen as quite radical to the older traditions at the time.

I hope that in time, Western Buddhism will become as accepted as Mahayana has.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Introducing Whiplash The Cowboy Monkey.

I'm shutting this post down, erasing the comments, locking it and throwing away the key. I deleted the video.

I'm done with it.

I was just trying to brighten people's day and instead I apparently insulted some who watched the video. I shed many tears over some of the things that were said about me here and on other posts by Christian. So I give up but I still feel like it's o.k. to defend myself when I'm being attacked by a bully like Christian. I'm hurt but I'll get over it. So for the sake of keeping this blog free from bitter arguments I'm moving on.

Thank-you to the others for constructive criticism that didn't involve insults or the judging of my value as a Buddhist practitioner. Just remember that none of us are perfect Buddhists or perfect at anything. And obviously that includes me.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Yes We Can!!!

Check out this moving video of a Barack Obama speech set to music. It gives me chills of inspiration and hope for a new day. And right now in my life I need to believe in something hopeful.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Like a Man Floating in Water.


Like a man floating in water
Who dies of thirst, afraid of drowning:
So are those who are learned
Who do not apply the teaching.

Like a person skilled in medicine
Who cant cure his own disease:
So are those who are learned
Who do not apply the teaching.

Like a deaf musician
Who pleases others, not hearing himself:
So are those who are learned
Who do not apply the teaching.

Like someone on a corner
Saying all kinds of fine things,
While having no real inner virtue
So are those who dont practice.

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

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