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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Rising Corn Prices and Bio-Fuel.

The effort to turn corn into fuel (ethanol) is being criticized now because of the rising food prices. However, some of the biggest cost increases are for meat products because farm animals to be used for food are fed mostly corn. So there is another way to look at this, if more and more people turn toward vegetable based diets then we wouldn't have massive animal feed lots that require huge amounts of corn.

So by being a vegetarian or vegan we help the environment in big ways and doing so also allows us to continue increasing production of bio-fuels without raising the price of food too drastically. How? It would free up ranch land to be used to grow more wheat, rice and soy to further offset the price of corn. Switching that ranch land from raising animals for food to growing crops would also help the food shortage world wide as we'd have a surplus of grains that could be shipped to areas who desperately need it.

Just raising something to think about.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, April 25, 2008

It's a Start.

London (PTI): World leaders on Friday welcomed China's decision to reopen dialogue with a representative of the Dalai Lama as a "major" and "first" step in resolving the vexed Tibet issue and to end the recent unrest there.

"We, together with other members of the international community, have consistently called for dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. I welcome today's announcement as the first step in that process," he said.

James: This is indeed a welcome development. However, my fear is that China is only doing this to improve its image abroad ahead of the Olympics and that after the games the talks will stop. That being said, I do have sincere hope though they will engage in a meaningful dialogue and
that the two sides really listen to one another. In Buddhism listening means being fully present with that person and being mindful of their concerns instead of just hearing them but thinking only of what you'll say next. Or how you can gain the upper hand with the issue being discussed and manipulate them.

Often we think of having a dialogue as better than resorting to violence and in the true meaning of the process it is of course the best way to settle disputes. However, dialogues can become verbally violent and abusive and cause harm and distrust as engaging in physical violence and intimidation does. We have to be careful because words can cause great suffering, they can bring peace but can just as easily cause war. So we must always try to listen with compassion and empathy because our "enemy" wants to be heard and understood just as we do.

However, there are times when one must speak sternly but we should always try to keep it from being abusive. In such instances it is easy to become haughty, insulting and patronizing. Thus I try to keep my stern language to a minimum but I often fail. Right Speech is a difficult teaching for me to practice sometimes. I always forget that when I do insult others that it causes more suffering for myself. It's pretty much impossible to insult others without causing pain to yourself as well. It's like throwing a boomerang at someone with the intent of hurting them but in doing so we open ourselves up to being hurt as well as the boomerang will come right back toward us.

Anyway, I sure hope that this new dialogue produces some results but perhaps at the very least it will build trust that is critical before any compromise and positive action can occur.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day, Buddhism and Vegetarianism.

Today is the day in America that we celebrate our beautiful and life-giving planet Earth which hosts us as guests. Yet we aren't often being very nice guests with our treatment of this very environment that keeps us alive and thriving. So on this Earth Day I would like to address the connection between vegetarianism and the environment. If you strongly disagree with vegetarianism and don't wish to hear how eating meat impacts or environment then you might want to avoid this post. This is a subject that I am passionate about and have mentioned often here. I am trying to do my part to help understand how our eating habits affect our well-being both physically, socially and spiritually.

The first precept in Buddhism encourages no killing and that can very much be applied to our diet. By switching to a vegetarian lifestyle we can greatly help save the environment in a big way.
Farm animals take up more water than vegetables/gains, taking nearly half of our water supply and 80% of our land. Animals raised for eating consume 90% of the soy, 80% of the corn crop and 70% of the grain. According to the Water Education Foundation, it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef in California. This is the same amount of water you would use if you took a seven-minute shower every day for six entire months. In contrast, only 25 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of wheat.

David Pimentel from Cornell University explained it this way, 40 calories of fossil fuel are needed to produce one calorie of protein from feedlot beef while only two calories of fossil fuel are needed to produce one calorie of protein from tofu. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car! Methane may be the most serious gas given off from livestock. In fact the meat industry is the number one source of methane throughout the world, releasing over 100 million tons a year. Methane is a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and causes the earth’s temperature to rise. Noam Mohr in his report on global warming says,methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.” The summery being that raising animals for food is much less efficient than the growing of crops.

In addition, clear cutting of our precious rainforest's to raise animal meat is devastating to the overall environment for many reasons: The rainforest's clean our air, provide medicinal products, maintain a large biodiversity and act as a heat regulator and water pump for the environment.

They release moisture into the atmosphere which returns to the ground as rain. When the forest is cleared, the water cycle is disrupted, temperatures increase, droughts become common, and eventually deserts may form. For example, the drought in the Sahelian belt (south of the Saharah Desert), has been attributed to deforestation in West Africa. Estimates suggest that tropical deforestation currently contributes at least 19% of greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical forests have been described as "the lungs of the Earth". However in mature primary forest, storage and release of carbon is in balance. Carbon-dioxide consumed during photosynthesis is equalled by that released when organic matter decays. A standing forest acts as a store or sink of carbon. On the other hand, when forests are burned or logged and the debris left to decay, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.
Rainforest's and other forests also help reduce and prevent flooding, soaking up water like a sponge. Without those forests soil erosion increases which adds to a leaching of life giving minerals. In general, our trees are vital resources in reducing global warming and maintaining the fragile balance that enables sustainable life possible. The devastation of our forests directly contribute to increasing animals suffering by destroying their habitats within our forests they are driven to less sustaining land and eventually extinction. It isn't just our forests that suffer, our oceans are damaged by over-fishing, the destruction of plant life important to animal survival along rivers and water born diseases that threaten both human and animal life.

Vegetarianism is following the middle path because it makes it more possible to consume only what we need and reduce our negative impact on a planet which we share with so many other sentient beings. We humans arrogantly think too often that we are the center of this planet and that the environment is simply something to consume and fulfill our cravings.
However, we are learning the painful lesson as to just how fragile the life sustaining environment really is. A healthy environment maintains the balance of life that is crucial to all life on this planet and that balance is the Earth's version of the middle path. We cause great suffering when we veer off that environmental middle path.

Vegetarianism is a way to over-come our desires for less sustainable foods that aren't necessary to man's survival. In Buddhism we know the danger and suffering that awaits us when we over-indulge in our desires and our lust for meat is destroying our bodies and our very home. We are acting like parasites that suck all the life out of an organism and then move onto the next one but we are quickly running out of resources to sustain that type of living. It is quite possible that our rampant consumer economy and lifestyle choices could very well be our own down-fall, we are quite possibly slowly killing ourselves and many other innocents lives--those of the animals. See, animals do not over-consume their resources, they take only what is needed and should be examples for us in how to maintain sustainability. As we know, we are forever linked to the animals and so as they die off, so do we.

The Buddha was greatly impacted and connected with the environment as he spent much of his time in the forests and wilderness. In addition, he developed a peaceful relationship with animals throughout his life, even stopping a charging elephant with his peaceful presence and it was in a deer park that Buddha taught his first lessons. It is said that when Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree that animals gathered all around him and didn't feel frightened by his presence.

Respecting animals is also vital to understanding the Buddhadharma because we have all undoubtedly been one in a past life and a cow that we might be responsible for killing to provide meat could have been our mother at one point. In addition, Right Livelihood advises us to not take jobs that create suffering such as a butcher of animals.

We can talk about the second precept too in not taking what is not given. An animal does not want to suffer and does not give up it's life without a fight, so in other words it is not "giving" itself to us. We are taking what is not given by killing animals. We humans constantly take from the environment and animals as if they belong to us and are simply there to serve us and our needs.

All of this being said, it is not required to be a vegetarian in Buddhism and in some areas of the world it is nearly impossible not to eat meat because of poor crop growing conditions. However, I think that if one must eat meat that they should do it with as much moderation as possible and with Right Intention. This means killing animals as humanely as possible and not doing it out of anger or unnecessarily such as sport hunting. It also means using every single bit of the animal to reduce waste and therefore the number of animals killed.

May we all find ways to help ease our Mother Earth's suffering.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, April 18, 2008

The Power of Tea.

Green spring day
Warm tea
Taste of Nirvana

-by They Call Him James Ure

That's my first haiku, does it fit the definition?

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world? Second only to life sustaining water and has long been connected with Buddhism, especially within Zen Buddhism with the Japanese tea ceremony.

There is so much symbolism and lessons to be learned with tea. The Way of Tea is expressed in four Japanese characters: Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. These are all aspects of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. I mean no disrespect to the beautiful Japanese tea ceremony by not going into the honored details of the ceremony in-depth but I am not familiar enough with them to attempt to describe them in the manner they deserve. So instead, I would like to discuss my interpretations of these words from my own understanding.

The first character, harmony reminds me of the Buddhist teaching on interconnection/inter-being. We would not be able to enjoy tea without the sun and water/rain that helped grow the tea, nor without the human hands that cultivated and harvested the leaves.

In addition, without rich soil there would be no tea and then with fitting reunion, the water is returned to the plant in a hot form to steep and release the tea into our cups. The web of factors that enable us to enjoy our tea is endless.

For me, respect in regards to tea means honoring the plant for honoring my body with it's essence and health giving properties.

Purity makes me think of the clean water used to release the pure, natural chemicals within the tea. As well as feeling like the health-giving liquid is purifying my body with each sip. In addition, thinking of purity while drinking tea reminds me of the purifying nature of drinking in the Dharma which purifies the mind.

Tranquility. Savoring tea and the warmth of the cup enables great relaxation especially when done in quietude. Tea has long been known for its ability to relieve stress, relax the body/muscles and help induce peacefulness. Sipping tea in silence helps bring about greater tranquility and can be a type of meditation itself. Speaking of meditation, drinking tea is often a lovely way of reflecting after a formal meditation.

When we talk or listen to the mindless drone of the television while imbibing tea we often miss the full tranquility that those moments of drinking tea offer us. That being said, drinking tea under many circumstance can bring plenty of benefits as well. In keeping with this idea of tranquility, I discovered a lovely tea which has the relaxing ingredients of honey, vanilla and chamomile within it.

I discovered this delicious tea the other day while at my therapy appointment. My Psychologist always offers me either tea or water before settling into the session. This particular tea that she recommended that day is called honey vanilla chamomile and it's one of the most flavorful, enjoyable teas that I have ever had, within days I went out and bought a box. I keep the tea bag in the mug for a long time to really get the most flavor and I also stir in a little sugar. It's such a nice, relaxing treat in the mid-afternoon, in the evening, after meditating or whenever. If you like tea then I'd really recommend it, it's made by the American company Celestial Seasonings.

Enjoy your tea!

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Be Like Clouds.

Let your actions be like clouds going by; the clouds going by are mindless. Let your stillness be as the valley spirit; the valley spirit is undying. When action accompanies stillness and stillness combines with action, then the duality of action and stillness no longer arises.

-Pei-chien

James: There is nothing that needs be said after such beautifully worded insights.
~Peace to all beings~
PHOTO CREDIT: Himalaya Blue and thanks to Tom for giving me the site address.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Chinese Re-Education Camps. Plus, the Olympic Torch Relay Faced Protests in London.

The droplets of news that are coming out of Tibet suggest that protests continue in pockets as does violent repression. At least eight people were reportedly killed in a remote town in Sichuan province Thursday in a protest sparked by an attempt to force monks to participate in an education campaign.

James: Re-education camps are nothing new to dictatorships. Soviet Communist Russia and Nazi Germany were two classic examples of this kind of absurd propaganda. The other major example in history being, of course, Communist China.

One 27 year old monk in Tibet participated in his first party-led education session in 1993. He did not have to sign a denunciation that time but had to condemn the Dalai Lama in front of his fellow monks. "I had to be very active, had to prove I was really patriotic, so I can pass the exam," he said. "In order to stay in the monastery, I did this. I clearly know the other monks did not do this from their hearts, and not me, either."

James:
And as hard as it must be verbally utter those words disavowing the Dalai Lama it was their only choice and correct one. It was Right Intention because to say otherwise would likely land this monk in prison were he would be beaten or perhaps killed and perhaps place his family in danger as well. I do not profess to be an expert on the Dalai Lama or speak for His Holiness but I have a feeling that he would rather people swallow their pride and say what the Chinese government officials want to hear than see them suffer for their loyalty to him.
LONDON — Protesters objecting to China’s human rights record clashed with the British police on Sunday as the Olympic torch was carried through London on its way to the summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

James: I am sure that the Chinese government is furious over these protests and demonstrations but they are reaping what they have sown for decades. It is karma catching up with them. I do realize however that most of these party officials don't believe in karma but they can not deny the suffering and problems that can result from the law of cause and effect which is a scientific principle.

And I know that science is something that Communism DOES believe in.

~Peace to all beings (yes, even the Chinese government even though I disagree firmly with many of their actions)~

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. Killed 40 Years Ago but the Vision Lives On.

(The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. standing in an office with a picture of Gandhi, his hero on the wall).

Forty years ago today the great race and civil rights peace activist Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In that moment there were many in the civil rights movement who feared that Martin's vision of equality amongst all races, religions and ethnic groups would die with him. However, his wave of peaceful, loving energy had planted seeds of hope and change within the hearts of millions just as those same seeds had been planted in his heart from the example of Gandhi.

Just as those seeds grew within his mind, he knew that the fertile seeds of his vision would transfer from one person to the next via the winds of inevitable change to each new generation. He understood the peaceful power of oneness and inter-connection. He understood that with each new generation the seed would grow stronger, the roots would dig deeper and that that the tree would eventually ripen the fruit of his labors and bring about the change needed.

And that tree has indeed grown into a vibrant, strong one that has born much fruit to where today we are on the cusp of the possible election of America's first African-American president.

So while we still have work to do I think that Dr. King would be proud of what we have done with the vision that he left us to fulfill.

May we continue to pass those seeds of equality and tolerance to all those whom we meet along our path.

While we represent different cultural and ethnic branches of humanity may we always remember that we are all still apart of the same vibrant tree.

~Peace to all beings~

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