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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Buddhism Inc.

DISCLAIMER: This post is heavily laden with sacrasm and satire about the odd ways that people use Buddhist buzz words that are apparently "en vogue" with our pop culture to sell just about anything. In the end this subject doesn't have any real impact on my own practice but it is a bit annoying and silly in the absurd so I thought I'd write about it in a humorous way. I hope you enjoy!!

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Do you ever get tired of carrying your karma around all over samsara jumbled up in your mind? Do you wish that there was a better way to organize your karma as you travel along the middle lane of the Dharma Highway to Nirvanaville? Well, your worries. are. over!! The future has arrived!!

Introducing the Nirvana Organizer Bag from Zen Class Travel!!!! You say you've never heard of Zen Class but have heard of First Class and Business Class when traveling? No problem!! Zen Class is where Zen Buddhists meditate at their home on the desired day of travel. They meditate so deeply that they are magically transported through the air to their desired destination!! It's as easy as that--so why not become a Zen Buddhist today to take advantage of the Zen Class Travel!! But WAIT!!! Don't order yet--when you order now you'll also get the Nirvana Organizer Bag. You don't want to be caught in Nirvanaville without IT.

James: So there you have it--another odd yet humourous example of a product being sold using Buddhism. The Zen Class Travel isn't an actual class of travel on airlines but the name of the company who pumps out this "Nirvana Organizer Bag." I was just having fun with the name. :) Actually, I find the whole thing quite odd really but then again I've learned over and over not to be surprised by samsara. Now if I could just find one of those "Easy Buttons" advertized on t.v. Let me explain, the advertisement for my non-American t.v. viewing audience.

There is an office materials supply company here called, "Staples" and they have a new advert up that explains that shopping with them is like pushing an, "easy button" which easilly takes care of any office needs you might have. So all this has me wondering how long it will be before some scam/business man comes out with an, "easy button" to enable instant enlightenment--with one simple, easy, push of the button!! No, I clearly realize that it's not that easy--I was just playing with the concept of this cross-pollunation between Buddhism, business and advertising.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't Obsess About Enlightenment.

"Rather than worry or obsess about enlightenment, why not be honest and accept that we will have our good days and our bad? We will have some enlightened moments of loving-kindness, as well as some dull ones. This encourages all of us to stay real and experience the moment as it is—not how we want it to be."

–Donald Altman, from Living Kindness.

James: I think this is a very important point to remember along our path because I know that I have a tendency sometimes to obsess over moments where I don't feel so "enlightened." I start getting down on myself for having repeated the same mistakes over and over again but then I remember that we can't progress without making "mistakes!!" None of us here in this life is perfect, which is why we are are here in samsara the first place!! So that should give us hope and give us cause to relax and just do our best within each moment that we experience.

I see "mistakes" as rough drafts in the process of bringing forth the sacred text within us all that is our enlightenment.

PHOTO CREDIT: Beautiful photo by Laurent G.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Mind Must Sit Down.

When we speak of “taking your seat” for meditation, we often imagine sitting down in the lotus position—but more broadly,... The body can sit down, and the mind must sit down too.

–Arnie Kozak, from Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants

James
: I really like that last part that the mind must sit down too. I often stretch my legs, back and arms before meditating to prepare my body as well as regulate my breathing with some breathing exercises. However, after reading this simple yet profound quote (at least for me) I realized that I don't do much to stretch my mind before meditating so the body is relaxed, stretched and ready to sit but the mind is still in fifth gear. It helps explain why sometimes It takes a good portion of my meditation session just to get the mind to sit--let alone be mindful of the body and the present moment.

It's like trying to slow down one of those massive semi-trailer trucks (or articulated truck in the U.k.) when it is going at full speed. Even if you hit the brakes immediately upon seeing the obstacle ahead (incessant, circular, mental chattering) it takes awhile to slow the momentum of the heavy laden truck (mind heavy laden with thoughts). However, if the driver sees the obstacle ahead of time he or she can take the necessary precautions to ease into the deceleration.

I think therefore it is helpful to do some preparatory things to relax the mind to be able to ease it into meditation easier. Instead of just plopping down on the cushion after watching an in-depth movie or the news, reading the paper with all it's wild stories or talking gossip on the phone. In particular I am going to try and do some mental stretching before meditating like the physical stretching I already do. Some of these I already do but not with the idea of using them specifically for preparing the mind. These are just some examples of how I want to better use common "rituals" in Buddhism to aid my meditations. Remember, I am not a teacher and these are simply ideas that I am looking into to better enable me to get the most out of my meditation sessions:

Sit and look out the window to ease the mind into less thinking and prepare it rather for contemplation. Thinking as we know involves all kinds of judgments and variables that our mind spins it web with. However, contemplation such as looking out the window and watching the trees swaying in a breeze is more about sime observation, which settles and slows down the mind thus making it a great exercise for the mind before a session.

One thing that I already do is to bow three times in silence before meditating, which I do as a ways of paying homage to Buddha and my teacher. What I didn't realize before putting this post together, however, is that the bowing is a great way to train the mind to prepare for settling down. The mind reacts well to so-called, "sensory triggers" which when established into a habit can aid in preparing oneself for a state of mind like turning a key starts an engine. In this case the touching of hands together, feeling skin on skin and the act of bowing is a physical and mental way of telling the mind that it needs to switch gears, submit and letting go of control.

This goes for using a bell too, which I ring three times before meditating. The crisp, ring of the bell cuts through my mental chattering to focus my mind and slow down the thinking like a yellow traffic light warning cars to slow down and prepare to stop. The sound is like hearing a voice saying, "Listen, listen to the sounds of the present moment and return home."

Another thing I am going to do more of is chanting ahead of trying to settle into a deep meditation. This is mostly because I find that chanting relaxes and opens up my lungs to enable better breathing, which is critical in maintaining a deep meditation. Holding a hand on my chest while chanting is a direct signal to the brain that the body is relaxing and thus so should it.

Another trigger, which is very powerful is that of smell and incense (or a candle) is a great way to trigger relaxation in the brain, which helps relax the mind too and ease anxiety. It is also rejuvenating, which helps the mind stay focused and concentrate. Science has shown that incense can also help relieve depression thus being very useful in motivating a depressed mind to meditate. That's a big deal for me because I have chronic depression and often when I'm depressed I don't have the motivation to meditate, which is ironically the very thing that will help. So burning incense ahead of time to help ease my depression might just be enough to get me onto the cushion. It's worth a try!!

So there are others reasons why we Buddhists should do the "ceremonial things" besides because tradition dictates we do so. They are very helpful preparatory rituals that can enable a deeper and meditation.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Do We Really Need a Western Buddhism?

This post was inspired by a post by Arunlikhati over at Dharma Folk and by my comment to that post. Arunlikhati's post was regarding Western Buddhism and this idea by some in the west that western philosophy will somehow make Buddhism "better:" I personally don't think western Buddhists would make Buddhism better but simply different and more applicable to their/my culture. As the various Buddhist traditions around Asia aren't better than another (In my view, though some might think so) but reflect the needs and different aspects of their culture.

The term "Western Buddhist" is rather amorphous in my view. Since there is no native Buddhism in America a Western Buddhism would have to borrow much from an Asian Buddhist tradition but, which tradition? Or do we borrow a little bit from Theravada, Vajrayana, Mahayana and Zen (some place Zen into its own tradition of Buddhism)? Yet if we do that then doesn't it risk becoming the soup with too many ingredients, which cancel each other out leaving a odd and not so fulfilling taste?

And who makes those decisions? Will some council meet like the infamous Councils of Nicea in early Christianity, which some argue caused more harm than good. Or will there still be these different traditions but with the descriptor "Western" in front of it to delineate the tradition being influenced by "western" culture and philosophy. That is the option that I prefer and believe the most likely to emerge from the vague and foggy term, "Western Buddhism." For example, I now often say that I am a Western Zen Buddhist and if further pressed, "...as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh" to show that I am a westerner to describe my particular cultural tradition who practices Zen Buddhism.

I use to believe in a Western Buddhism but now I'm not so interested because of all the variables and questions that I mentioned.

I just think that the "western" part should apply only to the western culture and how it adds and influences whatever school of Asian Buddhism that a westerner follows. In this way we are honoring and maintaining as our foundation (the Asian traditions and heritage) but also paying respect and celebrating our western culture/philosophy as a wonderful addition to our particular traditions.

In the end It doesn't come down to any of this--these labels are mere fingers pointing to the glorious moon. It comes down to the present moment where labels mean nothing. However, it is an issue that needs to be discussed and fine tuned because right now "western Buddhists" are like a man without a country or a ship without a sail adrift in a sea of opposing currents and shifting winds.

PHOTO CREDIT: I couldn't find the photographer who took this but this is the site where I found it.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Swept Floor Never Stays Clean.

By Arnie Kozak

If you sweep the patio in November after leaves have fallen, you wouldn’t expect it to stay clean forever. The patio is like the mind. Mindfulness meditation practice can feel like sweeping the mind and clearing away the thoughts strewn about making a big mess.

It’s easy to get caught up in resistance and resentment toward these leaves: “Damn it, I just swept that floor!” Despite our protests, nature has another idea. Nature doesn’t care if we’ve swept the patio or how long it took us to do it. In the same way, the mind has its nature and it doesn’t really care about your agenda. The mind will continue to do what it does: give rise to thoughts. If we expect the mind to stay “swept,” we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Meditation will not “fix you”; it will not change things once and for all. Nothing can do this. Our job is to keep sweeping. Thoughts will continue to come and blow onto your clean-swept patio. Just sweep. No need to ask questions. No need to complain. Keep sweeping. We don’t need to analyze, interpret, or fix the leaves; time after time, we just need to sweep, returning to this moment just as it is, again, again, again.

With continued practice, we can start to recognize the wisdom in not reacting, or if reactions arise (as they sometimes will) of not amplifying them and feeding them. We can learn to enjoy the coming and going of the leaves—and even of the endless sweeping as well!

–Arnie Kozak, from Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants (Wisdom Publications).

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, May 04, 2009

A Fire Reflected in a Lake.

A fire reflected in a lake cannot burn the water. Neither can emotions disturb the mind when you don’t get involved in them. Don’t identify an emotion as your self. The fear or anger is not you, only an impersonal phenomenon.

Mentally pull back from the emotion and turn your awareness around to observe it. When in the grip of negative emotion we tend to believe it will never end. But emotions are no more permanent than thoughts.

With continued practice you’ll find that you only have to wait and any emotion, whether pleasant or unpleasant, is bound to change.

–Cynthia Thatcher, from Just Seeing: Insight Mediation and Sense-Perception (Buddhist Publication Society)

James: It sure is hard not to identify with emotions--especially when an emotional reaction is so ingrained within the psyche that its emergence seems totally involuntary. However, we know that at some level we have made a conscious choice to react in one way or another. We feel so helpless and at the mercy of these destructive and misery creating emotions. The suffering they engender is so great that it is like experiencing a nightmare.

A nightmare is a pseudo reality where the most ridiculous, terrifying and outlandish events stream through our mind like an all too real virtual reality, interactive video game. The nightmare seems so plausible--perhaps we find ourselves fleeing from a monster in our dream. Or maybe we get ourselves into some crazy situation such as a recurring dream of mine where I end up unjustly thrown in prison--an innocent man. The terror and suffering in those moments are so visceral that they can even cause the physical body to wake up sweating and gasping for air as if the body was in a real fight or flight situation.

There is, however, something called, "lucid dreaming" where a person is aware that they are dreaming--as they are dreaming. I have experienced this phenomenon every so often and it is often like watching things unfold from a third person point of view, which usually lessons the impact of the events. It is a way to step back from what is going on and get a bigger picture view of it all and see that in truth you are not going to die, or get thrown in prison or lose your parent, child or spouse. It is said that a person can train their mind to be able to go into this third person vantage point while dreaming to better deal with and process the events and impacts of the dreams.

In this way, I see meditation as the lucid dreaming of the waking state to be practiced and fine tuned to be a set of tools to enable us to walk through samsara and accumulate less heavy karmic debts.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Spring Evening Contemplation.

Clean, steady rain falls. Smell of damp soil. Tranquility envelopes all like a warm embrace. One awakened essence shines forth. Svaha!!

~They Call Him James R. Ure

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Dana for Robert Aitken Roshi.

Robert Aitken Roshi is in very poor health and in need of our dana. I first heard about this from Al on his great blog Open Buddha. I can't say it any better than Al so I'm just going to re-post his great write up. I hope Al won't mind and please know that these words are his and not mine--thanks Al for bringing this to our attention (bowing):

Robert Aitken Roshi is one of the earliest Western teachers of Zen still alive today. He was exposed to Zen while in a Japanese internment camp in Kobe, Japan after being captured as a worker in Guam. Following the war, he went on to study in America and then in Japan before returning to the States. He has been teaching here in the West continually for 50 years now. I’ve read a number of his books and have learned a lot from them.

Aitken Roshi has been sick for a number of years now, suffering a stroke a few years ago. While he isn’t destitute, he does require round the clock care. I read today that he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s recently but has been active in his sangha in spit [sic] of his illness. Because of his care requirements, there has been a general call to the Buddhist community for support and financial help for Aitken Roshi, a man who has given his life to the Dharma. He is not going to be able to afford the care on his own for very long and there is no retirement plan for Zen masters.

I’ve donated to help and I would encourage others to consider doing the same as well. You can find out more information, as well as give donatations, at http://www.aitkenroshi.org.

James: Master Aitken has done so much for Zen and Buddhism here in America and around the world. Let us all come together and help make his suffering a bit less through a donation. He looks so old and frail in that picture yet noble and beautiful as ever--he shows us that growing old and getting sick need not be as miserable as our mind would want to make it.

Dana is a Buddhist principle of donating or giving something we value to others that helps alieviate the suffering of others and purify our minds of one of the three poisons--greed. Dana need not be money--in fact one of the things that is most valuable is our time. Spending time just being with other people and sharing a moment is sharing the precious gift of mindfulness and suchness. And it need not include a lot of talking--some of the most wonderful moments that I've shared with others has been just sharing silence together and enjoying the sounds of nature around us.

~Peace to all beings~

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