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Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween from a Buddhist's Perspective.

First of all let me wish those who celebrate Halloween today a "Happy Halloween!!" Or maybe I should say have a "Scary Halloween!!" I don't believe in ghosts, ghouls and goblins. Except for the state of being a "hungry ghost" but they aren't exactly the kind of ghosts thought about during Halloween. Hungry ghosts are too consumed with their own suffering to go out and "haunt" or "scare" other beings.

Halloween is my favorite holiday because I enjoy spooky movies and dressing up. As a former actor I really enjoy being able to dress up as just about any character that I want for at least one day a year and not be looked at as a loony. As a Buddhist Halloween also reminds me of death and the importance of this human birth in over-coming samsara, which includes death, fear and anxiety, which are all aspects of Halloween. However, it also reminds me of my belief that along with death comes rebirth so there is hope in death. Such reflection helps take the fear and sting out of death.

Our minds make up so many delusions that confuse us and scare us into thinking that we have no ability to transcend such strong emotions. So Halloween is a way to face some of our fears and work through them and to train our mind to concentrate upon the present moment rather then let our mind carry us away into a state of paralyzing fear. Halloween is presented in a fun way, which can greatly help take the power out of our fears and even laugh at how irrational they are.

When we can take the power out of our fears then they basically disappear back into the ether of our deluded mind, which is where they came from in the first place. Fear is a deep instinct to try and protect us but it can be so powerful that it actually works against us. For example, being crippled in fear by the supernatural, which is debatable that it even exists. However, more importantly Buddha either said nothing on the subject of advised us not to give it much attention because it only feeds delusion and distracts us.

I'm not sure if ghosts in the traditional western sense are real (I currently don't believe in them) but the point is that we should overcome our concern and focus on them and worrying that if they are out there that they can somehow control our minds. It is my firm belief that nothing can control our minds unless we allow it to happen. Other than some aspects to severe mental illness, which make controling one's mind much more difficult even with medication.

PHOTO CREDIT: Buddha image carved into a pumpkin lit up with a candle by Nalini Asha.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Buddha Inside, Buddha Outside.

Each form, each particle, is a Buddha. One form is all Buddhas. All forms, all particles, are all Buddhas. All forms, sounds, scents, feelings, and phenomena are also like this, each filling all fields. -Pai-chang


James: This sentiment pretty much sums Buddhism up for me. It is the wisdom that sees my DNA as apart of Buddha just as it is apart of star dust, refuse, the air, birds, other sentient beings, rocks and subatomic particles. This is a huge reason why I believe in the cyclic universe theory that the Universe will die but will also be reborn only to die again and be reborn, etc. It reminds me that Buddha is both eternal and not eternal just as all things.

The cyclic model is a theory that has gained popularity with the recent discovery of dark matter and dark energy. It says in part that there is a net expansion each cycle with each new big bang thus preventing entropy from building up (which was a critique of the earlier cyclic model). I won't go further into the particulars of the cyclic universe model but if you're interested check out the book, "Eternal Universe: Beyond the Big Bang." I'm currently reading it and it's absolutely fascinating especially reading it from a Buddhist perspective of rebirth.

The cyclic model agrees with the Buddhist concept that something can not come from nothing because all things are subject to the doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda or dependent origination. In conclusion, if Buddha is eternal and not eternal and Buddha is within all things known and unknown then the cyclic model makes perfect sense. This all said, the answer to the questions of the fate of the Universe is not essential to our awakening as understood in Buddha not answering this very question. In the end, the only moment is now.

P.S.~The blog counter topped 200,000 over-night and I just wanted to type a note thanking everyone for making this blog possible. Thank-you for reading and for commenting. I look forward to the next 200,000!! To celebrate I might give away a couple of books.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Intentional Chocolate.


I was recently given a chance to sample some tasty chocolate (dark chocolate even--my favorite) from a company called, "Intentional Chocolate." First let me say that it is some of the best chocolate that I have ever had as it tastes like each piece is homemade by some cook's ancient family recipe. One of the reasons that I think I enjoyed this chocolate so much was because I knew that it was made with loving, caring, compassionate people. From the I.C. website:

Proven through scientific research to heighten well-being, Intentional Chocolate is the first intention-enhanced food on the market. The good intentions are infused into the chocolate from advanced meditators -- some who have trained with the Dalai Lama -- and is delivered with love to those who eat it.

All the products from Intentional Chocolate include this intention: “Whoever consumes this chocolate will manifest optimal health and functioning at physical, emotional and mental levels, and in particular will enjoy an increased sense of energy, vigor and well-being for the benefit of all beings.”

Intentional Chocolate™ donates 50 percent of its net profits to organizations committed to the benefit of humankind, and it assists non-profit organizations in their fundraising efforts by offering them low cost, customized packaging and product development for resale.

While the subtle and powerful relationship between mind and matter has been the subject of scientific inquiry for centuries, only recently have scientists studied the effects of positive thoughts on food. Intentional Chocolate™ and its research partner, the HESA Institute (www.hesainstitute.com) are leaders in the revolutionary new field of intentional nutrition proving that intention embedded into food can positively affect those who consume it.

Research shows that Intentional Chocolate™ significantly decreases stress, increases calmness, and lessens fatigue in those who eat it.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that was published in the scientific peer-reviewed journal, Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing (October 2007) it was found that one ounce of Intentional Chocolate™ per day for three days increased subjects’ well-being, vigor and energy by an average of 67 percent and, in some cases, up to 1,000 percent, when compared to a control group.
Read more about their research. I'm not sure if I believe the idea that meditating over food can make it better for a person but I do know that chocolate (especially chocolate made with pure and concentrated ingredients like Intentional Chocolate) can help relax the body and stimulate the pleasure zones in the brain. It can also energize due to the sugar and small doses of caffeine. I believe though that it does make a difference knowing that someone made the chocolate just for you with joy. Just as like they say on their website that soup made by your mother tastes better than any other!!

In the end, while I remain open to the intentional thoughts making the chocolate more beneficial the main thing is that I highly recommend this chocolate. One taste and you'll understand why I ate all of mine in about two days!! A gift package would be a great gift right before Halloween and the holiday season in general. Now I'm hungry. That chocolate just melts in your mouth and brings a smile to your face. Order some and find out what all the buzz is about!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Monastery Haiku.

monk robes wet with dew
bell rings and birds fly away
budding lotus bows

by James R. Ure


~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gold Scratched Off Historic Golden Buddhas in Burma.

by Aye Nai, Democratic Voice of Burma, Oct. 14, 2008

Magwe, Myanmar -- A pagoda treasurer and local village authorities have scratched off gold coating worth five billion kyat from historical Buddha statues in a village in Magwe division's Yaynanchaung township, according to villagers. "NLD member U Nan Win from Pin Phayagon village saw the pagoda's treasurer Mya Moe, the village Peace and Development Council chairman Kyi Nyunt and six other people in the village scratching off the gold from the Buddha statues," Tint Lwin said.


James: It's a horrible shame whenever a sacred site/object is desecrated, however, in the end even the most sacred Buddha is just an object. A sacred site is impermanent like anything else and placing too much importance to it only wraps the ropes of attachment that much tighter around us. The gold coating attracts this kind of greed and waters the already hearty seeds of desire and is one of the reasons that I think golden Buddha statues are excessive.


PHOTO: Not the pagoda mentioned in the story.


~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Sparrows Haiku.

sparrows burrow in
they carry home on their wings
winter spares nothing

By James R. Ure

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Autumn Change Haiku.

brittle autumn leaves
rustling wind whispers to me
change dances with us

by James R. Ure


James: I wrote this haiku after my meditation today and I took this picture of the Aspen leaf at my parents house.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chimpanzee Helps Raise Baby Tiger Cubs.

Animals are often seen as dumb and beneath human beings in many societies and religions. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions believe that animals are here for man's benefit--man's greed in my opinion. There are many cases of animals saving human beings from a burning house, get help when lost and even cases of them being able to dial the phone for help such as if the owner has a seizure of heart attack!! There are many who think they are incapable of emotions such as love, compassion and concern but there have been numerous cases of the opposite. These animals may not know that they are experiencing emotions but their actions show that they clearly are motivated by some level of emotional motivation. Well animals are also capable and willing to help other animals too. Take the case of the chimpanzee Anjana who has adopted two white tiger cubs as her own when their mother rejected them. She is an expert it seems at these things as she has previously helped raise leopards and lions.“She gives them a bottle and lies with them — she is a great assistant.” The cubs have become almost inseparable from their new motherly figures. She has a close contact and bond and gives them a nurturing.'

James
: I wouldn't be surprised if Anjana is reborn as a human being in her next life with her kind, caring, compassionate, loving and nurturing essence. She is already practicing the Dharma. I'm sure that she will be a wonderful human being if she gets that chance. May she be a good example for us humans to keep practicing the Dharma to make the most of this human life.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Science of Meditation.

Emory, Georgia (USA) -- For thousands of years, Buddhist meditators have claimed that the simple act of sitting down and following their breath while letting go of intrusive thoughts can free one from the entanglements of neurotic suffering. Now, scientists are using cutting-edge scanning technology to watch the meditating mind at work. They are finding that regular meditation has a measurable effect on a variety of brain structures related to attention — an example of what is known as neuroplasticity, where the brain physically changes in response to an intentional exercise. The same researchers reported last year that longtime meditators don't lose gray matter in their brains with age the way most people do, suggesting that meditation may have a neuro-protective effect.

A rash of other studies in recent years meanwhile have found, for example, that practitioners of insight meditation have noticeably thicker tissue in the prefrontal cortex (the region responsible for attention and control), and that experienced Tibetan monks practicing compassion meditation generate unusually strong and coherent gamma waves in their brains.


James: I think this is partly why so many Buddhist monks live so long. Thich Nhat Hanh for example is in his 80's but could easily pass for 60. He'll be 82 on the 11th of this month. I wrote a few posts back on how meditation and mantra meditation have helped me cope with my schizoaffective disorder. I spoke in that post solely on depersonalization but I wanted to do this post because of the results of the study that show improved attention and control.

Well It got my attention because I am very interested in the relation between science and Buddhism as many of you know and because I have as apart of my mental condition attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.) When a person has A.D.D. it means that they can't "screen out" or filter background "noise" and commotion like most people are able to do. So while it appears as though we are just not "listening" sometimes to someone talking to us or that we can't concentrate upon something it's because we are having to deal with many things at once, which makes it very difficult to focus on one thing. I kind of liken it to having to read a science or math text book to prepare for an exam while the t.v. is loudly playing, while someone is trying to talk to you and while your alarm clock is beeping. Is it any wonder then that we don't retain conversation details as well as folks who don't have A.D.D.?

However, when I meditate I find it much easier to deal with external stimuli. I think part of it is being able to close my eyes to eliminate all the visual distractions that often distract me as I'm very sensitive to colors and images. So with my eyes shut it's somewhat similar to putting a towel over a bird that escaped its cage. It panics and acts frantic flying around bumping into things and not knowing where it is but once you can throw a towel around them and cut off their vision they relax and calm down to where you can help them.

So with my eyes shut I am better able to concentrate upon my breathing and deal with the sounds from the daily routine and traffic of a busy neighborhood. Instead of trying to shut them out I let them pass through my ears and register in my mind. I focus on each sound and hold it in my mind as I breath in and then I let it fade away as I breath out. In this way I am able to deal with each sound mostly one at a time. Not unlike serving people one at a time in a line rather than all at once.

I contemplate the sound and recognize it so that my subconscious knows that I’m paying attention to it and I contemplate on what each sound means and then symbolically I kindly escorting the noise out of my mind with the exhale and I repeat the process as needed. I also find it helpful to thank my sub consciousness for keeping me informed but remind it that it doesn’t have to work so hard and that it can take a break. It seems to work. It seems like it backs off on pushing the noise over and over and louder and louder, which is exactly what I find happens when I try to ignore it.

Then I’ve noticed that once I emerge from meditation that my mind is sharper, better able to concentrate without interference and better able to hold my attention a good period of time later. After meditation it also helps me feel more patient and less overwhelmed with stimuli because I am continuing that thought processing used while meditating. Of course it never lasts all day but the more I practice the longer I can go without too much interference and stress from all the stimuli. It is much like learning a language in a way, the more you practice the more your mind rewires itself. And so no wonder the great teachers all refer to meditation as practice. Of course I'd have a hard time even getting on the meditation seat without medication but it works well with meditation. So I can attest to you that indeed this scientific study is spot on.

~Peace to all beings~


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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Extraterrestrial Sangha.

The question if often asked, "If rebirth is true then why does the population of the Earth increase?"

In the Pali canon it is said that there has been 28 Buddhas other than Siddhartha Gautama who is the Buddha for this age on Earth. This means that there must be other worlds out there and other beings that benefit from a Buddha (I can't and won't speak for others but this is my belief). These worlds help explain where all the beings that continue to increase the population on Earth come from. Another answer to the population increase is that some animals and insects are being reborn here as human beings. It has been estimated by science that insects outnumber humans by 200 billion!!

The Buddha Gautama once held up a glass of water and said that there were thousands upon thousands of life forms within, which was proven with the invention of the microscope. So if microscopic organisms can exist in a small drop of water then is it so difficult to imagine other worlds populated with other sentient beings? In other words, our world is but one of those tiny organisms in that glass of water (universe). So I was meditating and thinking about this all today and I am reconsidering my belief that the six realms are purely states of being in this world and that bodhisattvas are not real.

I still don't know but I'm not absolutely denying the possibility as I had before. I guess right now I'm agnostic about it all. As of right now though I still find it more beneficial to see the effects of the six realms in the present moment and to live in a way that best avoids those effects. Now, like I said I've come to a place where I'm not denying that they are also places but seeing it that way right now isn't as helpful for me as seeing it the other way. Perhaps that will change though as my practice deepens over the years but it may not either. I guess I'm just saying here that I'm not ruling anything out.

However, I still feel that it is more important to take care of the present moment right here and now than spend hours upon hours trying to understand the metaphysical. Though meditating upon the metaphysical can have its benefits. My concern is upon the present moment and making sure that my actions/thoughts, etc comport with the Eight-Fold Path. I find it more helpful to be skillful and to do my best to follow the Eight-Fold Path out of understanding of how my actions/thoughts, etc. effect others (and myself) than out of fear.

I have found personally that doing something out of fear doesn't stand the test of time. I begin to resent things when I do them out of fear but not so if I understand why an action/thought, etc. is less skillful and harmful to others. Avoiding certain actions out of compassion creates better results for me than from doing it out of fear or doing it because everyone says so. I have discovered that doing something to "fit in" or because everyone says so doesn't work either because I feel like I'm just faking it and going through the motions. When this is my motivation I eventually get tired of playing the game and give up.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Health Benefits of Incense.

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression.

They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs.


James
: I use incense to show my gratitude to Buddha for bringing us the Dharma but I also use it because I too have found it to be very relaxing, tranquil and thus conducive to meditation as now proven by science. I find it very rejuvenating to catch a scent of sweet smelling incense while concentrating upon my breath much like lying in a mountain meadow and taking in the smell of fresh flowers with eyes closed. And speaking of eyes closed, I have noticed that when I close my eyes in meditation that the scent of the incense stands out more in my mind. This is probably similar to how when some go blind that their other senses are heightened.

James: I have found too that incense helps me concentrate and focus my attention back to the present moment when I meditate as the incense burns throughout my sessions. This is because when I feel like my mind is doing intellectual somersaults I breath in and out for a bit and the scent brings me back to the present moment.

Also, the burning of incense helps to create a positive state of mind and helps condition the mind to associate the typical fragrance with a positive and calm mind.

James: For myself, Aloes wood reminds me of smells that I enjoyed in Africa, which was a very happy time in my life so when I burn it while meditating it helps me recognize happiness that is always present in each moment if I'm mindful enough. And Nag Champa reminds me of the Nepal-Tibet Imports store where I buy all of my incense and altar items. I always feel relaxed in that shop with all the nice smells, beautiful Buddha statues and the nice family that runs it.

Sandalwood is another favorite of mine and has been used by Buddhists, Hindus and others for 4,000 years. Its special calming effect has been used to treat anxiety and depression, and it acts as a mild sedative. It's one of my favorite incenses for those reasons but also for it's woody smell that reminds me of the woody smells of my favorite camping spot way up in the Rocky Mountains here in Colorado.

And smelling that woody smell reminds me that I am one with all things, which makes me feel small in a good way, in the sense of reducing my ego and just enjoying being no different than a sweet, woody scented pine tree. Trees are rooted deeply in the Earth and smelling that woody scent helps me feel rooted in the present moment and that there is much beauty and peace to be had in this world of suffering. It relaxes me because I have spent so many peaceful, happy days up in those mountains. It is one of my favorite places to meditate because of the fresh air, scents of sweet and woody pine trees and the crisp breeze that often blows through the area.

However, because of it being smoke I try and keep a bit of distance between myself and the burning incense. Also when the weather is nice I will crack open a window a bit to circulate fresh air.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Buddhism and Depersonalization.

One of the symptoms of my mental disorder, Schizoaffective disorder is depersonalization. It is something that I have experienced since I was a child when I would experience out-of-body phenomena in response to stress or anxiety. And the out-of-body phenomena is the best way to describe the main essence of my depersonalization. I slip in and "out of my body" often and before I know it I'm outside looking in and when this happens it feels as though I'm watching my body talk, move and act from a remote location. It reminds me of the movie, "Being John Malcovich" where people can live inside Malcovich's brain for about 15 minutes at a time and witness what he witnesses.

In these moments I feel as though I'm viewing a movie that has me playing a role. I talk but I don't feel like the words are my own but just a computer program that is simulating a conservation. It happens often when I'm in a new environment or with people that I feel uncomfortable around. I have also found that I don't feel physical pain as much when I'm depersonalizing.

I liken it to an escape hatch when the symptoms of my disorder get to be too much to handle, when the hallucinations, delusions or paranoia get too strong. As well as when my anxiety and stress reach a certain level. Part of my condition is that I am almost always in a state of anxiety and stress so that from the outside it looks like it doesn't take much to set me off but in reality its just one final trigger for my brain to handle so I slip out of my body and go on autopilot. The depersonalization also expresses itself when I look at myself in the mirror. I often gaze into my eyes and see someone else behind that image running things. It's stressful because it feels like I am watching a copy of myself but not a happy copy but one who seems to want to cause me trauma. This all said, I have found Buddhism to be like another psychiatrist who has a tried and true prescription for emotional stress--meditation.

When I find myself outside looking in and feel it really interfering with my day or lasting longer than usual I have watered the seeds of good habit energy enough to feel some doer inside that body move for me to get on the meditation cushion. So when I start breathing and concentrate upon that I feel my body and mind return together in union. The breathing is like a gentle guide helping me return to the reality of oneness much like someone helping a person with dementia return to a place of security and peace.

Another good habit that I've developed to help connect me back to my body and present moment is to touch the ground from time to time while meditating as the Buddha did. It helps me feel something tangible that anchors me back into the experience of being. I have also found it helpful to wear a strand of prayer beads or mala around my wrist at all times because it is another physical touch object that brings me back to the present moment. It is comforting to feel a fabricated object touch my skin because it helps me remember that my body is in fact real. It also reminds me at the same time of the teachings of Buddha to remind me that I what I'm experiencing is a delusion which sometimes helps me return to myself.

Buddhism has so much to offer those of us with mental disorders because it is a religion that focuses upon the mind and emotions more than many of the religions that I have studied. It is the religion of psychology and I am hearted that the once distant field of psychology toward religion and spirituality is now opening up to the techniques of Buddhism to help reduce pyschological trauma and stress. So while I also embraced Buddhism for the spiritual teachings it has also been another tool in my toolbox to aid me in dealing with my mental disorder. It is like having an extra medication but without any side effects except peace and stability. I highly recommend that those whoe suffer from a mental disorder and feel like they are being tossed around in a sea of unstability look into Buddhism as a potential foundation to anchor your body and mind into.

~Peace to all beings~

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