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Friday, December 26, 2008

The Zen Diamond Company.

Zen Diamond, the largest manufacturer of diamond jewelry in Europe and the No. 1 exporter of precious stones in Turkey, has plans to enhance efficiency and boost productivity during the global economic slowdown, a top company executive has said.

James: Because nothing says materialism like Zen!! And nothing could be further from the teachings of Zen than using the advertising tag line, "Diamonds are Forever" as we all know that nothing is forever. In the end Zen is just a word and I'm not going to let anger and other unskillful feelings arise because of a word.

Still you'd
never see the Jesus Diamond company or Christ Wine. Maybe they could put a copy of the Diamond Sutra in with each diamond product. That might even things up with the consumerism/materialism message of the diamonds.

~Peace to all beings~

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Another of My Favorite Poems, "If" by Rudyard Kipling.

It's a lazy day after Christmas so I thought I'd post another of my favorite poems that I've been re-reading again lately. It is "If" by Rudyard Kipling:

[IF]

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Using Science to Explain Biblical Stories. Part One: Sodom and Gommorah.

**NOTE: This is not an attempt to insult anyone so if you are insulted by this post then I apologize. I am starting a series here on how Biblical stories can often be explained by a modern understanding of science. I am doing it not out of a desire to destroy anyone's faith but from a personal interest explaining the stories I've heard during my 22 years as a Christian. I am a skeptic by heart and enjoy explaining the seemingly inexplicable.***

---

Sodom and Gomorrah were two ancient cities mentioned in the Bible most likely near the Dead Sea. The story in the Bible says that the town was destroyed by "God" because of the their "wickedness" by fire and brimstone (sulfur rock). So what does science have to say about this story?

As we know much of the Middle East sits above oil and natural gas fields as well as atop pockets of sulfur rock or brimstone. There are fault lines in the area where most scholars believe Sodom and Gomorrah existed as well as within much of the "Holy Land." Ancients didn't know much science and therefore natural disasters would be seen as "God's" doing and explained by man's "sinning."

So all it takes is a decent sized asteroid to hit the area, which would ignite the oil and natural gas fields nearby and underneath the city. As well as the igniting and throwing sulfur rocks into the air, which would then reign down upon the nearby cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Thus giving off the effect of flaming rocks pouring down upon the cities and burning them to the ground.

Another explanation could stem from the many fault lines that exist in Israel, Jordan and throughout the Middle East. An earthquake could have cracked the Earth, which exposed natural gas pockets, pools of oil and veins of sulfur rock. All it would take is one spark from the many cooking fires to explode the pockets of gas, ignite the sulfur rock, which would reign back down upon the city burning it to the ground.

There are simple, (Occam's razor) scientific explanations for this event either way and so people who were not privy to science would seek to explain such a natural disaster with what they believed--"God." "God" was an understandable way to explain events, which were at the time mysterious in origin and thus very frightening.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Zen Master Franz Kafka?

You need not do anything.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
You need not even listen, just wait.
You need not even wait,
just learn to be quiet, still and solitary.
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.
It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

~Franz Kafka from his poem, "Learn to Be Quiet."

James: It's somewhat hard to imagine the brooding Franz Kafka as a student of mindfulness but here he is teaching it with just as much clarity as many monks!!

Then there is this Zen-like comment from Kafka regarding his relationship with Judaism/spirituality (he was known to show interest in Judaism especially later in life), "What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe."

His questioning of what he has in common with "himself" and what that "self" even means seems like an almost koan-like statement. The whole of the quote sounds as if it came from a Zen Master trying to teach a novice that the label "Buddhist" is not important but rather the essence and teachings of Buddhism. For example, being present to be content with the basic things in life such as standing (or sitting) in a corner and breathing.

PHOTO: Franz Kafka by Anthony Hare 2003.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, December 19, 2008

FOX Host Carlson Afraid that Christianity is In Mortal Danger.

So an Atheist sign in the state capital of Illinois was stolen and now the Atheist group behind the sign wants to replace it with a new one saying, "Thou Shalt Not Steal." Yet Gretchen Carlson apparently doesn't get the point of the replacement sign.

It seems apparent to me that those who would be the most upset by the sign would be rabid Christians. Therefore reminding them that they [most likely Christian] broke a commandment of the very religion they are claiming to defend by stealing that sign is on point and brilliant. It's called using your critics words and beliefs against them. It's a great debate tactic and Carlson's only comeback to it is to claim that Atheists have no right to use the ten commandments because Atheists don't believe in them? That's a nice dodge from the point of Christians stealing despite being commanded NOT too.

So in other words Christians can break the commandments when dealing with Atheists because Atheists shouldn't have the same rights to freedom of expression as Christians enjoy. In part too because Atheists are seen by extreme Christians as evil to be defeated by any means necessary and therefore (to these type of Christians) the end justifies the means (i.e. stealing). It's not too unlike radical Muslims who think "God" will bless them in heaven for killing the nonbeliever because belief in "God" is more important than free will and the commandment against killing. Thus we see that many radical Christians don't actually believe following every commandment by the letter as they often say they do.

Michelle Maulkin actually takes the high road for once in basically saying "Just ignore them." But Carlson is completely freaked out to the point of saying that if they treat them as equals then Christianity might disappear??? Come on. Honestly. It might disappear from the public square (as it should according to the Constitution) but Christianity is not going to disappear from a country [America] that is beyond any measure predominately Christian. Besides, where is their faith that "God" won't let Christianity die out in America?

And should it be about control? Shouldn't your belief in Christianity be personal? Isn't it more about your own salvation than about being the dominate belief system to maintain your feeling of superiority as being "number 1?" I'm a Buddhist and we are no where near the dominate religion in America and I don't care. I don't practice Buddhism so that maybe one day Buddhism can dominate America. I practice it because I find meditation to be helpful in my daily, personal life.

I am a weak Atheist/strong Agnostic, I know many other Atheists and for most it's not about abolishing Christianity but rather about equal representation in the public square. Either everyone gets to have a display or no one should as the public square belongs to everyone and public/government buildings/locations are paid for by everyone--not just Christians. It seems really simple and basic to me.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Musical Interlude: Jason Mraz, "I'm Yours." Buddhism and Music.

I thought I'd post a fun, happy and relaxing song this morning. The artist is Jason Mraz and I really dig his reggae sound. Reggae is one of my favorite musical styles because it is so calming and gets me to dance around a bit and let my body relax to the beat. I also really like the message of this song of living in the now, letting go of our hang-ups and enjoying what he have and not worrying about what we don't have. As well as rejoicing in the power of love.

Music can be very spiritual as I think sound is something that our brain can easily absorb without too much thinking. Songs are great ways to express feelings, ideas and emotions that might be otherwise difficult to express through language. For me, It's about letting go to the present moment of the songs to just enjoy the beauty and power of sound. When I'm having a bad day it's hard too continue feeling glum after listening to say, Bob Marley.

Music is very meditative in that it can relax the body and mind to better enable deep contemplation and peacefulness. It's also a way to release stress and anxiety as music is for me a kind of audio massage and/or way to channel and safely discharge my less skillful thoughts and energy. I have found listening to positive music and/or chanting before meditation to be a great way to calm the brain and prepare it for sitting meditation.

The vibrations from the musical tones of chanting vibrates throughout the body and I have found relaxes the muscles that tense up in our day to day motions/actions. In addition it opens up the lungs so that breathing deeply during meditation is easier. From my experience I have found that listening to music and/or chants before meditation is kind of like stretching before running.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Society Without God: A Book Review.

I was recently sent a copy of "Society Without God" by Phil Zuckerman to review. The author lived in Denmark and Sweden for 14 months and discovered through personal interviews with average Danes and Swedes that Scandinavia is quite Atheist/Agnostic.

It has been a falsehood heard in many religious circles (especially within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions) for years that society can not succeed without a belief in a creator god. However, Zuckerman presents his thesis that despite their lack of belief Scandinavians are some of the most socially well adjusted and successful people on Earth.

Some give the examples of the former USSR, North Korea, Cuba and China to try and argue that nontheist societies breed oppression and are not good examples of healthy societal life. However, Zuckerman deftly responds saying that those were/are governments who force everyone to be Atheist/Agnostic:

In each case, religion wasn't abandoned by the people themselves in a natural process over several generations [James: Like Scandinavia]. Rather, the "abandonment" of religion was decreed by vicious dictators who imposed their faithlessness on an unwilling, decidedly un-free citizenry.
He gives several interesting reasons for why secular societies are so stable and successful one of which is education. He found that a high level of Scandinavians are educated and that the higher level of education one achieves the less one believes in a god. And while being an nontheist, Zuckerman makes sure to say that not everything about monotheism is negative. He does list positives of believing in a god/supernatualism. Overall though he paints a very convincing picture that belief in a creator god is not necessary to a moral and ethical society.

It is fascinating in that his argument is built directly from primary sources by interviewing average citizens. This strength, however, does become a bit of a weakness for this book because the interviews become too many and the answers become repetitive. That would be my one criticism of this book.

As a nontheist Buddhist I found myself agreeing quite often with the sentiments expressed by these Danes and Swedes. I have read many books on Atheist thinking and I find it noteworthy that most don't even mention/cover Buddhism in their critiques of religion. In my mind that is because Buddhism falls inbetween religion and Atheism. It's kind of in its own category that seems to have more in common with philosophy and psychology than with strict religious dogma.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Looking For Buddha.

Trying to find a Buddha or enlightenment is like trying to grab space. Space has a name but no form. It's not something you can pick up or put down. And you certainly can't grab it. Beyond this mind you'll never see a Buddha. The Buddha is a product of your mind. Why look for a Buddha beyond this mind?

-- The Zen teachings of Bodhidharma

James: This reminds me of the koan, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." Which for me means many things such as the message/teachings being more important than the teacher. For some It can be easy to get attached to the idea of Buddha and see him as some kind of god to be worshiped but I see that as being a distraction. It attempts to shift the responsibility for our liberation away from ourselves to a caricature of Buddha as a savior rather than an example. Buddha is not a god--my understanding is that Buddha is beyond all labels, forms and titles. For me, worshiping the Buddha is like worshiping a bar of soap because Buddha can not do anything for us except shine the torch to show the way.

Buddha is almost always depicted as meditating, which for me is a symbol of the DIY (do it yourself) philosophy that is so popular today. When Buddha was meditating on the night of his enlightenment he did not worship some mystic deity hoping that he didn't have to do the difficult work and could be saved without effort on his part. I have to do the heavy lifting on my journey just like Buddha so many years ago. Praying to Buddha is in my view pointless. I see it as a waste of time that could be spent meditating, which is the vehicle Buddha used to awaken from the slumber of the eg0-self and liberate himself from samsara. Again, the message (the dharma) is more important than the messenger. Buddha is long gone into mahaparinirvana.

Even if Buddha was around to hear those prayers he couldn't answer them or fulfill the desires they contain because he is not a god. The very idea of prayer is the act of trying to satiate our desires and that is a dead-end path according to Dharma.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Happy Bodhi Day 2008,

May this candle remind us of the Buddha's enlightenment and the light the Dharma shines to show us the way on our path.
candle-animated

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Buddhism vs. Buddhism in America.

Apparently there is a hot discussion in the blangha (blog+sangha) as to why according to some, Asian-American Buddhists and white American Buddhists don't interact enough. Well I had a few thoughts on the matter and figured I'd post them for what it's worth.

I think while discrimination does definitely exist on both sides the separation between the two in America stems more from cultural differences than from out right bigotry. I say this because I think that the argument, which says there is an Asian-American Buddhism versus a white American Buddhism in the U.S. is too simplistic and dualistic.

It misses the important point that the term "Asian" includes dozens of very different cultures/countries. This is evident here in America because there are Asian-American Buddhists who separate amongst themselves even.

Korean American Buddhist communities often stick to mostly Korean American Buddhist sanghas, Vietnamese with Vietnamese, etc. Of course that's not always the case and there are examples of well integrated sanghas mostly in highly diverse urban areas of the country. Often white dominated sanghas are such for no other reason than the sanghas location being in an area where whites represent the majority population in general.

Besides, I don't think that we can completely uproot cultural differences within a greater Buddhism nor is it necessarily a bad thing to have different cultures represented within Buddhism. There is much beauty and value when culture meets the Dharma but like with all things it can be a hinderance at times too. So yes, again as I stated above there are instances of discrimination on both sides but the beauty of Buddhism is that we all share the core beliefs. Dharma is Dharma whether it is spoken in English, Thai or Norwegian.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A is for Acupuncture

So there I was lying partially naked on the table with needles sticking out of my back, neck and legs yet It was the most relaxed that I've felt in a long time. I'm talking about acupuncture and this morning I experienced it for the first time.

According to traditional Chinese medicine the body has meridians (or channels) through which Qi (vital energy) flow. The channels and points are attributed to specific body parts and bodily functions/systems, which can supposedly relieve pain and relax muscles through stimulating these channels.

Each time he placed a needle It felt like it was popping a ball of stress, which released built up tension and after awhile I felt like I was one giant, floppy, relaxed noodle. Once all the needles were placed he left the room for about 15-20 minutes and during that time I meditated, which of course relaxed me even more. I began to feel light as a feather and felt like I was floating on a cloud with energy pouring out of every pore in my body and out my fingertips, toes and head.

As I laid there I felt as though the needles had activated endorphins or something because I was tingling with a pleasurable sensation. It was the kind of sensation that you feel from a silky smooth fabric gently sliding along your body but in this instance it was like that feeling didn't disappear like when the fabric moves off your body. Instead that feeling stayed with me along all the points that were stimulated by the needles to where I felt as though I was on some drug or something not unlike some of the sensations I felt when I did ecstasy, which I no longer do.

We talk a lot about the body being interconnected with the mind but meditating while those needles did their work was the most profound experience I've had with that interconnected feeling. And that is saying a lot because I've had some pretty deep feelings of interconnection between my body and mind from just meditation. However, the combination of acupuncture and meditation was very therapeutic to not only my body but also my mind. I highly recommend it if you are having problems with sore muscles, stiff, achy joints and alignment problems with your musculoskeletal system (spinal vertebrae misalignment).

I am a big believer in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and It seems clear that it was developed in connection with Buddhism and Taoist understanding of the body and its connection with the mind. The meditation connection seems only natural as well because I am most aware of my body and any new aches or pains that I may have when I meditate.

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