Last Flight of the Crow

 

Well, that about does it for me.

I started this blog for many reasons, but now I have none to sustain my writing here. I just have run out of things to say, and as I’m still such a beginner as far as Zen is concerned, I find I have nothing left to offer here. I don’t have a sangha or teacher or zendo nearby to inspire posts. I have been infrequent at best with meditation. Intellectual Buddhism will only get one so far, and at times I find myself going too far in that direction. And I have no desire to jump on the latest Buddhist blogger meme to throw my 2 cents in. Once upon a time I certainly did, but as I go back and read those posts I just shake my head and laugh and think how silly most of these situations really were. I just don’t have anything left to offer as far as Buddhist blogging is concerned.

As my life moves in a new direction, so too will my blogging.

I’ve started a new blog, Cascadia Nation. If you’re at all interested in checking it out, I’d advise reading the different “about” pages there. If you choose to follow, great! If it isn’t your cup of tea, no sweat! I’ve loaded up a couple of my previous posts there, but I have a new post up today about the Occupy movement. I’m also still posting photos and dharma tidbits at my tumblr site Dharma Snapshots. I’ll leave the posts here up just because I’ve had it requested.

Thanks for all the comments and discussion here. If you haven’t already, please check out some of the sites I’ve linked to over on the right.

 

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

PS: for those of you that might follow me on twitter, I’ve changed my handle there to @AdamInCascadia . I’ve been meaning to make it more personalized for awhile, so there.

 

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The Practice of Contemplative Photography

The Practice of Contemplative Photography

by Andy Karr and Michael Wood

Shambhala Publications

As some of you may know, I am a bit of an amateur photographer. I came acrossed this book a year or two ago when I was browsing the Shambhala website, looking at what books they had upcoming. I was sent a digital copy of this book for review, but decided right away to buy it. This is huge. Other than my school books, I haven’t bought a brand new book in years. But this was extraordinary from the first images I saw. Plus, it’s a photography book. You need to hold this thing in your hand.

But it would be wrong to call this just a photography book, or just a book aimed at photographers. All students of Buddhism could appreciate this book. And that’s because contemplative photography isn’t about photography, it’s about seeing. It is a practice that directs our awareness away from conceptual thinking, and focuses it into an art form. From the book:

The practice of contemplative photography connects us with this nonconceptual awareness and strengthens that connection through training. The practice itself has three parts, or states. First we learn to recognize naturally occurring glimpses of seeing and the contemplative state of mind. Next we stabilize that connection through looking further. Finally we take photographs from within that state of mind.

The pictures alone in this book are worthy of any coffee table, certainly. But when a closer look is taken, the images inspire and help you to focus on the ordinary in extraordinary ways. I can’t reccomend this book enough. Again, this book is not just for photographers, but for everyone who wishes to see clearly.

But for the photographers out there, the book offers five different “assignments” to help in this art form. I’ve included some of the photos I’ve taken below for each different assignment.

Light

Color

Texture

Space

Simplicity

If you’re looking for more on contemplative photography, please visit the following sites:

Seeing Fresh - a website set up as sort of an extension of the book. There are discussions happening there, as well as a place where you can upload your own photos for the different assignments. I have a few photos up there too.

Shambhala Archives – Chögyam Trungpa’s photography - a collection of the late master’s work

Measart - a great photographer that has some very vivid contemplative photography

Dharma/Arte - A Brazillian (site is in both Portuguese and English) site that blends art, creativity, and dharma. A wonderful project.

108 Zen Books Tumblr blog – another dharma practitioner’s artful tumblr blog

Video of an Interview with author Andy Karr on Shambhala Sunspace

Seer Seeing Seen - my friend Shane’s tumblr blog with some great photography

Of course, there’s my tumblr blog where I post my photos and other dharma tidbits as well.

And on October 15th, there will be a live broadcast on the web with author Andy Karr. Click here for more information on that. 

Cheers.

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Searching for The Crow

I was going through some old posts, trying to decide which ones to copy and archive, and decided to look at some of the stats for this blog. While I don’t get very many hits at all, I do get some unusual search items that take people here to my blog. I’ve compiled some of the more unusual below:

 

hooker  - (I had 8 searches for this, and I can’t figure out how/why. Maybe had something to do with the Courtney Love post I did…)

group bong – (there were about 18 different searches containing the word “bong”.)

kids with liquor – (makes parenting easy)

gulf of mexico death oil – (death oil is the most flammable type…)

truths about parenting – (there are none! buyer beware!)

right livelihood beer – (probably better than Busch)

fail french people – (yes.)

fly like a brit – (with an umbrella!)

make your own jataka tale – (hungry tigress not included)

two evil children – (I’d say ill-tempered rather than evil…)

fly like a crow, meaning (after 3 years I’m still trying to figure this one out…)

i cannot sit and do daimoku. (stand?)

drunk photography  - (friends don’t let friends drink and shoot)

job decrease death  -  (depends on the job I guess…)

butcher meat gross  -  (I much prefer accountant meat…)

who were the victims in Arizona  - (all the people that live there)

like fly a crow  -   (thanks!)

put back once done –   (my wife hates it when I don’t do that)

moose fight club  - (you already broke the first rule!)

i hate my religion nichiren shoshu stop forcing me  (no comment)

fatherhood failblog  -   (probably a much better name for this blog and almost certainly much more interesting….)

fly like an ego (it’s fly like an eagle Mr. Miller…)

gilda radner + book + zen (= disaster)

are you a wizard    -     (a wizard never tells!)

killing sperm isn’t murder but killing a fetus is?? how so?   (If so, I’m easily the world’s most heinous serial killer)

miss budweiser girls  (come for the dharma, stay for the eye candy)

killing sperm Buddhism  (again with the sperm)

christina taylor green dad there were four of us, now there are three  (sorry)

calling bullshit on the lotus sutra  (you can call, but I don’t think he’ll answer)

on the path of looking for what i wanted i found what i needed  (great!)

i hear my echo in the echoing wood meaning   (it means lay off the fucking shrooms)

what happens if crow sit in head and fly send reply   (I’ve got nothing)

my dad won’t be attending my baptism   (sorry)

bill maher likes beer  (me too)

to help prevent climate change, we should fly once a year  (with wings?)

epic fail Buddhist  (most appropriate search term for this blog ever)

 

 

Cheers.

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What I’ve come to understand of karma

“Monks, these four types of kamma have been directly realized, verified, & made known by me. Which four? There is kamma that is dark with dark result. There is kamma that is bright with bright result. There is kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. There is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.

“And what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma? Right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.”

~ from the Ariyamagga ( or Noble Path) Sutta

“Now what, monks, is old kamma? The eye is to be seen as old kamma, fabricated & willed, capable of being felt. The ear… The nose… The tongue… The body… The intellect is to be seen as old kamma, fabricated & willed, capable of being felt. This is called old kamma.

“And what is new kamma? Whatever kamma one does now with the body, with speech, or with the intellect: This is called new kamma.

“And what is the cessation of kamma? Whoever touches the release that comes from the cessation of bodily kamma, verbal kamma, & mental kamma: This is called the cessation of kamma.

And what is the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma? Just this noble eightfold path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. This is called the path of practice leading to the cessation of kamma.

~ From the Kamma (Karma) Sutta

Many of the Western lay Buddhists I’ve come in contact with over the internet have taken an agnostic or atheistic approach to the central doctrines of karma and rebirth in Buddhism, labeling them “mystical” or “supernatural” and therefore often discarding them almost completely. I’ve never been able to do this as rebirth (or probably better, re-becoming) and karma are found countless times throughout the sutras, in both the Pali and Mahayana cannons.

After trying to wrap my mind around how these two doctrines work, if they work, what that means, if they can be proven etc.. I just gave up on them both for awhile. But after reading through The Wings to Awakening, I stumbled on the excerpt up at the top, and suddenly things started to make sense.

However, I didn’t really have a desire to understand karma on a metaphysical level. Instead what I’m interested in is how it affects me in the here and now, and what I should be doing about it. I figure the more profound insights will happen as they happen, all in due time and when I’m able to take up a formal meditation practice once again.

So what I’ve come up with is more of a practical survey on karma, one that will keep me “mindful” (*puke* – I hate that word!) of karma as I continue to create it. It seems to me that karma is simply that which binds one to samsara, to re-becoming. We do this through our identification with the skandas, and living in ingnorance of impermance, and the dukkha that surrounds us.

The odd thing about samsara though, is that it appears to provide a cure to itself in the form of itself. This is why we reach out for it, crave more of it, and cling to it. Our constant wandering about this world, running from one experience to the next in order to scratch the itch is probably best explained by comparison to a drug addict. The best cure for an addict is rehab, and this is where Buddhist practice hits us right in the gut.

Ending karma is the work of ending the mental conditions we’ve come to associate with everything. Often I see discussions about non-attachment to money, or power, or fame, or worldly possessions. These are all no doubt valuable endevours. But they also fall short of that ultimate mark. What about your attachment to your skin? Your view of the thing you’re looking at right now as a “computer screen”? This is why renunciation doesn’t solve all of your problems. Even a monk in retreat still has to deal with the issue of “trees”, “fart”, “feet” “wet” “ground”. These are the type of attachments that ultimately create our most incredible dukkha, the dukkha that keeps us bound to the conventional world.

I write this post not as a “what karma is” type of post. This isn’t instructional. This is simply a statement of where it is that I’ve been focusing my thoughts around Zen at. I’m simply not interested in what the ultimate answers to the karma and rebirth questions are. At this point in time, I’m more concerned about how they play out in real life, in my day-to-day struggle to maintain a Buddhist practice. Understanding deeply the process of rebirth and how I was an ocelot in a previous life isn’t going to get me very far, at least not at this point. But understanding that it is these mental fetters that keep me stuck in the conditional world, now that is something I can work with.

Cheers.

 

 

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Empty Bowl

Infuriated with the stress of it all, the student closed his laptop in anger. He got up from the flat wooden chair, stretched his back and wondered out loud “what good is it all?” He wondered what good any of this talk of “Buddhism” ever got him. What good any of this “Zen” had ever done for him. For all his talk little benefit could shine through at that moment.

“Where is this Zen?” he thought. “What good are these koans I keep in my head, or the effort to focus on my breath and turn down the chatter in my mind that only returns moments later? Where is this Zen?”

He turned and saw an empty metal bowl on the floor that his son had been playing with earlier. Now it sat among the quiet clutter of midnight, reflecting the lone light left on for the student to work by. In that moment the Universe expanded forever, eternally empty was the vessel without name. Shining. Brilliant and Empty. Form with no form stretched across the cosmos until -

“Bowl”

Of course it was a bowl. But when it was a bowl, it was no longer empty. Filled it was again. Stories of Japanese masters pouring tea and chopping wood filled the student’s head. Now he wondered “what happened to this zen?”

Now he looked at the bowl deeply. It was empty, and he knew that, but it wasn’t the same knowledge of the bowl he had moments prior when all that he knew of the bowl dropped away. He tried to get back there again, but realized the folly in that pursuit.

What now was he left with? Ahh! Before, it was no longer a bowl. Then once it was a bowl, it was distorted. Bowlness, he thought, was all that could be thought about the bowl tonight.

The student turned off the light and went to bed.

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Lost in Translation

 

“Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories [aggregates] of clinging objects.”

This is the 1st noble truth (1NT) as translated from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta {Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth} as you often see it. Now, maybe I’m overstepping my bounds in calling this into question. I am but a novice when it comes to Buddhism. I don’t know Pali or Sanskrit, can’t read anything in any Asian character. As far as my foreign language goes, I know about 14 sentences in Spanish (thanks public schools!). But to me there is something that is being fundamentally left out of a translation like this, in so much that “suffering” is left to stand all alone. If you read other translations, you will find suffering substitued for “pain” or “stress”. Kind of all pointing at the same thing. But even these still seem to miss the mark.

The word dukkha is what we see being translated into suffering/stress/pain here. Dukkha is much more than the common translation suffering would imply though. Dukkha is the description for the fundamental delusion and off-centerdness of our experience of life. It has its root in its antonym sukha, which has as its root a word meaning a wheel that is in kilter, or an axle that is precise which would allow a wheel to spin flawlessly. This fits in well with other circular imagery found in Buddhism, like the wheel of Samsara.

So why do we translate dukkha? Why not leave it as it stands like we do with karma, satori, or any of the other terms commonly used in Buddhism? It almost seems more appropriate to do so. Often times I’ll see the word suffering used as a way to express physical pain or frustration or anger or any of the other types of “conventional” suffering. These are all things that fall within the wheelhouse of dukkha, but so is a birthday celebration, an unexpected kiss from a loved one, or the joy you receive watching your child play with her toys. These too, are dukkha. They are dukkha because they are phenomenal expereinces. “Birth is suffering” – and not just from the perspective of the mother! Birth is suffering because it brings us into the world of samsara, one filled with clinging to that which is temporary. It is not death in and of itself that is dukkha, but the fact that our existence here is marked by death, and can only ever be temporary, fleeting as fast as the Mayfly blinks in and out of existence. It is all dukkha because it is part of the up and down bumpiness that life as a human generally entails. A wheel out of kilter.

Buddha’s prescription is simply to put the wheel back on its axle, to be able to experience a joy that isn’t fleeting or temporary or bound up by any of the sensory experiences we so desperately cling to. His medicine for our illness is something beyond the aggregates. This is liberation.

So I’m keeping dukkha, dukkha. Suffering seems to imply something is wrong physically, when it should imply that physically is wrong.

 

Cheers.

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The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing

Awakening has nothing to do with outward actions or appearances. It is only achieved by ceasing conceptualization. There is no benefit in shaving your head, taking precepts, or wearing robes. Nor is there any disadvantage if you own a home, work in the secular world, and have a spouse and children. People in the secular world who cease conceptualization awaken. Monks and nuns in monastic communities who do not cease conceptualization remain in delusion.

These are the words of Louie Wing, the fictional character author Ted Biringer brings to life in The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing. This is a masterful work that gets right to the heart of Zen. It is inspired by The Platform Sutra of Hui-Neng and provides a very direct and profound explanation of some Zen philosophy. Ted delves deep into prajna, the five ranks of Zen, and some excellent commentary on the Genjokoan. But when I say deep, I don’t mean that the book just drones on and on with complicated metaphysics. Rather, Louie Wing takes on the role of a fierce bodhisattvha, using his wisdom and teachings like Manjushri’s sword, cutting deep but precisely into the real matters of Zen.

The book provides a departure from most books on Zen you might find at Barnes and Nobles or some other such store. Rather than hold your hand while you mindfully wash the dishes, The Flatbed Sutra cuts right to the heart of the matter, revealing the path of compassion and wisdom in the Zen tradition, focusing on prajna and non-conceptualization. That’s not to say that this book is some sort of harsh, ‘hardcore’ approach to Zen either. Rather, it is styled in the fashion of the Chinese and Japanese classics from which the body of wisdom we know as Zen emerged. It is direct, but not in a know-it-all way. It is classic in its approach, yet the context that Biringer gives to Louie Wing makes the Flatbed Sutra accessible to all students of Zen.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Every student of Zen should read this book at least once;  it is one I will likely keep on my shelf and come back to again and again for years to come.

Cheers.

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Buddhist Nun in New York refuses plea deal

Thanks to Arun for bringing this to attention.

Recently Ven. Hong Yuan (Baojing Li), a Buddhist Nun from Atlanta traveled to New York in hope of gathering enough donations to help support her home temple which had burned down. She stood on the street and handed out malas to people as they dropped donations in a tin can. She was arrested and detained without an interpreter, and could face a hefty fine and even jail time for being an unlicensed vendor. This is incredibly ridiculous and prejudice being displayed here is more than obvious. As Li’s lawyer has said “If this was a Catholic nun in a habit giving out rosary beads, I can’t imagine a police officer in the City of New York arresting her.”

Ven. Hong Yuan has refused a plea deal that would have her plead guilty to disorderly conduct and sentence her to 1 day of community service. So it is really up to the District Attorney at this point to realize how unjust this case really is. How can you help?

Well, the DA’s office has a Facebook account which I’m sure would welcome your comments…

And for those of you on Twitter, the DA’s office has an account: @manhattanDA

Hopefully this can be resolved soon and Ven. Hong Yuan can find her way back home to rebuild her temple once her work is complete in New York.

Cheers.

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Another Hsu Yun poem…

 

 

Found this poem, thought I would share

The water and my mind have both settled down
Into perfect stillness.
Sun and moon shine bright in it.
At night I see in the surface
The enormous face of my old familiar moon.
I don’t think you’ve ever met the source of this reflection.
All shrillness fades into the sound of silence.
But now and then a puff of mist floats across the mirror.
It confuses me a little
But not enough to make me forget to forget my cares.

 

~Hsu Yun

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New Project

 

Recently my wife and I have started a photography business. She’s been doing all of the portraiture and other amazing photography for us, and I have put up some of my more artistic creations as well. It’s nice to be able to share  something like this, it is something that provides a creative outlet for Alex, and also helps to bring in some extra income as well. You can check out all of our work on our brand new website here.

 

And a grand ol’ tip of the hat to mister Anoki Casey for designing the logo and website for us. It was/is a great experience working with a pro like Anoki.

 

Cheers.

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Guest post from the good Rev. Danny Fisher

This post was originally supposed to be part of a big ol’ blog swap a few weeks ago. I had to decline to participate last minute because of a family emergency, and Danny was only now able to write the following. I hope you enjoy. You can catch Danny on his regular blog here.

 

First, many thanks to Nate at Precious Metal for once again getting us
all together like this. Thank you also, of course, to Adam for
hosting this post.

I was invited to comment on Buddhism and the media. I think I’ll use
part of a longer piece I’m working on about what has been called
“Buddhist journalism.” My pal and Shambhala Sun editor Rod Meade
Sperry calls me a “newshound,” which I am. But I also am a Buddhist,
so I’m particularly interested in this intersection of the tradition
and news-gathering — particularly news-gathering by Buddhists.

It’s interesting to me that in the introduction to his and Kenneth K.
Tanaka’s book The Faces of Buddhism in America, my friend Chuck
Prebish observes that “a strong new Buddhist journalism” is apparent
on the American Buddhist landscape in such publications as Tricycle:
The Buddhist Review, Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma:  The Practitioner’s
Quarterly, Inquiring Mind, and Turning Wheel:  The Journal of Socially
Engaged Buddhism, “as well as many publications of individual Buddhist
centers.” Although the book only addresses these publications in terms
of how they aid engaged Buddhist organizations in “bringing [their
visions of] activism and optimism to the American Buddhist,” it is
becoming clear to me that works of Buddhist journalism are beginning
to serve another purpose: as source material for historical writing
about the development of Buddhism in America. In 2006, the Duke
Divinity School Library began the first attempt at a systematic
collection of American Buddhist periodicals—works that certainly fit
Prebish’s description of Buddhist journalism.  Commenting on this in a
post for the earliest iteration of Tricycle’s weblog entitled “Help
Record the History of American Buddhism”, another pal and contributing
editor for that publication, Jeff Wilson, wrote:

“At the end of the day, we really know so little about how Buddhism
spread from India to other countries. Documents are lost, important
meetings never recorded, artwork destroyed–whole teachings,
practices, and schools of Buddhism have been swallowed by time with
barely a trace left to let us know they were there…The difference this
time is that we [in America] have the capacity to observe and record
this new turning of the Dharma wheel while it is going on [in our
country], and to preserve important artifacts from this transmission
so that they will be available to historians and practitioners for
centuries to come.”

Jeff was careful to say something about the limitations of these
periodicals in his comment that the Duke Divinity Library’s project
will offer future generations only “a glimpse of how the Dharma took
root on these shores.” Before more histories of Buddhism in America
are recorded, though, I think we do well to take time for substantial
critical reflection on the use of periodicals that might be fall under
the rubric of “Buddhist journalism” as source material for historical
writing. It seems to me that there are important historiographical
questions to consider here for would-be historians of Buddhism in
America. Namely, “What constitutes evidence?”, “Can journalism be
considered evidence?”, “Is ‘Buddhist journalism’ journalism?”, and
finally “Can ‘Buddhist journalism’ be considered evidence?”

I’ll have more on this in the future, but this is just something I’m
thinking about now. Thanks again, everyone.

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Heartwarming

Take 4 minutes out of your day to watch this short video about a principal in Las Vegas reaching out to her young students – over 80%  of which are homeless.

When I saw the children eating ketchup for lunch…it just crushed me…

 

 

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Excerpt from the Kalama Sutta

I posted this on my tumblr blog today, but thought I would share it here as well.

The Kalama Sutta is often cited (and it is usually only a few lines that are taken out of context) as the gold standard for free inquiry in Buddhism, and as such is often used to justify throwing out teachings that don’t agree with one’s “common sense” – something not found anywhere in the sutta itself. Instead what this sutta expounds is a process for finding the dharma, and this process is mostly self-reliant, but must be tempered by checking what we find by that which is also “praised by the wise”, or else we might come to identify only with “common sense” – which is something we’re trying to transcend in the first place. It is our thinking, clinging mind that makes up “common sense”, and abandoning that clinging mind is pretty much the whole point of taking up this path.

If read carefully, we can see that the Buddha is expounding the dharma using upaya (skillful means) to a specific group of people, but his advice to the Kalamas is universal. That is to say that when one has faith in the path Buddha laid out for us, it is important to take up the path with the intention of self-discovery. Teachers and roshis and wise people we meet on the way are there to help guide us, but we should never rely on an appeal to authority if we are to face our Buddha nature and escape samsara. I think the following excerpt help keeps all of this in context:

“What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For welfare, lord.”

“And this ungreedy person, not overcome by greed, his mind not possessed by greed, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.”

“Yes, lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of aversion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For welfare, lord.”

“And this unaversive person, not overcome by aversion, his mind not possessed by aversion, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.”

“Yes, lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of delusion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For welfare, lord.”

“And this undeluded person, not overcome by delusion, his mind not possessed by delusion, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.”

“Yes, lord.”

“So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?”

“Skillful, lord.”

“Blameworthy or blameless?”

“Blameless, lord.”

“Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?”

“Praised by the wise, lord.”

“When adopted & carried out, do they lead to welfare & to happiness, or not?”

“When adopted & carried out, they lead to welfare & to happiness. That is how it appears to us.”

“So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” — then you should enter & remain in them.’ Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

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Home, part 2 – Bodhidharma’s peace of mind

The following teisho comes from a podcast I frequently listen to from the Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji Rinzai temple in Seattle. I copied the koan online, and transcribed part of the dharma talk below. I only included a short bit of it, just the part that really struck a chord with me. I recommend this particular podcast but be forewarned that there is a bit of the Eido Shimano controversy involved there in the middle, as the teisho is given by one of his dharma heirs. However, this is really an excellent podcast/dharma talk and well worth your time to listen. I reccomend all of Genjo Osho’s dharma talks.

From the Gateless Gate (Mumonkan)

Case 41

Bodhidharma sat facing the stone wall. The Second Patriarch of Chinese C’han (Zen), Suika, stood long in the thick snow. Finally, he severed his own arm and presented it to Bodhidharma. He said, “Your student cannot pacify his mind. You, the First Patriarch, please, give me peace of mind!” The First Patriarch replied, “Bring that mind, I will calm it down!” The Second Patriarch said, “I search for it everywhere, but I cannot find it!” Bodhidharma replied, “I have already pacified it for you!”

Mumon’s Comment:

That toothless old chap from India proudly travelled ten thousand li over the ocean (to China). This was indeed as if he deliberately raised waves where there was no wave. At last, he got only one disciple, who was maimed by cutting off his own arm. Alas, he was a fool indeed.

The First Patriarch from India taught straight forward,
A series of all the troubles has initiated from him.
The one who disturbed the calm world,
Is Boddhidharma, you indeed!

From the teisho:

…that is a great insight, that we’re already whole, but never complete. We’re never perfect, but we’re already perfectly imperfect. From the beginning of Zen training, it’s always: not yet. There’s no end to it. Once you’ve begun, there’s no finish. And the insight is that that can be a life of great inquiry. And this great inquiry begins with Great Doubt. We, in order to begin this journey, feel as if something is missing, or lost. And we have some inkling that somebody’s got it somewhere, [said with a wink] maybe I should go find it. And we become seekers of the way. And we sense a kind of sick sense that we’re not home and we’re meant to be home, but somehow we haven’t found it. So we go on a quest, or a search; we begin a journey and examine different practices and teachers, communities, trying to find that method or teaching or path that will bring us home. Or help us find what’s missing.

I think this might start at birth. As we come into this life, and exit the womb, I think we feel expelled from “Eden”, if you will. And in a way I think we’re looking, at least initially when we start our search, I think we’re looking for a way home, back to the womb somehow. And a lot of times we take detours into something that gives us a womb-like experience. Whether it’s sexuality or an addiction, or some kind of comfort zone that hits a mark and we try that pathway of pure pleasure or comfort. But somehow that still doesn’t satisfy the itch. So we continue on our journey with the pendulum swinging the other way… somehow if we shed enough, maybe we’ll find what we lost. But that extreme doesn’t work either. We still have this itch that cannot be scratched, or this sense that we’re not home, we’re still not home. And this is this spiritual quest that is driven by this doubt, or a kind of knowing that something is missing. What is it?

First I’d like to start with the koan. I doubt very much that Suika literally cut his arm off! Instead this is intended to show the depth of his devotion to this great quest. And it makes me wonder how dedicated I really am. Would I be willing to cut off my arm saying “HERE! LOOK! THIS IS WHAT I AM WILLING TO DO TO PEER INTO THE DEPTHS AND FACE BUDDHA MIND!” Doubtful. If anything, this koan humbles me, and reminds me that at this point, I’m basically a tourist on the path. Not desperately seeking, but more casually trying to catch a glimpse of that buddha nature and develop focus so that one day I might have the courage to realize buddha nature fully. I find that getting through the days of work, family, and school often means putting any type of spiritual quest up on my shelf. This koan also makes me inquire: “do I face my wall? Or do I turn away from my wall?” – but the answer might be another post altogether…

What really hits home for me though, are the two paragraphs I transcribed from the teisho. This feeling of seeking “home”; these are the words I’ve been searching for to describe that spiritual itch I haven’t really been able to scratch. I think back to really understanding the second noble truth for the first time and I can see how right then, I identified that there was an itch, and I could at least start working to try to scratch it by taking up the Buddhist path. Fast forward a bit to me looking toward Zen, and I could see that it is this particular medicine that will best relieve me from my itch. Sometimes I see the Buddhist path phrased as “returning to the source” and I think this really strikes to the heart of what it is we’re searching for. That being separated from that source causes all kinds of strife, and if we can just get back there, and experience that source, we’ll feel home again.

When you’re searching for “home”, you’re never more than a tourist. Living and getting through each day becomes your routine. But living away from “home” starts to wear on you spiritually after a while. Pretty much everywhere you go, you feel like you aren’t really supposed to be there. The best way I can describe it is to provide an analogy, like when you get done with a shower, but you really don’t feel clean still even though you shampooed and soaped, and kind of want to take another one to see if you can get it right. Everything feels temporary and incomplete, like a house of cards on a shaky table.

I’m finding more and more that the physical influences the spiritual. A clean home just feels better. Sitting in meditation with proper posture feels better, and is more conductive of a better session (when I’m actually able to find the time…). Using right speech and being careful when choosing words makes the weight of the words you choose much heavier, and more conductive. Noticing those times when I use wrong speech, I can immediately look at myself and see my life condition lowered. Living somewhere that feels like “home” can be much more conductive to a sunnier disposition. Ritual and creating a sacred space aren’t necessary, but using them correctly can really help to get us to sort of… “tune in” to the station we’re looking for. When we find that station we’ll often get mostly static, but our dial is at least in a better position than it was before hand.

I know, I know; the Heart Sūtra. “Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form.” But I’m finding more and more that form can be conductive to finding non-form. That the physical can help manifest the metaphysical. That my search for home can help me find “home”. So I’m searching for home. That’s where I am now. That’s where I’ve been for a couple of decades now that I really look back. Don’t confuse the search with craving for “better”. “Better” is not really what I’m after. I’m after peace of mind, so that in due time, I can find peace of mind. I know that there is a place out there where I’m “supposed to” be (though I don’t believe in fate). And I know that I will find it. It has always been on the proverbial tip of my tounge. And I also know that somewhere out there is a “home” beyond touch that I’m meant to find. So for now I’ll keep searching.

Cheers.

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Thai Association of Washington at Folklife Festival

Every Memorial Day Weekend in the Puget Sound, hippies gather up their sneak-a-tokes, djembes, and Birkenstocks and head for the Seattle Center for Folklife Festival. It is four days of drum circles, vendors, musicians, artists, and other performers all in the heart of Seattle, and it’s pretty much all free. I’ve had lots of fun there in the past, though I’m not sure if we’ll head that way this year or not given that there isn’t much space for my 2-year-old to run around there.

If we do head down there, I’m sure to be checking out the Thai Association of Washington. From the Folklife site:

This year we are excited to welcome the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Thai Association of Washington to the Northwest Folklife Festival.  Visit them on the south side of the Fountain Lawn for a taste of Thailand!

At the Thai Village, there will be cultural demonstrations and authentic Thai cuisine including BBQ Pork, Thai Ice Tea, Crab Delight and an array of foods from Thai Heaven. For more demonstrations, catch the Thai Showcase on Sunday, May 29, from 4:00-6PM in the Center House Theatre for classical music and dance by the Chaopraya Ensemble.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) was established in 1960 by the Royal Thai Government to be specifically responsible for tourism promotion. In 1965, TAT opened its first overseas office in New York. Since then, TAT has established 21 offices in different parts of the world including the Los Angeles office.

The Thai Association of Washington are exclusively a non-profit charitable organization.  They hope to be the central point of contact for both Thai-Americans and Americans alike in the State of Washington and also maintain and promote the Thai language, arts and culture within the Washington region.

Asian Americans have made a huge impact here in the Pacific Northwest, so it’s nice to see some representation at a festival like Folklife. I’ve made some acquaintances with the owners of a local Thai food restaurant that we sometimes frequent, and hope to see their small chain represented in some way down there. There is also a Wat about halfway between here and Seattle that I hope to see some sort of representation of as well. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and I think that this is a great way to showcase how diverse and inclusive the community can be in the Puget Sound area, as well as how important the Asian American community has been to the culture and development of this area. Maybe I’ll see you down there this weekend.

Cheers.

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Home, part 1

Recently we drove down to Seattle so that my wife could do a photo shoot at a favorite old park of ours (it’s the one I proposed to her at…). It’s been 4 years since we lived in Seattle. The dozen or so times we’ve been back since moving away, it always feels like a piece of my heart was ripped out when we left, and that going back puts it all back together, if even for a moment.

The bench that I proposed to Alex on. On the ground there is a plaque there that reads: "A respite for those who see beauty in all things"

The particular neighborhood we were in was Queen Anne. It is a very wealthy, beautiful neighborhood just North of downtown. On the street we were on, I could almost smell the money along with the cherry blossoms and dogwoods that lined the sidewalks. I don’t know that any of those houses were worth less than $800,000; many of them were worth more than 5 million. Part of this comes from the view many of the homes there enjoy. The homes also enjoy relative security from passersby such as myself. Many of them had gates in front of the driveways, or even in front of the walkways that led up to their front doors. Some are on a steep enough incline that you wouldn’t even bother looking for a way in. The separation was plain as day. I was welcome to look, but not to touch.

Walking down this street with the kids in tow in their double stroller, I ran a gambit of emotions.

Anger that people could live like this, so secluded from the rest of the world.

Jealousy because a part of me wanted to know what that type of life would feel like, to not have to worry about finances, to be able to enjoy the finer things in life and send my kids to a nice safe little private school.

Despair that I’ll never be able to provide that type of life for our children.

And then I turned that stroller East up a hill and huffed and puffed the three of us to the top. All those churning emotions just kind of faded away. Corbin got to see a fire truck with it’s lights on parked on the street to provide support to an EMT team that had arrived in at some public gathering for a medical emergency. We sat there, eating PB&J and talking about the hoses and lights and everything else that made his face light up.

Then we headed back down toward the park as Alex was finishing up her shoot. This time though, I didn’t feel jealousy or anger. No resentment. I’d rather be there on the street, talking to the passersby about the flowers along the road, the weather, the kids in prom outfits walking around getting their pictures taken. I realized then that it wasn’t the houses and the economic situation that had made me upset. I didn’t want to live so isolated as these people seemed to.

What had really been bothering me was that I was homesick. Deeply, desperately homesick. If you’ve followed this little blog at all, you’ll know that I lived the first 20 years of my life in Michigan, then moved to Seattle where I met Alex and we lived for 5 years. When I say I’m homesick, it isn’t for Michigan, but for Seattle.

In Seattle I could walk down the street and breathe in the city. There is life there, but more than that is a feeling of being alive. Seattle fits like my favorite hoodie. Comfortable and warm, but loose with enough breathing room that I’m never really restricted. When we go back there to visit, it feels like I never left. Seattle feels like home. If home is where the heart is, I’ve been missing a piece of my heart for the last 4 years.

At the same time, I feel right at home out in the middle of nowhere. Places where the only sounds are from the birds chirping and cedars creaking. Places where bon fires are encouraged and where a babbling stream serves as a sink and shower.

These two places share one thing in common; when I’m there, I feel alive, I feel surrounded by life. Out here in the suburbs, I’ve only ever felt like I’m living in a way. There isn’t much magic to be had in the ‘burbs. And where there is magic and life, that is where home is. In finding “home”, I look to something other than a place. It is something ethereal that can’t be touched, yet I also find it linked inextricably to my environment. I’m starting to find more and more that this great spiritual quest has everything to do with finding “home”.

I’ll have part 2 up in the next week or so. It will examine a bit about a connection to “home” and Zen.

Cheers.

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Justice?

Last night as I was working on homework, I saw my twitter stream go nuts. Within less than 30 second there were 45 new tweets (this is a lot for my stream, I’m only following like 380 people). Reports were coming in that Osama Bin Laden had been caught or killed. No, definitely killed. US has his body. Obama to give conference soon…Then Obama gave his speech, confirming that yes, we had finally caught the man behind the USS Cole and 9/11 (and many other attacks).

During his speech, Obama made the statement “Justice has been done”.

“Justice”? Revenge? Yes. Justice? Hardly. I don’t see how this is justice. First, how is there any justice found in death? For a few reasons I am against the death penalty, but mainly because I don’t see how it is a punishment. What punishment is found in death? I can find none. Remember when we found Saddam? And he looked like this:

 

He basically became a laughing-stock. Look at him! We showed the world that this despot had no power left, and had been reduced to hiding out *literally* in a hole in the ground. He was then tried and sentenced to death in front of the whole world. This is what we do with even the most vile and lowly among us here in America. We give them a trial. But with Bin Laden, that ending never had a chance to happen. Instead, he went down in a blaze of glory, fighting his enemies to the bitter end. A martyr. Rather than demonstrate our own ideals of democratic justice, we ended up just killing the man. The SEALS obviously did their jobs, and returned fire like they should have, I’m not questioning their decisions, nor Obama’s. But I think somehow an opportunity was missed. We fed into the shoot-first-ask-later stereotype we’re associated with globally. Coupled with Bin Laden’s heroic death, our actions may just end up giving our enemies something new to fight for, one more thing to hate America over.

Back to the point of justice, how does this one death provide justice for all the lives he helped to destroy? How does it right the wrongs that led up to the attacks on the USS Cole and 9/11?  How does it right all of the wrongs carried out since? I don’t think it does. I think Osama Bin Laden was a real piece of shit. And there isn’t any doubt that the world is a bit better off today now that he isn’t in it. But I can’t find a shred of justice in his death. Maybe peace and comfort to some, and vengeance for others. But justice is sorely lacking in this situation.

I believe that rather than celebrating this death, we should attempt to examine the situation at hand on a little more of a global scale, checking our nationalism at the door. Let’s acknowledge that the world is just a little less evil than it was the day before Bin Laden was taken from it. But let’s also acknowledge the fact that the systems in place that created Bin Laden are still present today, and that our country still faces threats to our liberty both foreign and domestic. Maybe we can use this opportunity to examine how it is that Bin Laden came out as the winner in this situation.

Before I end, let me be clear. It’s not that I’m upset about this happening. I’m not. Like I said, the guy was a colossal piece of shit, a total waste of existence. I’m just not up for celebrating death, especially when it is being used as some kind of national rallying cry. I think I’ll save my celebrations for when we end the Patriot Act and bring our troops home. Then you might see me waving a flag in the streets.

Cheers.

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Time to make progress

 

via Treehugger

This is a picture of a dead bird. This bird died because it ate all of that plastic you see there. Plastic that you and I threw away, and ended up in the ocean, or washed up on the shore. This bird doesn’t know any better, because evolution in our feathered friends hasn’t had time to adjust to the industrial revolution. Evolution has also failed to equip this bird with the ability to digest any of this plastic, so it just sits inside the bird, and the bird will either starve or hemorrhage or choke to death.

 

These are the stomach contents from a dead sea turtle. Again, a ton of fucking plastic. Chances are, the turtle found the plastic here:

This is a small part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of floating plastic and other garbage that is twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This is where my trash ends up. This is where your trash ends up. We’ve made this garbage patch.

This is another dead fucking bird. It died due to the oil that spilled in the Gulf of Mexico last year from the BP spill. That oil was being pumped for you and for me. We were going to use it to get to work, heat our homes, make our blue jeans, and to create a bunch of plastic, the same type of plastic the bird and the turtle died from.

This is one of the ways in which we source the oil that killed the bird and produced the plastic that created the trash that killed the other bird and that fucking turtle whose stomach contents are pictured above. We just fucking take it from other people. We make up all kinds of excuses for war and our international relationships and dealings, but it so much of it comes down to securing our unlimited access to oil and the profis that oil will afford a select few.

 

This is natural gas, and it is what some people are proposing we use to help get us off of oil. This is a picture of someone lighting their god damned drinking water on fire, because of the practice of hydraulic fracking for natural gas. Fracking allows natural gas to leak into the wells and aquifers that people use for drinking water, agriculture, and farming. Then the water is pretty much ruined forever. Though this is a pretty kick ass party trick. If you’re throwing a ” I can’t drink my fucking water any more” party, that is.

Meanwhile, while we’re burning all these fossil fuels, we’re making the Earth warmer. “Isn’t that a good thing?’ a total idiot might ask? No, it isn’t. One of the effects it is having is on the forests in British Colombia. “Who cares, because it’s only Canada?” you might ask? Well, that’s also something a complete idiot would ask. All those trees in the picture above aren’t supposed to be that color. They are brown and red because they are infested with bark beetles. Those bark beetles are experiencing warmer, shorter winters thanks to global warming, and that means that their offspring aren’t dying off during due to frigid temperatures, and their population is exploding. These trees are part of a system that forms an enormous carbon sink. But because they are dying, that carbon can’t be stored there. Which creates more warming. And more warming will cause more severe weather. So you’ll probably want to turn up the heater a bit more in the winter depending on where you live. And you’ll want to turn up the A/C a bit more in the summer. And that’ll require a bit more energy, which will end up using more oil.

Please, please do at least one thing today to change this. And then do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that…

One thing you might even do is write to your representative. Let them know that the EPA needs to be able to regulate greenhouse gases, including CO2. While you’re at it, let them know that you don’t want mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other particulates in the air you breathe.

Just do something, stick with it, and make progress. We need it.

“…progress,
man’s distinctive mark alone,
Not God’s, and not the beast’s;
God is, they are,
Man partly is,
and wholly hopes to be”                     ~ Robert Browning Hamilton
 
 
Cheers.

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The long journey out of the self…

Today David over at The Endless Further has a wonderful post up about the magic found in poetry, please check it out if you have the chance.

image of Roethke sourced from jungcurrents.com

It got me thinking about one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke, whom I haven’t dealt much with in years. Roethke is from my hometown of Saginaw, MI, and there are places he mentions in his poetry that were literally my old stomping grounds:

Out Hemlock Way there is a stream
That some have called Swan Creek;
The turtles have bloodsucker sores,
And mossy filthy feet;
The bottoms of migrating ducks
Come off it much less neat.

I used to dig in Swan Creek for golf balls to sell to golfers at the nearby hole-in-the-wall course. My father went through the ice of the creek as a youth while snowmobiling. It is a beautiful yet unassuming body of water. It really is just a creek. Creek creeks creek.

Upon digging around for some of my favorite works of his, I ran across the following two gems, and couldn’t help but be struck by the similarity to some of the old Chinese Ch’an masters works. The first poem is titled Journey into the Interior

In the long journey out of the self,
There are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places
Where the shale slides dangerously
And the back wheels hang almost over the edge
At the sudden veering, the moment of turning.
Better to hug close, wary of rubble and falling stones.
The arroyo cracking the road, the wind-bitten buttes, the canyons,
Creeks swollen in midsummer from the flash-flood roaring into the narrow valley.
Reeds beaten flat by wind and rain,
Grey from the long winter, burnt at the base in late summer.
– Or the path narrowing,
Winding upward toward the stream with its sharp stones,
The upland of alder and birchtrees,
Through the swamp alive with quicksand,
The way blocked at last by a fallen fir-tree,
The thickets darkening,
The ravines ugly.
The first thing that jumps out is right there in the first line, “journey out of the self”. The rest of the poem goes on to describe the traps and hazards our phenomenal mind throws at us in our attempt to escape its binding reach.
 
Another that I stumbled upon was In a Dark Time:
 
In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.
What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

To me, this is all about finding the true self, making sense of the observer watching the observer phenomenon, feeling trapped that there is no hope, no way of getting to the Source.

Roethke suffered from depression not long into his life, fueled by the tragic deaths of his uncle and father that both occurred when he was 15. This colored many of his later works, though it is for his lighter, “greenhouse” poems that he is more well-known. These poems revolve around his direct experience and contact with nature and the beauty he found growing up around his uncle’s greenhouse in Saginaw (only a couple of miles from my childhood home). At the young age of 55, Roethke died of a heart attack in a swimming pool on Bainbridge Island, here in Washington. According to wiki the pool has since been covered and a Zen rock garden has apparently been placed on top. His remains are a stone’s throw from many of my great-grandparents and their siblings.

I’m not claiming that Roethke was Zen, or a Buddhist or anything of the sort. If anything he seemed to be a sort of pantheist or transcendentalist or something of that sort. But the problems that he digs at are universal, and strike at the heart of Zen. His desire to find pure Mind and make sense of it all mirrors the path of the 10 Ox Herding images well.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the magic that Roethke helped bring to the world. Cheers.

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Faith in Mind

As my time is limited these days, one of the ways I maintain a connection to the dharma at work is to listen to a few chants over my headphones. My favorite of which is currently Faith in Mind, or Affirming Faith in Mind (it is sometimes attributed to Jianzhi Sengcan, but that is under debate and unlikely to be proven). To me, this verse/poem points to many of the most important Buddhist teachings like karma, conditioned existence, dukkha, the Four Noble Truths, awakening to pure Mind, and non-conceptual wisdom. And it does all of that without the overlays of ancient Chinese culture that some might find bewildering or off-putting. It is a powerful work, one that will speak to many over countless generations.

I’ve included the text below. You can also listen to it being chanted here.

The Great Way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose.

When preferences are cast aside the Way stands clear and undisguised.

But even slight distinctions made set earth and heaven far apart.

If you would clearly see the truth, discard opinions pro and con.

To founder in dislike and like is nothing but the mind’s disease.

And not to see the Way’s deep truth disturbs the mind’s essential peace.

The Way is perfect like vast space, where there’s no lack and no excess.

Our choice to choose and to reject prevents our seeing this simple truth.

Both striving for the outer world as well as for the inner void condemn us to entangled lives.

Just calmly see that all is One, and by themselves false views will go.

Attempts to stop activity will fill you with activity.

Remaining in duality, you’ll never know of unity.

And not to know this unity lets conflict lead you far astray.

When you assert that things are real you miss their true reality.

But to assert that things are void also misses reality.

The more you talk and think on this the further from the truth you’ll be.

Cut off all useless thought and words And there’s nowhere you cannot go.

Returning to the root itself, you’ll find the meaning of all things.

If you pursue appearances you overlook the primal source.

Awakening is to go beyond both emptiness as well as form.

All changes in this empty world seem real because of ignorance.

Do not go search for the truth, just let those fond opinions go.

Abide not in duality, refrain from all pursuit of it.

If there’s a trace of right and wrong, True-mind is lost, confused, distaught.

From One-mind comes duality, but cling not even to this One.

When this One-mind rests undisturbed, then nothing in the world offends.

And when no thing can give offense, then all obstructions cease to be.

If all thought-objects disappear, the thinking subject drops away.

For things are things because of mind, as mind is mind because of things.

These two are merely relative, and both at source are Emptiness.

In Emptiness these are not two, yet in each are contained all forms.

Once coarse and fine are seen no more, then how can there be taking sides?

The Great Way is without limit, beyond the easy and the hard.

But those who hold to narrow views are fearful and irresolute; their frantic has just slows them down.

If you’re attached to anything, you surely will go far astray.

Just let go now of clinging mind, and all things are just as they are. In essense nothing goes or stays.

See into the true self of things, and you’re in step with the Great Way, thus walking freely, undisturbed.

But live in bondage to your thoughts, and you will be confused, unclear.

This heavy burden weighs you down– O why keep judging good and bad?

If you would walk the highest Way, do not reject the sense domain.

For as it is, whole and complete, This sense world is enlightenment.

The wise do not strive after goals, but fools themselves in bondage put.

The One Way knows no differences, the foolish cling to this and that.

To seek Great Mind with thinking mind is certainly a grave mistake.

From small mind come rest and unrest, but mind awakened transcends both.

Delusion spawns dualities– these dreams are nought but flowers of air– why work so hard at grasping them?

Both gain and loss, and right and wrong– once and for all get rid of them.

When you no longer are asleep, all dreams will vanish by themselves.

If mind does not discriminate, all things are as they are, as One.

To go to this mysterious Source frees us from all entanglements.

When all is seen with “equal mind,” to our Self-nature we return.

This single mind goes right beyond all reasons and comparisons.

Stop movement and there’s no movement, stop rest and no-rest comes instead.

When rest and no-rest cease to be, then even oneness disappears.

This ultimate finality’s beyond all laws, can’t be described.

With single mind one with the Way, all ego-centered strivings cease;

Doubts and confusion disappear, and so true faith pervades our life.

There is no thing that clings to us, and nothing that is left behind.

All’s self-revealing, void and clear, without exerting power of mind.

Thought cannot reach this state of truth, here feelings are of no avail.

In this true world of Emptiness both self and other are no more.

To enter this true empty world, immediately affirm “not-two”.

In this “not-two” all is the same, with nothing separate or outside.

The wise in all times and places awaken to this primal truth.

The Way’s beyond all space, all time, one instant is ten thousand years.

Not only here, not only there, truth’s right before you very eyes.

Distinctions such as large and small have relevance for you no more.

The largest is the smallest too– here limitations have no place.

What is is not, what is not is– if this is not yet clear to you, you’re still far from the inner truth.

One thing is all, all things are one– know this and all’s whole and complete.

When faith and Mind are not separate, and not separate are Mind and faith, this is beyond all words, all thought.

For here there is no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow.

 

Hat tip to Marcus for sending me the link to the VZC awhile back. The text used in this post, however, is from the Portland Zen Community site.

 

 

Cheers.

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The steeper bill to pay

The bill that House Republicans are proposing that will set the budget through the end of the fiscal year (Sept ’11) “loads up every piece of the far-right social agenda in one bill, from restricting a woman’s right to choose to preventing government from protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.” – quote from as Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. in Huff Post today. While I find many of the proposals distasteful, it is the ones concerning the environment that I would like to draw your attention to. As some of you reading this know, I’m currently in school, pursuing a degree in Environmental Policy and Planning. These issues are important to me, and often I’m shocked that there is so little regard paid to them.

I found a list of the environmental riders on the budget bill at the Sietch Blog. You can read them here, and there is a pdf version here. My thanks to the writers there for posting this. I’ll list just a couple of the ones that I found particularly appalling:

Section 1746: Taking Away EPA’s Authority to Enforce the Clean Air Act – states that zero funds may be used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce or promulgate any regulation related to the emissions of greenhouse gases due to concerns regarding climate change. This far reaching legislation prevents EPA from regulating carbon pollution and protecting Americans from the impacts of climate change. This section stops EPA from requiring new power plants, oil refineries, and other major new sources of carbon pollution to begin reducing their carbon emissions. It also prevents EPA from setting minimum federal standards for power plants and oil refineries, and severely interferes with EPA’s permitting process for new or expanded facilities. In addition, this section prevents the public from learning how much carbon pollution is actually being emitted by the largest polluters. This legislation ties EPA’s hands and allows carbon pollution to continue or even increase unabated – endangering public health, food and water supplies, wildlife habitat, species, forests and coastlines throughout our nation.

Section 1747: Blocking EPA Efforts to Clarify the Scope of the Clean Water Act – halts the EPA’s ongoing effort to make clear which waters remain protected by the Clean Water Act in the wake of confusing court decisions and subsequent Bush administration policy. This provision leaves millions of acres of wetlands and thousands of miles of streams without clear Clean Water Act protection. These streams provide at least part of the drinking water for 117 million Americans. It jeopardizes EPA’s ability to enforce the law against oil spills and waste dumping in these waters.

 Section 4008: Limiting Enforcement of the Cement Kiln Air Toxics Standard – EPA is prohibited from using any funds to implement or enforce a health standard to control mercury and other pollutants from cement plants. Cement plants are the third leading source of man-made mercury emissions and have evaded controls prescribed under the Clean Air Act for over 13 years. EPA finalized these life-saving standards in September 2010 with a compliance deadline of September 2014. These overdue standards will save 2,500 lives, prevent 1,000 heart attacks, and reduce 130,000 missed days of school and work each year, according to EPA estimates. EPA also projects that this rule would save $18 billion in health costs just from reductions of fine particulate matter. Defunding implementation of this critical reduction of mercury, lead, particulate matter and other hazardous pollutants will not remove any regulatory obligations. In fact, this amendment deprives states and cement manufacturers from getting technical assistance and support in developing compliance plans. Barring EPA from providing critical guidance for this protective health standard puts the public at risk and leaves industry without critical compliance input.

 Section 4015: Blocking EPA from Regulating Emissions from Stationary Sources – issues a “stop-work” order to the EPA for any regulation of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, or perfluorocarbons from stationary sources for any reason, including their impacts on ozone, climate change, or any other public health threat. The broad impacts of this amendment, therefore, include blocking work underway to address dangerous carbon dioxide pollution; a de facto construction ban on power plants and factories; interference with the

Renewable Fuel Standard; preventing EPA from implementing a three-year study of biomass greenhouse gas emissions; interference with the EPA’s acid rain program; preventing enforcement of rules covering emissions of HFCs and perfluorocarbons from refrigeration and other equipment.

This stop-work order would accomplish nothing other than to ensure that more dangerous pollution is dumped into the air and that U.S. companies fall behind in the global competition for clean energy markets.

The rest of the list is just as disgusting. Everything from defunding NOAA to gutting funding for important studies and our involvement in the IPCC. Many of these measures will not only create conditions of unparalleled environmental destruction, but cost thousands of jobs, and directly (and indirectly) impact the health of tens of thousands (or more), and the potential to contaminate the drinking water of hundreds of millions.

 

This is all being done in the name of controlling the deficit. But I doubt that the motivation behind such actions is really just fiscal responsibility. For whatever reason, it has become the party line of the Republicans that any government proposals that are aimed at benefiting the environment are somehow inherently evil. While I don’t doubt that this meme was started in the interests of businesses not wanting to spend a few extra bucks complying with environmental standards that protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, I believe this new round of cuts is born out of something else entirely. It’s almost as if the new partly line is simply “fuck the liberals, let’s pass reactionary legislation that will drum up hysteria and unite our base”. They’re even bringing back styrofoam into the congressional lunchroom. Yeah, styrofoam, that substance that has been banned in several cities and is toxic throughout its entire millennial life span. Oh, and there is that state rep in Montana that is introducing legislation that would declare global warming beneficial to the welfare and and business climate of his state. The Republicans are basically taking their ideological positions to the extreme, in an effort to gut government of any type of power to protect its citizens from the dangers that industry can impose upon us.

Unfortunately, Republicans are living in the delusion of “now”. All of their proposed cuts to environmental spending are looking at the short-term deficit impact. None of these cuts address the long-term economic impact (hint: it isn’t good) nor do they address the long-term health-effects, or the long-term environmental impacts (which will impact the other two). Republicans love talking about how we can’t pass the deficit bill on to our children and grandchildren, but when we craft policies that demonstrate a total disregard for the environment, we leave them with a much steeper bill to pay.

Some like to claim that the green/lib crowd is trying to scare people with doomsday-type scenarios about climate change and other environmental issues. But the facts remain:

We are running out of fresh water

We are affecting global climate change, and the Earth is getting hotter

We are running out of arable land

We are dumping hazardous chemicals into the land, air and water that are screwing with our health and depleting the amazing amount of biodiversity found on this wonderful planet of ours.

These facts should be of grave concern to everyone, regardless of political persuasion. But they aren’t. Because in the culture of capitalism we currently find ourselves in, there are those that value the future balance sheets of our children’s bank accounts more than we do their health and livelihoods.

That’s all for now. Cheers.

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The Four Noble Truths of Parenting

Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress:[1] Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

~ Taken from Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation at Access to Insight

The Four Noble Truths form the foundation of all Buddhist thought, philosophy and practice. It is here that the Buddha diagnosed the fundamental “dis-ease” of the human condition, and provided us with a prescription to cure that dis-ease.

 

My son was sick this past weekend, and is also in the process of cutting his 2-year molars. This week he has basically been screaming and crying all day long at the drop of a hat. It has been very, very stressful for myself, and even more so for my wonderful wife that has to be face-to-face with him all day long. His twos have not been “terrible” so much as apocalyptically horrendous. At times I am quite certain I’ve seen his head spin a full 360 degrees around his head.

This morning his tantrums got me to thinking about Thanissaro Bikkhu’s translation of dukkha as stress. Often times you hear the first noble truth loosely translated as “all life is stress/suffering” and this morning all I could think was “all parenting is stress”. So I’ve taken some liberty with the Four Noble Truths, and re-written them for parents. I hope you enjoy.

1. Now this, parents, is the noble truth of stress: nap time is stressful, dinnertime is stressful, bath time is stressful, diaper changes are stressful, grocery shopping is stressful, car rides are stressful. In short, your entire day as a parent is stressful.

2. And this, parents, is the noble truth of the origination of stress: your child craving shiny objects, craving dirty faces, craving one more movie, craving chocolate chip cookies, desire to play with toilet paper as if it were confetti, desire to climb to the ceiling, desire to never ever sleep, this is the origination of stress.

3. And this parents, is the noble truth of the cessation of stress: the letting go of any expectation that your day will not at some point be stressful, the relinquishing of the feeling that everything will go according to plan, the passing away of the delusion that you fail when things fall apart.

4. And this parents, is the noble truth of the practice leading to the cessation of stress:  just this Noble Eightfold Path for Parents – right bedtime, right snack time, right babysitters, right grandparents, right hugs, right story time, right husbands/wives, and right love and affection.

 

Cheers.

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No cushion; no Zen. No cushion; zen.

People come to Buddhism for all types of reasons, and apply the teachings in just as many ways. For some it serves a religious purpose, for some a “way of life”, others a philosophy and so on. Whatever it may be for you, it seems as if it would be quite useless if its only benefits were found in one location, one posture, one turn of a phrase. I too often see people talking about how “just sitting” is the path to enlightenment. Or that only the full lotus posture will do when sitting in zazen, or more importantly that zazen happens on a cushion.

While inching toward a full lotus posture and regular meditation schedule are invaluable tools on this crooked path of Zen, they will leave us out naked in the cold if we leave our practice there with them. I have no desire to take up a path that isn’t able to be carried everywhere I go. Zazen must be the manifestation of whole-hearted inquiry into that mind-stuff of Buddha nature, and Buddha nature is not trapped on my pillow.

I’ve mentioned that recently my life schedule has become more than full. As such, my practice must evolve if it is to survive. I have no wish to take up the path of Zen for the label alone, nor do I wish to take it up just for those 20 minutes I could sit on a pillow and stare at my bookcase. So right now what Adam’s Zen looks like is reading a sūtra a day, practicing the paramitas, and throwing myself into polynomial factoring-zazen.

I haven’t the time to meditate. It isn’t there. And even if I were to attempt it, I guarantee I would just fall asleep 30 seconds into it anyway. So I practice my zazen in Math class. I found that I was making silly, elementary mistakes with some of the problems that were coming up because I was rushing or not checking my work  or some other mindless reason. Now I make sure and breathe the problems in, and breathe the problems out. It is helping my studies, and further more it is helping me glimpse at my monkey mind and find the cause of its monkey-nature. It is something quite unexpected.

This is something new for me, being able to see my self for the monkey that it is. In the past I’ve found it is easy to let that monkey turn into a stubborn ape, and when that happens it can seem as though hope is lost. That you’ll never be able to penetrate deep inside the luminous cavern of Buddha nature as long as that damn dirty ape stands in the way. But I’m seeing that ape less and less these days.

So this is where I will take Zen, and where Zen will take me for now. Off to math class I go.

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Thay in Vancouver, floods in Sri Lanka and other updates

I was very much considering shutting down this blog, but thanks to some encouraging words, I’ve decided to keep it up for now. With school, work, and family, I have very, very little time to post, or even think about posting here anymore, so posting will just be more infrequent than usual. I’ve found I have less and less time to spend on the internets as well. I’ve moved all the blogs I used to “follow” on Google’s Blogger into just an RSS reader to simplify things. I also deleted about 2/3 of my blog subscriptions. I simply don’t have the time to keep up with many of them anymore.

From time to time, I’ll do a search on Buddhist news, and I came up with some rather random things today, and thought I’d share:

Apparently, there are Maoist spies pretending to be monks in Bodhgaya, supposedly to try to destroy the temple from within or something. An interesting tidbit in how politics, religion, and power grabs.

Thich Nhat Hanh will be just a couple of hours North of me in Vancouver, leading a 5-day retreat. I rarely here of prominent teachers coming to Seattle (which I find odd, or maybe I’m just waaay out of the loop) and this made me wonder if someone like Thay or even Ponlop would ever come to my school, Everett Community College. Probably not!

There was a story in the Canadian Press about all those animals having to be put down in South Korea. Apparently there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and 1.9 million animals are being put down. What an enormous amount of devastation. And we can almost certainly conclude that the root cause of this all was our treatment of these animals, and the living conditions we forced them into. Anyway, the Buddhist link was that there were hundreds of monks and lay people there offering prayers and flowers for the departed. I wonder if anyone here in the US would show up and demonstrate that type of compassion if the same thing were to happen in Oklahoma?

Apparently, there ARE Buddhists in Mississippi

(’nuff said)

And finally,

Recently there were some absolutely terrible floods in Sri Lanka. From the UN News Center:

In eastern and central Sri Lanka, the flooding – which reached an almost 100 year high – has driven more than 360,000 people from their homes, killed 43 people, totally destroyed some 6,000 homes and 23,000 others partially. People are now returning to their homes, but 10,000 people still remain displaced in temporary relocation centres.

Agricultural production is the main source of livelihood in the affected regions and this season’s rice harvest is now severely damaged, leading to increased food insecurity.

 

From the news I’ve gathered, the already stressed country (they were hit hard by the 2004 tsunami and only recently were able to end a decades long civil war) is now just about completely broke. No doubt they will seek aid from foreign governments, and no doubt the World Bank will be there to loan them money, and if you think that’s a good thing, take a look at Haiti. I wonder if we will ever as a people place more worth in the quality of life for our fellow humans than we do the markets that keep them in poverty.

Okay, back to work.

Cheers.

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There were 19 victims in Arizona

 

I really don’t have much time to post lately, and I have thoughts of closing the blog down for good as I really don’t see myself being able to make time to commit to posting. More on that some other time perhaps.

I wanted to post today just a thought or two on the Arizona shooting that took place on Saturday. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the whole story, so I’ll spare going into any details here.

My only thoughts are this: 19 people’s lives were directly and permanently altered on Saturday. The shooter brought lots of ammo with him. While his main target certainly seemed to be Congresswoman Giffords, there were 19 others that were shot, 6 of which died.

Federal judge John Roll, 63, left behind 3 sons, a wife, and 5 grandchildren.

30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, a Gifford’s staffer who was engaged and had a wedding date set for 2012.

Phyllis Schneck, 79 leaves behind 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild.

Dorwan Stoddard 76 – this is from Huff Post: “When the shooting started Saturday, he dove to the ground, covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times. The couple had been grade school sweethearts growing up in Tucson. After their respective spouses died, they independently moved back to retire, became reacquainted and fell in love all over again. Mavy Stoddard talked to her husband, who was shot in the head, for 10 minutes while he breathed heavily. Then he stopped breathing. He had two sons from his first marriage, and Mavy has three daughters.

Dorothy Morris, 76 whose husband was shot in the rampage, but is in the hospital also left behind a few daughters (I’ve seen 2 and 3, so don’t know for sure).

And then, what to me is the most tragic result of this mad man’s terror, Christina Taylor Green, only 9 years old. Apparently she had just been elected to Student Council and had an interest in politics, which is why she was at that Safeway to meet Congresswoman Giffords. She apparently wanted to have a career where she would be of service to others (I think I wanted to be a pilot at that age….). She enjoyed athletics. She leaves behind an 11-year-old brother. She leaves behind parents, and grandparents.

It isn’t too hard to read about the people the elderly victims leave behind. It’s generally expected that parents and grandparents outlive their offspring. It is tragic and sad, yes. And I certainly don’t want to value one life above another here.

But she was only 9 years old.

She was only 9 years old.

I understand the outrage pouring out over this incident. I just don’t understand how the conversation was so quickly turned into a left vs. right ideological battle. Within hours of the massacre people were trying to figure out who was to blame. We heard from pundits about other pundits and about that half-term quitter governor from Alaska, but we didn’t hear about Christina, and her story (other than the little I’ve shared here). We didn’t hear about her aunts and uncles and friends from school and 9 year old team mates that now have to deal with the fact that their loved one isn’t coming back.

It isn’t that I don’t agree with some of the political statements being made out there. Some of them, I do. And I do so adamantly. But their bodies weren’t even cold and all we could hear about was some redneck’s map and what Rush Limbaugh had to say and what books were on the shooter’s MySpace book list.

I remember when Kayla Rolland was shot. It was in my community. My mother worked with a close friend of the family (or Aunt of Kayla’s or something….) and I remember it vividly. Shock. Terror. Unimaginable sadness. A 6-year-old shot another 6-year-old. And I remember that very day, people carrying signs in favor of the 2nd amendment on some busy cross streets in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. Yes, we have freedom of speech in this country. I respect that. But just because you have the right to do/say something, doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do.

I also remember my teachers waiting a week or so before we started talking about the greater themes that revolved around the shooting like gun rights, poverty, drugs, homelessness and other broader social issues that contributed to the tragedy.

Already the 6 victims that were killed and the others that were wounded are being forgot. They’re being pushed down in the headlines in favor of partisan rhetoric, blame games, conversations on society’s role in all this and yadda yadda yadda. It’s not that I don’t think some of those points are important or valid. I do. My fear is that this intense personal tragedy will just get churned into fodder for the left vs. right meme machine. In 5 years most of us will probably remember that Congresswoman Giffords was shot, and that there were others shot that day too (I bet we’ll forget how many). Some of us will remember Christina, but I bet it will be the minority. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if you knew who Kayla Rolland was reading that first sentence, without having to click on the link. It was one of the most tragic killings this country has ever seen, and I don’t know that anyone outside of Flint (and Mid-Michigan) still thinks about it.

Can we try holding off on the politicizing for just a few days? Maybe direct our efforts toward compassion for the victims and their families, even for just a few days? Is the “noble discussion” about whose fault it is and what role everyone plays in it that urgent that it can’t wait a few days? Maybe if we shine the spotlight on the victims for a bit longer, we won’t forget quite so soon this time.

I’ll leave it to others to cry outrage!

Right now, all I can come up with is tragedy!

  

Cheers.

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Heart of the Buddha

Oregon Coast

No need to chase back and forth like the waves.

The same water which ebbs is the same water that flows.

No point turning back to get water

When it’s flowing around you in all directions

The heart of the Buddha and the people of the world…

Where is there any difference?

~ Hsu Yun Heart of the Buddha

I’ve been sporadically reading a bit of Zen/Chan poetry lately. Some of it I dismiss fairly quickly. Quite a bit of it doesn’t speak to me, though I know the reasons for this are many (they’ve been written by wisdom, meant to be read with wisdom). But some of it takes you somewhere.

Heart of the Buddha is one of those poems that really shouted out to me, even though it was just a whisper. I like the water analogies used in Buddhism, as I think they are usually the most accurate descriptions of mind, dualism, and non-conceptual awareness one can use that people can easily relate to. This poem in particular opened up to me almost instantly. Here is what I found:

No need to chase… - chasing, grasping, reaching, swimming – none of these actions will help you to realize Buddha nature. Buddha nature is not something to be found while scuba diving on a treasure hunt.

…back and forth like the waves – this is samsara. The phenomenal world of dukkha leading us here then there then here then there. We’re all chasing. And we’re all swimming with the tide.

The same water that ebbs is the same water that flows – this line brought many thoughts to mind. The same ‘stuff’ that brings us pain is the same ‘stuff’ that brings us pleasure. Buddha nature is defilement, defilement is buddha nature. No samsara apart from nirvana. Water waters water.

No point turning back to get water – That which we are chasing we have already left behind. Seeking Buddha nature outside the self is like searching for a wave already crashed back into the ocean.

When it’s flowing around you in all directions – no self no buddha. Our deluded mind is creating all this samsara around us, when we are able to free our deluded mind, we can find the heart of buddha, which is all around us. But when we turn back and seek, it is again unreachable.

The heart of the Buddha and the people of the world… where is there any difference? – This is just the non-dual nature of reality. Again, no nirvana apart from samsara. Also I felt like this pointed at the 10th Ox Herding picture a little, in the idea of bringing Buddha nature back down into the marketplace, or back to be with “the people of the world”.

Just some thoughts of mine. Yours?

Cheers.

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10 from 2010

I thought I would do a quick ego fluffing year-in-review type post. Here it goes:

1. The biggest thing that happened this year was obviously the birth of my daughter Zoa. She is now 3 months old, and sassy as hell. It is still really weird for me to think that I’m the father of 2! children. A family of four. How the hell did that happen?!?!

2. For awhile there I thought my job and company was in jeopardy. We’ve weathered the storm and I remain gainfully employed at a company that I am proud to work for.

3. Next week I start school. I’ll be taking 3 classes, working full-time, and trying to spend as much time with my family as possible. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up the 3 classes at a time thing, but the more I can, the sooner I’ll have my degree. And then the sooner we’ll be more financially secure and stable (at least, that’s the plan….) so hopefully I can last at that pace until summer of 2012.

4. This year I changed blogs, joined twitter, wrote for Elephant Journal and shifted the focus of my content here. I’ve been trying to be more aware of how I spend my time online, as well as how much time I spend here. So far the process is evolving nicely. I also started a photo blog which is sort of on hiatus at the moment until I have more time to snap some photos. But I am tied only very loosely to it, so it will just sit there for now. And I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with not posting here regularly. No pressure.

5. I decided to focus my dharma practice in a more Zen-centered path. I’m enjoying what I’m learning, and struggling to put it all into practice. I’m inching my way forward, but forward nonetheless.

6. Last year I made some resolutions. Let’s see how I did:

  • 1st – no more meat. Verdict: fail! So I don’t eat meat for any meal, whatsoever. I don’t order any meat when we eat out. But my son is a very picky eater. Some of the things he will eat are meaty. Sometimes he doesn’t finish his food. So I eat it. I’d rather it didn’t go to waste considering the manner in which it got to our dinner table. I don’t care if that makes me a non vegetarian or not. I didn’t make the choice about my diet in order to provide myself with a label or status.
  • 2nd – a more committed practice – verdict – fail! I wanted to chant daimoku twice daily and such, but I didn’t. In fact, I decided not to continue practicing strictly in the Nichiren tradition anymore. However I have found other ways to integrate other practices and study into my life. So whatever.
  • 3rd – incorporate meditation into my practice – WIN!!! Yeah, I’ve meditated a bit this year. Nothing strict or regular, but I have. And I’d like to find more time to do so, but not sure how that is going to work with work/school/kids/wife/need to shower and eat.

7. This year my only resolution is to be a better husband and father, and to do my best to be there for my family and balance all of my commitments.

8. The best book I read this year is probably The Eight Gates of Zen. Although I’m currently digesting The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing and it is really, really good.

9. Here are the 4 posts I wrote this year that I am most proud of:

Affirm life, Do not kill - it was a post around some of my thoughts/feelings on abortion.

My Personal Internet Usage Policy - this one got the most hits I’ve ever had on one day (400 something) and got really good reception. I even saw some people who said they printed it out and hung it by their computer!

Bringing us back to shore - no one else seemed to like this one, but I did damn it!!!

My Team – I wrote this on July 4th, and it actually has nothing to do with sports, though I think my metaphor got lost. Oh well, I dug it.

If you had a particular favorite that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments.

10. I discovered that I am now that old guy that doesn’t enjoy any newfangled music! Seriously though, I’ve been able to find very little new music that I like anymore. Here are a few gems that I was able to find:

Chiddy Bang (my interest in hip hop in general is declining, but groups like this and a few other indie MCs out there are keeping my iPod fresh for the time being)

Alberta Cross – excellent Canadian band my friend turned me onto. A distinct Neil Young influence, something I don’t mind in the least.

 

Iron and Wine – amazingly talented music. So talented, you’ll likely never hear it on the radio.

Ray LaMontaingue - ‘soul’ is the first word that comes to mind when listening to Ray LaMontaingue as he plays with all of his and then some.

And the award to the catchiest damn song I heard all year (or was it last year? I don’t remember, I’ve just been unable to get it out of my head):

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Home

 

Here’s to 2011. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe New Years.

Cheers.

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A man of many words

Yesterday, something quite amazing happened. At around noon I was taking a quick break from my spreadsheets and checking out the day’s headlines when I saw somewhere that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was filibustering in the Senate. I went to CSPAN’s website and listened live for the next 4 hours. It’s actually with some sadness that I call this “amazing”. Because what happened shouldn’t be considered amazing in the least bit.

Rather than espouse a party agenda, or fill the Senate Floor with hot air while dolling out as many talking points as possible (which is the norm), Senator Sanders stood up and delivered a passionate speech denouncing the proposed extension of the Bush tax cuts for all individuals. The speech was about more than just tax cuts however. He conveyed the frustrations of working class Americans not being able to heat their homes in the winter and having to shop for food at the “dented can” food warehouse. He probed the deeper problems of the growing wealth gap in this country, as well as our totally screwed up priorities when it comes to spending. I won’t go into more detail here, you can find the entire text of his speech here if you want.

It was nice to see someone standing up and fighting for my interests for once. Especially when I see some of the other news today. Since Republicans gained control of the House, they get to head all of the committees and subcommittees and the proposed heads of those committees have been announced. Let’s have a look shall we?

  • First up is Fred Upton from my home state of Michigan. He’ll now be chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee. His biggest campaign donor? EnergySolutions – a nuclear waste company. He’s also a 9/11 “truther” and climate change denier.
  • Next we have Spencer Bachus from Alabama who will be chairing the Financial Services Committee. He received substantial donations to his campaign by firms that benefited from the bailout. He also has plans to de-regulate the financial industry. Yup, that’s right. The guy that’s going to run the financial committee wants to put us in the same position we were in right before the recession hit.
  • Buck McKeon from California will be heading up the Armed Services committee. He supports allocating more resources to both the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supports Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
  • Representative Steve King from Iowa will be heading up the judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration issues. He’s also in favor of repealing the 14th amendment – you know, the one that guarantees you’re a citizen for being born here (among many other rights)?
  • My favorite and winner of the “hypocrisy in action” award has to be Hal Rogers from Kentucky. He’ll be chairing the House Appropriations Committee. In a time when Republicans are running on a platform of lower taxes and less government, it’s a good thing to have the “King of Pork” heading up the committee that dolls out the greenbacks. From the article I linked to: “Roger’s has brought so much federal money to his hometown (Somerset, Kentucky; population 11,000) that it is known as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

So while it moved me deeply to hear Senator Sander’s speech yesterday, the reality is that his voice, one that represents my views, my situation, my convictions, that voice will be but a whisper among the din of corruption and financial elite that will be crafting policy for the next two years.

 

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Slice of Life

Yesterday much to my surprise I found that this blog is a finalist for a “Best ‘Life’ Blog” Blogisattva award. I am very much in shock and extremely humbled by this. I am also really excited that I’ve been nominated along some of my favorite blogs:

  • Cheerio Road - Blogger: Karen Maezen Miller – Karen is an accomplished writer and speaks to the many of us that struggle with bringing Buddhist practice into our daily lives. (gee, wonder who is going to win this one?! lol)

 

  • Digital Zendo - Blogger: Jaye Seiho Morris – Jaye’s writing comes directly from his heart. He is lay-ordained in the Rinzai tradition, and I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with him through email and twitter, and I really enjoy his perspective. He defines Zen as “unification of heart-mind” which is something I profoundly appreciate.

 

  • Mind Deep - Blogger: Marguerite Manteau-Rao - Marguerite is another blogger writing from heart to heart on everything from her experience with death and hospice to bringing wonderful women teachers into a brighter light.

 

  • The Buddhist Blog - Blogger: James Ure – for me, Jame’s blog will always be my “gateway” blog. His was the first dharma-flavored blog I read and it was there that I found many of my other favorite blogs.

 

The title “life” blog got me thinking. Each one of these blogs I read just about each time they post. But to say that I know any of these people would be wrong view. I have no real idea who these people are, or anything about their “lives”. I only ever get just a slice. And you, reading this now, only ever get a tiny slice of my life here. You have no idea what my life is really like, but only what I want you to think about it, because it is all filtered in that way (consciously or not). There is so much more that never even gets mentioned. There are a few bloggers that I also keep up fairly regular email correspondence with, but to say that I know what it would be like to share a beer or argument or special moment face to face with any of those people would again be false.

But I don’t think it’s pointless or worthless or of no value to connect with these people. I think the category “life” is a perfect one to have up there. We may only get a slice here and there, but the experiences these people share when they’ve touched those slices can be of incredible importance. I can relate to each one of the above bloggers in one way or another, and for that connectedness I am grateful. I will never be as connected to them as I am my wife or children, but their accounts reach out to ensure all of us readers that mistakes can be met with success, but it doesn’t always end up that way (and that’s okay too sometimes). We also find through their writing that our experiences with the dharma are ever evolving and colored by our real-life experiences; which are then colored by our contact with the dharma.

I can honestly say that when the winners are announced tomorrow that I already consider myself a “winner” in some respect. Just the fact that I’ve been put up with such great company means to me that blogging about my practice, perspective and struggles can be of benefit to both others and myself. Recognition for that alone is wonderful, and for that I am grateful.

If you haven’t checked out the Blogisattva site yet, please do. As I’ve said before this award process is really about having some fun and discovering some new blogs. Many of the blogs that I regularly read were nominated or received honorable mentions, and I was also able to discover quite a few new blogs that I’ve added to my reader. Congrats to all those nominated, and thank you to all who continue to share your experiences with the world.

Cheers.

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Raising spiritual children

A few posts have gone up recently regarding raising your children in a spiritual tradition, and all the samsara that goes with it. Check out Nathan’s post, John’s post, Mumon’s post, and Karen’s post for some interesting perspectives. (I would say that my post here is inspired by, rather than a response to these posts).

Interesting perspectives. That’s what they are. Perspectives. Of the 4 mentioned above, all are parents save Nathan, who speaks from experience of working with children and running a successful children’s program in his Zen sangha to which he is very much involved. When I read these posts I see a deep sense of caring. Really caring about the children, their lives, their minds, their future selfs.

And something else is there as well. Parents and caregivers projecting what they wish the desired outcome to be. Parents that want their children to be Buddhist or Christian or Atheist or open-minded or skeptical or whatever; they all want something for their children, all to take on a specific role or mindset. And that is part of parenting. You have to want something for your children, and most of us want what is best for them. We all have our different flavors of “best” peppered by the experiences and luggage we bring with us to the table of life.

Personally, I think telling a child what to believe, or “hey Johnny, you’re a Christian, so you believe in ‘x’” is wrong, and does them a disservice. It takes away the process of discovery and replaces it with dogma, at a time in their lives where fostering an attitude of discovery and imagination is most crucial. Spirituality is a very wonderous, malleable thing. To force it into a shape before a child has had the time to poke and prod at it robs them of an experience that is very special, something that will take a terrible amount of work to get back later in life, if at all.

Currently developing the "Rocks and Sticks" Sutra...

But what of raising a child Buddhist, or in a Buddhist community? Is there a difference? I tend to think so, at least to some degree. Buddhism has less to do with belief, and more to do with results. For instance, take the five precepts. This is a teaching I could explain to my children that will lead to examination, and more questions. There is no “because ‘x’ holy book says so answer; there are only questions of “why” and “how” to be met with their own experiences and guidance from father and mother. In Buddhism we seek noble qualities, not adherence to doctrine.

Why do we take the precept to refrain from taking life?

To affirm and honor life, because it is precious. Why else do think we should not take life?

Why do we take the precept to refrain from taking what isn’t given?

To develop generosity, and to accept ourselves wholly. Why else do you think we shouldn’t take what belongs to us?

Why do we take the precept to refrain from wrong speech?

To develop compassion, live our truth, and honor others. Why else should we tell the truth, and not speak unkindly of others?

One day my son and daughter will ask me about Buddha and meditation and being a Buddhist. The questions they ask will come from a genuine place of wonder and curiosity, and my answers should foster that state of mind.

What’s a Buddhist?

Someone that follows the teachings of the Buddha.

What did he teach?

He taught many things. First he taught us that life isn’t always what it seems or what we want it to be. At times this can cause us to be sad, or even angry. So he taught us to use compassion, wisdom, and have the right frame of mind so that we don’t have to live that way.

Oh. So why do you sit on that pillow in the living room?

That’s one way to help me develop the right frame of mind.

 

That is a nice pretend scenario of a conversation that might take place. But given my son’s nature I can only imagine the questions that will soon follow. It will be awhile until the questions begin to emerge, but in time they will. And when that time comes I have no qualms with asking him if he wants to practice with me. And if he says no, he says no and he will enjoy racing matchbox cars around the Kitchen 500.

Spiritual communities can be great environments for children. But when the activities include having them sing songs in praise of people and ideals they have no way of understanding, I draw a line.

Presently we have no formal sangha or spiritual community to raise our children in. Our religious practice revolves around our attempt to manifest spirituality in our daily lives and activity. So there is no temple to “drag” them to. And there isn’t much in the way of belief to indoctrinate them in. There are our daily successes and failures that will guide and shape them. For those with access to a sangha or dharma center, their perspective will be different; I cannot speak to the experience of others.

Or maybe they’ll never really take an interest in Dad’s Buddhism. Maybe they’d rather play with the Tarot cards on our shelves, mesmerized by the dozens of different artist’s depictions of the journey of The Fool. Maybe they’d rather read The Lord of the Rings and get lost in The Shire. Maybe they’d rather spend the day in the woods taking in deep breaths of dead leaves and cedar, running from whatever forest creature they might imagine is in pursuit.

It really is up to them. I’ll be steering them in a direction that keeps them on the road. But that is my perspective, and that is where I feel my children would benefit most. For now I’m focusing on raising compassionate, spiritual children. We can worry about the framework later.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Parenting

Just Patience.

The Great Bodhisattva of Patience wields a fiery spoonful of pudding!

I’m finding more and more that I’ve reached a bit of a plateau when it comes to this blog and Buddhism in general. Part of the reason I started this blog was to openly explore the dharma as I started on the path. I am nowhere near any kind of expert, realized master, or authority or any such person when it comes to Buddhism. But I do feel like I have a grip on enough of the basics that I have little where else to go as far as the online world is concerned. I’m finding more and more that what I’m looking for isn’t here, but lies closer to where my feet are planted, and my fingers meet the keyboard.

After awhile the basics start to get boring. I can only read the same thing said a million different ways so many times before it becomes Geography class. Geography class was always required in middle and high school. But it was useless. Once you learned where Bolivia was, that was it. But we had to learn where Bolivia was and what their climate and chief exports and natural landmarks were year after year. But nothing changed. Most of the basic concepts of Buddhism are like this, at least on an intellectual level. And quite frankly, you can only do so much with text.

Also quite frankly, you can only do so much while sleep deprived. I haven’t had but maybe 4 good nights of sleep in the past 2 years or so. Kids can do this to you. My kids do this to me. My wife has it worse. So I haven’t been meditating, and I struggle to even read the past few weeks. For my son Corbin, it’s been a struggle to get him to go down for the night. Once he does, he’s been mostly sleeping through the night (finally, after almost 2 years) but wakes between 5-6am. This wouldn’t be too bad if our daughter Zoa would allow us to put her down to sleep at a decent hour, but she’s a bit of a night owl and frequently won’t lay down for the night until between 11pm-1am.

Needless to say, I’m running short on patience. Patience with my wife, children, situation, self, work, strangers, family, you name it. It manifests in many forms. Anger, rudeness, non-compassion are the usual ones, though cold distance is there at times as well.

Concepts are great, but they don’t mean shit off the paper.

Spiritual traditions are great, but they don’t mean shit if you can’t apply them to your life. They don’t mean shit if they can’t help you deal with your issues in a way that brings about real, actual change. And those changes don’t mean shit if you can’t use them to better deal with those you love the most and keep the closest.

So I’m dedicating my practice to the pursuit of patience.

Patience.

                 Patience.

Patience.

It really couldn’t be a better time to do so. Financially, we’re hoping to put ourselves in the house market by the end of 2011. This will take work, sacrifice, and a ton of patience and non-attachment. Starting in January, I’m going back to school to pursue a degree in Enviromental Policy and Planning. The A.A.S. part will hopefully be done by Summer 2012, but looking down the road this is going to be tough. I’m going to have to put in a lot of work for this, and working 40+ hours while trying to be a family man and go to school full-time is going to really test ability to remain patient, calm, and present.

Oh, and I have 2 kids! Wow! They are a daily test of patience. My son’s new favorite game is just to knock shit over. He walks up to a chair, and just knocks it over, bam! Vacuum? Bam! High Chair? Bam! Our neighbors below must love us…

So what I’m getting at here in this long “me me me” post is that what I really need to do is forget some of my loftier dreams of group meditation or kensho and just go for what matters most to my life right now: developing patience. My family will thank me for it. I will thank me for it. To me it is more beneficial than digging through Nagarjuna’s thoughts on Dharmadhatu, though I do hope to make it there someday as well. Right now my practice needs to meet the pavement where I commute daily, in hope that my passengers will benefit.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Parenting, Personal

Affirm life; do not kill

— On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags lay in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus.

Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where they had been hidden for a year — apparently to conceal illegal abortions.

…Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions — if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal.

…Suchart Poomee, 38, one of the undertakers being questioned, confessed Tuesday he had been hired by illegal abortion clinics to destroy the fetuses, police said. He said he had been collecting the fetuses since November 2009. It was not clear why they had not yet been cremated.

The above is from the following article, please take a short minute to read it.

I’ve been thinking about posting on the issue of abortion for a while now, and this article presented a good context for it. At first I was shocked and saddened by what happened, mostly it was just at the magnitude of that many dead fetuses. For me this article brings to light issues that fall outside of the black/white pro-choice/pro-life debate we usually hear about. I don’t know if there is a unifying theme to my thoughts here, so I think I’ll just go for it, and ask for your forgiveness regarding the scattered nature of this post..

First thing I think about is the entire premise of pro-life/choice. Seeing death of this magnitude definitely makes me question my long-held stance of being pro-choice. It’s hard for me to argue for someone else’s right to do something like that.

I find I sometimes have to remove the human element away from the situation in order to argue in favor of being pro-choice. I wonder if it is possible to feel empathetic toward all those involved in the process, and what that looks like.

I don’t want to force a woman to have a baby if she doesn’t want to, regardless the reason. And I sure as shit don’t want to see a return to back-alley abortions.

I wonder if it is more disheartening because of the magnitude of seeing thousands of fetuses all there, all at once. It’s in my face and not in the back of a clinic with no windows. I wonder what else I take for granted simply because it happens behind a door in a place I’ve never been.

I wonder what those at the temple have to go through when dealing with the aftermath of these illegal abortions.

I don’t like the term pro-life. It isn’t accurate. Many of the same people who call themselves “pro-life” are also “pro-war” and “pro-death penalty”. Clearly all life is not precious to them. Why the distinction?

The doctrine of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) comes to mind when I try to think of this topic. Sometimes I think that I’d be okay with abortion if it was done in the 1st trimester if by choice (later for medical reasons). But then I start to wonder where it is that life begins. Is it when the brain has activity? The heart beats? When the sperm fertilizes the egg? When I try to think of this in terms of dependant origination I can’t pinpoint the moment where life begins. I keep going back to the sperm, and egg. The egg that was present when my daughter was fertilized in my wife’s womb actually grew in her mother’s womb, where an egg that was fertilized had been since she had been in her mother’s womb and back and back to all the ancestors of our collective past. All of this is precious.

I think that abstinence only sex-ed doesn’t work. Not at all. Clearly this is evidence of that. Humans want sex. Teenagers want it even more. (and yes, I did just draw a distinction between humans and horny teenagers)

Birth control is there to help prevent people from having an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy, but it’s only 98-99% effective. I have 2 children that can attest to the other 1-2%. Our planet can’t continue to grow at the rate we’re breeding and people shouldn’t have to be brought in this world to parents that want nothing to do with them when there are other options available. Sometimes biology happens. Sometimes you make the best of it, and alter your life and raise two beautiful children. Sometimes it isn’t possible to bring a child into the world and offer her what she needs.

  

Is killing sperm the same as killing an embryo the same as having an abortion at 4 months? If yes: Really? If no: how come?

When does a fetus become a baby?

Legislating morality in the way it seems to happen in Thailand (as well as in many other places) leads to situations like this. Illegal abortions. People put in awkward and potentially dangerous positions.

We legislate morality all the time. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Who’s morality is better? There will never be a system that gets it right 100% of the time.

I believe that non-theraputic male circumcision is wrong. How do I justify that stance with being pro-choice?

I think there are too many filters to view this through, which is why we’ll never resolve this issue. Ever. It is legal, political, moral, and personal. All or none at once. The fetus has a right to attempt to become a person. The woman has a right to not be a mother. The doctor has a right not to perform the procedure. The courts have a right to say who is right and who is wrong.

How do we affirm life and support everyone involved? How do we apply the Bodhisattva vow when it comes to abortion?

The article says that the fetuses were placed in the bags by workers when they were found. Were they just out in the open before this? The image of thousands of fetuses just lying around a morgue is horrifying to me. I haven’t been able to shake it.

For the first time in my life I am able to understand those that picket outside of an abortion clinic. Most definitely there are those that are there for religious and political reasons, but I know that some of them just care. Deeply. And I identify with that.

I understand the desperation a soon-to-be parent can feel. I will never be able to feel that through the filter of motherhood, but as a parent I can say that those shoes are familiar ones. I feel for those that feel the need to end a pregnancy early. But I will never have a woman’s perspective on this.

I feel for those that miscarry. I feel for those that lose a child, no matter what age.

I think I am glad that women have the option, but I wish that it was an option rarely exercised.

I have no easy answers. The gray is too strong on this one.

Edit: I originally had a picture of my 2 children included, but after reading this over a few times felt that wasn’t a good choice for a photo. Not sure why. So I replaced it.

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Filed under Buddhism, Parenting

Jataka Tales, Zen Practice, and Daily Life

 

 

Once long ago, when Brahmadatta still reigned in Benares, the bodhisattva was born as a crow. In time he became the leader of a great, raucous troop of crows, nearly a thousand strong, that lived in the cemetery…

So starts The Wise Crow Jataka, presented in Chapter 6 of Endless Path. The Jataka tales are a collection of stories that supposedly tell the tales of Shakyamuni Buddha’s many previous lives. The Buddha appears in many forms, from God to crow, and from King to beggar. An obvious moral teaching can be at the heart of each tale, similar in some respects to Aesop’s fables. From my experience, in Western convert communities, the Jataka tales are generally seen as children’s stories, rather than important moral lessons for all practitioners. Enter Rafe Martin.

Rafe Martin is the author of several books, including The Banyan Deer, Straight to the Heart of Zen, and One Hand Clapping: Zen Stories for All Ages. With Endless Path, Martin has found 10 Jataka tales that relate directly to the 10 paramitas (also known as the 10 perfections). In so doing, he brings them off the children’s shelf and into the lives of every modern-day Buddhist, young and old.

The he uses is almost like that of a koan. First he presents the Jataka, each one given fresh new life as an original telling, all with a dash of Zen. Then he spends a few pages extolling commentary on each one. Martin’s commentary stays with the contemporary theme in order to reach a modern audience as diverse as the characters we find in the Jatakas. This is definitely the first Buddhist book that I’ve ever read with references to President Obama, iPods, and 9/11. His commentary roams from personal narrative to a bit of Buddhist history, and covers the morals, ethics, and finer details of each tale wonderfully.

Rafe Martin breathes fresh new life into these wonderful old tales, and in doing so, provides us with a much-needed perspective into our individual lives and practice. He doesn’t really touch on whether or not these stories actually took place. Certainly there are those out there that believe they did, and there are many out there that see them as nothing more than folklore and stories left over from a far-away culture. Instead, Martin prefers taking up the task of telling each story, and bringing out its full potential to a modern audience. It doesn’t really seem to matter here if the tales are true or not, because they are reflections on our own lives, here and now. In his commentary, Martin shows that each Jataka stands on its own, fiction or non, because the lessons we take from them can affect us deeply, here and now.

Something we fail to realize is that this life, right here, now, is a Jataka in the making. We might not be a talking crow or a monkey king, but we do each have our own stories of struggle developing these 10 perfections, developing the life of a Buddha. Something that I appreciated while reading these tales was how much the Buddha struggled through his previous lives! It wasn’t always so easy for him, and sometimes he failed miserably. It should give us hope then, that the struggles we work through here in this life are not just the mud of life, but they have the potential to become the very thing that drives us on this difficult path we walk.

I wholeheartedly recommended Endless Path to any practitioner out there. There are lessons we can all take away from these Jatakas and Martin’s commentary on them. As I said, these tales are for people of all ages. So those of you out there with children have the added bonus of being able to read these tales to them, and maybe create your own commentary, something that touches you and your family.

 

Cheers.

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Filed under Book Review, Buddhism

On and off the shelf

It’s about 1am on Thursday night, and we’ve just got our 1 month old daughter, Zoa, to sleep. It’s been and on-and-off (mostly on) struggle to get her down at night. And then my son Corbin wakes up. I go in, try to comfort him, but nothing works. I’m not able to get him back to sleep until nearly 5am, and then have to wake up at 6:45 to head to work.

In this 4 hour period I go from rage to depression to fear to calm to half-asleep to happy. No where do I find my Buddhism. Why? Because it is in its usual resting place, the shelf.

The Literal Shelf:

I haven’t meditated since before my daughter was born, which was a month ago. My son has been sleeping less at night, sometimes waking up for 4-5 hours, sometimes 30 minutes at a time 3-4 times a night. Or sometimes he sleeps right through. My daughter hasn’t been going to sleep well either. I used to do my meditation routine at night, right after everyone was in bed. Meditate, or sleep… meditate, or sleep…. not really a hard choice on my part now. Setting up the altar and meditating in the morning isn’t really an option, as I wake up with my son (anywhere from 4:30am-7am) and there is no chance in hell I can sit staring at the floor with him running around loose.

So right now, my Buddhism sits on the shelf, in the form of a book usually. I’ve decided that for now, study shall suffice, at least until we can get some kind of regular night-time and sleep routine going. I realize that meditation is only a tiny part of Buddhist and Zen practice, I do. I realize that really living the path means bringing the teachings with you into the mud of life. But I’m having enough difficulty just remembering to take out the damn trash, let alone to do it “mindfully”. I have no teacher, no formal sangha. My knowledge is a lacking, and my insights are few and rare. Right now study isn’t just a way to practice while being convienent, but is a necessary and important part of my practice for today and tomorrow. I simply wish I had the time, capacity, and patience to bring “it” off the shelf more often. Which brings me to-

The Figurative Shelf:

I notice more and more that the times when I’m “being a Buddhist”, come short and fast, and they are gone. I can remember to breathe from the hara, but then it’s gone as soon as my breath leaves. And when I remember again a few minutes later, I kick myself when I look at all the crap I filled my head up with in between.

But much of my life is no different from this. Those feelings I had late the other night, they came and went faster than I would have admitted at the time. I’m finding most of my life resides on the shelf. Little stories I have of “me” to be taken down and checked out when convenient. Some of them barely get out of their usual space before they come right back, while others are near impossible to put back once taken.

 

Anger in its many forms is one of these. Stress, rage, loneliness, burden. This story I call “Only my self and the fire” is an old and familiar one. One too familiar, and not old enough. I know how harmful it can be, yet its pages suck me in and keep me there longer than I’d like. But eventually a chapter or two in, and I realize how many times I have read this one, and how it always ends the same. As time passes I’m finding that it goes back on the shelf a little easier each time, and that it takes me a page or two less each time to get it there. Progress.

There is another, one titled “Riding on Cloud 9 in Fantasy Land”. This story sits on my shelf more often than not, but when I pick it up, I am transported. Taken away to a place where nothing can harm me. No bill collectors are allowed here and everyone has a perfect credit score. People don’t fight. Kids sleep through the night. Cats scoop their own litter box. Cars repair themselves for free. Everything works out in the end here. This book isn’t just hard to put back on the shelf, it’s impossible. The only way to get it back on the shelf is if another one of my stories knocks it out of my hand. I don’t like it when that happens. I really enjoy that story.

And this goes on and on and on. These novels and short stories that I’ve created for me and about me, are constantly going from hand to shelf, hand to shelf. The speed at which must be quite dizzying to onlookers, as I know it wears me out. And to top it off, there are times at which the books and stories I’m grabbing seem to have no real rhyme or reason, other than to grab them and hold on.

I’ve done this for years and my shelf is in disarray. Unfortunately, I’ve been viewing Buddhism and spirituality as just another story, to take on and off the shelf. If I had the presence of mind, I’d open up the pages, and realize that they aren’t things to be taken off the shelf and put back on at a whim. No, these are much more powerful. They are a Dewey Decimal system to keep these books organized. Help me clean them up and put them where they go. Separate the fiction from non-fiction. Buddhism and spirituality are there for when it’s time to let some of these books go, and reduce some of my inventory.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do this type research needed into these very special ‘books’. They are there at home now, sitting on that damned shelf. Too often I leave them on that shelf, ignored until they are to be picked up when convienent.

In a flurry, on and off they go.

But they are an empty shelf!

Just hear without the noise.

Unite heart and mind.

Cheers.

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Dots, Portmanteau and taking requests

 

Just a quick hodge-podge today.

First, there is only 1 week left to get in your nominations for the Blogisattva awards! The awards were created “To recognize and honor excellence within the Buddho-blogosphere” awhile back by Tom Armstrong, and have since been brought back to life by Nate DeMontigny and Kyle Lovett. These awards have nothing to do with who is the best Buddhist, most dedicated practitioner, or anything like that. They were created as a fun way to foster a bit of community in the blogosphere and recognize excellence in blogging. There are many categories in which you could nominate someone you think deserves to be recognized like “Best Achievement in Skilled Writing” or “Best ‘Life’ Blog” or “Best Achievement in Kind and Compassionate Blogging”.

I’m not posting this just so someone will nominate me (seriously, there are better blogs out there than this one!), but so that when the time comes to decide the winners, there will be a diverse group of blogs/bloggers that will have been nominated. So if you know of a really excellent blog out there, go nominate it! Another really great thing about the site is the meta-list of Buddhist blogs, websites, and other things dharma/interweb related. Currently there are over 400 sites listed there. So if you have a Buddhist flavored blog and aren’t already on the list, make sure to include your site there on the directory. You can find the Blogisattva site here. (you can also click on the picture over on the right hand side there…).

Not sure who to nominate? Don’t read that many blogs, or are looking for some good new ones to read? Have no fear, Anoki Casey is here with Dharma Dots. Anoki is the man/myth/legend behind Buddha Badges, Altar Bot, and more interweb projects than there are Ganges sands. Dharma Dots is a blog aggregator with what I consider some of the best Dharma-flavored blogs out there. And many thanks to Anoki for adding this corvid to the Dot matrix.

And finally, I would like to ask all 7 of my readers if they have any suggestions or requests on blog topics. I’m really open to anything, but would like to focus on topics that might help to foster discussion. So feel free to leave a comment if you have any ideas or suggestions.

Cheers.

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Blood into Wine into Mind

 

Last night I watched the movie Blood into Wine. It’s the story of Maynard James Keenan and his partner-in-wine Eric Glomski and their journey into vinting. The movie itself is excellent, and tells quite the story. For those that don’t know, Maynard is the front man of the legendary rock band Tool, as well as A Perfect Circle, and the Ringmaster of his current solo project Puscifer. A quick read of his wiki pages lets you know that he also went to art school (paid for by his time in the Armed Forces) and tried his hand at stand-up comedy, inspired by Bill Hicks, someone he admired greatly. Truly a jack-of-all trades. At first mention, you might think that this was just another rock star putting his name on something he thought was cool in order to promote himself and earn a few more bucks. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Maynard fell in love with wine and then wanted to know more. Discover more. Put himself into it fully. For Maynard, this led to starting his own vineyard and winery.

For those of you that are familiar with Tool and Maynard, you know the air of mystery that surround his projects. Tool has gone out of their way to avoid the media side of the rock-industry. Rarely posing for photos, making interviews rare if any. At some shows they won’t even address the crowd. They simply come up on stage, play their asses off, and leave. A friend of mine went to see them in Michigan, and told me that Maynard spent almost the entire show behind the drum set, facing the back of the stage. But with the lighting and music and the entire experience, he said it really didn’t matter. If anything, it made the experience of the show even better.

This movie not only gives you a close look at two guys that are crazy about wine, but it provides a rare look at Maynard himself, with the mask he usually wears taken off. What we see is a man that is uncomfortable around people in so much that he really isn’t a people person. He seems to keep his circle close (even when that circle includes Patton Oswaltd and Milla Jovovich) and even when interacting with those, he lets others direct the conversation, mostly appearing that he’d rather be somewhere else. And if this movie is any indication, that somewhere else is digging in the dirt on his vineyard, picking grapes, planting vines and keeping animals from eating his crops.

Maynard does draw a couple of comparisons between his music and his vinting. He tells us that the process is very much the same in that with his music. It is an authentic process, one that is involved with discovering the medium fully (be it music or wine) while at the same time, leads him to a higher plane of self discovery. When you listen to Tool’s music, you can hear their jam-band element come across, and it almost seems as if the band is there just to support the music as it happens naturally; that they are just as much a part of the music as they are its creators. Maynard takes the same approach to his wine in that he isn’t out to please critics or change the world of wine, but rather to give life to something he put his whole being into.

There is something rather Zen Master about Maynard’s whole approach. He refuses to perpetuate his own celebrity status. Rather than appear on reality TV shows or VHI, he only feeds his fans a tiny morsel of himself, and lets them use their own magic to come up with the rest. He rarely answers questions directly; instead his answers come from the relative way in which he engulfs himself and his work. He seems much more interested in the process than he does the final product. This just reminds me that the principles at work in Buddhism can be found anywhere, and are indeed universal, no matter what their context.

Anyway, if you enjoy documentaries at all, you should see this movie. It’s a great introspective into one man’s life and passion, and regardless if you are a Maynard fan or not, you will appreciate the way this story plays out.

 

Cheers

 

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The Lesser of Two Evils

It’s election day. Well, kind of. Here in Washington State, we receive our ballots in the mail a few weeks before the election. I love this as it gives me the ability to look at an initiative or candidate on the ballot, read through the voter’s pamphlet, and do some research online all at the same time, and all in my underwear with a bottle of home brew in my hand if I so choose.

I’ve really been struggling this election. Usually I refuse to succumb to the “lesser of two evils” approach to voting. Thankfully in my state there were 8-10 candidates running for President that made it onto our ballot in ’08, so I didn’t have to choose between 2 candidates I felt would have been bad for the job. However now that the primaries are over, I don’t really have that choice in the current election. It’s either red/blue democrat/republican (and all establishment) on pretty much all of the races. In the past I’ve voted as a way to endorse a candidate I felt would represent my and my districts/states interests well, and if neither candidate was worthy, I would abstain in that particular category.

The lesser of two evils? Not according to this interesting bar graph...

But I don’t have that luxury this time around. To not consider the ramifications of my actions is irresponsible and naïve. The Senate race between Senator Murray and challenger Dino Rossi is a close one, and could sway the majority in the Senate one way or the other. The race in my Congressional district is also a fairly close one. My choices in these two races are actually pretty easy as I like both Rick Larsen and Patty Murray, and feel like they do a good job most of the time. Some of the state races I’ve yet to decide about though. It’s an important decision as it is a census year. The congress that we elect will have the power to draw up new district maps, which will influence politics, elections, and federal money destinations for the next 10 years.

We also have several ballot initiatives here. 2 concerning the state liquor laws, one that proposes a state income tax on those making over 200,000/year (or 400,000 combined family) and one that deals with taxes on junk food and bottled water.

The reason I’m posting about this here is because in Buddhism we can’t leave our ethics and morality on the proverbial cushion. If we are to truly engage the precepts and teachings, then we must strive to apply them in all aspects of our lives. And at the core of those teachings is the process of examination. There isn’t a blanket list of “do’s” and “don’ts” (except for some directed at the monastics) in Buddhism. Instead we’re asked to examine each moment and situation as it is, fully and use the precepts and teachings to help guide our actions. We must contemplate the possible effects of our actions, as well as our intentions and the motivations behind those intentions. I don’t think there is a Buddhist Way to vote, nor do I advocate any such premise. But I do believe that we should bring our process of examination into those political actions that we undertake. Buddhist practice isn’t something to turn on and off like a light switch (though it is a stubborn switch to leave on, isn’t it?) when we please. It is something that we bring into the marketplace, into the dust and dirt of life.

The moral and ethical teachings are relative for a reason. There are no one-size-fits all answers to the questions and situations that arise in this vast world. Instead what we have are guideposts, and tiny bodhisattvas that sit on our shoulders and ask us “why?” “where does this volition come from?” And so it should be when it comes time to make a decision that will effect not only my life, but my children’s, my neighbors, and this whole world.

Take for instance the liquor law initiative. Right now in this state, if you want liquor, you have to go to a state-run liquor store to buy it. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and the prices are pretty high. When I first moved here I was blown away at this draconian system. However if this initiative rolls through, the liquor stores will be gone and grocery stores can begin selling liquor on their shelves. With this comes the end of a government monopoly (something I usually oppose depending on the issue) increased access, and lower prices on booze. But this also comes with increased access for teens to obtain alcohol, a loss of revenue for the state (which we currently CANNOT afford) and a loss of jobs for all of those employees. Here, sticking to an ideal (government = bad, private sector = always better) would have potentially fatal consequences, and have ramifications that will stretch out far and wide. If this doesn’t pass, we still have booze, albeit an ineffectual system for distributing it. Personally I’d like to see some modifications of the current laws (more stores, open more hours, lower prices) that kept revenue flowing to the state and liquor out of the hands of kids as much as possible.

I hate broad brushes. I’ve never once voted straight-party. Liberal or Conservative, neither has all the right answers. The lines between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are blurry at times. Life is relative. And I think this is why the Democratic party consistently fails. They embrace the relative while the Republicans stick to their ideals and policy of absolutes. They always have 1 message. 1 platform. The Democrats have more messages and more platforms than The Flying Spaghetti Monster has noodly appendages. It’s a tough sell when your party slogan makes for a better .PDF than a placard. But this is a more accurate description of America, isn’t it? Do we have one voice about anything? I digress…

I have no interest in thinking about how The Buddha would vote, or voting in a “Buddhist” way. The Christian Right has been doing this for years in our country. Groupthink and religious politics largely disgusts me.  However I am interested applying the dharma to my decision-making process in and of itself. Not in choosing who to vote for, but in examining the process I’ll use in making my decisions.

Cheers.

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The Eight Gates of Zen and Invoking Reality

 

John Daido Loori, Roshi

Recently I read both the Eight Gates of Zen and Invoking Reality; both titles by the late John Daido Loori, Roshi. For awhile now I’ve been looking for a presentation of Buddhist practice tailored to a Western convert such as myself that didn’t also strip the dharma of all of the culture that it has inherited over its many centuries of evolution. Well, these books are it.

The Eight Gates of Zen is a manual written to explain the path being taken by a student at Loori’s Zen Mountain Monastery in New York State. The path takes up the Eight Gates (zazen, study with a teacher, academic study, liturgy, right action, art practice, body practice and work practice) and combines them with the 10 ox herding pictures to form a disciplined and formative way of practice. For the home practitioner such as myself, this book serves as a reminder that practice happens “in the mud of life”, and shouldn’t be put away with your meditation cushion after your daily zazen.

To me, it seemed as if the entire purpose of this book was to speak directly to the Western convert, espousing the dharma in a way that held on to its traditional roots while at the same time being an expression of our current time and culture here in North America. If you are looking for an introduction to Zen or Buddhism, I don’t think this book is the right one. Loori assumes you already know something about the basic terms being used and have a general knowledge base to work with. Terms like teisho, satoori, Mu; these are all used freely and if someone has no experience with these, they’d have to spend a decent amount of time making notes and referencing the vocabulary used. Thankfully I have enough experience with the language being used here, and this book seemed aimed at someone at right about my level (though it will be something to work with for years to come).

Loori makes it a point to establish two different paths for monastics and the laity, something which makes sense to me. I have no desire to take up the path of a monk; I have a family that I love very much and want to spend as much time with as possible. But this isn’t an obstacle as far as Loori sees it. Here he has laid out a path for the lay person that is just as involved, engaged, and intimate as the path for the monastic. However at the same time he brings us back to the heart of it by explaining that the two paths really are one, and that we both “leave home” in some sense.

I found the content in the book extremely well presented, it was clear (as much as Zen can be of course ;)) and the material was laid out so well that one could use this book as a study point for many years (which is something I know I will do). Additionally, in the end of the book Dogen’s Mountains and Rivers Sutta appears, the sutra that Loori drew much of his inspiration from. Upon first reading I really love this sutra, and plan to study it more intensely in the future. Following that, there is a Zazen checklist (wonderful for a beginner like me), an “Introduction to the Zendo”, Jukai, and a section of Daily Liturgy. For me the Daily Liturgy will definitely come in handy (anyone know of an audio version of the Heart Sutra being chanted in English?) as it will give me something new to recite and chant if I so choose. Also, at the end there is an extensive “recommended reading” list that I plan on working my way through over the coming years (decades?). Seriously if you haven’t read this book, go get it. So far this has been the best book on Buddhism I’ve read yet. It was engaging, poetic, and concise.

There were many “a-ha!” moments throughout the book, but none for me as powerful as the following paragraph in the chapter “The  Still Point: Zazen:

The very first sitting of the rank beginner, whether properly or improperly executed, is at once the complete and perfect manifestation of the zazen of countless Buddhas and ancestors of past, present, and future. From the zazen of countless Buddhas and ancestors, our own zazen emerges. From our own zazen, the zazen of countless Buddhas and ancestors is realized. As a result, we all live the life of Buddha, transcend Buddha, have the mind of Buddha and become Buddha.

I don’t know what it was about reading this, but all of a sudden there was this moment where the teachings of the Lotus Sutra were put into perspective, and it was as if for the first time I was really getting the Lotus Sutra. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but reading this really helped. I think it was just his style, and delivery to a Western audience that seemed to put much of the Lotus Sutra into a perspective that I could understand.

 

 

In Invoking Reality, Loori presents for us the moral and ethical teachings of Zen in the context of the Three Treasures, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave precepts. From the beginning Loori states:

Enlightenment and morality are one. Enlightenment without morality is not true enlightenment. Morality without enlightenment is not complete morality. Zen is not beyond morality, but a practice that takes place within the world, based on moral and ethical teachings.

Living the precepts is living the life of a Buddha. Nothing could be clearer having read this book. It is quite a short read (only 97 pages) and in that sense did leave a little to be desired. I think he did a fantastic job of describing the precepts, how they function, and their role in our daily lives and practice. In Invoking Reality Loori assures us that the precepts are not some stagnant set of rules to follow, but they are a living, breathing dynamic system to follow in order to live this life as a Buddha. The whole phenomenal universe is co-dependant, constantly originating, coming and going. The 16 precepts are a response to this transitory nature of the universe we live, work, and breathe in.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, though I felt at times Loori got lost in his poetry. I love his style of writing but when presenting the 10 grave precepts, more specifics would have helped since this book seemed to be geared toward and introduction to Buddhist (Zen) ethics and morality.

This book is an excellent reminder that Buddhism is a moral and ethical system, and to divorce our practice from this realization is to divorce ourselves from the Buddha and what he taught. I plan on reading some more of John Daido Loori’s works in the future. Truly his was an original voice in Western Buddhism, one that has spoken to me directly. I appreciate his appeal to traditions of old while crafting something original and meaningful to a new audience in the West; all while focusing on the “mud” of life and dharma.

Cheers.

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A Zen cage for my monkey mind: my journey into Buddhism (part 2 of 2)

 

So in my post yesterday I gave a little background into my motivations for taking up this Buddhist path. For me, recollecting this was an important part of my current journey. Ever since breaking ties with SGI, I’ve been fine being an “unaffiliated” Buddhist. However, I’ve been realizing more and more that this type of path is so crooked and covered in brambles that I’m never likely to make it far. I know myself enough to know that “loose-knit” just isn’t going to work for me.

On my last post a commenter asked if committing to a particular school was necessary (I go this question on Twitter as well). I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary. However, rather than finding it limiting or too narrow, I find practicing within a framework more liberating. I have no real access to a real life teacher/dharma center/sitting group which makes focus hard enough as it is. Family matters are my primary concern, along with my 40+ hour/week job. So for me, establishing at least some type of framework will be liberating in the sense that I’ll be a little less scattered and a little more focused in my pursuits.

So I’m leaning toward Zen. That’s something I never thought I’d say actually. In the beginning I thought Theravada was the path for me, being as close as one could get to one of the original schools of Buddhism. That was important because at the time I was only really concerned with what The Buddha™ taught. I thought that Zen was so far off from anything the Buddha taught that it shouldn’t really be called Buddhism. I also thought that since the Mahayana sutras were probably not conceived until well after the Buddha died, that made them invalid on some level.

Well that was then and this is now. I’m finding that Zen is a practice that better suits a lay person with my motivations than others I’ve encountered and looked into. I’ve realized that it doesn’t really matter if the Buddha delivered the Mahayana sutras or not, because they and the schools that use them work; for me the proof is in the pudding. I should also state that my decision to pursue Zen didn’t come about because of an aversion to another school. I don’t care about who is right or wrong. Dharma pissing contests are as important to me as Protestants who squabble over whether baptisms should consist of water splashed on the head or being submerged in a Louisiana swamp. I’m choosing this path because it speaks to me, not because all the other ones don’t.

It seems to me that Zen very much focuses on the nature of mind, but brings it down into the dirty marketplace of life. Particularly I have an interest in the Rinzai school and their greater focus on koans (I also so far enjoy Hakuin more than I do Dogen) though as I said without a teacher/center close by it doesn’t really make any sense for me to narrow things down that much. I also understand some of the limitations I’ll face by “going it alone” for the time being, but I’m fine with that. I have much to study, and a meditation practice to integrate more fully with my daily routine. Maybe once things are settled a bit with the baby and I figure out what I’m doing about school in the winter, I’ll drop by a temple in Seattle a few times next year and find out if that’s something I want to pursue with regularity in the future.

So there it is. For now I’ll be using a Zen cage to trap my monkey mind. That doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly adopted a set of beliefs and now believe in the greater Zen dogma. For me it’s more like a rusty compass to help me get where I’m going.

Cheers.

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The 2nd noble truth: my journey into Buddhism (part 1 of 2)

If this sticky, uncouth craving overcomes you in the world,

your sorrows grow like wild grass after rain.

If, in the world,

you overcome this uncouth craving,

hard to escape,

sorrows roll off you, like water beads off a lotus.

— from the Dhammapada

My journey into Buddhism began long before I knew anything about the dharma. Lately during meditation, some memories that I had previously not paid much attention to have begun to surface. Memories of times when I was deeply interested in mind, the process of mind, and the nature of mind. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, somewhere between 8-13 though. I can remember moments where I became obsessed with mind. How is it that I could watch my mind, and the inner dialogue I was having? Were there two of me? And if I noticed that I was able to watch my inner dialogue, was that then a 3rd person/mind/self present? These issues bugged the absolute crap out of me at times, but as a child with ADHD soon I found something else to fixate upon and pass the time.

I also distinctly remember moments of timelessness. Where my concentration was so focused it wasn’t, where time was infinite and minute and neither of these, where the things around me didn’t exist with labels. But I remember them only as fading moments. Desperately I would try to get back to that state of concentration where the inner dialogue (which was always going at 100 MPH) was shut off. After awhile of this and the times spent contemplating my mind, I remember deciding that these things were impossible to figure out, and that if I spent my time attempting to, I’d probably end up in a padded cell. I never really gave these times too much thought the rest of my youth. Occasionally I’d do some quiet contemplation, but nothing formal or serious or anything really worth mentioning. I don’t want to label these moments as I fear that I’d be putting them through a filter that wasn’t there at the time.

I’ve spoken about my religious upbringing enough on this blog, so I won’t bore you with that again. I’ll flash forward to 3-4 years ago. After adopting some of my wife’s pagan beliefs and embracing a more pantheistic world-view, I still somehow felt that my true spiritual calling was still out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. After we settled in to our new apartment in Bellingham, we decided to have a look around town, and it happened that there was an SGI center just a couple of blocks away from where we were living. I had no idea what SGI was, and my wife informed me that she used to practice with them. I knew she had chanted and practiced some kind of Buddhism as a youth, but never really dug into it. Well, considering the close proximity of the center, I decided to check out the whole Buddhist thing. I started by going to SGI’s main website, but that didn’t do much for my investigative mind. So I started at wiki, and searched around a bit at urban dharma and I found the Four Noble Truths.

Whoa.

This, to me was it. Life is unsatisfactory. There is a root cause for why life is in an unsatisfactory state. There is a way to make escape this unsatisfactory existence, and the way to do that is the Noble Eightfold Path.

What really hooked me was the 2nd noble truth. Yes, craving and desire and clinging and attachment are bad. But that isn’t all. Craving is so bad because what we crave is an illusion. Our whole lives are illusionary. Our eyes are liars. Our ears are liars. Our mind is the ultimate trickster.

For me this struck at the core of the problem of mind I experienced as a youth as well as some other unanswered questions I carried with me into adulthood. It was learning about the Buddha’s diagnosis of why we were sick and that he had a prescription that sold me instantly. So I began to read, investigate, listen to podcasts, and try to figure out a way to ‘be a Buddhist’.

For me it is still about the 2nd Noble truth more than the others (though I understand they all work in conjunction). My primary focus on this path lies in discovering the delusional self, exposing it for what it is. Quenching craving. Starving desire. Caging my monkey mind. Peering into the unknown.

I haven’t been doing much of that lately though! Too busy! Also I’ve been mostly reading, studying, thinking, questioning. I have yet to decide on a particular school of Buddhism and lately as far as my practice is concerned that’s where I’ve been focused. Part 2 of this post will deal with that in more detail as I didn’t want to post another TLDR. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 5 day old baby girl to take care of!

Cheers.

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Happy Birth-Day

Welcome to the world Zoa Lilith Reed. You came into my life at 4:17pm on September 29th. You weighed 10lbs 6oz and were 22 inches long with a full head of hair.

I haven’t stopped loving you since, nor will I ever.

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Take it down a notch

Finally.

While I tend to lead to the liberal side on most issues (I could make Marx blush if I wanted), I simply have very little tolerance for the Democrats in office now. And I can’t seem to find much of anything that most current Republicans are pushing that I want to buy. But I also don’t think Obama is a secret Muslim, nor do I believe that comparing anyone to Hitler (really, why always Hitler?) is getting us anywhere in this country. The 24 hour news networks fail to actually report any news and instead stick to commentary (yes, I believe they all suck) and flashiness. I’m so glad I don’t have TV service (especially now that the political ads are starting).

Of course, when I check out the internet, it’s the same thing. There are very few (if any?) balanced news sources that actually promote journalistic integrity and serve up hard journalism. It’s either liberal or conservative. What happened to just getting the fucking news? The death of the print newspaper is something that we must watch more closely. For when the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune fall, so to will the funding for the real journalists of the world. The ones that are embedded with the troops. The ones that spend a month in the Rwanda snapping photos that open the world’s eyes to the atrocities there. Then we’ll be left with hot-dog eating contests and sound bites from the red carpet. Idiocracy anyone?

We have abandoned the notion that a well-informed public is a right and a necessity to democracy. Instead we’d rather get our news from people who would tell us how to feel about it. We’d rather be entertained than take the time to learn and be informed. I love NPR, but let’s be honest. It’s fucking boring. “…and in 8 minutes we’ll have Elenor Wigsby from Muncie, Indiana with some tips on how to get the dust off your ceiling fan…” They can’t compare to Fox News or MSNBC’s sound bites, flashy images, and 17 tickers running across the screen. So they win. Olberman and Maddow and Beck and O’Reilly. Have any one of them broken a story lately? Yet they continue to get the most viewers. And we’re led to believe that most Americans feel the same way. We’re led to believe that Americans are either marching with Tea-Partiers or they’re chaining themselves to trees in the Redwoods. No middle ground.

 In the land of the dulled masses, the man with the loudest megaphone is king.

Enter Jon Stewart.

If I lived within reasonable driving distance, I’d be heading to the rally. Despite what people might say, this rally is important. It’s important to show the world that we aren’t all on the fringe of either side of the political spectrum. It’s important that we show those on the fringe that they don’t speak for us, and shouldn’t pretend to. It’s important to show the world that “real” Americans aren’t always as bat-shit insane as E! and Fox News make us out to be. And it’s important to show the world that we’re sick of the dickwads on both sides of the crazy isle taking over the conversation.

 

Cheers.

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My thoughts on “Socially Engaged” Buddhism

There certainly has been quite a lot of talk lately about Socially Engaged Buddhism, and whether or not it is crap, real, necessary, or unavoidable. I’ve completely avoided commenting anywhere on any of the posts about this. I’m guessing that if you read this blog, you’ve seen some of the discussions come up elsewhere as well. If not, check out Nathan’s blog for his take (he also linked to most of the other discussions/posts there) as I think it’s worth reading.

I’ve thought quite a bit about this the last couple of days, and given it quite a bit of thought. Let’s start with defining it. From Wiki:

Engaged Buddhism refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice. Finding its roots in Vietnam through the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Engaged Buddhism has grown in popularity in the West.

John over at Point of Contact had this to say:

(via Jizo Chronicles) How is this different than mundane/non-engaged/boring Buddhism? Because still the only difference I see in the inclusion of social activism. And with that inclusion you can count me out. My activism is not dictated by my religion but is an organic creation from my personal, day-to-day practice.

Why put a meaningless label on it?

(via Point of Contact)Don’t practice social engagement as a Buddhist.  Don’t practice charity as a Buddhist. Don’t show compassion as a Buddhist. These are the things that every personal practice should contain without contraining them with religious identity.  When you chose to show charity, compassion or social engagement as a part of your personal practice you can do so without waving a religious banner.  Do it for the benefit for others.  Period.  End of sentence.  No strings attached.  No politics or banners.  Slogans or comments.  No conversions or evangelizing.

Part of me certainly agrees with John. When one is engaged fully in their practice, the changes one incurs will naturally be brought out into other aspects into their lives. But part of me agrees with what we find in the definition here. “Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights” to me says that people are seeking a vehicle in which to apply what they have learned and experienced to greater social causes. This is the same thing we find with organized/structured religion. One might not want to use labels or constructs, but I think having a Zen or Pure Land or Therevadan framework is helpful and can be conductive. They are rafts to use when crossing the river, which are to be discarded when one reaches the other shore. I’m wondering if this is what those that consider themselves Socially Engaged Buddhists are doing as well.

Kyle over at The Reformed Buddhist had this to say the other day:

I don’t want this to come across as yet another rant against politics or social justice, as these are all fine undertakings, just as much as opening a soup kitchen, teaching a child to ride a bike or making dinner for the family. But when we attempt to justify these endeavors as the purpose or goal of Buddhist teachings, then the practice becomes something other than Buddhism. They are at best, distractions from our practice and are just more squirrel mind running ramped. And at worst, they are delusional additions to Buddhist teachings in order to create an artificial goal of happiness, or social change or whatever the extra desires may be.

What he and a few others referred to was that the goal (yes, I know….) of Buddhist practice isn’t to help others, do charitable works or any of the other things that fall under the “Socially Engaged” tent, but rather that the end goal of Buddhism is the cessation of suffering. Certainly I agree with that. Plenty of the Pali texts end with the Buddha bringing whatever it was that he was teaching in that particular sutta back to the Four Noble Truths. It always comes back to suffering, the source of suffering, the knowledge that there is a way to end suffering and then the path out of suffering.  And with this again, I have to agree.

And yet, Nathan had this to say regarding the “looking (only) within” aspect of the path:

This is an old, old debate between those who argue Buddhism is about working to disengage from worldly concerns, and those who see Buddhism as a path that includes coming back to “the marketplace” (Ox Herding Pics) if you will. I think everyone is on a continuum between these two extremes, from solitary monks living in the mountains to lifelong social activists whose work is deliberately guided by Buddhist teachings.

With Nathan I have to agree as well. But I think that even within each individual we find people fall into different places on their own continuum. Some of us bring our practice into politics, others check it at the door. But those who bring it into politics might not bring it with the same fervor when it comes to familial manners. And it is here where I think some of John and Kyle’s (and others!) frustrations over who gets to define what “Engaged Buddhism” means. I am no less engaged than someone else simply because I decide to not be as vocal about issues of race or gender equality as others out there who may not be as vocal about environmental or poverty issues as I am (examples). I also wonder if it’s a slippery slope into “if you are an Engaged Buddhist, you will vote/believe/speak out against/for topics a, b, and c.”

Along these same lines, I have seen plenty of suttra thumping over various topics around the blogosphere/forums/interwebs. Rather than analyzing their own intentions, opinions, and leanings; there are those that would simply say “I’m a Buddhist so I believe such and such”. If I ever say that, please kick me in the nuts. I didn’t adopt a specific set of beliefs when I decided to walk this path. I never said “Hey, I’m a Buddhist now, so I believe in “z” because it says so in X suttra.” Those are all appeals to authority and the Buddha-dharma has no room for those. Now I do believe that belief has a large role to play in Buddhism, but it is more of a trust-based belief. The way that you follow the advice of a doctor even though you don’t fully understand the science behind what it is he has to say. You apply the advice, and if it works, well, it works.

Much of this path lies in the process of discovery and inquiry. Something I’ve been digging at lately is the topic of abortion. Certainly it is a social and political issue. Does Engaged Buddhism allow for both Pro-Choice and Pro-life social activists? (I think I’ll save my personal thoughts on this for a later post.) If “economic justice” is included in Engaged Buddhism, does a Buddhist Tea-Partier that believes we shouldn’t tax the wealthy at a higher rate than the poor have the same voice as the liberal who believes we should tax people because they are wealthy? One could argue issues of economic “justice” for either side depending on one’s politics. Maybe that’s where things are getting messy for some. Maybe it’s that people are bringing their politics into Buddhism, rather than bringing their practice to their politics.

Is this all just coming down to “who gets to define ‘engaged’”? Is it just about the labels?

One final thought. John had raised some points about doing things in the name of Buddhism. Certainly many of us here in the US are familiar with Christian organizations that give out a side-order of proselytizing with their charity. During my homeless months in Seattle, I slept in a church basement at night. We were never preached to nor were we asked to even attend service. Some did and some didn’t. It was truly charity for charity sake. Of course, there was also one of the food lines I stood in where they handed out Vitamin C tablets with a Jesus pamphlet (had to take it if you wanted the vitamin). These two different approaches definitely left two distinct tastes in my mouth (and not just because of the vitamins).

So it got me thinking. Imagine the week after the earthquake in Haiti, two groups of people went down to dig two wells. The first group is a Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/Muslim/pick your religion group who goes down and announces that they are the “X religious group” here to dig a well. They dig, and leave without ever directly trying to convert anyone, but they are sure to mention that “hey, we’re such and such, of course we’ll help!” Awesome. Well is dug and people have clean drinking water.

The second group has no affiliation. They are just a bunch of random strangers that met on craigslist and wanted to help out in Haiti. So they go down and dig the well. The villagers ask “are you with such-and-such church?”. “No” they reply. “We’re just fellow humans, of course we’ll help.” Awesome. Well is dug and people have clean drinking water.

In then end isn’t the well still dug either way? Or is there a difference? Does it matter if the religous group leaves their conversion attempts at their door, even if they announce they are doing God’s/Allah’s/Cthulu’s work? (I have yet to see a charitable Cthulu cult but if you know of one, please let me know).

At first when I came up with this scenario I thought the second group’s impact would be much more profound in that the beneficiaries of their charitable actions would see that it doesn’t take any type of organization or religion to foster compassion for fellow human beings and such. But then I realized that compassion is a key component in many of the world’s religions, and something most of us could all work on in our daily lives. And that it’s nice to have an organization to support that effort. It’s nice to have a website and an organization to find like-minded people with which one can be of service to others. Because while the second group sure is a nice ideal, we all know what people really use craigslist for ;)

So really I’m fairly undecided about all this. And that was the real intent behind this post. I realized that I had no preconceived opinion about Socially Engaged Buddhism. And that listening to all the dialogue going back and forth was interesting, but it wasn’t an organic way to form an opinion that was mine. I’m usually quite opinionated, but for some reason this issue threw up a huge road block for me. It was awesome. I’ve no doubt that social conditioning has some part to play in whatever opinion I do ultimately form around this, but it’s liberating and refreshing knowing that I can walk into a discussion and have zero knee-jerk responses. I’m not sure the last time that has happened.

I came across the following from the Pabbata Sutta that I think fits nicely with this theme:

“ Like a mountain of rock
in the wilderness, in a mighty grove,
dependent on which there prosper
lords of the forest, great trees —
in the same way,
those who here live dependent on
a clansman of conviction
— consummate in virtue —
prosper:
wife & children,
friends, dependents, & kin.

Seeing the virtue of that virtuous one,
his liberality & good conduct,
those who are perceptive follow suit.
Having, here in this world, followed the Dhamma,
the path to a good destination,
they delight in the world of the devas,
enjoying the pleasures they desire.”

Cheers.

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Life!

Life has had me very busy these past few weeks. We had been planning on having a c-section scheduled for our daughter that is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks. Turns out that is no longer necessary, which is a huge relief. But that still means that lots of preparations have to be made, and a lot of my deadlines have been moved up at work. I have a few posts in the works, but my internet use has been fairly sporadic.

Speaking of internet use, I’ve created a little tumblr account. Photography is something I’ve always been mildly interested in but never really pursued. Lately I’ve had the bug to take more photos and focus on it a bit more. To showcase some of those photos (as well as force me to take some so I’ll have something to post) I created Dharma Snapshots. Nothing fancy. Just some photos that I’ve taken and liked, as well as some teeny tiny dharma tidbits I find and enjoy. Feel free to look around there. I’ve added a link up at the top of this blog that will take you directly there.

Cheers.

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Everyone is homeless…

I contacted Anoki over at Buddha Badges a few weeks ago about creating a special badge that centered around homelessness (something near to my heart as I’ve blogged about previously…), and using Homeless Kodo (Kodo Sawaki) as a theme for that badge. He produced a very cool badge with the quote “Everyone is homeless” on it. All proceeds from the purchase of this particular badge will go to an organization called Farestart. Farestart is an organization in Seattle that provides job training in the restaraunt industry to the homeless, as well as provide meals to those in need. It is an excellent organization, and one that I was familiar with from my days in Seattle. The badges only cost $1, and .90¢ from every purchase goes directly to the charity (the rest goes towards supplies). Please give the Homeless Kodo badge a look and support this charity if you have a buck to spare.

Cheers.

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“I never really cared for smells & bells” – an Interview with Jomon of the blog “Nothing to Attain”

Every so often, Nate over at the Precious Metal blog throws out a call for some sort of blog swap. This time we were tasked with interviewing the blogger we were paired up with. You can see a list of all those participating here. I was paired up with Jomon (Laura) from the wonderful blog “Nothing to Attain“. Update: my portion of the interview is up at Laura’s blog here. Here’s the interview:

In exactly 108 words, describe Laura to the world.

Hah!  I have really go to work on being too dang wordy!  108 words would be a great practice for the blog!

Speaking of transplanting (see her questions to me on her blog), what about it met your expectations? What about moving to the West Coast shocked you or failed to live up to your expectations? What is it that you miss about the Mid-West? What is it that you will never, ever miss?

I miss my parents and my mid-West friends but they now have a wonderful place to visit.  I seriously miss Major League Baseball.  Portland is tough for baseball fans, and worse for this third-generation Cardinals fan (my maternal grandmother used to take my mom out of school to watch games).  Not only does Portland not have a major league baseball team, we are losing our AAA team!  So my husband Patrick got the iPhone app that allows us to listen to all the MLB radio broadcasts.  We get to hear all the corny St Louis area car dealer commercials we grew up with.  And don’t hate me, but I still love Budweiser.  I know, seriously, I’m living in Beervana, and I still love Budweiser.  I tried, I really did.  I guess you can take the girl outta St Louis…

I do believe it is safe to say that I will never, ever miss pulling ticks off of my skin and clothing after hikes in the woods.  I continue to be shocked and awed by the beauty of the PNW.   That and the prevalence of Buddhism.  The midwest has pockets of teachers and practice centers, but not the wealth we have on the coasts, especially the number of retreat centers.  And Portland!  Throw a baseball in Southeast Portland and you’re likely to hit a Buddhist.

How do you balance your personal life with your practice/sangha?

Personal life has pretty much fused with practice / sangha.  My husband and I got married at Great Vow Zen Monastery.  We had a realization that spiritual practice needed to be at the center of our lives.  We didn’t need to be in the same tradition; we just happen to be lucky that we both managed to find our way onto the same path.

So now my husband is the president of the ZCO Board, and I’ve been the Portland Shuso for the past year, and serving on a few committees as well.  We both have held various service positions, like chant leader, and bell-ringer over the years.  I guess our center is benefitting from the fact that we don’t and probably won’t have children.  I feel something like motherly love towards our Sangha and temple.  Patrick and I sometimes look at each other, awestruck at whatever it is — luck, good karma — that brought us to such a place of deep, authentic practice.

Letsee, though, non-Buddhist stuff — dragonboating is a great activity — I’ve been taking a bunch of yoga classes, doing photography, going to basketball or baseball games.  We do our best to get out into the forests or camping on the coast.  And there may be another attempt at a dog this fall.  We are such dog people; it is painful to be without a dog for this long.

Do you have a favorite sutra, or one that speaks to you more than any others?

You mean like reading the Sutras?  Heretofore I have not done a lot of reading on Zen and Buddhism.  I know that is a bit backwards from many practitioners, who get inspired by reading then start practicing.  I have read some of the Vimilakirti Sutra.  Just reading Robert Thurman’s intro to his translation was enough for me to chew on for months!

We regularly chant the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra.  That is where the name of my blog comes from:  “With nothing to attain a Bodhisattva relies on Prajna paramita and thus the mind is without hindrance.  Without hindrance there is no fear.”

One of my biggest struggles in life and in practice is with attainment.  Getting somewhere.  Being somebody.  Improving.  Meeting goals and objectives.  It gets at the heart of a deep assumption that I am somebody and that there is something inherently wrong, or unworthy about that somebody.  The words “nothing to attain” serve as such a great reminder that this is not at all the case.

Same question kind of, but instead of sutra, whats the one koan that has spoken to you, or ‘shook’ you more than any other?

This is a good question — my experience with koan practice in general is that koan practice itself shakes me to the core, and then shakes that ‘core’ apart!  Koans lure out all our best strategies and then they reveal those strategies to us as completely ineffectual.  I suspect they are all pointing to something more than just our best thinking and strategies.  I have most recently worked on “the True Person of no rank,” and that one flirted with me, charmed me, and then it grabbed me and held on.

What’s up with Rinzai?  What made you choose Rinzai? It seems that the Soto school of Zen is the more popular one here in the US, so I’m wondering what it was that drew you there.

Our teachers come from the Yasutani-Maezumi lineage, which is really a fusion of Soto and Rinzai.  Currently their teacher is Shodo Harada Roshi, a Rinzai teacher, and his influence can be felt deeply.  I certainly didn’t research all the branches of Buddhism and then pick “The One” for me.  I just happened to trip over myself and land in the laps of some very amazing teachers who have come out of this / these lineages.  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t go all researching about.  I would have developed a bunch of ideas about what Zen is, what Rinzai and Soto is, and it probably would have made a convincing argument to myself to stay the hell away from all of it!  Zen has such a macho rep, and there is some truth to that, I suppose.  I hear some of that from people who from the outside say Zen is “too disciplined”, “too regimented”, “too cold”.  I have been fortunate to practice in a woman-led Sangha, and with such skilled teachers, and such a mature Sangha, that in my experience, there is a really huge, warm heart in Zen!  Roshi Chozen has been doing a Metta Sesshin for many years.  It was controversial at first because Metta is not officially a Zen practice, but she acknowledges there was some need to warm it up a little.

More on Rinzai: how would you describe Rinzai to someone that knows next to nothing about it? What advice would you give to someone thinking about diving in to that particular school?

I have rewritten this answer until it is hash.  And I still do not feel adequate to really say something useful and I am not exactly sure that the following is not  a bunch of bullcrap.  I can pretty much just say some of the things I have heard our teachers say about the distinction, and I have felt the distinction when they have done more Rinzai-inspired sesshin, so please, add grain o’ salt here.

One of the differences is that of gradual (Soto) vs immediate (Rinzai) enlightenment.  The Soto school stresses that we are already Buddha.  The Rinzai school stresses pointed effort and the experience of kensho.  To me, when you put them together, it is like Suzuki Roshi’s comment that we are all fine just the way we are, and we need to do better.

This intensity of Rinzai appeals to me very deeply.  We don’t know if this is our last moment.  So to practice intensely is in alignment with that deep truth.  And it reminds me of the wholeheartedness of dragon boating.  A close friend of mine described my husband and me as “constitutionally incapable of phoning it in.”  This is not to say that a Soto practice is not intense; that shikantaza is not an all-consuming practice.  This is why I defer an answer to an actual teacher.  What the hell do I know about it?

Rinzai, Soto, Zen, Insight, Shambhala… regardless of where you practice, the advice I would give anybody about diving into any spiritual community would be the same — to show up.  More than once.  To take your time, to observe, to pay attention to your heart and your head in equal measure, to ask around about the reputation of the place, to observe the senior students, to see if the people at this Temple have something you want.

If I knew anything about anything before I started practicing, I swear I would have thought I’d have to be an Insight Meditation practitioner wearing layers of colorful drapey clothing, and purple scarves, not so much Buddha, more mindfulness.  I never really cared for smells & bells.  I had to come at it slowly.  It took me a year to really begin a regular practice with the community downtown.  There was never any pressure, just a constant, open-handed offering.   I found that for me, it’s not really about the forms.  It’s the relationships.  The Sangha.  Whatever form that takes is not so important I think. I mean, it is, but the important thing is to practice.  To show up.  That is the most important thing.

What sparked the moment when you said Yes! Buddhism is it for me! (or whatever)

It was after my first weekend meditation retreat.  This was a super-gentle, Vipassana-led, women-only, completely permissive retreat at a really nice hippie-run hot springs resort out here.  You can’t get a more gentle intro to retreat practice.  And even so, holy shit it was hard!  All that sitting with my bored, pained, dissatisfied, worried, judging, self-critical self.  And while things did smooth out a little bit by the end of the retreat, it wasn’t until a few days afterwards that my soon-to-be husband and I were having a VERY painful discussion about our relationship, which was in crisis.  And for the first time in my life, I could actually HAVE that discussion, and actually hear him, and really hold his feelings and experience before just reacting with my own defensiveness.  It was not just mind-boggling, but it turned out to be what saved our relationship.  Yes!  Buddhism is for me!

Does your extended family all practice? Or are you the black sheep? How do they feel about it? Has it caused any strife?

My parents do not understand it at all.  I think they might worry a little bit.  They’re a bit old school Christians, and I know they’re a bit uncomfortable with the “graven images” of Buddha.  I get that.  But we can and do talk about it, and I think they have been reassured to some degree that there is no worship of an idol going on here.  There is nothing I could do to diminish my parents’ love for me.  They are worriers, though. As far as extended family Buddhists, I am apparently related to Jimmie Dale Gilmore by marriage.  It’s a fairly remote connection, but if you count my extended family out that far, then I’m not alone in practicing Buddhism.  Otherwise, yeah.  Becoming a Buddhist came totally outta left field for my family, but it’s not much of a struggle with them.  My dad isn’t interested.  I don’t talk about it much to them.  They really don’t get how we can take so much time off to attend retreats.  That is just so not in their Protestant Work Ethic frame of reference.  It’s become such a clear priority for our lives.  And our lives have been gradually reflecting more of this priority all the time. They just want me to be happy, and I think they can see a lot of the contentment and satisfaction, the fruits of practice, so that is reassuring to them.

What is it in life that you struggle with most?

Confidence.

What is it in your practice that you struggle with most?

Confidence.

What do you tell people who are unfamiliar with Buddhism when they ask you about it?

I think most people who are unfamiliar with Buddhism are surprised that all Buddhists are not necessarily vegetarians.  That and the Buddha is not worshipped as a God.

Why blog?

I have no idea!  Seriously!  I thought it would be for my Illinois friends and others.  I thought this would be how we could kind of stay in touch.  But they don’t really read my blog.  They’re always, “oh yeah.  What’s the address for that again?”  But now I have made a few connections through the blog that really does feel like community.  I am happy to be so focused on my own practice and the temple and all, but it is also really nice to have this broad sense of Sangha.  I think it’s a real connector for Gen X practitioners, too.  Our brick-and-mortar Sangha is comparatively well-dispersed generationally, but I know that is not really the case around the country, and there is some understandable concern about what will happen when the Boomer generation has gone.  Buddhist blogging can be a doorway into practice, I think.

What types of changes have you noticed in yourself/not-self since you began practicing?

Heh heh!  Not-self…  Yeah, that cookie keeps trying to crumble, which has not been a real comfy experience I tellya.  I am a lot less wound up and a lot less of a perfectionist.  My standards for myself and my surroundings have gotten a little more relaxed.  I was pretty hyper-organized, always 5 or 10 minutes early for everything, and while not a clean freak, there was a bit more of a tendency to lose the forest for the trees sometimes.  There was a point in my practice when all of that just kind of started melting down.  It was awful!  It was definitely against my will, and I just had to deal with it.  It seemed like there was a big part of self-identity that was held together by this anxiety, and once that started letting go, it all just started falling apart, and I would forget really important things, I would double-book appointments then forget both of them.  Missed appointments, forgotten promises dramatic screw-ups.  My old strategies just stopped working, and it was really disturbing.  And yet, I found that the world didn’t end.  My friends and colleagues still cared about me, even if I dropped the ball on some really important things.  This is similar to the lessons from being the chant leader.  The experience of making mistakes in front of the community.  Not only have I lived to tell, but the community still accepts me!  And that acceptance is not based upon being perfect at anything.  It’s not about a me that is doing.  It’s about just being.  I have observed practice having a balancing effect on others, too.  It is amazing, really.

What do you care about now that you may not have paid much attention to before?

I think before, my spiritual practice (probably universally), was about feeling better, or feeling more in control of my life.  I don’t know that that is necessarily changed,but now, in addition to continually being treated to the reality of no control, there is a deeper question: “What is TRUE?”  Which can just be there, control or no control, feeling better or feeling worse.  What is TRUE?

Thank you for taking the time for this interview/swap! It has been fun and informative!

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My personal Internet Usage Policy

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A few people posted some replies and discussions based in part on my recent post on race. I’d just like to clarify that it’s not that I don’t feel that race isn’t an important issue, or one worth taking up. It’s just that for me, I want to avoid it the topic when blogging and on the internet in general. There are some other things I try to steer clear from as well (most notably partisan politics). This got me thinking a bit about how I want to and should be spending my time online, and how my interactions truly reflect the person typing these words as well as the part of me that is trying to embrace wisdom, compassion, and kind-heartedness. This is something I’ve been examining and dwelling on for some time now.

So I’ve created my own personal Internet Usage Policy. These are some rules, guidelines, and reminders about how I spend my time online. I’d like to clarify now that this is MY list, and I don’t feel like anyone should have to adopt any of the following positions. However, it might be a worthwhile effort to create your own IUP, and see what you can do to stick with it.

1. Debate proves nothing other than who the best debater is. Debate exists solely to prop up a ‘right’ version of ‘me’. Therefore, I will avoid debate at all costs. Instead I will look toward discussion when engaging others, as discussion is a means to foster “us” rather than “I”. In a similar light, I should be mindful that my posts are responses to, rather than reactions from whatever their inspiration might be.

2. Regarding blog rolls, commenting, following on Twitter, and feeling “obligated”:

  1. I put up on my blog “roll” blogs that I read regularly, and would like to suggest to others to check out. That is why they are there. I don’t put up blogs simply because they have listed mine in their blog roll somewhere. If I didn’t include your blog, it should not come as an insult. I sometimes get overwhelmed by the number of items in my Google Reader, and can’t keep up with everyone on a regular basis. Also sometimes blogs just aren’t my cup of tea.
  2. I don’t often comment. That doesn’t mean I didn’t read your post, it just means that I didn’t feel compelled to say “nice post” or engage in discussion. Maybe it wasn’t warranted. Plenty of people do the same here. It’s okay. It was probably a great post, and I appreciate the effort you put into it. But this isn’t Little League, and we don’t all need a participation trophy every time we get up to bat.
  3. Regarding Twitter, I have the same policy as mentioned in (1). I follow people because I am interested in what they are tweeting. I don’t feel any obligation to follow anyone because they follow me, nor should you feel obligated to follow me because I follow you. I’m not on Twitter to have the most followers. I’m there to share information and listen to different points of view. If I don’t follow you back, don’t consider it an insult. Some people like mint chocolate chip, other people like pistachio. No biggie.

3. I won’t use the internet as a means simply to promote myself or to become more popular. In blogging the lines between self promotion and discussion/sharing certainly do get blurred at times, but there are boundaries one can adhere to, and I should remain mindful that I do so. When I post my blog or other blogs to reddit or twitter or other sharing services, it isn’t to get more views (I don’t have ads here, so what good do more views get me?) but to drive traffic in order to foster discussion. Understandably, not everyone will have an opinion on everything I write, so I should be okay with that. And when someone agrees with what I’ve written there is no need to comment saying “yup, I agree”. More or fewer comments should not affect my ego and I should be careful to notice when they do (because they will).

4. I will be careful not to get caught up in generalizations. For example, simply because I disagree with most of the GOP’s agenda does not mean I support the Democratic Party’s positions de facto. I should do well to remember the same for the rest of the world when it comes to such dualistic thought. My world is not black and white, I should not expect other’s to be so either.

5. I will always use my real name when applicable and reasonable. I will attempt to use a real photo of myself as well. This helps others to remember that those using the internet are human beings, not just words on a screen.

6. I will always remain skeptical of claims made on the internet, especially those without sources to back them up. Likewise I will only use Wiki as a jumping off point to find more information, never to be relied completely upon. Using just one source of information as a basis for my opinions will leave me more ignorant than if I had never read the source in the first place. Because at that point, I’ve become a parrot.

7. I will examine my motivations for writing a blog post, tweet, or comment at least 3 times before I click “submit”. I will examine the content at least the same number of times.

8. I will avoid commenting anywhere unless I feel that it will really further the discussion, or set some facts straight. However when pursuing the latter, I will do so in a manner that does not result in ad hominem, but only provides information, to foster a greater understanding.

9. I should not assume that a comment or blog post will change people’s minds. I should take into consideration the fact that presenting negative opposing views rather than positive alternative views will probably only entrench the other party more firmly into their view, and me into mine. Mother Theresa said it best:

I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.

10. I will use the internet to engage others, to seek information, and further my understanding. When it becomes a burden, obligation, or addiction, I will shut it off.

11. If I find myself getting angry or upset over what someone has written, I will not comment or respond for at least 24 hours. Then I will invoke #7.

12. At times I will undoubtedly fail to adhere to this list. When I do so, I should examine why, and attempt to clarify or rectify any wrong that I have done. With the vicarious nature of the internet, apologies should come more easily than they do.

I’m sure there are some other things I’m missing here, what do you think? Is a personal IUP worthwhile?

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Blogging about race

*Warning: this post does contain some hateful language, but it is presented in a fact-finding way, and it should be clear that there is no intention of hate on my part when using these words. I felt that using the words in this context was important to deliver the overall message.

 

Recently, a fellow blogger Kyle wrote a bit about race and privilege and then there was quite a discussion in the comments. Check it out if you want, though you won’t see any comments by me.

That’s because I don’t want to talk about race. I know that it is an important issue. I know that issues about race are bound to come up when dealing with Buddhism, bloggers, and inflated egos on the internet. Some of these discussions are very important. But I don’t want any part of them. And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m white. I’ve simply had it with issues of race. (and yes, I understand the irony of this post)

I grew up in Saginaw, MI. My whole life, Saginaw has been in the top 10 most segregated cities/areas in the country. For a long time it has been Black on the East side of the river, and White on the West side (and Latinos close to the water on the West side). Saginaw is a town much like Flint, Detroit, or Gary, Indiana. Back after WW2, African-Americans were actually able to find work in these Northern industrial towns, and they were paid well. Well, this scared the shit out of the white folks in Saginaw, so they all started moving farther West of the river, where the land had been previously used for farm or was vacant forest. Many of the homes that the white folks abandoned were left vacant and property values dropped as houses sat unsold and began to deteriorate. If you’ve ever seen a Micheal Moore film, he’ll usually show a bunch of abandoned houses somewhere in Flint. It’s not the same street that he shows over and over. It’s common place to find such conditions in many areas there, and in recent years that’s become the norm in areas in Saginaw as well.

On top of white flight, GM once employed over 30,000 people at a factory once called simply “GM Steering Gear”. That’s where my Father (luckily) continues to work today. Of course now he does the job that 3 salaried plant managers and a secretary once did. Oh, and he only has about 4,500 co-workers now. There were other manufacturing business that depended on sales to Steering Gear that now sit empty as well. Ask many today, and they’ll blame the lazy Black man. Never mind that it was GM’s poor management, shitty cars, and the UAW asking for unreasonable demands that were the real culprit (there are plenty of other reasons as well, but those are the most direct). It was just easy to blame it on low production due to lazy black people.

So that’s a short history of the city I grew up in. And obviously only a tiny fraction of it. But I felt it important to include. It might help you understand why I grew up hearing African-Americans called niggers and negroes and colored people (“hey, if the NAACP can use it, so can I!” – something I heard on more than one occasion) instead of African-American or Black (I’m not a fan of either of these terms either).

A lot of times growing up I would hear racial slurs, but always with the addendum that “well, I don’t hate Black people, just niggers.” (don’t worry, I also heard about stupid Polloks, wetbacks, camel jockeys, towel heads and “Indian givers”) Oh, well, that makes sense! There are good “x” people, and then there are the “other x” people. It isn’t a surprise that I ended up parroting those sentiments later in life (much to my present dismay). My grandfather, uncles, father all repeated this message for most of my life, never believing themselves to be racist, of course.

Understandably I was confused as a youth when my mother (my parents divorced when I was 7) began dating one of “those people”. When we headed to the other side of town for that first time, I was terrified. The image of the scary black man had been firmly implanted in my head. But I never met him. What I did meet was a bunch of really nice people who ate some really good food (and some really weird food) and liked to invite us over for cookouts in the summer time. It turned out that they were people too.

Of course even more confusion set in when I wasn’t allowed to talk to my grandparents about mom’s new boyfriend. (On a side note, my mother did date an African-American cop for a month or so and I remember him referring to his baton as a “nigger beater”. Yet another mixed signal to send to a 9-year-old). I didn’t want to tell anyone about my new friends on the other side of the river for fear that I would be punished or ostracized in some way. I was yelled at for championing Malcolm X, and told that I should have looked up to Dr. King, because he was one of “the good ones”. Hip-hop or, “nigger music” wasn’t allowed in my house either.

Clearly, confusion about race was an ever-present factor in my childhood.

Flash-forward a few years to when I was 16-17. I went to visit my friends Del and Steve to play some basketball quite a bit in the summer. They were on an AAU team with my friend Troy that I lived near and became close friends with. Twice I was pulled over for “driving while white”. Never heard of it? I know, mostly you’ve heard of “driving while black” and people getting harassed in that way. Getting pulled over for DWW is when a white person gets pulled over in a black neighborhood because they suspect you of being there to purchase drugs. After all, what other possible reason could a white person have for making his way over to the black part of town?

It was at this point too, that I started to notice that being white came with baggage I never knew about. While I did make a few friends over on “that” side of the river, I made just as many enemies. Steve’s sister was especially critical, asking why he needed to have a “fucking white boy” in the house. “Fuck you white boy” was something I heard quite a bit just walking down the god damned street on my way to the corner party store. Of course Del frequently told me I was “at least a 1/4 black” furthering the blurry line in my head regarding race/culture. How the hell was I supposed to feel and react to all of this?

Now let’s head over to history class. American History apparently starts in 1492 with Columbus “discovering” the West Indies (isn’t that kind of like discovering my neighbor’s back yard?). Then nothing happens for over a hundred years until Jamestown, and then the pilgrims and a big happy feast at Thanksgiving! Then the French and Indian war, American revolution, early American politics, if you’re lucky you might get a chapter about the wars with the Native tribes and a mention of Sitting Bull, then it’s the civil war, depression, the 2 world wars, civil rights, yadda yadda yadda you know the story.

Hmmm…. something is missing here. Weren’t there already people here, before Columbus? Didn’t they have any history? Culture? Art? Well, not if you read the history books they don’t. To find out about my ancestors, I had to search out some college girl’s thesis paper. If you do happen to take the time to browse through it, you’ll see there is an extremely rich history there. And one of my ancestors was a Native woman (one of many), who was Michigan’s first real business woman, a widow in her 20′s that was successful enough to send her children away to a Canadian private school. She was hugely influential in her time and place and never once did I hear her name during my Michigan History class. All that was ever mentioned were the wars between the Michigan settlers and the native savages. Never mind the fact that the French fur trappers and Natives were extremely cooperative and came to rely on one another and marry each other and take up each other’s religions up there on Mackinaw Island. Nah. Let’s just skip over that and learn about the rich timber barons and Henry Ford. I only happened upon her when doing some research into my family’s history. A couple of generations of a family and an important part of Michigan’s history reduced to an obscure PDF.

So by now you might be wondering, why is he talking about all this? To score racial sympathy points? Why does this white guy have a bug up his ass? I included this bit of personal history because I felt that it was relevant. Relevant to show that issues of race affect all people, including myself. I revealed all of this to show that I’ve had it up to my ears when dealing with issues of race. Racism abounds in this world, this is true. And it comes from people of all colors, and it reaches out to people of all colors. I find it disgusting that we use skin color as the basis for dividing a people. I find it equally disgusting that we use race to keep communities insular and homogenous. “If everyone looks like me, I’m safe! If someone looks different, lock your doors and grab your gun!”

I’ve seen my family literally torn apart because of it (my mom finally decided to bring her boyfriend to meet my grandfather – on his deathbed). I’ve seen the city I loved growing up in destroyed in part because of it. There is no way to escape issues of race, and I have no desire to ignore it (nor could I if I wanted to); instead I’m just not going to confront it, especially not here on this blog. Call me a coward, blame it on my “white privilege”, I don’t give a shit. But don’t tell me that I don’t have to deal with those issues simply because I’m ‘white’. We all deal with issues of race whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, and we all deal with them differently.

Furthermore, I don’t feel that confronting issues of race tend to do anything to change anyone’s mind (there are some obvious exceptions), especially on a blog that no one reads anyway. Instead I feel that hitting at some of the underlying issues of racism (ignorance, culture, hate/fear) are way more worth my time if I ever felt like “combatting” racism. But I don’t. Let someone else do it. Because I’m sick of it. So sick of it all.

Cheers.

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Filed under Personal, Political

Intentions and raccoons

Friday evening there was a knock on our door. An old man, out of breath from climbing our stairs was at our door, flashlight in hand. He was looking for his cat that had escaped. He informed us that she had never been outside in the 5 years that she lived with him, and was probably frightened. He gave us a description of the cat, her name, and went continued on to a neighbor’s house. Knowing cats, there was a good chance that she bolted and probably got lost and scared and hid somewhere.

It was a good thing he knocked on our door. We kept checking out of our living room window for the cat, and at about 10pm we saw her. Not wanting to scare her off, I went to the old man’s house, and got him to come to where she was. His front door was cracked and he was waiting in his armchair, hoping that she would remember the way back home. As soon as she heard his familiar gasping, she perked up. “Molly!” is all he had to say. He picked her up and held her close as he caught his breath. He got her home safely that night.

We’ve been taking care of 2 of the stray cats in our neighborhood by putting some food and water outside for them. One of them (we call her Fluffy Kitty) we brought inside a few nights last winter when the weather went down below zero at night. She was dumped in our neighborhood, and was loosing weight. The other (we call him just Stray Kitty) is still thin, but improving greatly. We’ll be catching him to have him spayed and get some shots at a local animal shelter that does that type of thing for feral cats. Without the food we put out, I don’t think Stray Kitty would still be alive.

It’s about 10:30pm on Saturday as I’m writing this, and we’ve just had another visitor(s) from the animal kingdom. We’ve had a female raccoon stopping out front of our apartment about twice a week for a few months now. Once I left the garbage sit outside, and woke up to a huge mess (okay, it happened twice!). She comes to find whatever scraps she can, and then moves on. But tonight she brought 3 baby raccoons with her to munch on the remains of the cat food we had left out. Usually, the cat food is all gone by nightfall, but occasionally there are still a few scraps for her. I’ve never intentionally left food out for the raccoon, as I know that feeding wild animals will only end in their harm.

Tonight we came face to face with that harm. We noticed a bit of blood on the steps a few days ago, but thought maybe one of the resident cats got into a fight. Turns out it was the mother raccoon. I’m thinking she was hit by a car. She was dragging her left rear leg as she walked. It looked shattered or dislocated. My best guess is that she was hit by a car and somehow survived. It didn’t look like she had been attacked by another animal. She was barely hobbling along, leading her children to where she knew there might be a free meal. Maybe she knew this might be one of the last opportunities she has to prepare them for the harsh world they’re about to face.

It tore my wife and I up to see her like that. I can’t stand to see animals suffer, and it was even more painful with the knowledge that she was taking care of those 3 young raccoons . In the morning I’ll call a local animal rescue to see what they recommend. Maybe there is still some hope left for her, and her family.

I’m sure there is some greater lesson about animals and humans and habitats and what not here. But right now, I’m feeling a little guilty.

I can’t help but blame myself a bit for leaving that food out there. Maybe it was my actions that led to this. Maybe she was on her way here when she got attacked. It was my garbage and cat food that helped to keep her coming back into the city.

And yet, if we hadn’t feed those stray cats and paid attention to which cats came and went and became invested in their health and well-being, there’s a good chance that old man’s cat wouldn’t have decided to hunker down where it did. It ended up sitting out on the sidewalk next to one of the stray cats. They seemed to be momentary friends, which is odd for cats to do. Maybe the stray knew that Molly was lost and scared and decided to sit with her so that she didn’t feel alone. If she hadn’t of sat there next to Fluffy Kitty, I probably wouldn’t have seen her.

Our intentions start out simply. They lead to actions, and those actions then have consequences in real life. That’s the only lesson here. Intentions.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Personal

I’m a big teary-eyed moose

 

As many of my readers know, my wife is pregnant. In about a month, we’ll be welcoming our daughter into the world. And I can’t stop crying.

There is a term for this, couvade syndrome, it’s when a man who lives with a pregnant woman suffers from some of the same physical and emotional symptoms that his partner does. With my wife’s first pregnancy, it was food cravings. I gained about 15 lbs during my son’s gestation. But this time around, I’m just a big teary-eyed moose.

I can’t help it. Anything remotely emotional makes me well up. I get all sappy and the waterworks start flowing at least half a dozen times a day. We watched the movie “The Unborn” (terrible, terrible scary movie) the other night, and I started to cry because I thought about how the demon boy wouldn’t be able to play with other little kids his age, on account of being possessed by a demon and all. Today it was leaving for work, and having to say goodbye to my son. I started to cry a bit in the car.

It is really silly, and I can’t control it. I wish it would have been the food thing again.

It’s happening right now, for no good goddamned reason.

I’d like to say this has given me some profound insight into something. But it hasn’t. It’s mostly just made me cry a lot for no good reason. I suppose it could be worse. Some men gain up to 30 lbs, experience vomiting, and sometimes breast augmentation or hardening of the nipples.

Those poor men. Makes me wanna cry.

 

 

Cheers.

 

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Filed under Parenting, Personal