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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Environmental Global Reset Button.

Recently Cambodian Buddhist monk Bun Saluth was honored by the United Nations for his environmental preservation work in preserving 18,000 acres of forest land in Cambodia. When asked about his monumental efforts he didn't hesitate to say that he was simply following Buddha's example (not just his words); When Buddha was still alive, he used trees and caves as lodging to obtain enlightenment. In this way, he has taught us to love the natural resources and wild animals.

Additionally, I would add that one of the most prominent reasons that Buddhists are often advocates for nature and animals is because of the core teachings upon interdependence. It's not so much protecting the trees out of a sense of moral superiority but rather a normal extension of being awake to the multi-layered essence of life on Earth. When we awaken to the reality that our very existence is dependent upon a healthy planet then it becomes obvious that protecting the trees (and the rest of nature) is an extension of being alive. It is also true that when we cultivate compassion for others we understand how balancing nature is integral in helping to reduce their suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh says in his new book, "The World We Have" that, The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way. Just like eating a bunch of sugar instead of a meal will give you a rush of artificially inflated energy followed quickly by a depressing physical crash; so to will trashing out planet lead to a crash of the "good times" followed by a deep and painful awakening to a very different world.

I've never been much of a doomsday alarmist but the over-consumption of just about everything by humanity is really starting to show and take its toll. Our greed has over-fished our oceans, poisoned our air, desecrated our forests and swollen our Earth with over-population. It is an unsustainable lifestyle and that centuries long, unskillful behavior is harvesting some sobering karma. I'm not the kind of person who stands on the corner of a busy street, ringing a bell and warning of the "end of the world" but I do see a radical change coming, and I believe awareness is the best tool to adapting.

I can see a time in the near future when our instant, electronic world will crash and fail like an old car in the Mohave desert. This will return us to a simpler way of life where the grocery store is a garden, where the animals are more valuable than cars and where being able to work with others in co-operation will mean the difference between survival and calamity. It won't destroy all of humanity but we'll have to relearn how to live a life similar to that before the industrial revolution, which will be a tough transition for some who lived the delusion that the party would go on forever. We lived through the ugly days of the "Dark Ages" when life was bleak and people died in droves and currently we're living a life of excess that is the exact opposite.

And interestingly, I think it might be a good thing for humanity to get this wake up call because it'll force us to hit the reset button on how we see the world and our resources. It will also mean that we don't have to live again in the "Dark Ages" but we also can't live the life of never-ending consumption either. We'll have to find that sweet spot, or the middle ground where life is the most sustainable. It'll be a shock at first but in the end I think we'll see that living the "hungry ghost" life of over-consumption was never really realistic in the first place.

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve.

They say that the body is a temple and I agree, which might seem odd to some spiritualists because in several religious traditions to mark the skin is considered desecration. I feel that the body is one of the most beautiful works of art known to the human eye and that it only seems natural to honor it by adorning it with meaningful and inspirational designs. Just like monks might adorn a temple with mantras, spires, statues, sculpted trim and other accents that express the sacredness of the Dharma practice unfolding within its walls.

And, so it is that I received my latest mark (seen above) to remind me of letting go of feeling separate from others and all forms of life expressing itself in this time and place that I find myself. It is the Heart Sutra mantra that speaks to that oneness. I'm not going to get into the specifics of the sutra and mantra in this post, but if you want to dig deeper then click on that link above "Heart Sutra mantra." Anyway, the tattoo is a constant, visual reminder to help me transcend the compartmentalization of life, which prevents us from being present and one with the inspiring potential of each moment. If seen with a mind anchored in pure, direct awareness there is no event incapable of being seen as beneficial to our practice.

I am mostly a visual learner and my Dharma tattoos serve (in part) as visual, symbolic teachers constantly reminding me of how to live with less suffering--Regardless of wherever the winds might carry me. It is like having my teacher with me on my arm at all times. It's very powerful as a reminder. However, more importantly they help remind me how to bring less suffering into the lives of those I know, love and meet. The tattoos allow me to bring the temple and the Dharma with me where ever I go. The fact that they are so visual and prominent makes them hard to ignore and forget their lessons like can happen to me with memorized lines that can easily drift off into the gray areas of my memory while caught up and absorbed in life's daily chaos.

Tattoos aren't for everyone and I would never hastily recommend marking your body with permanent ink. If you think you would like a tattoo, it's important to research ahead of time, understand the implications and make sure you get a design that you can live with for the rest of your life. As with any big decision it should be made with full awareness (mindfulness) of the process. Remember, these are the symbols and messages that will represent YOU as a person.

The script used for the tattoo is Siddham--a form of Sanskrit, which is an Indian language used heavily in Hindu and Buddhist literature. The design is by my Dharma brother, Jayavara. Thanks Brother Jayavara!!

ADDENDUM: The title of this post, "Wearing your heart on your sleeve" is a play on words. It is an American idiom that means someone who freely and openly express their feelings. In America at least the heart has been traditionally seen as the center of feelings, and being that it's located where my "sleeve" would be I thought it would be an witty title for this post.

~Peace to all beings~

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Monday, September 27, 2010

In Defense of the Kalama Sutra.

My writings lately on the Kalama Sutra being a Buddhist version of the "scientific method" have sparked a discussion about its essence. Found here. And, so, I decided to make a new post using my comments addressing the points of the readers Dylan and Jayavara. Dylan mentioned a discourse of the Kalama Sutra by the Theravadan monk Bhikkhu Bodhi. I won't speculate on Dylan's intentions in posting that link but I do disagree slightly with the Bhikkhu's analysis on the sutra. I want to make it clear that I'm not ascribing any of the following Bhikkhu Bodhi comments as being the same of Dylan. In the discourse, the Bhikkhu seems to reject the idea of using the Kalama Sutra as a guide for knowing when a teaching of Buddha's is helpful. Bhikkhu Bodhi said:

Now does the Kalama Sutta suggest, as is often held, that a follower of the Buddhist path can dispense with all faith and doctrine, that he should make his own personal experience the criterion for judging the Buddha's utterances and for rejecting what cannot be squared with it? It is true the Buddha does not ask the Kalamas to accept anything he says out of confidence in himself, but let us note one important point: the Kalamas, at the start of the discourse, were not the Buddha's disciples. They approached him merely as a counselor who might help dispel their doubts, but they did not come to him as the Tathagata, the Truth-finder, who might show them the way to spiritual progress and to final liberation.

James: I am not saying in my post that Buddhists should dispense with all faith and doctrine because of this sutra. I think you should be balanced with both faith and reason. As for this sutra being specifically for the Kalama people and not applying to actual Buddhists; I would disagree because many who first read the sutra are already Buddhist practitioners. Additionally, to say that certain sutras are only for Buddhists and others for non-Buddhists is a form of dividing people and denying the oneness of all beings that Buddha taught. All of us can learn from the sutras whether we are full blown, card carrying, Buddhist or just investigating Buddhism. To say some teachings are just for Buddhists seems somewhat elitist. All of us come to Buddha to dispel our doubts and answer our questions of life. Not just Kalamas. To suggest otherwise is to say that Buddhists don't need to dispel doubts or answer questions. It seems to suggest that Buddhists already have it all figured out, which clearly isn't true.

Bhikkhu Bodhi goes on to say: Thus, because the Kalamas had not yet come to accept the Buddha in terms of his unique mission, as the discloser of the liberating truth, it would not have been in place for him to expound to them the Dhamma unique to his own Dispensation: such teachings as the Four Noble Truths, the three characteristics, and the methods of contemplation based upon them. These teachings are specifically intended for those who have accepted the Buddha as their guide to deliverance, and in the suttas he expounds them only to those who "have gained faith in the Tathagata" and who possess the perspective necessary to grasp them and apply them.

James: Here the Bhikkhu seems to be saying that the four noble truths are only for Buddhists. How then do you teach someone about Buddhism (as the 4 noble truths are apart of the very foundation of Buddhism) without mentioning the four noble truths? The idea that Buddha would categorize those seeking his wisdom doesn't jive with my own experience and with other teachings of his in other sutras. And I gain that insight from using the admonitions in the Kalama sutra to use (in-part) one's own experiences and observations as a guide. Not the only guide but a necessary tool to help figure out what makes causes less harm and what doesn't. Then Bhikkhu Bodhi seems to contradict himself and agree with the line of thinking that I was expounding upon.

Thus the discourse to the Kalamas offers an acid test for gaining confidence in the Dhamma as a viable doctrine of deliverance. We begin with an immediately verifiable teaching whose validity can be attested by anyone with the moral integrity to follow it through to its conclusions, namely, that the defilements cause harm and suffering both personal and social, that their removal brings peace and happiness, and that the practices taught by the Buddha are effective means for achieving their removal. By putting this teaching to a personal test, with only a provisional trust in the Buddha as one's collateral, one eventually arrives at a firmer, experientially grounded confidence in the liberating and purifying power of the Dhamma. This increased confidence in the teaching brings along a deepened faith in the Buddha as teacher, and thus disposes one to accept on trust those principles he enunciates that are relevant to the quest for awakening.

James: Here he seems to be backing up the idea of using the Kalama Sutra as a "control" to assess further the core of Buddha's wisdom and enlightenment. He calls it an "acid test" (which is a scientific test). Just like the idea of it being a form of the "scientific method." In the end, you have to make up your own mind about this sutra by putting it to the test. Like all of the Buddha's teachings in the Sutras. While I do put a lot of weight behind the Kalama Sutra I also advocate (as the Bhikkhu does) cultivating faith and adhering to doctrine that one finds helpful. I don't agree that the Kalama Sutra only applies to non-Buddhists. If it's not a sutra that Buddhist practitioners should listen to then why is it in the "sanctioned" Pali Canon?

Then, my friend Jayavara said the following when addressing my last post: I think we are in danger of over cooking the (so-called) Kālāma Sutta. Yes, it is a charter for an empirical approach, but to what?. But there are quite a number of limitations on this approach. The Buddha seems to be only talking about the moral sphere in that discourse. He is telling the Kālāmas that they should decide what is ethical on the basis of what they know to be good. There was then, as now in our societies, some doubt as to the basis of morality. Specifically moralities based on ideas of karma and rebirth of which there were a number of variations at the time.

This can be seen in the varied ways that karma is talked about in the Pāli texts themselves, and in texts which are likely to date from near that time like the early Upaniṣads, particularly the Bṛhadāranyaka. The Buddha was suggesting natural morality to the Kālāmas - i.e. that they don't go on ideology, but on "what they know to be right". But I don't think he goes beyond this into the sphere of meditation or wisdom and there we cannot use it as a measure for judging any teachings per se, but only for judging the suitability our own actions.
Because of the subjective nature of Buddhist morality - it's all about what's going on your mind when you act - it makes applying the scientific method quite difficult. Science is all about repeatability and on the level of individual actions, none is ever repeatable.

So we tend to look in hindsight, and to try to assess actions collectively. At best it gives us broad brush strokes like: "refrain from acting when angry otherwise you will cause harm, or at least unhappiness." This is indeed the kind of truism that 'social scientists' come up with after years of research, which make us wonder why we fund such 'science'.
I've trained in both disciplines - Science (I have a B.Sc in chemistry) and Buddhism. I do find some cross fertilisation. But it's more a spirit of enquiry and observation, than a full blown application of scientific method. And since it is all very subjective, all about knowing my own mental states, the scientific method has little to get a purchase on. In short there is nothing to measure. Learning from experience is not necessarily the scientific method - everyone does it. The only way to know if a teaching 'works' is to try it out for yourself.

James: Just because Buddha is mainly speaking to the Kalamas about karma and rebirth doesn't mean that the wisdom can't be applied to other teachings that one is doubting or investigating. For example, the heart sutra applies to many situations. As does the Diamond sutra and others. I think compartmentalizing his teachings as addressing only the people he is directly speaking to in a particular sutra; and about only that specific situation presented, is limiting the impact of the Dharma. We are limiting the Buddha's scope. Faith also requires us to have faith in ourselves that we can adapt Buddha's teachings to guide us in all situations. Otherwise, none of us should be following ANY of the sutras because they were all spoke to people that are long dead. So how can any of the sutras apply to us if we are to only look at them in the context of who he was historically addressing?

To teach otherwise seems to be focusing more on protecting a particular tradition or dogma than encouraging direct experience based on the faith in Buddha as a wise teacher. As we know, there are many varied schools of Buddhism. So, if it's possible to have such diverse styles of practicing the Dharma then surely it's possible to interpret the sutras several ways. And apply them to several time periods and situations. It feels like limiting the scope of Buddha's wisdom. I would only somewhat disagree with you that all actions aren't repeatable. If Buddha is specifically saying in the Kalama Sutra that testing his teachings will help you realize whether they help cause less harm or not then I think testing them to see if greed (for example) causes harm is pretty repeatable. As millions throughout varied ages have discovered the same reality that greed is harmful using the directions from Buddha to not accept anything that causes you harm.

I don't mean to say that the advice in the Kalama Sutra is EXACTLY like the scientific method. But that there are similarities, which would seem to be beneficial in understanding the wisdom of the Dharma to the modern mind that is so influenced by science. I agree that the only way to know if a teaching works is to try it. Just like the only way to know if a scientific hypothesis is right is to try it in a test. That's why I compared such advice to the scientific method. Again, they aren't exactly the same but both provide a way to test ideas based on direct, concrete actions. I also don't suggest that we should only follow our direct experience and intuition. Of course, faith and trust in our teachers is important as well.

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO CREDIT: Students in the Emory Tibet Science Initiative take turns, looking through a microscope. Emory University.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Having the Kalama Sutra as a Foundation.

My last post mentioned the Kalama Sutra and a discussion in the comment section had me analyzing this fundamental sutra further. Doug commented how the Kalama Sutra hit him like a bolt and is aiding him in gaining a deeper, and wider awareness of the Dharma.

I have mentioned here before that I have been (and still am) deeply influenced by science. I don't agree with some Buddhists who say the Dharma and science have nothing in common, or shouldn't in fact interact. I think the Kalama Sutra teaches otherwise. That is because it is an early form of the scientific method. It's similar in my mind to a, "scientific control" which allows one to access a particular process (Dharma practice) without too much bias from other influences. In Buddhist practice we're talking about such biases as our ego, an overly controlling teacher or peer pressure.

The Kalama Sutra gives us a framework to judge teachings by to see if they work. Including all the other sutras. In my opinion, it is the jumping off point for continued analysis of the other sutras. Others encourage starting from the Heart Sutra or the Diamond Sutra. I adore the Heart Sutra, and the others but I find that understanding the Kalama Sutra first to be a great help in understanding the others. But I digress. Do the teachings help me and the people around me suffer less? Do they help bring happiness and peace into life? The Buddha is advising us to test his teachings and those of all teachers that come after him because otherwise we are simply parroting someone else. It doesn't end suffering to simply be able to parrot someone else and recite all the teachings ever written or committed to memory. That's simple obedience and memorization. That takes you nowhere but back into the arms of the ego.

We have to experience it for ourselves. We have to let our minds marinate in their essence and observe how they affect our daily lives and interactions. If the teachings help us be nicer, happier and much more peaceful people; and if they help us suffer less than we know that what has been taught to us is beneficial and worth continuing to learn from. If, however, a teacher makes us feel worse about ourselves or contradicts our direct experience on the matter then you can know that the teacher is leading you astray.

The Buddha didn't want people to follow him or worship him but rather he wanted his fellow siblings (us) to experience the peace and relief from suffering that he experienced. Thus, because of this humble sharing of a sincere person he shows us that he is not Buddha because of some desire for self-aggrandizement or other stroking of the ego. Encouraging people to test his teachings and those who claim to follow in his tradition is the exact opposite of the blind obedience that some religious traditions engender. Where others want to tell you what to think, (and what to ignore) Buddha invites us to follow his map and see for ourselves if it leads anywhere beneficial. It's in our own hands and any teacher who won't encourage or allow for direct experience in their teachings is not one who would seem to fully understand the Buddha's invitation.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Putting Buddhist Leaders on a Pedestal.

It isn't a secret that some in the west have an infatuation with Buddhism. It is still relatively new to the majority of Americans, having only really been absorbed by the white populations that make up most of the country since the 1950s. So, it still is in a bit of a honeymoon phase where for some in these white populations put the teachers on pedestals. For my non-American readers that means thinking that a certain person is perfect, so much so that you're willing to look past obvious faults because you're blinded by hero worship.

This is fueled I believe in large part by the false perception by some in the west that Buddhist teachers are all enlightened and that thus, they can do nothing wrong. This leads to schisms in some Buddhist communities between those who are deluded by the charm and title of a monk, and those who see that same teacher's obvious bad behavior. I won't go into the particulars but a prime example of this in the Zen Buddhist community is the case of Eido Shimano.

Since Buddhism in Asia has been around for millennia, it seems a healthy dose of skepticism and discernment has fermented. Take for example the case of the morally bankrupt monk, Osel Tendzin as brought to us by Katy Butler's great article titled, "Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America," Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities," said Dr. Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social . . . who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans. . . . "In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedes­tal . . . if such a scandal [as Osel Tendzin's] had happened in Tibet [he] might have been driven from the valley."

Furthermore, Tibetans may "demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a [teacher], but they won't necessarily do what he says. I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends," (said Dr. Aziz, in the Butler article), "than among Westerners."

These quotes were used in an excellent article by Russ Wellen found on The Buddhist Channel website. Ms. Butler goes onto add a quote by the Dalai Lama about Sangha teachers and monks that I think should be read by all western Buddhists, "I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one's Spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action as divine or noble. . . . if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior."

I am reminded yet again here of the beautiful, yet simple and widely applicable Kalama Sutra that forms the foundation of my Buddhist practice. In particular, Buddha's charter on free inquiry. It is what grounds me when I find myself getting too caught up in the dogma and cult of personalities that sometimes form in Buddhist circles:

It is proper for you, Kalamas, [the people Buddha was addressing were the Kalamas] to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.(emphasis added by James).

Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.
The commentary from the Sinahlese monk, Soma Thero, that prefaces the charter adds additional reasoning as to why the Kalama Sutra is so fundamental for myself and many Buddhists today who come to the practice from a tradition of the scientific method. For it is difficult sometimes to access the validity of a belief system without a standard to judge it by. The charter in the Kalama Sutra provides just that to seekers:

"The Kalama Sutta, which sets forth the principles that should be followed by a seeker of truth, and which contains a standard things are judged by, belongs to a framework of the Dhamma; the four solaces taught in the sutta point out the extent to which the Buddha permits suspense of judgment in matters beyond normal cognition. The solaces show that the reason for a virtuous life does not necessarily depend on belief in rebirth or retribution, but on mental well-being acquired through the overcoming of greed, hate, and delusion."

UPDATE: Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn't expect our leaders to adhere to moral standards but that we shouldn't allow the misdeeds of some leaders to drive us away from the Buddhadharma. It is the Dharma that is enlightened--not necessarily teachers and monks. It is a reminder as well to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when evaluating Dharma teachers before we submit to their advice and authority.

~Peace to all beings~

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex.

I was honored to review a copy of Brad Warner's new book titled, Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. I have yet to finish the book but it's a page turner, eye opener and refreshing expose on the confluence of Buddhism and sexuality. As someone who has long had sexual scars from the upbringing of the religion of my youth; I have long contemplated upon how as a Buddhist I should approach sexuality.

Until this book, most of what I have read about Buddhism and sexuality has come from celibate monks and nuns. These monastics are some of the most enlightened people on Earth yet it is still difficult for me to take sexual advice from someone who has probably never known sexuality in much of any form.

The other obstacle I have had difficulty navigating at times when dealing with sexuality and Buddhism is that it is often intertwined with traditional Asian culture, which sometimes makes it confusing for a western Buddhist (and when I say "western Buddhist" I include westerners of Asian backgrounds that might feel they can relate to their western culture sometimes more than their Asian one. Not that all do, or should. I'm just pointing out that not all "western Buddhists" are white). Anyway, It's not that I find Asian culture inferior in the least. It is a beautiful culture that I admire deeply and happily learn from daily. In fact, in many ways I find much of what Asian culture has to offer to be desperately lacking in western societies like here in America.

Still, when it comes to sexuality it was very helpful (for me) to hear it talked about in western terms, with western references to western pop culture--and from someone of my generation, Brad Warner. It's just the culture that I understand most. Please don't think I assume that only westerners understand sexuality because that's not my intention. I'm simply talking about in the way I understand most--keep that in mind. I don't mean to insult someone, so if you find anything in this post offensive; please forgive my ignorance. Something to note from the book, (I'm not dishing out all the saucy stuff here -- you have to buy the book--sorry) Warner is coming from Zen Buddhism, which sometimes is less rigid about sexuality than perhaps some other sects. In addition, it is Zen from Japan, which Warner reminds us often allows monastics to marry. So, keep that context in mind when deciding if to read it or not.

Also, a quick warning to those who might have "virgin ears" (to throw in a pun) when it comes to sexuality. This book doesn't speak about it in medical terms, and thankfully, so to those of us who aren't doctors. Warner, refreshingly, for me, uses modern terminology and examples that permeate the younger generations today. Yes, it is sometimes makes you blush but since when did sexuality become a subject you could address properly without a little sensual feeling? I adore the monks but when I hear them talk about sexuality it's been so denuded (sorry, another pun) that you can hardly tell if what they're addressing is in fact, sex!! It seems that sexuality is one topic that some Buddhists feel is taboo or unimportant. Notice I said, "some" Buddhists--not all, of course see it this way.

This book reminds me of the old, American, book, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask" that taught a lot of Americans about sexual intimacy. Except that this is the Zen Buddhist, modern punk version!! Warner addresses everything from "Are Zen Buddhists allowed to masturbate? Are they allowed to look at pornography? Is there wiggle room with celibacy? Or, Sex and Karma, Sex and Suffering, Sex and No-Self. As well as, Zen Dating and Marriage Advice. And even talk about "mindful sex!!" Incidentally, I like Warner's take on mindfulness in this book where he says perhaps a better phrase is "being present" as, "When you say, 'I am mindful of (fill in the blank),' you are already creating separation between you and your activities. True mindfulness is when you let go of the idea of mindfulness and just do whatever it is you happen to be doing" (emphasis added by James).

Warner believes as I do that it isn't the sex itself that's a problem but the clinging to sex. Or becoming so attached to sex that you can't enjoy anything else in life. Too often sex gets thrown out at the same time as the desire for it but sex can be engaged in with total awareness of everyone involved and based on the middle-way. His teacher, Gudo Nishijima Roshi rephrases the third precept as, "Do not desire too much" rather than "Do not misuse sexuality." Bodhidharma, the fifth-century Buddhist monk traditionally cited as the founder of the Zen school, said, "There is nothing to grasp. Not giving rise to attachment is the precept of not misusing sexuality."

The last thing I want to address before leaving you swirling with sex and Zen in your mind is that not all of this book is just about sex. It's so much more than that. It's above all a book of how to enjoy sexuality as a Zen Buddhist and do it with doing the least amount of harm as possible to you and others. This is where Right Intention comes in. If your intention toward sexuality is out of love and not pure selfishness then enjoy!! Buddhism isn't just austerity and reverence after all!! Believe it or not, (after seeing some of the dour, serious and painful faces on some American Buddhists in sanghas) Buddhists do allow for fun and happiness!! If someone tells you that Buddhism is no fun at all and nothing but pain then I might recommend you read Brad Warner's book.

That's all I can say because I want you to get the full barrage of Warner's nod to the sensual side of Zen Buddhist life. To give away any more of the saucy bits would be to ruin the fun!! I highly recommend this book to anyone with a sense of humor, the ability to not take life too seriously and a sincere desire to better understand sexuality in Zen Buddhism. I give it a 9.5 out of 10--one of my favorite contemporary Buddhists books in a long while.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Growing Pressure on European Union for a United Nations Investigation of Burmese Regime.

From the U.S. Campaign for Burma:

Pressure on the European Union (EU) to support an UN investigation into crimes against humanity in Burma is growing. This week three prominent dissident groups in Burma, the All Burma Monks Alliance, the 88 Generation Students and the All Burma Federation of Student Union sent an open letter to the EU asking for their support. The pressure is working--just this week Hungary announced it supports the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in Burma!

Right now, the EU is drafting a resolution on Burma that it will introduce at the UN General Assembly meeting (UNGA) which will begin on the 3rd week of September. We need your help to make sure this resolution calls for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into Crimes Against Humanity in Burma. We need you to call the ambassadors again as soon as possible.

This is long over due. There have already been 19 UN General Assembly resolutions on Burma since 1991, but none have mentioned the Commission of Inquiry and none have taken serious action. Following UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana's call for the investigation this March, some of the UN's most powerful players, including the US and UK, have endorsed his recommendation. Support for the Commission of Inquiry is the highest it has even been. But this is not enough, we need the EU, a major sponsor of the draft resolution on Burma, to include the call for the Commission of Inquiry in this UNGA resolution.

Below, we have included instructions on how to call or email.

Myra Dahgaypaw

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Health, Disease, Karma and Past Lives.

It seems that karma is one of the least understood principles of Buddhism. Yet, at its core it is not too dissimilar to Newtons third law of motion, which says that for every action there is a reaction. Thus, in essence karma is nothing different than cause and effect, which isn't as mystical and confusing as some might think. It stands to reason that if I hit my friend in the head with a hammer that there will be a reaction--and rightly so!!

At times though we can become obsessed with our karma wondering what previous action led to any number of things we're currently obsessed about: A disease we might be living with, a state of poverty or a perceived lack of talents. Believe me I've spent way too many nights wondering what I did "wrong" in a past life to develop a severe psychiatric condition but that's just not a good use of my time.

The problem is that karma is such an all-encompassing, timeless, constant process that it's nearly impossible to isolate what previous action led to a present condition that causes us particular suffering. There is karma at work that happened thousands of years ago. Plus, not everything is caused by karma. We know that the human form is the most suitable form to understand the Dharma in but it's not without its downsides. Some things, like sickness are just apart of the human condition regardless of who we were or are now as Buddha found out early: We get sick, we age and then die. So, it quickly becomes pointless to try and figure out what came from where. It will merely cause additional stress and suffering, which will do nothing to improve our current condition that we were suffering from originally before we started a forensic investigation into our past karma.

Physical disease is particularly hard to pin down because we are all destined for disease from our first breath as an infant. The minute we take our first breath, the countdown to death begins. That might be shockingly morbid to some of you but if you contemplate upon it you might find it frees you up to enjoy the present moment rather than obsessing about death and disease. We always seem to ask "why" when we have a major disease but not when we just have a simple sickness like a cold or the flu. Why, not? Because we simply understand that the human condition is frail and sickness is inevitable.

Yet somehow when we get a severe disease we think the severity means it must be punishment for something we did. The question becomes, "What did I do to deserve this?" The ego-mind wants some serious infraction to cling to because that would make sense to its limited and deluded nature but the real answer to that question of, "What did I do to deserve this?" is simply that you were born a human. That's it. I know, it's not a particularly exciting answer but that's the point. The ego-mind is looking for some exciting, unique reason for it. So, that even though the body is sick, at least it will get to feel important because some guru said the sickness was from some mysterious past life. It's silly isn't it when you think of it that way? It's not that we are trying to sound important--we just want to know why we're sick so we can feel better but the ego is so subtle that it can control us like a puppet and we're often none the wiser. That's why paying attention to our thoughts through meditation is so important. So that we can practice on being aware of our ego more and more.

This is important to remember when it comes to one's health because it can be easy to feel discouraged if we assume a disease we live with now is because of some terrible action we committed in the past. The point of Buddhism is not to figure out what we did wrong in the past but to stay centered in the present moment, so that we add as little additional burden to our karmic backpack as possible. Why worry if something in your past caused you to get sick? That won't help heal your disease but it will cause stress, which makes any illness worse. This reminds me of a famous lesson from Buddha, which goes something like this: A man gets struck with a poisoned arrow and the doctor wants to get it out as soon as possible and reverse the spread of the poison. Instead, the man shot by the arrow says first he wants to know who shot it, what kind of arrow is it? How was it made? Where did the wood for the arrow come from? Where did the poison come from, and what kind is it? But by the time the man finds this out he'll be dead.

Worrying about the past won't change anything--what's done is done. If you feel you did something less than helpful in a past life (or just yesterday) then don't worry about it; just live now the best way you can. Because you can't heal your physical self now without letting go of having to know all those "poisoned arrow" questions. Buddhism is about the present because it is the only time we have. We can waste our entire lives living in the past and I know some old people who have been lost to the ravages of that kind of worry. They are empty shells of people who are so balled up with stress and regret that they hardly know what is going on presently. They spent so much time lost in their past memories that even they have almost become a memory. Live in the now, not the past because we aren't guaranteed a tomorrow.

~Peace to all beings~

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