Just a note of business: I received an email from a reader (I think it was a woman) who wanted to talk about working on a Western Buddhism. Well I somehow got rid of the email or can't find it so please resend your message. I was very interested in what you had to say.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2008) — A study by researchers from Lancashire, England, and Chicago, IL, found that 97 percent of campylobacteriosis cases sampled in Lancashire were caused by bacteria typically found in chicken and livestock. The work is based on DNA-sequence comparison of thousands of bacteria collected from human patients and animal carriers. Campylobacter jejuni causes more cases of gastroenteritis in the developed world than any other bacterial pathogen, including E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridium and Listeria combined. Wild and domestic animals act as natural reservoirs for the disease, which can also survive in water and soil.
James: This is part of the reason that I became a vegetarian to avoid this kind of stuff but it must also be said that vegetables can become tainted too. We "veggies" can get a little self-righteous sometimes so here's a good dose of reality for us because it must be said that even vegetarians are taking lives too so to some degree we can not avoid taking lives.
Few of us are in a position to judge meat eaters or anyone else for "killing by proxy." Being part of the world economy entails "killing by proxy" in every act of consumption. The electricity that runs our computers comes from facilities that harm the environment. Books of Buddhist scriptures are printed on paper produced by an industry that destroys wildlife habitat. Worms, insects, rodents and other animals are routinely killed en masse in the course of producing the staples of a vegetarian diet. Welcome to samsara. It is impossible for most of us to free ourselves from this web; we can only strive to be mindful of entanglement in it. One way to do so is to reflect on how the suffering and death of sentient beings contributes to our comfort. This may help us to be less inclined to consume out of mere greed.James: One of the main reasons that I practice vegetarianism is to increase loving-kindness and compassion. I know that I can't completely avoid taking lives even being a vegetarian but I can limit the number of lives that I take. As an omnivore I was taking lives of insects in the course of producing the staples of a vegetarian diets as mentioned above but I was also taking the lives of animals. So I wanted to live so that I was taking the least amount of lives possible--causing the least suffering and harm.
While I don't agree with the taking of animal life for food I try not to judge people who do eat meat as terrible people. It is a personal choice either way. I have many, many family and friends who eat meat and I still love them and respect them as much as I did before I became a vegetarian. I just tot along my faux meat products and veggies to BBQ's and dinners where most will be eating meat.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the brutal and fatal crack-downs on the peaceful demonstrations of the Burmese monks in what was called the, "Saffron Revolution." I am posting this message to let the Burmese people who are living all over the world know that I have not forgotten their struggles, suffering and hopes. I still stand firm and tall for your right to live in a peaceful, vibrant and healthy society.
I call on all Buddhists and non-Buddhists to remember the sacrifices of Aung San Suu Kyi, the monks and the laity when you meditate tonight and/or tomorrow. I also think it would be really positive and a powerful symbol of unity to light a candle tomorrow for the struggle for peace and democracy in Burma. As well as to remember those who lost their lives. I personally will try and keep a candle lit for most of the day. For as Buddha said, "Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."-BuddhaAlso, please take a minute to sign a petition to be sent to the U.N. Secretary General to urge him to call for the release of all political prisoners and to support a global arms embargo toward the Burmese military junta "government." Also, here's a video (part one) from one of the leaders of the peaceful protests U Gawsita on why the monks started the protests:
Friday, September 19, 2008
The Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that war is an outdated policy but some Buddhist monks in Burma aren't listening to His Holiness nor their senior monks. They are tired of peaceful protests and want to take up arms (weapons).
Rangoon, Burma -- If Ashin Zawta has his way, the next time the government of Burma (Myanmar) clamps down on dissent it will have to deal with a new force: monks with guns. "Last September the Army proved too powerful for us and defeated our nonviolent tactics," says the young monk, whose real name, like those of other activists in this story, has been changed for security reasons. "We need weapons. That is the only way we can bring down this regime."
James: This is troubling news in my mind because monks have traditionally been pacifists and urged waring parties to put down guns instead of picking them up. War is a disturbing reality in this world of samsara but it is the practice of those who are not monks though war should be avoided at all costs by everyone if possible. The Sangha is where many lay followers turn too for spiritual guidance in troubled times such as in Burma. The monks are to be examples of the power of peace and non-violence which is the inheritance of all monks from Buddha.
However, that gift is lost and lineage tarnished once monks embrace their anger so fully that they are willing to kill. Can a monk shooting guns still consider himself a monk? I say no. Look at the example of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Dalai Lama never condones violence to resist the Chinese oppression in Tibet as it only breeds more violence and suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh was hated by both sides in the Vietnam war because he refused to side with Americans nor the Communists. He opposed violence from all sides.
How can we solve and reduce violence as Buddhists committed to non-violence (especially ordained monks who take additional vows from the laity) when our Buddhist leaders and teachers take up weapons despite teaching us non-monks to practice non-violence as taught by Buddha? It would be tragic to see robed monks shooting bullets in the streets of Burma. I hope they retake refuge in Buddha and not in the desire of revenge which only causes more suffering for all involved.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The Buddha compared faith to a blind giant who meets up with a very sharp-eyed cripple, called wisdom. The blind giant, called faith, says to the sharp-eyed cripple, "I am very strong, but I can't see; you are very weak, but you have sharp eyes. Come and ride on my shoulders. Together we will go far." The Buddha never supported blind faith, but a balance between heart and mind, between wisdom and faith. The two together will go far. The saying that blind faith can move mountains unfortunately omits the fact that, being blind, faith doesn't know which mountain needs moving. That's where wisdom is essential, which means that a thorough understanding of the teaching is crucial.
-- Ayya Khema, When the Iron Eagle Flies
Friday, September 05, 2008
(Note: These words are purely mine and represent my views and reflections alone. I am not a Buddhist teacher nor represent a specific tradition or teacher) There has been some heated discussion in my last post about whether a Buddhist can be pro-choice (allowing women a legal right to an abortion). But before I get into my views of abortion I think it is helpful to speak to the sutras/texts first. It is true that it appears that Buddha advised against abortion in the sutras and cannons but there is a certain amount of faith that one must have that all of these sutras/texts indeed were the historical words of Buddha. I say this because the earliest texts only go back to the 1st century whereas the Buddha lived and taught 400-500 years earlier.
It is probable that some of his teachings changed over time and some even lost. It is also probable that at least some of the teachings of the Buddha were the work of monks (not Buddha) who came years after his death. And just because one is a monk does not mean that they have the best interests of all at heart. Therefore it can be argued that some of the teachings on abortion and other issues could have come from the minds of others with political, patriarchal or other personal motives. I realize that Theravadans and other Buddhists claim the sutras and texts to be the literal words of the Buddha but many scholars and other Buddhists disagree.
So what are we to do? Well we all have to decide for ourselves and for me I use the Kalama Sutra or Buddha's charter of free inquiry as my measuring stick. In my opinion the sutra exists for one of two reasons: 1). One is that it actually took place where the Buddha advised the Kalama people on how to know what religious teachings to accept as truth. From Wikipedia: The Buddha tells the Kalamas to not just believe religious teachings because they are claimed to be true by various sources or through the application of various methods and techniques. He urges that direct knowledge from one's own experience should be called upon.
So while I follow the sutras in many cases, I also use my meditations, scholarly works, mind-set, values instilled by my family, pondering and personal reasoning to come to that direct knowledge of what I believe to be "truth." I try to use various methods to exhaust all avenues because I do not like to make decisions lightly. 2). The other reason being that it is possible that some monks realized that there were parts of these texts that contradict each other and that faith alone isn't sufficient for everyone. Thus a teaching was needed to help others who are more reason based folks to come to a decision of what the Dharma means in their lives. And thus, the creation of the Kalama Sutra.
Now some argue that the Buddha wasn't saying this method of inquiry should be applied to his teachings but seeing how Gautama was speaking to a group of non-Buddhists surely in his perfect wisdom he knew that they would do just that--apply that very admonition to his teachings as well as to the other holy men and wandering aesthetics. Why would one who didn't set out to start a religion say to those honestly seeking spiritual enlightenment to question every other teacher/source but to not question his teachings and to blindly accept them? And why would an enlightened one be threatened of people questioning and testing his claims on their own? Especially knowing that one can not force enlightenment upon another or give it to you but that it is, in the end, up to you to realize it. That is not to say that we shouldn't place a high importance upon his "words/teachings" when making our spiritual decisions and forming our beliefs because we should.
So now I'm finally getting to abortion, it is because of the Kalama Sutra that I don't agree that we know for sure that the Buddha actually said that abortion is wrong and/or wrong in all cases (It's possible that he didn't even address it. He was known to not answer many philosophical questions and that it was added later by monks looking to set up a codified religion). I say this because the scriptures saying that the Buddha was against abortion in all cases just don't jive with other things he has taught such as the five aggregates/skandhas that make up human life (at least according to the Mahayana tradition and the "Tathagatagarbha" scriptures). Other sources that the five aggregates make up human life: Source 2. Source 3. Source 4. Source 5. I will go into detail a bit about these which are also called the skandhas a bit later but first some information/statistics about abortion:
-Over 90% of abortions are done in the first trimester (the first three months from conception). At two months only half of the brain is formed and while the embryo responds to touch and while pain sensors have appeared, the path ways between the brain and pain sensors are not connected thus most conclude the embryo can not register pain at this stage.
And if you have an abortion earlier (within one month of becoming pregnant) the embyro is only 1/5" and looks something like a tadpole. It has no arms and legs but a tail and fish like gills that eventually become the throat.
Now, with that information let's have a look at the skandhas (the five aggregates of human life/being). I believe in the skandhas because I have meditated upon them, pondered them, can see logically how they would make up life and they ring true to me based on my use of the advice in the Kalama Sutra. So let's see how they match up to the above information which is widely accepted by the medical community:
First Skandha: Form. Which consist of the six sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and touch) but in order for form to be life there must also be corresponding material objects of those senses. (eyes-visible objects, ears-audible objects, nose-olfactory objects, tongue-objects of taste and touch-tangilble objects). Vision is the last sense to develop and using the Buddhist aggregates there are no eyes yet that can see just holes (according to the world renowned Mayo Clinic eyes are still shut in the first week of the third trimester so a baby certainly can't see during the first trimester when most abortions occur and my measuring stick of when abortions are acceptable) And an embryo (embryo is the name used during the first trimester) can't hear anything (a fetus can hear at week 18-20 which is well after the first trimester and the first trimester is when most abortions occur). There isn't a fully functioning tongue for tasting until week 13-15 within the second trimester. While not unanimous, most medical studies show that a fetus can not feel pain or register touch in it's brain until the 28th week (seventh month). Well after the first trimester when I believe abortion is acceptable:
Fetuses cannot feel pain until at least the 28th week of gestation because they haven't formed the necessary nerve pathways, says Mark Rosen, an obstetrical anesthesiologist at the University of California at San Francisco. He and his colleagues determined that until the third trimester, "the wiring at the point where you feel pain, such as the skin, doesn't reach the emotional part where you feel pain, in the brain." Although fetuses start forming pain receptors eight weeks into development, the thalamus, the part of the brain that routes information to other areas, doesn't form for 20 more weeks. Without the thalamus, Rosen says, no information can reach the cortex for processing.A nose doesn't even begin to form until at least the last week of the first trimester let alone be able to smell because their isn't a fully formed nervous system or brain to register the messages of smell sent through nerve pathways.
The form aggregate also includes secondary elements. The first are the Five sensory receptors: Eye, nose, tongue and body which we basically discussed above. Then four sense data: These are color, sound, smells and taste. And above I argued that a fetus in the first trimester can not sense these things. Form aggregate also includes life faculty which is the faculty that vitalizes the body and keeps it alive. An embryo in the first trimester (up to week 12) can not keep itself alive without the host body of it's mother. Form aggregate also includes mental base which the mind for Buddhists is not a simple unit, but a complex cooperative activity involving four factors: Feeling, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness: It can be argued that an embryo has consciousness though we don't know for sure and despite that a form must have all four to be considered a life if we follow the teachings on the five aggregates. And since an embryo does not have a fully formed and functioning brain and nervous system it can not register mental feelings, perceptions and mental formations.
Second Skandha: (Sensation or feeling). Which is being able to sense an object/phenomenon as either pleasant, neutral or negative. So given that an embryo in the first trimester doesn't have a fully formed brain and nervous system then they can not sense something as pleasurable, neutral or negative.
Third Skandha: (Perception, conception, appreciation, cognition, discrimination) Registers whether an object of phenomenon is recognized or not (for instance the sound of a bell, of the shape of a tree). This again requires a fully functioning brain, nervous system.
Fourth Skandha: (Mental formations, volition or conceptional factors). This includes all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, compulsions and decisions triggered by an object. Loving kindness is also considered a mental formation. These are not possible in the first trimester due to the lack of a fully developed brain and nervous system.
Fifth Skandha: (Consciousness). It is argued by some that consciousness is present from the minute of conception but that only fulfills one of the five skandhas/aggregates and according to the majority of sources that I've read all five must be present for something to be considered human life. In conclusion, I have submitted in this essay that an embryo (which is the potential human being) during the first trimester does not meet the requirements of all five skandha/aggregates and is therefore persmissable to believe in first trimester abortion as a Buddhist. I do not, however, agree with late term abortions except if the life of the mother is in jeopardy.
So I am for abortion during the first trimester and only for abortion in the second trimester in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. In regards to the second trimester and rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk then I believe the middle path must be used to create these exceptions out of compassion for the mother. This is because the mother's life is extremely developed and would therefore experience more suffering than a child just being born with no life experience or even a sense of its presence in this world.
Imagine the suffering of a young woman forced to raise a child of her rapist or perpertator of incest. She would most likely not be capable emotionally or otherwise capable to raise that child with the love and caring that it needs to survive. Both mother and child would suffer needlessly. And suppose the child looks exactly like the perpetrator, both the mother and child would suffer greatly. The mother would re-experience and be reminded of the suffering she endured by that person with the same face as that child and chances are she'd avoid all connection with that child from subconscious self-protection. And the child would suffer from lack of love and caring on the mother's part.
Of course adoption is a more than acceptable way to go, however, many unwanted children needlessly suffer from being exported from one foster home to another where many foster parents are abusive and only take on the children for the financial gain. And besides, I do not believe it is my right to choose if a teen-age mother wishes to keep a rapist's child or one that came about via incest. And what kind of quality of life does an incest baby have? Most would be born with severe deformaties that would often die within a few months.
As for making the case for abortion in the second trimester and partial birth in regards to the life of the mother at risk the same argument for me applies because again like I argued above, the mother's life is extremely developed and would therefore experience more suffering than a child just being born with no life experience or even a sense of its presence in this world. And I especially support it when other children are already apart of the mother's life. It is not compassionate in my opinion to sacrifice the life of the mother (who is the main care-giver of the existing children) for the life of a fetus that has no idea of itself, nor that it is even alive.
The Dalai Lama has said about abortion that it should be a case by case evaluation. I don't believe in a world that is black and white, it simply does not exist. Yes, somethings are black and white but there is much grey area too. Simple observation and mindfulness reveals that truth in my mind.
James: I don't get too political on this blog (I have another one for that) but animal welfare is something that I feel strongly about. If the wolves are too high in numbers than repopulate some of them to different areas of wilderness. There are plenty of wild place still left in Alaska, Canada and other parts of the other American states that could take them. Or at least give them to animals refuges and/or zoos. Although zoos don't always treat the animals with the best care but it is better than killing them.
However, Alaska governor and now vice-president selection of Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Senator John McCain doesn't seem to mind engaging in barbaric practices of what can't be called another other than a massacre of a beautiful and important animal to the eco-system. They keep the moose population in check but the governor and her supporters want to upset that balance because the citizens of Alaska like to eat moose up there and need high numbers of them. All this killing so that humans who don't have to eat meat can consume flesh:
No friend to wild animals, Palin has offered incentives for people who kill wolves in an effort to boost Alaska's predator control program which so far has failed to meet expected numbers. The incentives include offering 180 volunteer pilots and aerial gunners $150 in cash for turning in gruesome legs of freshly killed wolves. Outraged by Palin’s predator control program, environmentalists have argued that bounties have no place in modern wildlife management.
Alaska Governor and GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is a strong promoter of the aerial hunting of wolves and bears, a practice that has been condemned by conservationists, scientists and many hunters alike. It involves shooting wolves and bears from the air or chasing them to exhaustion and then landing and shooting them point blank. The animals, shot with a shotgun, usually die a painful death. The hunters involved in the program keep and sell the animals' pelts.
In a region west of Anchorage, she authorized the killing of up to 70% of all bears (1400 bears) including mothers and cubs.
She supports drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), an extremely sensitive region where millions of animals could be harmed or killed. Senator McCain has long opposed this drilling as do most energy experts who see it as useless.
The Board of Game, which she appoints, has approved the killing of black bear sows with cubs as part of the program and expanded the aerial control programs.
The media is currently looking into reports that state officials implementing one of the aerial wolf killing programs illegally killed five-week old wolf pups just outside their dens.
She also opposes the listing of certain whales on the endangered species list of animals to protect. Not sentient being's life should be put put ahead of our lust for cheap energy:
Alaska's Cook Inlet beluga whales are a unique group of white whales whose numbers have dramatically declined in the past two decades due to pressures ranging from pollution to increased ship traffic. Governor Palin opposes the listing of the Cook Inlet beluga whales, citing the listing as a threat to oil and gas development, despite their genetic uniqueness and the fact that their numbers have decreased from 1,300 in the 1980s to about 350 today.
James: If you are an American, a vegetarian and/or a lover of animals and want to protect them in the wild than this is information that you should know before voting in November. I for one will not be voting for the McCain/Palin ticket for this and many reasons. Animals are voiceless and can't defend against whole sale slaughter and so it is up to those of us who love all sentient beings to stand up for them and fight against their abuse and murder.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
I found this picture of my mom and I back when I was younger and skinner. And so I thought that I'd write an ode to her today. She's a sweetheart and one of the nicest, most loving and compassionate persons that I know. She's a hero of mine and one of my best friends.
Throughout all the years that I was living at home she would get up earlier than I and cook me a full breakfast (pancakes, bacon, eggs, juice--the whole works) and her cooking is better than any restaurant food I'd ever eaten (her potato salad is beyond delicious just to name one dish that she makes) And on my birthday she'd make (and still does) all of my favorites.
When I was in primary/elementary school I usually walked home and would pick dandelions (they have a bright yellow flower on top of a long skinny stem but most see them as weeds). Well anyway I use to bring them home to give to my Mom and despite them being sticky and "weeds" she accepted them with so much love and happiness. She would always then fill up a juice glass with water and place the dandelions in it.
And when I would get sick (and still when I get sick) she would always take care of me better than any nurse could. She would buy comfort foods for me that sat well with my body such as my stomach when I'd get the flu. And when my stomach ached or if I had a fever she would hold my hand or place a cool wash cloth on my forehead to calm me down and ease my fever.
Some of my earliest and fondest memories where that she was the first person that I saw after waking up from a nap and was always greeted with a smile and a little snack. I'm getting teary eyed writing this--my heart is full to the brim with love today.
She is also one of the best listeners and that is such a great quality to have because most times we all just want to be heard and understood when we have struggles. She is also one of these people who always knows just what to say at the perfect moments. She is one of the happiest people that I a know and always seems to have a smile on her face. I love how excited and happy she gets when she sees me. She really knows how to make people feel appreciated.
She taught me well the value of respect and tolerance for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, age or sex. And respect is something that is sorely lacking in our modern world. I was rightly taught that I am no more important or less than any other being in this world and that has served me well in life. It helps keep me humbled while at the same time giving me a sense of self-worth.
My mom is also deeply spiritual and helped me cultivate my own sense of spirituality and gave/gives me a peaceful, strong and yet humble example of the essence of spirituality. And while we now follow different religions we are able to find common ground and support each other. And because of our deep spiritual discussions we both came to realize that our two paths are actually quite similar in many ways. Those are just a few of the many reasons why I love my mother dearly and will always do so.
She is one of the most amazing people that I have ever met and cherish each moment that I have to be with her. Thank-you mom for all that you have done for me, do for me and share with me. My life has been greatly sculpted by your influence and it is all for the better. I love her so much and think the world of her. I am so happy that I have this life/chance to enjoy her energy and presence. That being said, I know that her and I have had a deep connection and relationship that goes beyond this lifetime and will always do so. She's a true Bodhisattva. She wants nothing more than for all beings to be happy and loved. If I can live up to her example in this life then I will die a very happy and content man.