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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Afternoon Haiku.

honey dipped leaves flail
bleached refugees flee heavens
pixels dance inside

By James R. Ure


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Monday, September 28, 2009

Vietnamese Bat Nha Monastery Raid Update.

From Help Bat Nha Monastery: All the brothers and sisters have been shipped to a temple Chùa Phước Huệ (address: Đường Trần Phú, Bảo Lộc, Lâm Đồng, Việt Nam). Our Brothers Thay Phap Hoi, Phap Sy, and Phap Tu have been taken away to other areas unknown. For their safety, if anyone who is in Vietnam now or knows of anyone there, please gather at Phuoc Hue Temple to give them support and to show that we are united and have no fear. This invitation goes out to especially international practitioners who are there.

We can not be divided. When we are together, nothing can harm us. The temple Phuoc Hue is in Bao Loc on the National Road from HoChiMinh City leading to Dalat City (map). There is large statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion on the side of the road. (photos of temple) Please be present there. Please help us get the word out through FaceBook, MySpace, or any other means at your disposal.

James: It is clear that the Vietnamese government is crushing the religious experiment in the Communist country instituted by long exiled Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It is a dramatic turn-around of events since Nhat Hanh was allowed to return to his native Vietnam after nearly 4o years in exile. During his visit and another recent one in 2007 Nhat Hanh was welcomed by even the Communist authorities and lauded in the Communist state run media of all places. It was a sign by many that Vietnam was easing restrictions on religion.

"The Vietnamese government has won," said Sister Dang Nghiem, speaking by telephone Monday from a monastery in San Diego, California, where Nhat Hanh is visiting. "Their 'victory' is that Bat Nha is completely destroyed. Everything is smashed."

James: My heart aches deeply for not just the monastics and the loss of a foothold in Thich Nhat Hanh's home country for his tradition of Zen but I also grieve for the average people in Vietnam. It is always a great loss when the Dharma is crushed in this manner. That said, it is never fully lost as long as it lives in the hearts of those touched by it during the short time Nhat Hanh's tradition blessed the many seekers in that noble, proud country. I have confidence that the Dharma will return to Vietnam one day to flower into giving Vietnamese Buddhists a full, restoration of the Buddha's teachings. I say full restoration because while Buddhist monasteries are allowed to exist in Vietnam I have been told that they are severely limited in how purely they can practice the Dharma.

~Peace to all beings~

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Urgent! Help! Bat Nha Monastery Emergency Happening in Vietnam.

Dear Friends,

Please pray for the monastic brothers and sisters at Bat Nha Monastery in Vietnam right now Sept.27,2009. They are being physically forced to vacate the monastery. Please intervene in anyway that you can!

LIVE REPORT:
WWW.PHUSAONLINE is giving updated information on the situation at BatNha.

9:45 a.m. (VN time, September 27, 09):
*We are on the telephone with Bat Nha Monastery. The situation at the monastery is quite urgent and life threatening to the monastics.
*At the start of this current crisis, attackers gathered at 9:30am then began to destroy properties to this moment.
*Police in civilian clothes have been present the whole time, but they do nothing to intervene. It seems that they are there to direct the attack, and the attackers have been hired to do so?
*The monks are doing sitting meditation on the 3rd floor of their building, sending energy to the people who are blinded by ignorance, praying to the Bodhisatva of Deep Listening to cool the fire of ignorance in their hearts with the nectar of her compassion.
*We are hearing very loud banging sounds over the phone line.
*They are throwing meditation cushions outside the building.
*There are about 150 people attacking and destroying properties up to the second floor of the monks’ residence.

10:30 a.m. (VN time, September 27, 09):
Our communication is having difficulties, but we know that right now:
*The attacking mob has told the Monastic community that they have to leave the monastery within 2 days.
*The monks have been forced to go outside of their dormitories; they stand outside, chanting in the corridor.
*Two monks are in their ceremonial robes doing sitting meditation in front of their room.
*All community and personal belongings of the monks have been thrown outside.

10:50 a.m. (VN time, September 27, 09):
*The police have dragged Brothers Phap Hoi and Phap Tu outside (2 elder monks of the monastic community); they are dragging the monks by force like they would to animals.
*One Buddhist lay woman is being chased by the police; she is running and crying, calling out “We are in danger, dear teacher!”

11:06 a.m. ((VN time, September 27, 09):
*It’s raining in Bat Nha. The monks have to sit under the cold rain.
*The police is calling for large trucks to come and transport the monks away.
*All roads to the monastery are monitored. Lay friends try to come to help, but they are turned around from afar.
*The number of policemen present has increased. They have occupied all the monastic rooms; gathered all the monks to the field outside.
*The police has forced the monks to carry their backpacks outside and wait for trucks to come transport them away. Don’t know where they will be going.
*It’s still calm in the nuns’ hamlets.

11:23 a.m. ((VN time, September 27, 09):
*A large construction truck is heading towards the monks’ building named, “the Beginner’s Mind.”
*The monks are sitting together in circles under the cold rain.
*The attacking mob continues to curse and yell without stopping.
*Bells, Sutra books, clothings, personal belongings… are in disordered piles under the rain.

12:02 pm (VN time, september 27, 09):
*The monks are still being forced to sit outside in the rain, nothing to cover them. It’s still raining and very cold.
*Traffic police (in uniform) are controlling all the roads leading to Bat Nha Monastery. Police in civilian clothes are also on the scene to observe.

12:20 p.m. (VN time, September 27, 09):
*they are breaking all the doors and trying to get all the sisters to outside of the building. It continues to rain here.
*Sisters lock themselves inside.
*The mob, led by the police, are moving towards the sisters’ hamlet “May Dau Nui” (Clouds on the Mountain).
*4 taxi are going towards the main gate; can’t tell who’s inside.

James: Please forward this information to any and all practitioners of Thay, fellow Buddhists, non-Buddhists and anyone who might be in a position to help. We need immediate assistance from the international community, international media, the United Nations, Amnesty International and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASA. I emailed ASEAN/ASA via the email for the Political and Security Directorate at: ps.dir@asean.org If you are apart of any of these groups or a non-governmental organization (NGO) please help in anyway that you can think of. I'm worried that a Burma-like purge of the monasteries associated with Thay in Vietnam is coming and the best way to prevent that is to shine the media light upon this emergency.

So as soon as I finish this I am going to fire off emails to as many organizations as possible. We also need to mail the media--CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and FOX news or whatever news agencies you know about in your country. The focused attention of the world is powerful and even if we can't stop these crimes from happening we need to be as loud of a witness as possible. Some of these monks and nuns are mere teen-agers but all of the monastics are innocent, peace-loving people who are devoted to bettering the lives of everyone. Yet they are being treated like criminals and animals for doing nothing more than practicing their non-confrontational religion.

The Communist government has been trying to remove the monks for two months now claiming tension between the abbot and the monastics. However, the monastics say there is no such tension. They say the Communist government is trying to evict them because they are associated with the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh who recently called for religious controls to end and the religious police be disbanned in that country. This at a time when the U.S. has decided to remove Vietnam from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) regarding religious freedom!! We need everyone to urge the U.S. to change that status and put more pressure on the repressive government. You can email the U.S. President at www.whitehous.gov. If you'd like to sign a petition on this emergency please click here.

My guess is that the government is concerned with their growing popularity inside Vietnam and thus see them as a threat to their strangle-hold on the people just like the sangha in Burma and Tibet. Please, spread the word so that we can bolster our brave monastics and take up their cause as they are further and further restricted from doing so themselves. As we meditate please take a moment to concentrate upon the freedom that allows you to practice the Dharma. This incident in Vietnam is a timely reminder that our freedoms, joys, sorrows and overall lives in this moment are but a candleflame in the wind that will snuff out just as easily as it ignited.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cancer, Meat and Vegetarianism. Also, We are Our Own Judges in Buddhism.

Although the initiated cells are not considered to be reversible, the cells growing through the promotion stage are usually considered to be reversible, a very exciting concept. This is the stage that especially responds to nutritional factors. For example, the nutrients from animal based foods, especially the protein, promote the development of the cancer whereas the nutrients from plant-based foods, especially the antioxidants, reverse the promotion stage. This is a very promising observation because cancer proceeds forward or backward as a function of the balance of promoting and anti-promoting factors found in the diet, thus consuming anti-promoting plant-based foods tend to keep the cancer from going forward, perhaps even reversing the promotion. consequences.
James: In Buddhism vegetarianism isn't a requirement partly because not everyone lives in an area where vegetables are abundant such as in Tibet. That said, many practitioners are indeed vegetarians especially in the west. I have found that the main reason for doing so is often out of compassion for animals. This is in part because Buddhism teaches that we are all interconnected and interdependent, which includes animals of course. This means that it is very possible that the cow we would eat might have been our mother in a past life. That realization was a big reason I finally made the switch to a vegetarian diet awhile back. I just couldn't look at a plate of meat ever again in the same way once I heard that.

The second reason I most commonly hear for a vegetarian diet is out of health concerns and this report backs that up even more. Just something to think about but no one should commit to something that they aren't ready to do or think is necessary especially out of guilt, which is a big reason I like Buddhism. There aren't many strict "rules" to live by in Buddhism and using guilt as a tactic to get people to do what you want is very much frowned upon from what I have studied. It's a very accepting religion for the most part. It accepts you where ever you are in life as it understands and teaches we are all in different places due to different karmic needs. The Dharma allows people to practice on various levels of commitment and experience, which I found refreshing when I really started looking into Buddhism.

There isn't much need for leaders to "punish" followers as Buddhism doesn't believe in a "God" or a Savior. There is no such thing as "sin" as understood in the Judeo-Christian sense. That is left up to our karma so that in essence we will be our own judges of how well (or how not so well) we lived our lives. It's like an accurate, non-feeling, non-biased computer giving us a read out of how well we accomplished a task. It is void of emotional judgments and simply renders data from the information that was input from outside experiments (Karma--or how we lived our lives. The cause and effect of our past actions whether they were helpful or not to both us and others).

Usually when an issue of reform needs to be addressed in Buddhism it is due to the practitioner seeking out an experienced teacher on their own for advise and advisement on over-coming a problem or obstacle. Outside monasteries it is nearly unheard of from my understanding of monks chastising people for their actions other than to give them general advice in a Dharma discourse on how to live a happy life free of less suffering. Usually this is delivered to many people and individuals in the audience decide if what was said was applicable to them or not and if so how they go about changing is up to them.

However, even in stricter monasteries disobeying rules is done in a very compassionate and open manner by the community of monks so that there is less chance of personal vindictiveness being apart of it. Some might find rebirth a tiresome notion of having to go around and around until they realize total oneness but I find it compassionate. It allows us to make mistakes and learn from them through long experience over incalculable lifetimes rather than saying you only have one life to "get it right."

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Laughing Lama.

That video was brought to my attention by Budding Buddhist and it has become one of my favorites. I watch it often. Recently His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama visited Taiwan and this was my favorite moment of the event, which I read in this article.

At the beginning of the ceremony, the Dalai Lama asked that a small table in front of his seat be removed. However, as officials were in the process of removing it, it collapsed, to a complete silence in the audience. The Dalai Lama broke the silence with loud laughter, which triggered more laughter and applauses from the crowd.

James: I can't get enough of the DL's smiling, laughing and relaxing demeanor. Every time I see his warm, cheery face I can't help but smile too and the same goes when I see or hear him laugh. His laugh is infectious and sincere like the unstifled belly laughs you hear from kids. They (like he) are usually unencumbered with feelings of low self-esteem or a compulsive neurosis over their laugh and body language. That said, at the same time he's that big brother who has seen a lot and traveled many places both in our physical world and within the dungeons of the mind. The older brother who gives you the exact advice needed without being condescending, mean or grumpy.

In fact I can't think of a time when I've seen or heard of the Dalai Lama being grumpy--have any of you? He seems like the kind of person who can give you criticism with a smile and a laugh to where you thank-him for it. He truly is a great master and I really like that he goes against a common view of a Buddhist master as being stern, cold and always intensely serious. I'm not anywhere near the understanding of the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh but I'd say that laughter and enlightenment go hand in hand. It's certainly a great way to reduce stress and suffering and besides that; in the end (as Shinzen said recently)what's their to do but laugh at this silly world?

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Foggy Temple Morning Haiku.

daybreak fog swirls
temple candlelight twinkles
bell welcomes daylight

-by james r. ure

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Waking Up to Oneness.



-Special thanks to my friend Jamie over at Progressive Buddhism for showing me this video.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Rebirth, Karma, Radio Waves, Supernovae and Electromagnetic Fields.

A lot of the questions that I hear most often from non-Buddhists, new Buddhists and/or skeptical westerners is about rebirth and how it happens. To begin this post I'd like to talk about my personal beliefs toward rebirth. I believe in rebirth because even from just a scientific perspective one can see that there is an order, structure and meaning behind the Universe and the patterns of life. On a more subtle level science has proved that nothing disappears but rather it simply changes form. The same applies to energy; Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another.

A radio in a car is run by the energy produced by the engine, which is run by the energy of gasoline, which came from the energy of pressure and heat converting decomposing organic matter into oil. The organic matter (mostly plants and animals including dinosaurs) was fueled by the radiation from the sun (plants) and other organic matter (plants being eaten by animals and dinosaurs). Before that the potential organic energy in plants formed as a result of carbon dioxide energy released by other plants and animals, which transformed into chlorophyll that fed the plants via photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process fueled by the transformation of the sun's energy into sunlight. The sun's energy and mass was likely the result of a dying star, which created a supernovae (stellar explosion). This expelled massive amounts of energy and matter, which was reborn as our Sun. So our Sun is nothing more than the rebirth of a star.

Ultimately the energy of all super bodies in the Universe resulted from the powerful, trans-formative energy produced by the Big Bang itself, which is my view was the result of collapsing/dying Universe that existed before the current incarnation of our Universe. This would have been achieved through something called the, "cyclic model" which is basically a model where the Universe goes through an infinite number of self-sustaining cycles or Big Bangs and Big Crunches or collapses.

It's not unlike the energy created as an accordion expands and contracts in the form of sound waves. The power, which fuels our galactic accordion is said to be that of a substance known as "dark energy" which would solve the entropy build up problem and be in keeping with the second law of thermodynamics. I could get even more in-depth with the "cyclic theory" but I'm worried I'll lose you. Thus, if you're interested in reading about it further I'd suggest reading this page and the book mentioned within. So finally, there you have the massive cycle of an infinite number of deaths and rebirths of energy and matter occurring upon our Earth and within our Universe. So seeing how we are literally made from the guts of stars exploding their matter and energy; why would we humans be exempt from that paradigm of cycles, which even the giant, celestial bodies must adhere to?

The same is true of the seasons, which was the first cycle I contemplated that led me toward believing the birth, life, death and rebirth theory. Spring (birth), Summer (mid-life), fall (old age and sickness), Winter (death) and it would seem to end there if rebirth wasn't real or possible. However, it doesn't stop there as we know Spring is reborn anew and the cycle continues until the cycle of Earth's life ends. Then when Earth is absorbed one day by our dying sun before it explodes via new supernovae to expel the seeds and energy needed to be reborn anew as another planet or star somewhere else in our vast Universe. The cycle continues. So again, why would the rebirth of our energy into a new form of being not be possible? The potential energy of the body is absorbed into the earth, air, water and fire of our planet to be reborn as a flower, a tree or a mushroom, which would be eaten by a living being.

However, what of the energy left over in the mind upon the death of the body? In my view, that energy of our mind is nothing less than our karma but how does that karmic energy released find it's way into a new form? This often baffles many western, science based Buddhists. At this point I'd like to borrow an explanation of this from the Venerable S. Dhammika at Buddhanet:

Think of it being like radio waves. The radio waves, which are not made up of words and music but energy at different frequencies, are transmitted, travel through space, are attracted to and picked up by the receiver from where they are broadcast as words and music. It is the same with the mind. At death, mental energy travels through space, is attracted to and picked up by the fertilized egg [or receiver]. As the embryo grows, it centers itself in the brain from where it later "broadcasts" itself as the new personality.
James: The question then arises, "Why does that karmic energy get picked up by a particular egg/embryo?" To answer that I'd refer back to our example of our Solar System.
According to the nebula hypothesis, the Solar System began as a nebula, an area in the Milky Way Galaxy that was a swirling concentration of cold gas and dust. Due to some perturbation, possibly from a nearby supernova, this cloud of gas and dust began to condense, or pull together under the force of its own gravity. Condensation was slow at first, but increased in speed as more material was drawn toward the center of the nebula. This made gravity strong, making condensation faster.
As we saw earlier, supernovae are the expulsion of energy from a dying star. So imagine the supernovae as being the karmic energy of the mind being dispersed upon the death of the body. In our example the swirling spiral arms of the galaxy where all this takes place is the womb (called star nurseries). The dust particles within these nursery clouds are the tiny, unfertilized eggs while the gas is the sperm. This swirling, growing star cloud (now an embryo) is then charged with blasts of superheated energy (karma) from the supernovae (dying mind) thus infusing it with the energy (karma) of the former star (deceased body/mind). The energy released by a supernova is trapped by the gravitational pull of these star clouds (embryos) and converted into new stars (new birth). In this "new life" example the gravitational pull is similar to that from the karmic pull of the parents of our next life. They say that like energy attracts similar energy. So given that understanding it's no wonder that the Great Buddhist Masters teach us that our next rebirth will depend in part upon the karmic energy of our future parents. We will be attracted to the karmic energy that mirrors what our karmic energy demands.

Another possible explanation is electromagnetism. Electromagnetism pervades everything and everyone. It's not unlike an uncountable number of intersecting energy grids of infinite sizes, which permeates and connects all things to the power station (our sun) and to each other's homes (minds). It's possible that our karma travels from old body to whatever new birth occurs via the electromagnetic field that acts like a true Indra's net. The brain is charged with electromagnetic neurotransmitters, which act as pathways for the energy created to reach every cell in our body. Our brains are basically organic batteries and could very easily be emitting energy waves that can be received by a new life form or other type of entity when the death of the body occurs via the electromagnetic field/grid. We certainly know that our brains are good conductors of traditional electricity!!

I'll end with something to keep in mind about rebirth. There are many things like electricity and radio waves, which we can not see but we accept that they are real because we see their effects. Just because we can not see the exact details of rebirth doesn't mean that it we don't see it's effects and thus its reality. Why are some of us born with traits and characteristics that don't seem traceable to the genes or behavior of immediate family members? Why are we born with a fear of water for example and our siblings are not? These could very likely be the effects of karma fueled rebirth. My examples might not fully explain the process but I think they come close and at least show that rebirth is very, very likely.

UPDATE: I will admit whole-heartedly that my examples and ideas are by no means definitive. If rebirth is real then there has to be a missing puzzle piece to bring it all together. I welcome new science to help us fill in the blanks a bit. I have faith in the end that this process is true but it's not blind, unflinching faith. I'm not married to it. I could very well just die and that's it. I have no problem with that scenario. I don't fear annihilation of the body and mind though it's hard to square that with the central Buddhist teachings that nothing every really goes away but that (as science explains) it simiply changes for. Perhaps though the most likely change is on a more subtle level of our ashes become apart of a patch of flowers being fueled by the minerals in our ashes. I am open to many interpretations, which I think Buddhism embraces as a whole unlike many religions, which is partly what attracted me to it in the first place.

~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Dharma Police

There is a post over at my friend Kyle's new blog about the precepts. I posted a comment, which I wanted to turn into a post of my own here about the subject because it is one that interests me a lot. I firmly believe that one can still drink a beer now and then and still be a very good, kind and serious Buddhist. As well as still take the precepts seriously. I aspire to lose weight but I still eat a cookie now and then. Does that mean all my efforts to eat healthy the rest of the time a waste and insincere? Of course not. Not everyone is able to commit to the precepts completely. So is it fair to say people who don't steal, kill, misuse sex or lie but do drink or smoke a cigar or even a joint from time to time aren't serious Buddhist practitioners??? They may not be eligible for monk hood but how many of us can say that anyway?

If someone isn't ready to give up alcohol completely then leave them be. Wouldn't it be better to encourage their Buddhist practice in other ways where the are making progress? Rather than say it's black and white and since you still drink or smoke you're not a sincere Buddhist? To do so isn't realistic, compassionate and in fact it's hypocritical. How about not eating meat? I keep all the precepts quite well except for the occasional drink, cigar or joint. Yet someone else might keep them all except still eat meat, which in my view isn't in keeping with the first precept of not killing. However, I would never call someone who does eat meat an "insincere" or "bad Buddhist." I have no moral ground to stand on to make such an accusation nor do many in the Buddhist community.

Personally, I dislike eating meat, however, I don't jump into someone else's underwear to chastise them for eating meat. It's none of my business and I know I don't like people being the "Dharma Police" with me. So if we're going to play Dharma Police then pray tell me, which of the two people is a "better Buddhist?" The non-meat eater of the non-intoxicant taker? Neither. We all have struggles with at least one of the precepts. Except maybe the Dalai Lama but even many monks I'm sure can't keep them all. We need to remember that none of us are living how we should because if we were we won't be here in samsara right now. I do think the precepts are good and helpful but they are not commandments except perhaps for monks. Rather they are recommendations on how best to live so that we reduce suffering as much as possible.

The foundation of the fifth precept is about intoxication and not everyone who has a beer or two after work get intoxicated. Not everyone drinks to the point of acting like a fool and in a headless manner. Yes, it's true that it has that potential but there is such a thing as moderation and the majority of people who drink, smoke a cigar or joint do so responsibly. The other issue at hand here is that not everyone's body is the same. Some people can't ingest these substances without doing it to excess, however, many can handle them without acting stupidly. For example, I am able to drink or smoke a joint without going crazy. However, I know that caffeine is one substance that I can't ingest much because the caffeine can increase my bouts of mania or actually trigger one to where I get anxious to the point of real suffering.

So, I stay away from caffeine for the most part but do I condemn the thousands of monks and millions of practitioners who drink tea or coffee? Of course not--It's not my business nor do I believe responsible use of such substances is always bad or a hindrance to our practice. Caffeine is very much an intoxicant and addictive if misused yet traditionally Buddhists not only don't add it to the intoxicant list; It's encouraged to stay alert and awake for meditation. Drugs are drugs so if we're going to condemn people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana then we need to say the same for caffeine drinkers. If you have a problem with a substance then don't ingest it and get help if you need it. However, not everyone who ingests these things is doing them irresponsibly or dangerously.

And what about people who over-eat, which is damaging their body to the point of risking heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, which can all be deadly. Food can be an intoxicant because chocolate for example is stimulant with all the sugar in it. Excessive sugar intake can cause diabetes, which is another serious and harmful disease, which like heart disease, etc. causes people a lot of suffering. Yet who amongst us would frown upon obese people from attentinding sangha or trying to practice the Dharma to the best of their abilities? Wouldn't it be better to see people find relief in the Dharma even if it's not total relief than compeltely alienate them by comdeming them and calling them insincere, irresponsible or immoral Buddhists???

It's not realistic or our place to say people don't take the precepts seriously if they can't keep all of them 100% of the time but have a weakness with one or two of them. Even if you think it's a "sin" I would remind you of what Jesus said to the crowd quick to stone a woman who, "sinned" "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." If we are following them as best we can but still falling short like most of us then how can we not be sincere Buddhists? Who can say that they honestly keep them all at every moment of every day? None of us. I'm not encouraging killing by any means but even murderers aren't turned away from the Dharma while they serve their sentence for their crime. There are prison sanghas who embrace these folks. Yet who would call their interest in the Dharma "insincere?" Who wants to cast the first stone? I bet we could look into your life and find some stuff that you're not proud of or that would be objectionable to someone.

If you're not keeping each one of those precepts all the time then you don't have a leg to stand on when being so harsh toward others. Why not spend our time bolstering each other's practice and finding where we can come together and inspire each other rather than going around and keeping track of who's "sincere" and who isn't based on how they live their life? If the precepts were to be followed by the letter of the law then they'd be commandments. We all have to be careful not to think we're squeaky clean when it comes to our behavior. Even IF you keep all the precepts all the time I can assure you that you're doing something else that isn't "Buddha-like." Or will do something like that at some point between now and when you die. If you were doing everything, "right" then you'd be enlightened on the edge of never being reborn. I doubt many of us are in THAT boat. At least those who might not be perfect in your eyes have found the Dharma in the first place, which while they might realize enlightenment in this life at least they are trying their best to better themselves.

We all do what we can and it's not our job to question the sincerity of others unless we're enlightened like Buddha. At the same time I think it's admirable that many keep the alcohol and intoxicant precept. Just don't get too holier-than-thou about it all or I might rescind my admiration. Ha!! The reason that I think that the precepts are recommendations is in part because Buddha knew that not everyone could keep them but he didn't want to turn people away from his teachings that would bring them relief from suffering regardless. Perhaps keeping the precepts 100% and 100% of the time is the ideal and something we should all aspire to. However, moderation is a key in Buddhism too. Buddhism doesn't require us to be perfect nor does it say the asceticism of completely giving up worldly pleasures is skillful either. Buddha taught moderation and those of us who do still enjoy some worldly pleasures should at least get some credit for doing it in moderation rather than condemned as "faux Buddhists" or whatever else nonsense might be said about us. Let's just try and be more kind and compassionate toward each other. We're all doing our best.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Haiku: Literary Meditation.

I write a lot of haiku and enjoy reading them just as much. Haiku seems to fit Buddhism and Zen in general quite well due to the stripped down structure and word usage. A good Haiku in my view is one, which grabs your attention by way of several impressions upon one or more of the senses. In addition, one, which paints a picture but then, presents a concluding line, which pulls the poem together for a feeling of balance.

This gives the reader a sense of closure to the scene and without the contrasting yet somewhat parallel ending it leaves the reading feeling abandoned. Thus, Haiku in my view is similar to the Buddhist/Taoist concept of oneness where two seemingly dissimilar concepts connect to form a well-rounded view of the present reality experienced at the time the writer experienced it. The first two lines provide a detailed, micro, mindful scene with a more open-ended conclusion to leave you with something to contemplate upon further.

Also, I find that writing a haiku is like a meditation as you contemplate a scene in your mind you must be very mindful of the sounds, smells, sights and sensations upon the skin. Only having a few words to use channels the author’s focus so that each word is mindfully chosen to give the haiku a clean, simple, yet strong and insight provoking essence. Its short form eliminates unnecessary wording, which can take away from the focused insight that haiku is so appreciated for. It makes haiku easily digestible for our scattered minds. In longer poetry the mind tends to wander and miss words, thus missing the essence of the writing. Haiku, like Zen Buddhism strips away the clutter to get right to the heart of things. No unnecessary distractions.

Since traditionally Haiku include nature as a theme it is like having the essence of nature anywhere you might find yourself such as in a big city where nature is very limited in between the concrete and steel. Haiku allows you to be right in the middle of a Japanese garden while riding the subway. In addition, being simple and concise also enables you to be in that Japanese garden but still remain quite aware of your present surroundings. That's the great thing about haiku meditation. Its form lends itself well to maintaining a Buddhist mindset even in our fast paced world where we don’t have as much time to contemplate more in-depth Dharma talks as often as we might want. In closing I wanted to leave you with my latest haiku:

shrine bamboo fountain
water descends drain pipe
monk washes old hands

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Skepticism in Buddhism is Good.

I think skepticism is very admirable, and rather unusual. The history of the world reveals that people are drawn to those who provide a strong, uncompromising teaching. We're drawn to those who say, "This is it, and everyone else is wrong." Certainly we see this pattern in contemporary politics, but we also see abuse of this sort within spiritual circles. It makes you wonder: Do we really want freedom? Can we handle the responsibility? Or would we just prefer to have an impressive teacher, someone who can give us the answers and do all the hard work for us?

–Larry Rosenberg, from "The Right to Ask Questions," Tricycle, Fall 2003

James: Buddhism is by nature a skeptical belief system. Buddha was very much a skeptical being who discovered enlightenment because of a healthy questioning of the accepted explanations of reality at the time. He dared question the great Brahman leaders of the day and was thus seen as a rebel of sorts. We are descendants of that tradition as taught by the Buddha within the Kalama Sutra where he teaches and even encourages thinking for yourself and not believing something if it doesn't ring true through your own experiences. The Kalama Sutra is the keystone of my Buddhist beliefs because without the freedom of inquiry and acceptance of differences as a foundation; Buddhism is just another intolerant, rigid, controlling belief system.

I feel that Buddhism treats me like an adult and allows me greater freedom. Whereas in the brand of religion that I was raised with (Mormon Christianity) it felt the complete opposite. I felt like it saw me as a child not to be trusted with thinking for myself and I felt like I was constantly being talked down to and seen as a threat or "evil" when I questioned the "parents" (church leaders, doctrine, etc). I didn't feel trusted and that made me frustrated, angry, confused, cynical, resentful and ultimately I left feeling completely deceived. I felt like I was being punished for thinking for myself. Of course the monotheist religions, (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) like all forms of religion have their good qualities but for me personally it was too controlling and domineering. It's only natural to feel that way when you don't feel trusted or ever good enough by any group, organization or ideology.

A teacher in Buddhism will give you pointers and advice but you won't be somehow kicked out of Buddhism if you don't follow it word for word or even at all. Unless of course you're a monk but becoming a monastic who actually seeks out such a strict code of living and practicing is a decision made individually for the most part. Even then a monk might be asked to leave the monastery but they are still allowed to practice that form of Buddhism. Whereas in my former, monotheistic religion I felt like everyone was held to such a standard and if you wanted to practice in a less rigid way you were considered weak, inadequate and all too often reprimanded and even excommunicated.

After leaving that religion I was looking for a belief system that was more tolerant for such reasoned scrutiny. As well as allowing for a lot more personal freedom in tailoring the teachings to each person's unique and particular life. I found that in Buddhism, which is anchored in how our karma varies from being to being. Karma demands greater freedom to explore and personalize one's practice. So doubt in Buddhism isn't a "sin" (there is no such thing as sin anyway in Buddhism). In fact doubt can lead to some very powerful insights into spirituality as the exploration is personal and not spoon fed to you. This is not to say that monotheistic religions don't have aspects of personal exploration but it is very limited I have found in comparison to Buddhism.

There are, however, fellow converts in Buddhism that I find from time to time who do practice with similar rigidity, exclusivity and over-bearing reverence, which I saw so much in my monotheistic past. I have found that these people are often former monotheists as well who might have adopted Buddhism but they practice it by the way they use to practice their former religion. I believe that Buddhism isn't just about adopting different beliefs but changing one's entire approach to how religion is practiced.

Addendum: Special thanks to Phillip Ryan over at Tricycle for the quote.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Moving Mountains.

There may be people who could move mountains
with their heartfelt beliefs.
Zen wants the mountains to stay where they are.
It is not the task of Zen to rearrange the mountainside.

-Unknown author.

James: I take this as teaching us not to fight up stream nor to fight against nature. Like the temple pictured above we need to work with nature, not destroy it. They don't try and dominate nature they simply build their temple in compliment to it. I also think it is talking about avoiding arrogance when discussing Buddhism with non-Buddhists. No one wants to be preached to about how "Enlightened" you profess to be regardless of your progress along the path. That refers to the verse about "moving mountains." Perhaps we might think or say, "I feel so 'enlightened' that I could move mountains!!"

That's spiritual greed wrapping itself around our practice like a boa constrictor does. The ego-mind is a powerful thing and loves to keep us entertained with delusions of grandeur attempting to use greed as a way to maintain the feeling of "self" and self-importance. It's easy for the ego/mind/self/voice that's in the back of our thoughts to believe, "It's o.k. to be greedy about status as long as it's status as a Buddhist" or "I'm not being mean. They just don't understand how "enlightened" or practiced I am."

So with this ego-mind we sometimes try to convince everyone else to become Buddhist or to remind others that they're not doing such and such as exactly how the Buddha taught in the Tripitaka. It's not the business of Zen or our personal business to try and move people toward what we we personally might think (with a heartfelt belief as the verse above says) is how they should practice Buddhism. The mountains move only when they want to move just like people. It is not our task to proselytize door-to-door as missionaries for Buddhism. It is equally not our task to be the Dharma police.

Leave people be, leave the mountains where they are. As the saying goes, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." A person has to come to Buddhism of their own commitment for it to mean anything authentic and to see any meaningful progress. Rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic didn't keep it from sinking and constantly drilling someone in the ears with the Dharma over and over isn't going to keep them from falling away from Buddhism if their heart isn't in it. As I said, mountains only move when they want to move. In order for the Dharma to be sincere in our lives and in the lives of others it has to evolve for each person in their own time.

UPDATE: I wanted to add an addendum to expand a bit upon an aspect to this discussion that Lorem Ipsum brought up in the comment section about being open to sharing the Dharma but not until others are ready and approach us about it. It's a further explanation of what I wrote above. I thought it was an important thought that I had overlooked a bit in the post. I'd add my own twist to it by saying that I talk about Buddhism a bit with non-Buddhists but very sparingly and not in-depth unless questions are asked of me. If people want to know about it then I will gladly discuss it with them but as the verses say it's not our job to move mountains. I usually won't go into any great depth unless someone asks specific questions about Buddhism and what it means to be a Buddhist. I try and emphasize that I'm not an ordained teacher or Dharma scholar. So when my knowledge is exhausted I urge them to seek out a teacher and read books if they have further questions. Especially books from ordained, experienced masters like Thich Nhat Hanh, Ajahn Chah or the Dalai Lama.

~Peace to all beings~

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