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Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Cure.

Just like a fever breaks, last night I felt a deep and rejuvenating release from the rising waters that had crested yesterday with my, "discouraged" post. It isn't the "cure" of liberation from the cycle of suffering and rebirth but rather a break in the fever that is discouragement. Writing out my emotions has long helped me process the disorienting thoughts that ensnares all of our minds. It is a form of honesty, which is a trait that I've been blessed and cursed with. Blessed in the sense that it helps me dissect confusing emotions with direct and exacting examination but cursed only in the sense that such honesty means facing sometimes painful and uncomfortable realities. Yet, despite the discomfort it seems to be one of the most direct and effective ways of dealing with obstacles and discouragement.

This release was initiated with my honest writings yesterday, and the sympathetic comments helped me let go of my guilt that somehow I was "failing" as a Buddhist. Intuitively I knew this deep within the recesses of my mind but hearing it from outside yourself always seems to help convince you that what you suspected is in fact reality, and not just your mind tricking you yet again with another delusion.

So, last night lying in bed I had the most unconventional yet therapuetic meditation. Lying in bed I embraced the exhaustion of the day and just enjoyed the feeling of my tired body being cradled by our cloud-like bed. The soft, soothing, rhythmic breathing of my wife cuddled against me brought me a deep sense of calm. Being fully present in the moment I was aware of my own chest rising and falling with deep, natural breaths. Absorbing the feeling as the boundaries and limits between my body and my immediate surroundings blended into the music of the band, "The Cure." Thus, the title of the post.

Feeling limitless yet grounded at the same time--like the sky stretching from horizon to horizon, free to flow yet held from disappearing into outer space by the grounding power of gravity. As I floated about in this state of pure awareness I soon drifted off in a deep restful sleep. Today I awoke feeling like a huge weight was lifted from my mind. A new day has dawned and yet I am thankful for the reminder lesson I was given in my months of struggle. As they say, "It's always darkness before the dawn" and yesterday was that darkest water mark before it crested and ebbed to make way for pure, stabilizing balance that comes from a deep grounding of oneness.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Discouraged.

***WARNING: LONG Rant ahead that's not your typical "Kittens and flowers" Buddhist post***

I'm struggling lately in my Dharma practice. I haven't meditated in months--not because I don't want to because I do, but I just can't get myself to do it. A large part of it is my mental illness that makes finding motivation extra challenging. Especially when the heavy medicating drugs I have to take to prevent mania and psychotic episodes zap me further of the will to do much of anything. It's difficult to fully convey how difficult it is to over-come.

Furthermore, I deal with a constant level of depression just beneath the surface of even my best days where I feel fairly decent. And please don't say, "Everyone gets depressed" because deep, clinical depression isn't like just having a bad day. Irregardless of that it's just an insensitive thing to say to someone who is living with clinical depression. It's chronic and biologically based on chemical imbalances in the brain.

And it's not as easy as just taking a pill because I already do, and still there is this underlying level of feeling like life isn't worth it. People think just because there are medications that they are cures--they help take the corners off the sharpest symptoms but they don't "cure" you in the sense that they don't bring you to the level of those who don't live with a severe mental illness.

Ironically, I was attracted in part to Buddhism because of it's psychological benefits, and I still believe it has immense help for those dealing with mental illness. However, Buddhism is difficult for anyone let alone for people with mental health challenges (unless you're enlightened, and how many can honestly claim that?). And it seems that the more I think I know about Buddhism the less I actually do. Everyone loves that "honeymoon phase" when you first taste the Dharma and it literally changes the way you see the world for the better but then the nitty-gritty, hard work begins and at times you stop and ask yourself, "Is this really worth it?"

It is. Buddhism can be a real bitch, and sometimes I wish I could just adhere to a religion where blind faith was about all I needed to do. However, I have felt those fleeting moments of enlightenment too profoundly to abandon the Dharma. I'm just discouraged about how poor my practice is right now, and has been for some time. An aspect of this discouragement stems from a lot of anger that I struggle with on a daily basis, which is, in part, again, rooted in the schizoaffective disorder.

I have Attention Deficit Disorder (or, A.D.D.) in conjunction with the affective side of things (affective simply means mood disorder, or bipolar. So, schizoaffective disorder is a combination of some schizophrenic symptoms and some bipolar symptoms). A.D.D. is a condition, which (in part) prevents the brain from being able to screen out stimuli that most people can relegate to the background.

So, while I am also hearing and listening to you talking to me, I can also hear at the same time: birds chirping outside, the kids screaming in their yard as they play, the traffic noise, the humming of the refrigerator and other appliances, the lawn mower going in the distance, etc. and I can't screen it out to focus simply on the conversation. All of this noise at once raises the stress in my mind and makes me impatient with the inability to focus on just one sound, which often makes me angry. In addition, I am hyper-aware of what is going on in the world and I get so angry because I just see humanity (and especially here in America) doing everything it can to destroy itself, its environment, its economy, its political system of democracy, its compassion for those who need assistance, its decency toward others in public places, its health care system, its acceptance of minorities and those of different sexual orientation, and on and on.

It makes me wonder what's the point of doing anything?!! Why participate in society and voting when it doesn't seem to make a difference or matter. What is the difference between letting karma do it's thing and predestination because some Buddhists seem to just shrug their shoulders in the face of struggles as if to say, "Eh, it's just karma doing its thing--what's the point?" And, yes, I know that suffering is inevitable and everywhere. I know that the world is not the place to look for stability. However, it seems that in response, many Buddhists take the default position to disconnect from society and disregard politics.

Yet, I struggle with this solution because it seems rather fatalistic, nihilistic and a form of avoidance. It seems to me that we owe it to ourselves to try and do our best to make it a better world--even if it can never be perfect. Aren't we making things worse if we just disconnect from society? Don't we have a duty to try our best to help build a better society? What if everyone just disregarded politics and civic responsibilities? Isn't it a bit selfish in a way? If no one tried to maintain some sort level of a stable world then it seems to me that some dictator would just take advantage of that and wipe out whole sections of the globe. Isn't that basically just letting suffering multiply? It's one thing to realize that suffering on some level is inevitable. However, to just disconnect seems to ironically cause more suffering from less and less good-hearted people participating to crafting how a country's general society behaves.

I'm certainly not giving up on Buddhism by any stretch but I'm discouraged today and it has been building. I guess my discouragement is with a lot of things but my Buddhist practice has me a bit frustrated, dispirited and depressed. I know it's not Buddhism that is the problem, and I know that I have a lot of work to do but please don't just post simplistic comments saying things like, "All you have to do is 'A' or 'B.'" Or, "You're problem is 'X.'"Everyone is full of advise but it's all easier said than done.

I'm not necessarily looking for answers, or advice--just some sympathy and assurance that I'm not the only one with these discouragements. I mean, intuitively I know that I'm not the only one but the things I hear sometimes from my fellow Buddhists makes me feel like I missed out on some meeting where everyone gained enlightenment. I'm not any kind of expert and I've got plenty of rust around the edges but I am always skeptical of people who seem to think they have it all figured out and that they're going to set everyone straight on how to be like them.

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Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and Quantum Physics.

I have deleted the post on Buddhism and quantum physics because it appears that I didn't fully understand quantum physics before attempting this write-up. I apologize for any confusion that I might have created. I do still believe though that there is a strong connection between Buddhism and science.

-James R. Ure

PHOTO CREDIT: Gail Atkins

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Green Buddhism.

Our environment is the ultimate middle-path. In order for life to exist and thrive upon Earth the environmental conditions must be perfectly balanced for optimum benefit. It is because of the importance of this delicate balance that, as a Buddhist, I am also a committed environmentalist.

So, as you can imagine I've been watching with horror like everyone else the volcano of oil gushing night and day from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately this BP disaster has come about from our collective greed for cheap fuel at the expense of our greater environment to power our excessive lifestyles.

Part of this lifestyle comes from a long human tradition of the ignorance that nature plays in our lives. Humanity has for centuries seen nature as an impediment to its happiness and material success. Because of its ease of exploitation nature was seen not as an equal but merely as a means to an end.

So, we sought to "tame" it to further our desires for material wealth and success.
We ignorantly assumed that since we were the "smartest beings" on the planet that we didn't have to live within the limits of nature. We saw ourselves as not only independent from everything else but superior. Thus, nature was there to satisfy our insatiable greed. This was especially embraced by the monotheistic cultures who saw themselves as divine offspring and Earth their property to do with it whatever they pleased. Since in ignorance these cultures believed that they weren't interconnected with other beings, (which would have required them to live in greater harmony) and had been given dominion over all other living things then surely (they thought) pursuing such a individualistic destiny couldn't hurt us.

In Europe, they chopped down tree after tree. They couldn't tear the trees down fast enough to keep up with the insatiable fires of industry. The race to industrial wealth and easy living was so ferocious that soon Europe was nearly completely nude of trees. Yet no matter how much steel was turned into new machines to make our lives easier it wasn't enough for our greed, and so industry accelerated further and further. Once the trees were gone we began burning dirty, toxic materials such as coal and oil. Raw sewage and toxic byproducts from production were pumped mercilessly into pristine rivers, lakes and seas. The cities were dirty and the air hazy and acrid from pollution causing much sickness. Yet our lust for the easy life grew unabated.

Today we humans are waking up one by one from our egotistical binge to one nasty hangover. It is clear now that our actions aren't independent of everything else, and that our greed has sped up our own destruction. Yet still this greed has a strong hold over many people, and like an addict who knows the drug is poison, we continue to use deadly energy regardless of the consequences. Why? Because no one wants to give up living the easy life of cheap energy that enables us to spend that money on pleasure pursuits.

In order to make the right sacrifices to bring humanity more in-line with nature and the middle-path we have to realize that we are all interdependent upon one another. And none more so than Earth herself. Our past actions of environmental rape through excessive industry are already coming back to cause us suffering via climate change--in my belief, that's societal karma bearing fruit. And just like pain is the bodies way of warning us to stop what you're doing, so to is the suffering we experience now from environmental degradation an alert to change our behavior. As we know, karma has an energy of its own, which could be seen in the very real possibility of environmental destruction getting too far gone to reverse course. I fear that could happen soon if we don't take immediate action. This BP spill is one of those pains that should serve as a warning sign. Buddhism demands that we care for nature as much as we care for ourselves.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Comment from Management.

I was hoping that things wouldn't come to this but I guess now that the blog is getting increasingly popular with each passing day I am seeing an alarming increase in spam comments. Some of these comments include links to sites that can be offensive to some people and I don't wish to have that kind of advertising on my Buddhist blog. However, unfortunately that now means that I will have to approve comments before you'll see them post. Thank-you for your patience, continued readership and I apologize for the inconvenience.

-James

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

You Can't See the Whole Sky Through a Bamboo Tube.

You can't see the whole sky through a bamboo tube. ~Japanese proverb

The perceptions of our daily life are like looking up into the vast, detailed night sky through the confines of a bamboo tube and stating definitively that we have an accurate picture of its reality. The bamboo tube is akin to our perceptions of the world, which are seemingly real holograms of reality based on ignorance that we are separate from everything else. Perceptions that place us at the center of a world that has no center. Perceptions limit us to only what we can perceive with our limited sense organs (sight, smell, touch, taste, sound).

We are like ants living amongst humans and having no idea to that greater existence other than perhaps feeling the vibrations of cars passing nearby the ant mound. We go about our day and busy ourselves with activities, which seem so monumental and yet seem primitive when seen by a species with a deeper awareness of reality. Or being observed by a being such as a Buddha. This wonderful ant analogy was revealed to me by the great theoretical physicist Michio Kaku:
~Peace to all beings~

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Einstein Understood Non-Duality and The Present Moment.

Before he died, Einstein said "Now Besso [an old friend] has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us ... know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."

James: While in Buddhism we acknowledge the past and future we teach not to deal too much upon them because the past has past and the future is determined in the present moment. Yet, Einstein is right as well that time is part of the mindstream without distinction between them because the past and future were and are also the present moment in the moment they are experienced. Another way of stating this would be that past, present and future are all the present moment at one time or another.

His statement is also an affirmation of non-duality. This is seen in that the present isn't possible without the present moment that was experienced just seconds before in the past, and that without this present moment we wouldn't have a future. It's all interdependent and interconnected as each moment builds upon the moment previous. I guess I'm really getting down into the weeds and detailed about the mindstream and time but that's what on my mind--in this present moment (wink).

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama.

The thing that I like about the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist teachers taking questions from everyday people is that you get such a wide variety of queries that most people can relate to. Sometimes you read an interview of the Dalai Lama or other teacher where deep, philosophical questions are put forth from some journalist or documentary director.

At times, they are so in-depth and esoteric that I don't even understand what's being asked!! I do like deep, philosophical questions and dialogues from time to time but sometimes it's like drinking to quench my thirst from a fire hose. So, it's with joy that I present one of ten questions for the Dalai Lama from average folks who don't feel the need to show off how profound they are with their question:

Do you ever feel angry or outraged?Kantesh Guttal, PUNE, INDIA
Oh, yes, of course. I'm a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something's wrong. He's not right in the brain. [Laughs.]
James: I really like how direct yet disarming he is with his answers. He gets right to the point and doesn't feel the need to go into a dissertation all the time as some spiritual teachers can, which is why I think he is so popular with every day people. He knows how to speak to his audience, and to each question. So, one day he can be speaking very simply and the next very in-depth. This shows to me just how much he is in tune with the present moment and the energy and essence of each person. Again, I don't mind in-depth discussions but I also like a teacher who is well-rounded to be able to speak with average people too. That is a common trait I think with those who are awakened, as Buddha was known to be able to teach differently to whomever came before him. He understand that because of different karma, not everyone learned the same way. And so it is with the Dalai Lama as well. To read his other questions from the Time magazine article, click on this sentence.

UPDATE: My friend Markus wrote the following on Facebook in reply to my posting the above question regarding anger. I thought it would be a good addition to the post, "Marvellous, thank you! Sometimes certain Buddhists seem to think that feeling angry or outraged is non-Buddhist and it would be better to stay Holy and Pure all the time. "Look at me, I'm a Buddhist, I'm always smiling and singing Kumbayah!"

To which I replied:

@Markus. I agree. Yes, if we Buddhists were supposed to be "enlightened" just for being a "Buddhist" then why are we still living in samsara? Simply being Buddhist doesn't mean you don't get upset anymore about things. From my studies and contemplations I've found that It's about understanding your anger. Why are you angry? Contemplate and meditate upon it regularly. Embrace it in meditation with a compassionate mind of understanding. Don't heap on the guilt as that's just more anger--directed at you).

Doing this allows us to see what makes us angry. Thus, what to avoid in the future to reduce it in the future but pretending to not be angry isn't any healthier than spewing that anger about. So, rather than somehow being perfect and ignoring your anger, it's about how to LIVE with that anger. That living directly with anger is through the Buddhist teaching of mindfulness. When we are mindful of what set-off our anger we can better prepare for the next time, so that we over-time increase our abilities to react differently. However, to somehow expect to magically make your anger disappear for good is perhaps falling prey to another of the three poisons, delusion.

It's also not about ending pleasure from our lives as some Buddhists believe. I don't believe it's about living a sterile and sanitized life. It's fine to enjoy pleasure--otherwise we'd be nihilists, which we know Buddha advised against. No, the way I see it, pleasure is fine but the problem to guard against is becoming ATTACHED to that pleasure to where you suffer deeply without it. According to the teachers I've read and listen to--that's the essence of what Buddha meant when discussing "desire."

If we were to avoid ALL desire then don't we have to stop being Buddhist? Because at some level we Buddhists WANT to be Buddhists to end all the suffering in our lives. Isn't that very desire to end suffering, "non-Buddhist" if we are to follow the logic and admonitions of the Buddhists who say we shouldn't
desire anything or enjoy pleasure?

PHOTO CREDIT: Vincent J. Ricardel / Contour / Getty Images

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Burma Building Nukes.

A new investigation has revealed that Burma has begun a nuclear weapons program with the help of North Korea. A documentary made by the Norway-based group Democratic Voice of Burma says evidence has come from top-secret material smuggled out of the country over several years. The investigation found the south-east Asian country was a long way from producing a nuclear weapon, but had gone to great lengths to acquire the technology and expertise to do so. Read the full report: Click on this sentence.

The most important agreement that Burma must satisfy is its agreement with the IAEA. It signed an agreement with the IAEA in 1995 that it would not pursue nuclear weapons under a carefully defined standard international legal agreement. Burma has certified that it has no nuclear facilities, has minimal nuclear materials, and has no plans to change this situation. The information brought by Sai suggests that Burma is mining uranium, converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is trying to build a reactor and or an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb. There is no chance that these activities are directed at a reactor to produce electricity in Burma.

James: As we say here in America, "Arms are for hugging, not killing." The Burmese are starving and impoverished, yet the dictatorship would rather spend money on trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Burma is a good reminder of why politics often falls short because by nature it is based on power, which is an extension of greed--one of the three poisons in Buddhism.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

How Do Love Your Self if There is No-Self?

Buddha is well known for teaching that there is no such thing as a "self" but something I have struggled with for some time is, "how does self-love fit into that context?" My therapist is trying to help me love myself more because I don't always have the best self-esteem. I believe the Buddha too has taught about the importance of self-love.

So, my dilemma from a Buddhist standpoint is, "how can I "love" my "self" if attaching importance (which love does to a degree) to a sense of, "self" is delusion that causes suffering? That conversation with my doctor brought this to the surface, and I'm fairly perplexed by it. One is always learning on this path, so, I'd love to hear what your ideas are upon this conundrum of mine. I have some pretty wise readers, so I am hopeful that some of you can shed a little light upon my road-block (bowing).

~Peace to all beings~

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