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Monday, January 31, 2011

Colorado Town Allows Funeral Pyre Cremation.

CRESTONE, Colo. -- Belinda Ellis' farewell went as she wanted. One by one, her family placed juniper boughs and logs about her body, covered in red cloth atop a rectangular steel grate inside a brick-lined hearth. With a torch, her husband lit the fire that consumed her, sending billows of smoke into the blue-gray sky of dawn. The outdoor funeral pyre in this southern Colorado mountain town is unique. Funeral and cremation industry officials say they are unaware of any other place in the nation that conducts open-air cremations for people regardless of religion. A Buddhist temple in Red Feather Lakes, Colo., conducts a few funeral pyres, but only for its members. (Article by Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press)

James: I have long told family and close friends that my wishes upon death are to have my body cremated and the ashes spread through the four elements of nature: earth, fire, air and water. It is my hope that those ashes will be of benefit to the natural world that made this current life possible. It is a good reminder of the impermanence of life, and a powerful, visual aid to help us let go of the deceased. It seems as though it would help loved ones accept the reality of the death easier than dressing them in fancy clothes and applying make-up as though they are off to a party, rather than no longer alive. I feel that sealing that costumed corpse into a box, to bury in the ground, frozen in time, seems like it often makes the suffering of those left behind more painfully drawn out; leaving them lost to the enslavement of denial.

So, I am pleased to see my home state of Colorado taking the lead on allowing cremation by funeral pyre; especially when you consider the growing Buddhist population here who tend to favor cremation. I like the visual impact of it because so much of the death process in the West is hidden from view--even the current manner of cremating remains occurs behind closed doors. It seems very natural and fittingly appropriate for family and friends to be active participants in the disposal of the body. I don't think there is anything wrong with burying your family in the ground, if that's your style. However, I don't see why there should be laws outlawing cremation by funeral pyre if the proper regulations, authorities and guidelines are established. As well as a location deemed safe and sanitary for such a ceremony.

~Peace to all beings~

PHOTO: Cremation by funeral pyre in Crestone, Colorado, USA by Ivan Moreno for the Associated Press.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Food Review: Boca Original Meatless Chicken Nuggets.

If you're the kind of vegetarian, like myself, then you aren't a purist; preferring only the taste of vegetables. Even after 9 years of being vegetarian; I miss the taste of meat--yes, I know, a lot of vegetarians think that is blasphemy but it's purely about flavor. I don't want to kill or be complicit in the killing of animals for my food but I never hated the taste of meat. However, I do dislike the smell of cooking meat but I think that's from the animal fat burning.

Anyway, so, I eat faux meat products--in other words, fake meat products, to get my meat taste fix. These products are usually made from soy bean protein and wheat protein. A lot of the synthetic meat products on the market today are surprisingly close in taste--unlike in decades past.

The product I am reviewing today is Boca brand's meatless chicken nuggets; the actual name is, "Boca Original Meatless Chik'n Nuggets." I like to use them to make meatless buffalo wing chicken nuggets by marinating them in buffalo wing sauce. I usually eat the Morning Star brand of meatless nuggets, which are good but the Boca meatless chicken nuggets are better and much more scrumptious. They not only have have that real, sweet, chicken flavor but the texture isn't just a clump of soy meat. It's consistency is stringy, soft and tender like real chicken meat. It's not dry, tough, chewy or mushy like some soy protein products. I think they even taste better than McDonald's chicken nuggets--and without all the "mystery meat" questions that come-up with fast-food chicken nuggets.

Overall, they are delicious and I can't stop eating them!! Try them with barbecue sauce, buffalo wing sauce, soy sauce or cut them up into chunks to add to your salad. I give them 4 and 1/2, yummy stars out of 5--a must have for vegetarians who still like the taste of meat now and then. Please support them with your shopping dollars because we need to show these companies that we appreciate their products.

~Peace to all Beings~

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Suicides Account for Majority of U.S. Military Deaths; Surpassing Battlefield Deaths.

For the second consecutive year, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide, than it has to combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. That doesn't even include all the reservists. End the wars and improve mental health for our soldiers AND civilians. For too long, mental health has been the "dirty lil' secret" in America--it's time to speak out and be brave.

It's really easy to slap a yellow ribbon magnet onto your gas guzzling Hummer and lull yourself into a delusion that you're supporting the troops. Of course, everyone supports the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, but how about when they come home? All too often they fade from our memories and they are left to disappear into the shadows of loneliness, isolation and mental anguish. Our soldiers did their fighting abroad, and now that they are at home, it is up to us, the civilians they fought for, to stand up and fight for them. It is up to us, to support them, and to gain the top-notch, mental health care that they have earned and deserve.

I refuse to stand by and let our tormented veterans be ignored and shunned because of the battle wounds that have scarred their minds. I hate war and dislike that they have to go through war in the first place, but I love those soldiers more. We need to put our money where our mouth is on this issue--literally. Is it so hard to give of our wealth, so that these heroes will be given every bit of assistance they need, earned in blood and deserve? Or, is our support for them limited to those yellow magnets on our cars that are literally, "the least we can do" for them?

~Peace to all Beings~

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Let us Love One Another.

(Above: The famous "Tank Man" who stood down the might and power of the Chinese army during the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989).

Today I just want to reach out to whomever is reading and share a moment of humanity together.

I want to share today how much I love them. Regardless of political viewpoint, religion or non-religion. We are all human beings that deserve love, respect and tolerance. I call on all of us to make this year a peaceful one--we must stop insulting one another and actually listen to one another. We CAN work together--it has been done before, so we know it is possible.
My heart is brimming over with compassion for this wounded but beautiful world--if my arms were big enough I'd give the whole world a hug. We need to let go of our pride and heal one another because we're all each other has on this far-flung planet.

So, what can we do to heal this world? Well, not much on a global scale--we are pretty helpless as individuals toward changing global problems. However, we can affect great change in our own daily lives. These are the moments in grocery store when we can share a smile. Times when we can offer a hug and a patient ear to a friend who just had a bad day. These are things we can do daily--if not multiple times a day. And they make a difference. You may have no idea what sharing a smile with someone might do for their day. Maybe they're cynical about the world but that smile gave them hope that not everyone in the world is a jerk. Or maybe you shared some words of empathy with a depressed person and forgot the incident a day or two later but chances are those words were like giving water to a person parched with thirst from wandering in the desert. It might even save a life.

I can attest first hand to the power of a strangers smile, words of empathy or concern. I sometimes struggle with suicidal depression from having a psychiatric disorder, as many of you know. I can tell you that there were several times when the seemingly smallest thought of kindness gave me the strength to go on and live another day. We just don't have any idea what impact our words and actions will have on someone. So, don't disregard those few minutes of empathy that you shared on the bus with a person struggling. It might not seem it but one word of compassion can start a chain-reaction of interdependent causes that touch countless lives for the better. And that momentum builds, slower, but exponentially until one day we witness societal changes that would seem otherwise to have come from nowhere. Yet they didn't. They were a constant wearing down of hatred, anger and delusion like a seemingly weak trickle of water cracked a giant boulder into two pieces.

We don't have to be the next Nobel Peace Prize winner, a world leader, the Dalai Lama or a celebrity to bring hope, strength and confidence to millions of people. Recall the skinny, lone man who stood a column of tanks down during the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in China? His "small action" inspired countless people to challenge not just unjust authority and power but to challenge their own unjust oppression--around the world and beyond time because I am still being inspired years later in far away America from this man's action in the past. This could be the courage to leave a violent relationship, face our often crippling fears or inspire us to be better people to ourselves and those we interact with.

So, don't doubt yourself the next time you get the urge to show some kindness toward another. Don't blow it off thinking your few words couldn't help much because perhaps not to you in your present moment because you aren't in a state of torment at that time. However, to the person who those words would be directed toward, it could mean the difference between life and death. That is how we save lives. That is how we change the world for the better; sharing the present moment with another person to connect and share our common bond is about as powerful an action we can perform!!

~Peace to all beings~

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Assault Weapons, Violence and Anger.

(Above: Glock handgun with an extended magazine of bullets)

Why does anyone need an assault weapon except to kill people? True, it can be used at a gun range but the potential for misuse by an unstable person is too high. We need to re-ban assault weapons. They aren't needed or wanted when hunting. I'm all for protecting the 2nd amendment but believe that sensible restrictions should be in place too.

The shooter in AZ who killed or wounded a dozen people, including a duly elected Congresswoman, had an extended clip to his pistol, which means he had 30 bullets per clip!! That means he transformed a regular pistol into an assault weapon. Such a clip was banned under the assault weapons ban in America until 2004. It could have prevented this shooter from having 30 bullets, which would have greatly limited the damage. He was only tackled after he ran out of bullets. That would have been sooner had he only had a regular clip. I'm I'll for the right to have weapons and the right to hunt but I don't believe I'm a "radical" for wanting sensible restrictions.

Can assault weapons and extended clips still be found and/or bought? Yes, but it would make it harder and any thing we can do to make it harder will help reduce violence; not end it because that's nearly impossible but reduce it. It would also lower the lethality of an attack. Will it solve the problem completely? No, but we must do something to help curb the lethality of these attacks. In addition, we need to do better about screening people who shouldn't be allowed to carry weapons such as the mentally ill; for their own safety too due to high suicide rates. It's harder to get into college than it is to get a gun in some places!!

I don't think it's infringing upon anyone's right to bear arms to have sensible restrictions on a device that has the potential to kill mass people. Where do gun advocates suggest we draw the line? We don't allow people to have tanks or fighter jets that cause mass destruction but assault weapons of mass destruction are o.k.??? I don't want to ban your hunting rifle, your shotgun or your pistol, so don't accuse me of being anti-gun. I have many family members who own and enjoy guns--that's not my problem. I just want to make it harder for the unstable to get these kind of mass lethality causing weapons.

As a Buddhist who abhors violence, I struggle with how extensive gun laws should be. There is already enough violence and weapons on this planet to kill and evaporate every last man, woman and child. So, allowing people to own weapons and clips of bullets that add to that potential for mass death seems ludicrous. At the same time, it's important not to attach onto anger toward those who support the use of such weapons; anger never solves anything. If anything, it makes differences harder to reconcile.

The advisement from Buddha to avoid violence must extend to our speech but too often we (myself included) allow ourselves to wield angry words toward one another. In physical violence the person dies and thus the violence upon them is short but with angry words the violence upon them lasts sometimes for years. This is not to say physical violence is any less damaging but rather to show how angry words can do nearly as much damage to individuals. I struggle with anger and all too often succumb to it's primitive instinct but I will never give up in working to reduce and eliminate angry words. That doesn't mean we always have to agree with one another but we can disagree without being angry and disagreeable.

~Peace to all beings~

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Friday, January 07, 2011

Goals versus Desires in Buddhism.

Img2005-06-04_0032
Bridge at Japanese garden in Portland, Oregon. By James R. Ure. Creative Commons apply. You may use for non-commercial purposes only; with attribution to photographer.

I wrote this piece as a response to a commenter on my recent post about expectations, titled, "Letting Go of Expectations." They wanted to know how a person can still go about wanting to do certain things in life without desires. So, the following is my response, which I decided to make a post from in case others had the same question, because I did when I was first starting out on the Dharmic path: I think desires aren't necessarily "bad" but rather the attachment to them is what causes the suffering. The idea that we can't be happy without the constant fulfillment of our desires. It's a cyclical trap of suffering.

Instead of desires, I think a more skillful approach is to have goals. Goals are about setting achievable and realistic outcomes based on a flexible plan; grounded in the reality that not every detail might work out the way it was planned. So, that from the beginning you know that you might have to adjust those goals as you go along—in other words, with goals, you’re prepared for revisions.

Whereas, desires are based on pure craving and expectations, which demand a particular outcome to be happy. These expectations are unreasonable and will always let us down. And having placed, so much energy into the desired outcome we are devastated when they don't come true--and we suffer greatly. Again, with goals, we are ready or prepared for set-backs and have a back-up plan on what to revise in that instance. So, we aren’t as attached to a particular outcome with goals. We temper your desires in this manner.

The whole meaning of a desire is to dream big and have HUGE expectations that those dreams will unfold EXACTLY how we desire them to.

So, set manageable goals with back-up plans and you should be less driven and attached by desired expectations. That’s the way I understand the difference and how to go about planning and living life without being pulled into the unmanageable cravings of desire. I’m not a teacher though and I struggle with desires versus goals daily but I have picked up a small bit of knowledge and experience in my years of practicing Dharma. But I’m not an expert by any means. Still, I hope this advice helps.

~Peace to all beings~

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Ted Williams and his "Golden Voice."

-This is a longer post but it tells a great story of redemption and hope-

When I first came to Buddhism, nine years ago, it really hit me between the eyes and woke me up to a whole other way of viewing the world and navigating through it. It was refreshingly honest to hear a spiritual tradition come right out and admit that, "Life often sucks, but it doesn't have to cause you suffering." Obviously I'm over-stating the first noble truth that suffering is inevitable but it was refreshing to hear after when so many spiritual traditions today try to make life out to be some candy-land world where rainbows shoot out your ass. And, that if you're not constantly, "high on life" that something is wrong with you.

Life has many wonderful, high peaks to enjoy and savor to be sure. However, in America at least, it's a bit taboo to say life is often (but not always) full of suffering. It's considered being a "pessimist." It's not considered "polite" to admit to people when you're having a shitty day. You're supposed to lie when people as you how you're doing. You're supposed to put on a plastic, botox-infused grin and say, "I'm doing great, but I'll get better." Even if you don't mean it. But, thankfully, Buddha laid-out the three other noble truths to show us how to--not, "end suffering" but learn to live with it as a part of life so we aren't constantly feeling over-whelmed and consumed with it.

Well, one of the teachings in Buddhism is that all things are interconnected and that it is through those connections that we find ways to handle the suffering in life with a bit less torment. We don't have to, "go it alone." The Buddhist notion that we are interdependent and interconnected has been given a new incarnation with the internet. It has helped us reach out and connect with people all over the world and help one another navigate the rocks and whirlpools in this raging river of life. This globally interconnected community online, reached out and plunged it's far-reaching arms into the raging maelstrom of the deep, river of suffering and pulled a drowning brother up from the life-crushing undertow--and back onto the shore of hope.

Ted Williams was that man. Who is Ted Williams? No, not the famous baseball player. He was (up until a few days ago) a homeless man in Ohio, USA who had fallen on hard times and began begging for money to start a new life. But, a mindful (aware) journalist (Kevin Joy; an ironic name for an altruistic stranger) from the Columbus Dispatch newspaper stopped and saw the man's sign but said Williams would, "Have to work for his money." According to an article by Christian Red for the New York Daily News. What happened next brings chills of inspiration to my body. Mr. Williams belted out a monologue that one would expect to hear from a radio personality. Out of this raged, tired face came a golden voice for radio:
It turns out that he was a voice-over guy for radio back before he became addicted to drugs. He's been drug-free for two years now but needs a job to return to a better life. Well, Williams got his money for the voice-over ditty from the mindful man who stopped to talk to him. But he got so much more than that. Joy filmed this monologue and posted it on the internet, which went viral. People around the world listen to this man's talented voice, and job offers flooded in. Now he is entertaining offers from the National Football League and the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team!! Rod Mead Sperry over at Shambhala Sun informed me that he has since been hired by the Cavaliers.

So, while life sucks a lot of times, the great part is that we have a whole community to help us live through it and help us actually let go of a lot of trying to control things. And, when we let go, we often find a sense of peace, tranquility and acceptance with the way life unfolds. Letting go frees up our mind to be completely aware (mindful) and open to whatever comes, which often means we can see opportunities that might of passed us by when we were focused so much on how miserable we were. It's o.k. to acknowledge that life sucks sometimes; and it's healthy to admit that life isn't always going to be candy land because then we aren't so crushed when the our expectations don't come true. Expectations rarely do. The way of the Buddha is to live life without expectations--with an open heart. It's certainly never easy; and it's easier said than done but it's possible. That's the important thing. It's possible. It's been done before, and Buddha is that example.

Understanding interdependence helps us ride the storm out with others going through the same shit storm; and that makes all the difference. It helps to know you're not alone. Ted Williams let go of trying to force things but didn't give up and his radical acceptance of his situation allowed him to ride out his suffering until help could arrive. What an uplifting story in a modern world that is so full of ugliness.

~Peace to all beings~

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