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Monday, November 19, 2012

President Obama Visits Wat Pho Monastery in Bangkok, Thailand.

The above image is one of my favorite pictures of late. U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Clinton recently visited Wat Pho monastery and head-monk, Chaokun Suthee Thammanuwat in Thailand, Bangkok (link). The American leaders both observed the Buddhist tradition of removing shoes before ending a temple. In the blue trousers is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The one wearing socks and dark blue slacks is President Obama. The head-monk is the one wearing orange.

I find this image so striking and full of lessons. The photo is poignant reminder that regardless of our station in life, we are all sentient beings having the same worth and importance. If I didn't mention the names, we'd never know who those feet represent. In this angle, President Obama isn't the most powerful man in the world but simply another sentient walking the path of life.

The picture evokes letting go of our egos and the self-important images we sometimes display. This photo transcends their lofty titles of president, secretary and monk to expose them as being just like the rest of us. They must walk the path of samsara like all of us. They have weaknesses, attachments and set-backs like any other human being, regardless of their importance. How wonderful a lesson it is to view life from alternative perceptions and angles. In this case, literally!!

~i bow to the buddha within all beings~

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Most Buddhist Cities in America.

According to the study, [by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB)] close to 75 percent of Buddhist congregations are located in metropolitan areas with population greater than a million. Of these metro areas, the researchers found San Jose to be the most Buddhist city with approximately 1.25 percent identifying as a Buddhist adherent. The researchers found the greater area of Birmingham, AL to be the least Buddhist city with only 0.006 percent identifying as a Buddhist adherent.
The list includes 50 cities, so I'll post the top ten and rest you'll find in the full article (link):

1). Metro area: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
2). San Diego, CA
3). San Francisco, CA
4). Seattle, WA
5). Los Angeles, CA
6). Sacramento, CA
7). Las Vegas, NV
8). Oklahoma City, OK
9). Denver, CO
10). Raleigh, NC

Being from the Denver area, I was interested to see it listed in the top 10. It makes sense considering the strong presence of the Tibetan Buddhist, Shambhala tradition here. There is a Shambhala shrine known as "The Great Stupa" in the mountains northwest of Denver. In addition, the city of Boulder is home to the Buddhist university, Naropa. There are also a lot of Vietnamese-Buddhist immigrants in the Denver metro area.

I was surprised that Oklahoma City made the list, and I was shocked that New York City didn't make the top 10. It came in at number 17--just below Salt Lake City!! The following is the how they came up with these rankings:
The researchers define adherents to be those with an affiliation to a congregation including children, members and attendees who are not members, and believe that the adherent measure is the most complete and comparable across religious groups. Congregations are defined as groups of people who meet regularly at a pre-announced time and location.
The least Buddhist cities include: Birmingham, Alabama and Cincinnati, Ohio.

~gassho~

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Meditation Guilt.

(gassho)

As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been away. I needed a break. I took some time to empty my mind of everything Buddhist and simply live my life. I was holding onto Buddhism too tightly and needed to let go for awhile, so that I didn't loose perspective. It was a great reminder that even Buddhism itself can be an attachment. The time-off has reinvigorated my mind, my writing and commitment to the Dharma.

Today I wanted to write about meditation guilt. What do I mean by "meditation guilt?" Well, often the perception in western society of Buddhism is a religion centered upon meditation. Hollywood gives the impression that Buddhists are epitomized by a statuesque monk sitting endlessly for hours. While that is partly true, most can not maintain the commitment and practice of monks--they are essentially the professional athletes of meditation. If we expect to meditate like the monks do then we are surely setting ourselves up for disappointment, disillusionment and failure.

Traditionally, meditation hasn't been as central to the average Buddhist's life as is often the case in America. Kusala of the "Urban Dharma" blog elaborates:
For the most part, laity in immigrant Buddhism, like laity in Asia, don't engage in meditation -- a practice for the ascetic monks who are imitating the Buddha's lifestyle of renunciation. They don't expect to become enlightened beings like the Buddha.
Yet it seems a lot of "American Buddhists" are obsessed with meditation. I think some feel that meditation is a bit like prayer in Christianity. The perception being, if you aren't meditating daily then you are somehow "failing" as a Buddhist. The truth, of course, is that expecting to meditate daily like the monks is like expecting yourself to run a marathon without the time, body and training that regular runners can afford to give to their fitness. Monks have the luxury of not having a job and living in an environment where all worldly burdens are stripped, enabling the kind of focus and dedication needed to maintain a steady, meditation regime.

Does that mean meditation is pointless for non-monks? Or, that we shouldn't meditate? No, not at all. I think any monk would encourage meditation but I think we have too many expectations about meditation. We have to be realistic if we are going to stay committed to the Dharma, long-term. We expect ourselves to live up to a standard that few can do, and when we can't do it we punish ourselves with guilt. The guilt is truly unnecessary when you simply accept that you don't need to worry so much about enlightenment in this lifetime. Unless you are a monk, most of us Buddhists are just trying to be a better person for not just family, friends and strangers but for ourselves, too. Meditation is a wonderful way to re-calibrate and remind ourselves to stop and enjoy the moment. As well as the beauty and peace of being alive, in this moment, together--as one.

If a lay Buddhist finds they can, and want to meditate daily then by all means continue. I encourage meditation as a beneficial tool in dealing with the chaos of societal demands for greed, hatred and delusional thinking. However, don't expect yourself to be the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh or even the average monk. I am of the belief that the number of monastics is low compared to the general population because their karma has prepared them for this moment for countless lifetimes. We don't have to become monks or "marathon meditation masters" to benefit to be faithful Buddhists.

Use this life to become better people, so that perhaps in a future life we will be ready, able and willing to reborn into better circumstances. The beauty, compassion and optimism about Buddhism is that we can be reborn anew each lifetime, so that we have plenty of opportunities to develop along the path of enlightenment. I think a lot of convert Buddhists (who are former Christians, like myself) still harbor the absolutism of that belief system. We haven't fully abandoned the subconscious fear of "not getting it right" in this one lifetime. In Christianity, of course, there is only this lifetime to "get it right" and if you "fail," that's it--no more chances. I think we still harbor that "all or nothing" mentality as newly converted Buddhists, which is often carried over into our expectations of meditation practice.

If you can meditate daily then obviously you'll get more from such a regular practice, but even irregular meditation can bring benefits. The key is to not feel guilty because you can't meditate like the monks--not many can. You aren't a "bad Buddhist" if you can't formally meditate daily. Besides, there are numerous forms of meditation, such as walking meditation. As you walk, you focus on your breath to be fully present in the moment and aware of the oneness between yourself, the natural world and those you encounter upon your walks. As well as being aware of how we are apart of the greater family or sangha of humanity. It is an active form of meditation that the physically restless often find easier and more beneficial. If you need other suggested ways of meditation, look into the writings and teachings of Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh.

~I bow to the Buddha within you all~

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