pixels dance inside
By James R. Ure
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.
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!
WWW.PHUSAONLINE is giving updated information on the situation at BatNha.
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.
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~
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.
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.
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:
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.