Tag Archives: suffering

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 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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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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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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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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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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In a fog

Oregon Coast

 

Fog rolling in thick, endless beyond sight

A steady ebb

A steady flow of water eroding away the rocks one by one

Nature taking its course without the approval of the rocks

They only want to feel the warmth of the sun.

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The path of least resistance

Scott River, CA

It’s always about what’s easy. Simple.

The path of least resistance allows us to glide, duck, and doge our way through life.

Never touching those things that are most important.

It’s easy talking to a stranger online. It’s easy to rip apart their beliefs or way of thinking.

It’s more difficult to touch deeply the ones we love.

Being cruel, distant, shut off. These things are easy.

They require no thought, no attention.

They are easy because the path leads outward toward others, but never inward towards ourselves.

Inside is the resistance. Obstacles.

Roadblocks waiting to be tore up.

Tear them up! Be brave! Breathe deeply! A voice calls out.

But it calls to us from the resistance, the loud static noise of our inner-selves. It’s noisy there.

Go have a cookie. A beer. Go watch TV. Forget about your worries. Rebuke him! Another voice calls out.

That voice is clear. It has a smell. A taste. Pleasure over pain.

Satisfying results. The voice is appeased.

The path of least resistance.

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Craving Sprouts, eating a burrito…

(This is one of a few posts I’m importing from another blog I recently closed down)

Grocery shopping is generally a fun event for me. I’m a bargain hunter. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I’m the Indiana Jones of sales. I refuse to pay full price for just about everything. Yes, I’m cheap, but I have to be. I’m supporting a pregnant wife and a 17 month old boy on just my income (which isn’t much). We shop at a couple of places that save us 50-60% over going to Kroger/QFC or Safeway. They have a fair amount of organic food, but we also have to settle for some GMO crap in a box each excursion.

Last week after we shopped, Corbin (my son) wasn’t too cranky, so we went to grab some burritos from Taco Del Mar. It was my first trip there since my recent vegetarian conversion. So lots of beans, rice, cheese, and no meat. Weird. But we get back to our place, scarf down the burritos, and put the little gorilla to bed. Then comes our ritual of grocery re-arrangement and stocking, and its off to the computer to watch some 24 via the interwebs. Off to bed at 9:30.

Wait. This is not the life I want to lead. These are not the choices I want to be making. I don’t want to buy Little Debbies and Hamburger Helper. I don’t want pasta made from flour made from god knows what. I don’t want 40 different types of corn in my diet. But this is what I’ve bought. These are the choices I have made. It’s hard to be mindful when you’re broke.

Yes, this is suffering. I suffer because I’m not content with the way things are. The reality is, I’m doing the best I can to provide for my family and still be around to know they exist. Yet I’m not okay with that. My best isn’t good enough. Right now, my best doesn’t cultivate mindfulness. Right now, my best isn’t providing the type of environment I want my child growing up in. Right now all this corn in my diet is giving me IBS.

It is difficult balancing the spiritual with the mundane.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we do make some good choices. The only TV we watch is what is on the Internet. We don’t have cable or digital rabbit ears. We get a produce box twice a month from a local CSA farm. We do our best to be mindful about our purchases, though I leave myself with much to be desired in the way of some of my habits (and non-habits). These are choices that we have made about how we want to live our lives, the impact we want to have on the earth, our bodies, and society. More craving.

My “dream life” isn’t a rich or extravagant one. Far from it. All I want is a simple 3 bedroom home with a decent yard and a place for a garden where we can grow copious amounts of fresh produce. I want Corbin to have his own grass, and not have to make a trip to the park to enjoy the outdoors (and a basement to make into a man-cave where I could serve my home brew at my own private bar. But that’s another post altogether). He should have his own tree to kick and swing from. He should have his own field to loose his toys in.

The conventional Buddhist wisdom might tell me to simply accept this moment and situation for what they are, don’t dwell on what could be or a “dream life”. But I’m not convinced. I think a little suffering is in order. I think a little suffering will go a long way toward creating the type of environment I want to provide for my family. I will do what I can to be mindful and compassionate now, as I have been. For me, it is not enough and I think my bar is set at just the right height to push me in the right direction.

So for now, I’ll continue to dream about my garden fresh watermelon and cucumbers, and I’ll eat my burritos. That’s the best I can do.

For now.

Cheers.

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Super-powering your way to Nirvana

Recently at work we had a “get to know you” type conference call. I’m the only person in my position at my center, and our company’s centers are spread throughout the country. So other than the occasional email or IM, we rarely get to connect with each other. We had to list a bunch of random personal information (favorite food, most played song on iPod, what you wanted to be when you grew up etc…) but there was one question in particular that stuck out to me, based on the responses.

The question was, “if you could have any super power, what would it be?” The top 3 answers by far were : the ability to stop time, invisibility, and teleportation. As far as I know, I’m the only Buddhist out of the group. But these answers all have a very Buddhist theme don’t they? Seems everyone is trying to escape samsara! People would rather be anywhere than right here, right now. Rather than deal with a difficult situation, it’s easier to flee or become invisible. I suppose that this isn’t too surprising though really. But it just shows that each of us is trying to deal with the suffering we face everyday. Some choose to engage it, some try to end it, and some try to run away from it. No matter our traditions our religious affiliations, we certainly all seem to share this common element.

My answer? I want the ability that whenever I need to purchase something, the exact amount of $$ would be in my wallet. Not filthy rich, just enough so that I wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again. C.R.E.A.M. bitches!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheers…..

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Earth Day Post: Blue Dharma

Today is Earth Day. Now, I know that the Buddha never lectured on water conservation, solar energy, or global climate change. But he did talk at length about compassion. He did speak of karma.

What we need  is more awareness of the far-reaching effects of our actions. Armed with this information, we are then able to make choices in our lives that lead to more skillful outcomes. We can live more compassionately, and create a more compassionate world. Earth Day is a great day to take a moment to contemplate the inter-connectedness of life on this planet.

One thing that connects all of us is water. The Earth is covered in it. Every species depends on some form of it. Nations have built themselves upon proximity to this natural resource. It is used in holy rituals throughout many (if not all) of the world’s religions. And just as it brings us together, it can cause a great divide. It comes in bottles and hurricanes, hail and hot springs. But of the potable variety, we are running out.

Pilchuck River near Darrington, WA

I could go on and on about how precious it is. How we need to manage our water usage better. How many people will die this year because they couldn’t get clean drinking water. How your life style and mine are ruining this planet. How a vegetarian lifestyle requires 60% less water consumption than one that is meat-based. How in the next 50 years, we’ll see nations go to war over not oil, but water. How you should do x, y, and z to help change things.

Instead, I’m going to leave you with some facts*. If you really take the time to let these facts soak in, you’ll know what to do. If you actually care about cultivating compassion, you’ll know what to do, and what types of companies/projects to consider supporting in the future. Though, I will jump on my soapbox for a minute, and ask you to please, please, please, NEVER BUY BOTTLED WATER. It is one of the most wasteful and irresponsible choices you could make as a consumer.

By 2025, 1.8 Billion people will live where water is scarce.

On average, 2 Billion gallons of water are used every day to irrigate golf courses in the U.S. In Florida, 3,000 gallons of water are used to water the grass for each golf game played.

U.S. swimming pools loose 150 billion gallons to evaporation every year.

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh. About 2/3 of that is frozen. Most of the rest is in aquifers that we’re draining much more quickly than the natural recharge rate.

The Great Lakes contain roughly 22% of the world’s fresh surface water.

2/3 of our water is used to grow food.

Americans use about 100 gallons of water at home each day. Millions of the world’s poorest make due with less than 5.

46% of people on earth do not have water piped into their homes. Women in these developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water.

The Tibetan Plateau is sometimes called the Third Pole because of all the frozen water it holds. It supplies fresh water to nearly a 1/3 of the world’s population. The glaciers there are melting.

One out of eight people in the world lack access to clean water.

3.3 million people die from water-related illness each year.

The weight of China’s Three Gorges Reservoir will tilt the earth’s axis by nearly an inch.

The longest water tunnel, which supplies New York City, leaks up to 35 million gallons a day.

Dam projects have displaced up to 80 million people worldwide.

Fish caught downstream from sewage treatment plants in five U.S. cities contained traces of pharmaceuticals like Dilitiazem, Norfluoxetine, and Carbamazepine as well as other toiletries.

The following is a list of items, with how many gallons of water it takes to produce each item (from scratch to your shopping cart/mouth)

2,900 – One pair of blue jeans

1,857 – One pound of beef

766 – One cotton T-shirt

84 – One pound of apples

20 – One glass of beer

37 – One cup of coffee

816,600 = gallons used during the lifetime of a typical cow destined for human consumption

Cheers.

             *most of these were pulled from the February 2010 special edition of National Geographic

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No Direction Home…….

The other day, Nathan had a post over on Dangerous Harvests about “what “right action” is when it comes to interacting with people begging on the streets”. I started a reply there, and realized that my story would serve better as a post than as a comment.

I spent quite a few months homeless in Seattle when I first arrived on the West Coast about 7 years ago. The reasons for this were many, but I’ll just say that it was my choice, and that I wasn’t running from the law. It was a truly eye-opening experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Seattle, and what to do when I got there. I tried finding jobs, and even tried joining the military (they wouldn’t take me – ADHD) but when my money ran out, I was left to figure shit out for myself. It was a tough experience. Luckily, I was in Seattle, where there is a good system in place for helping out those less fortunate.

I had no idea what to expect from the other homeless on the streets and in the homeless “system”. Would they be welcoming? Stab me in the back the first chance they got?

Their reasons for being there were about as varied as you could imagine. Of those that I met and was around, I’d guess that around 60% or so suffered from some form of mental illness, some more pronounced than others. For some, they arrived on the streets this way. For others, the streets simply magnified what was already there. There were those that simply fell on hard times, and a few people I met were part of the dotcom boom/crash that were trying their best to make it back into the workforce and afford a place to live. Some were criminals on the run, a few had warrants for petty crimes and had gone into hiding, and a few were here illegally. Many that I met were on some form of assistance, whether it was food stamps or Social Security.

In Seattle, it was possible to eat 3-5 times a day for free, find a place to take a real shower, do your laundry, and find a place to sleep during the night (usually in a church). The only people who went hungry were the ones that were banned from certain hand-out areas because they had been violent there, or those whose mental illness was so bad that they couldn’t function well enough to find assistance. And there were plenty of both. The violent ones were generally suffering from some mental illness, and of course not being allowed to get food at a soup-kitchen or church only made things worse for them.

At the shelter that I stayed at, everyone was pretty healthy mentally, and generally got along really well. Some of us hung out during daylight hours, and helped each other out. But the one thing that no one prepares you for is the boredom. It is excruciating. Imaging having nothing to do all day, every day, and not being able to look forward to anything, ever. Wake up, clean shelter. Take bus downtown. Do laundry, take shower, find food. Wander aimlessly for 4 hours. Find food. Wander aimlessly for another 2-4 hours. Get on bus, head to shelter, sleep. Try not to pay attention to those around you going about their lives, buying clothes, seeing movies, spending holidays with family. Repeat for the rest of your life. Repeat in your mind for the rest of your life.

Is it any wonder people turn to drugs and alcohol? For those that go down that path, it breaks up the monotonous nothingness of your existence. It is something to do. It is something to feel other than depression. Even though I really shouldn’t have been spending money on smokes, I did. They were terrible, 2$ a pack smokes from a res somewhere, and they got me through the day.

I never went down the drug path. My goal was to start a new life in a new place, without destroying myself in the process (though I dare say quite a bit of my “self” was destroyed…..). So regaining a meaningful life became my only thought. I had to find a job. I needed to find transitional housing so that I had a stable place to sleep and bathe and do my laundry so that I could show up to my job and not be a…… bum. When I asked my shelter-buddies about starting on this path, they all knew exactly how to help. But my question was then, “why aren’t you doing this?”

For some reason, many of them simply didn’t want that life. Maybe it had to do with the relative comfort in which many of them lived. As I said before, most had some type of income (SS), everyone had access to a shower, laundry, and at least 3 meals a day. Living that life, one could easily get by without much effort. It wasn’t the best life, but there was no boss to listen to. No responsibility. No struggle.

Some simply didn’t want to be a part of the society that had turned it’s back on them. Which was understandable given many of their stories. And for some, I just couldn’t understand. They had all the makings of someone with a successful station in life and for whatever reason they just didn’t try. Maybe life had beaten them down so low that they became satisfied with the homeless lifestyle. I still have no answers for many of the questions that confronted me during that time.

So back to Nathan’s question. What is “right action” when dealing with these people? First, see them as people. Some of them have chosen their position and others have had it thrust upon them. Regardless of circumstance, they are human beings just as you are. No better, no worse. They reflect the same potential we all have. They are experiencing the human condition in a radically different way than we are. Not completely a part of our society, though not completely apart from it either. Should you offer them food? Money if they ask? A cigarette if you have one? It’s really up to you. No dollar-in-the-guitar-box is going to put them over the edge for that down-payment on a condo. No one meal will stave off the hunger forever. One cigarette will burn away and the craving will return ever so shortly. These things are all band-aids for a more serious condition, though none of them do much harm. If your wish is to practice generosity, then practice generosity. You can’t save them all, and you should never feel like your efforts are going unnoticed or aren’t making a difference. Be generous when you can, but don’t feel obligated to hand out your change to everyone that asks it of you.

Besides the epic emptiness of life that comes with being homeless, there is one more crippling ailment. It is the isolation. You can’t help but feel like the stereotypical Dicken’s street urchin outside of a bakery window salivating over the freshly made cherry pie on the counter. Only the whole world is that bakery. Society as we know it is that pie, and it would bring such joyous comfort if it was even just a taste. When you walk down the street, you know you are not a part of their society. That bakery window is always there in front of you. When you get on the bus, it is there. When you come out of the bathroom at the library, it is there. It’s the look in their eye. Or rather, it’s the non-look in their eye. I can’t forget that. Ever. The fact that someone would cast me away simply because of the contents of my wallet was the most dehumanizing thing I have ever experienced. With the simplest of looks, I was negated. I didn’t exist to them.

So what is “right action” when dealing with those who call the street their home? Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their presence. Acknowledge that they too, are humans. Acknowledge that they deserve a “good afternoon” just as much as anyone else. Not only do they deserve it, they are probably in need of it more than anyone. A simple human connection goes a long way.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Personal

Atheism vs(?) Buddhism

Over on Sweep the Dust, John asks “Can Buddhism be completely atheistic?” I replied in the comments there, but I’d like to elaborate a bit here as well.

Atheism is tricky to pin down now ‘a days. There is the “extreme” atheism that denies the existence of anything supernatural whatsoever, including karma and rebirth. And then there are those that identify as atheists simply because they don’t believe in god/gods. Either one is fine by me. I can embrace the atheistic idea of no deities, but I choose not to define myself by what I don’t believe in.

I believe Buddhism to be largely apatheistic in its approach to deities. It doesn’t really matter if god/gods do exist, because they obviously don’t care about ending our suffering. It falls upon us to end the cycle of samsara (though we may call upon the bodhisattvas to aid us).

But as for “complete” atheism, no, I don’t think it’s really compatible with what the Buddha taught. The Buddha spoke for kalpas upon kalpas about karma and rebirth. It’s kind of hard to deny this, isn’t it?

I think the Buddha addressed skeptics when he states that it takes a noble version of right view to correctly see how karma and rebirth work. So for us, it takes practice, and a little faith. Yes, faith. It takes a bit of faith that yes, we walking a path that results in liberation. It takes a bit of faith to plop down on that zafu for the first time. It takes a bit of faith that the Buddha and the teachers that followed him knew what it was they were talking about. It takes a bith of faith to put into practice the teaching of the Lotus Sutra before you see any real change. It takes a bit of faith to get us on our path (and sometimes to keep us going) because we aren’t fully enlightened. We are unable to see reality as it truly is. But we work towards it, strive towards it.

Now, before you start quoting the Kalama sutra, hold on. First, he was speaking to a particular group of people about a particular set of circumstances. Much of what he said there rings true today and should be applied to one’s teaching. However, no where did he say that one shouldn’t trust wise teachers, or that one shouldn’t trust in (what later became) the sutras. Remember the 3 jewels? It takes trust and faith to walk this Buddhist path. If not, how on earth did first you come to practice Buddhism? You had to have a little faith and trust before you started practicing. You had no direct experience beforehand.

If one wishes to remain skeptical towards karma and rebirth, I think that is healthy. It isn’t taking something on blind faith, it is remaining skeptical while working through it in your practice. Though I think a strong disbelief in either is a form of aversion and craving/attachment. It seems like a thick wall to put up in front of you and your practice. Some may say that Buddhism requires no belief in karma and rebirth. That may be true. Your average practitioner doesn’t have to believe in either. But if we are to believe what the Buddha had to say, and that what he achieved was real, then we also should accept that when we get to that point, we won’t need to believe in either, we will be able to discern it for ourselves.

Karma and rebirth are still tricky for me, as I’ve posted before. But thanks to some helpful dharma bums here on the interwebs, I’ve read a little more, and things are starting to almost make sense for me. I suppose I’ll just not worry too much about it, and focus on what set me on this path in the first place; becoming more mindful, attaining a “quieter” mind, breaking habits, and living more compassionately.

Cheers.

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It is what it is …… and that’s okay

Awhile back, during one of our Buddhist meetings, someone went off on a tangent about how she hates it when people say “It is what it is”, and how fatalistic and negative it is, that there is no hope in a statement like that. Immediately my mind went into “WTF?” mode, but decided to bite my tongue being the new guy and all.

I’ve been mulling on this for a bit, and think that she was far from the truth. It seems to me that “It is what it is” is at the heart of Buddhism. Recognizing that phenomenon occur whether we like it or not is part of the practice. There will be a point in my life when I will step on a piece of broken glass. There is no changing that, there is no changing the pain I will feel. However, Buddhism teaches that we can be free from the suffering that can occur because of this empty phenomenon of pain. When the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile hit, we say that it was due to karma. But a correct (right view) understanding of karma shows us that it wasn’t because the Haitians were Nazis in their former life, it was that things were set into motion and then the earthquake happened (also, I’m pretty sure some plate tectonics had some influence there). Once the earthquake happens, it is what it is. It happened. Now (this may sound harsh) deal with it. It is how we choose to deal with phenomenon that determine how/if we suffer. Suffering is always optional. Of course, it’s hard to see that suffering is optional when your family was just crushed by a building. But to me, that’s part of the allure of Buddhism. It does offer hope and a way to escape the suffering we face everyday, regardless of how tragic our situation might be.

But I think the first step in lessening and eliminating suffering is recognizing things and situations for what they are. Essentially, It is what it is. True liberation comes from freeing ourselves of the suffering that occurs when we fail to realize this.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism

Someone said something about Buddhism!

I suppose I’m a bit late to the party, but life kept me away from the internets this weekend for the most part. It seems as though Bill Maher said something about Buddhism, and now people are upset. So I went over to the post in question, read it, and chuckled a little bit.

Bill Maher is a comedian. Some find him funny, others not so much. No biggie. We can’t all like the same flavor of ice cream either. As of the past few years, Maher has really targeted religion and the religious as the butt of his jokes. His movie Religulous focused on crazy people who believe in the different Abrahamic religions, and was kinda funny at times, but largely disappointing. It also seemed like there was supposed to be a point, but then there really wasn’t one. Oh well. In his bit over at the Huffington Post, he starts talking about sex-addiction and Tiger, making some funny points:

But all this talk about sex addiction now – please – sex addiction is just something Dr. Drew made up because he had no other way to explain Andy Dick. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s also the American Psychiatric Association, which does not list sex addiction in its manual; it does not regard it as a real psychological syndrome, like delirium or bipolar disorder or any of the other things Glenn Beck suffers from.

hahaha Andy Dick and Glenn Beck in the same rip?!?! Comedy gold!!!

Moving on.

But before Tiger moves on there’s one more apology he really should make, and that’s to Buddha, for dragging him into this mess and proving once again, that whenever something unspeakably tawdry, loathsome and cheap happens, just wait a few days. Religion will make it worse.

He’s got a point here. People play the God/Jesus card all the time after they get caught cheating/lying/stealing or whatever. It’s actually really annoying, mostly to the people of that particular faith. Tiger said he was re-comitting to his path. I certainly wish him well. Yet part of me thinks that in his forgiveness speech, Tiger was purposefully targeting the Brit Humes of the world that seemed to think he needed Christianity, and Buddhism was a second-class religion when it comes to redemption. If the public hadn’t gotten involved in his personal religion, I wonder if he would have ever mentioned it?

Maher goes on to make some other jokes at the expense of Buddhism. Most of which are gross exaggerations of a limited, superficial understanding of Buddhism:

And it really is outdated in some ways – the “Life sucks, and then you die” philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.

Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves” makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life – I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that’s inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.

ha. Kinda almost funny. I think better jokes could be made here, even if they did offend more than these. Come on Bill, you’re slipping.

I’ve seen quite a few in the greater “buddhoblogosphere” post about this, and about Maher’s comments are coming from a place of ignorance. Well, yeah. Of course they are. I wouldn’t expect someone like Bill Maher to make informed statements about Buddhism, and then turn them into jokes. Because once someone is well-informed on the Four Noble truths, there isn’t much to laugh at about them.  They were also meant for HIS audience, and if you haven’t noticed, the audience he’s targeting isn’t the religous. So no, I’m not really upset at the comments he made.

One of the jokes he made has brought up the same comments over and over again:

And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn’t there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, “My name is Herb Zoller and I’m an accountant.” …something?

People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: “His poop is royal!” Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, “That’s our leader” doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.

I actually kind of laughed at this one. Any time someone can make fun of Sarah Palin, I laugh. Also, the whole process is kind of well….. funny when you think about it from an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it? But the bloggers were focusing on this comment quite a bit, saying that this practice is grounded in Tibetan Buddhism, and is mostly cultural anyway, so he’s really way off base here.

But is he? Like it or not, The Dalia Llama is the face of ALL Buddhism in the West to non-Buddhist Westerners. Would a joke about  Amitābha Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, or Robert Thurman really have really flown on Huffington Post? Doubtful. We kind of have to admit that by making the Dalai Llama into such a celebrity and rock star, we’ve also thrown his brand of Buddhism into the spotlight, which doesn’t leave much room for any of the others out there.

All in all, I think it was a moderately funny post on his part. I can handle someone laughing at my religion. I believe in some pretty unconventional (esp by Western standards) stuff, so I have to recognize that others aren’t going to see eye-to-eye with me at times, and that’s alright. I can’t count how many times I’ve laughed at Crazy Church People, babbling idiots, or Magic Mormon Underwear. To now get upset when someone pokes fun of my beliefs would be pretty hypocritical on my part.

Yet, there is a real problem here. Unfortunately, there are people who base their views off of what a comedian like Bill Maher or Dennis Miller or John Stewart has to say. Bill Maher has his version of the “ditto-heads” that flock to his every word, and spread it like a virus. So while I really don’t see anything to get upset with about his comments in and of themselves, the problem really lies with what happens to those comments when they reach the public.

I’ve already seen this happening in some of the comments:

I worship at the Altar of Maher.

Me too. He is a genius. I heard him last night on Larry King. His comments on Palin and Obama, etc., hit the balls outside the fence.

Hey Bill, You are the best at exposing the lack of credibility and believablity
of these crutches going under the name of religion(s)

This is a tiny sample to be sure, used to illustrate my point. But the fact of the matter is that this piece will give people a reason to hate Buddhism, to spread further misconceptions about the dharma, and might turn people away from ever seeking it out in the first place. Using beer as an analogy, let’s say you decide to be bold, and try one of those new-fangled micro-brews instead of the usual lite lager crap. Now let’s say the first beer you try is Stone Mill Pale Ale. You know, the one that looks like it came from a small town micro brewery in Cali? So you get home and crack one open and, EWWWW. It’s freaking awful. Just a little bit more flavor than your usual can beer, but that flavor is awful. Why the hell did you ever think to try something new? Never again.

Of course, Stone Mill is made by Anheiseur-Busch, and is about as far from a local delicious micro-brewed Pale Ale that you could ever get. Your first exploration into something new and exciting just got you burned because you believed what you were buying was somehow a good representation of what you were looking for. But it wasn’t. This is the same flavor that people will be left with if misconceptions about the dharma are left to propagate unchecked. So yes, we should speak up. But we should also take a moment to realize that Bill Maher is a comedian, and comedians will make jokes at the expense of just about everyone, as long as there is an audience for them. I’m not going to take offense at what was said. His ignorance has been pointed out by plenty of others in the buddhoblogosphere, so I’m not going to list all the ways in which he is wrong.

John has a good thread going on about engaging ignorance in Buddhism. I’m trying to figure out what our role is exactly in all of this. Do we simply confront Bill Maher and his misconceptions? Or do we try to get the correct version (not talking about sects/schools here) of the dharma out there in the public to let people see what the Buddha really had to say about suffering? I don’t know if there is an easy solution here.

As for jokes…..

“Sarah Palin thinks the alphabet has 22 letters. She’s so dumb she thinks the capital of China is Chinatown. Sarah Palin is so dumb, she thinks billboards are postcards from giants. The governor of Alaska is so dumb, she thinks soy milk is Spanish for ‘I am milk.’” –”Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac

oooooh snap!!!

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism

And more snow related suffering…….

“In some areas homes have been without power since last November, facing record snowfalls and the collapsing infrastructure of America’s Midwestern water and power lines and disaster response systems.

“Power outages began with a storm in December knocking down around 5,000 power poles, and has been accelerated by an ice storm Jan. 22 knocking down another 3,000 power lines on the reservation.

“Frustration at the insufficient response of the Red Cross and governor’s office is mounting,” she added. “All of this while people sit without power, water and face food shortage.”

There is more snow-related devastation to report on, this time right here in the mid-west. Yet almost no one has heard about it. I can see why there was so little press about the dzud in Mongolia, but this is happening right here in our own backyard. I don’t want to pull the race card, but being a card-carrying member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, I fell like I have to call a spade a spade.

The news here in America is tiered according to race. When white children disappear, it makes the cover of Newsweek. When black children die in inner-cities, it barely makes the 6 o’clock news. And when thousands of Native Americans are left without power (heat), food and water, no one speaks at all. Scott Peterson got how much news coverage? How many unsolved murders were there that year?

Yes, I’m white. But that doesn’t mean that I want my news and information white-washed for me. Native Americans have suffered more than any other racial/ethnic group in the history of this continent, and they continue to be marginalized. I’m not one of those people who gets pissed off because there’s an NHL team in Chicago called “The Blackhawks”. But was does irk me is how my ancestor’s entire history, culture, and contribution to the world we live in today has been white-washed and almost completely written out of the history books. I’m also not one of those people who is going to get pissed off because you supported people in Haiti when they were in need. Compassion is compassion, and turning charity into a polarizing, fodder-for-more-partisianship mechanism is reckless and misguided. I’m all for helping out our fellow humans when we are in need, regarless of geography. But I will ask that you at least acknowledge the need right here in our own backyard.

Our culture is dying, our languages are fading away, our history has been all but lost to the great textbook publishers in Texas. Please don’t let our people suffer the same fate. You can donate to the local Red Cross here.

Cheers.

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Filed under Other

SnOMG!!!!

Having grown up in Michigan, I can remember regularly having feet of snow lasting all winter. And it was fun. We had snowmobiles to ride, snowmen to make, and snow forts to build. And when the day was over we could go back inside the house to warm up with some hot cocoa. Pretty fun for a kid.

Of course, some snow storms aren’t all snow angels and snow ball fights. Right now, there are millions of people and livestock that have it much, much worse. I’m not talking about the people on the East Coast though. I’m talking about the people of Mongolia in the midst of a dzud. For those that are unfamiliar with that term, it’s the word that the Mongolians use for “the worst f*ng weather conditions you could ever imagine”. If you know anything about Mongolians, you know that “the worst f*ng weather conditions you could ever imagine” is something not to be taken lightly. Livestock is freezing to death at incredible rates. People are surviving on tiny amounts of food. It’s like the quake in Haiti, but -20 degrees and covered in 10 feet of ice. Not to mention that due to the unusually dry summer, there wasn’t much food then either.

Bitteroot Badger has blogged about this a bit lately, and I felt compelled to let everyone know that there are (very, very, few) people out there helping that need your support. Head to his site here and take a look at some of the ways you can help. Or check out CAMDA who is working on relief efforts as we speak. There is so much suffering happening there now, and will continue to happen even after the dzud has passed. Please help if you are at all able. Thank you.

Cheers.

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My punishment became my path?

Reminiscing the other day, I remembered that one of my Father’s punishments for me was to ground me. Basically, the idea was that I when I came home from school, I couldn’t watch TV, play outside, talk on the phone or do anything other than chores, homework, eat dinner, and stay in my room. Sweeping the dust and pushing the dirt for punishment? WTF?

Upon remembering this, a few things came to mind.

1) Our society has gotten to the point where unplugging one’s self from the stresses, distractions and attachments of the world is punishment. The reward is a life full of suffering, delusion, and distraction from the true nature of reality. How can we expect to advance as a society when this is the way we encourage each other to live?

2) What would I be like today, if being alone with my thoughts (cultivating mindfulness), and playing outside, adoring nature were my rewards, and plugging into the TV and video games had been my punishment?

3) How truly attached to my “things” I was to get so upset over not being able to use them for a couple of hours! This life of attachment and distance from one’s self is addicting, more powerful than any drug that grows in the ground or is made in a lab.

Okay, enough of that. Time to go play Call of Duty.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Parenting

Serving up some Dharma

CNN has this article about a monk in Japan that is getting a lot of  attention for his approach. He’s a young monk that is using hip-hop, booze, and a casual atmosphere to deliver the dharma. Says one of the patrons:

“Buddhism for Japan is a religion you normally only experience at funerals,” said patron Naoyuki Osano, who comes to the bar twice a week. “But the Buddhist philosophy is wonderful. It’s great to have a place like this for us to learn about Buddhism.”

Interesting. At first, I thought this whole idea was stupid and disingenuous. It all seemed kind of hokey and not unlike those proselytizing Christian vans that roam the city filled with “cool kids” that wanna hang out and talk about Jebus. Surprising from someone that runs a blog called Home Brew Dharma? Yeah, I could see that. But if you have read what I’ve said about the 5th precept before (here, here, and in the comments here) you’ll know that I’m actually not a huge drunk!!! Wow!!! I’m not going to go into the 5th precept here in this post as I’ve already directed you to my thoughts on it, which haven’t changed.

But maybe there is something to this. I can’t speak of the cultural aspects of Buddhism in Japan or how it is incorporated into everyday life. From the little I’ve read/heard, it seems as if it is more of a passive aspect of the average Buddhist’s life there. So maybe an approach like this is what is needed there. It’s a way to get Buddhism out of the temple and integrate it daily into the lives of everyday people. It’s helping people to discover and engage in a new practice, or maybe bring an inactive practice to the forefront of their lives.

Group Dharma Transmisson at the "Tipsy Co-ed Mountain Retreat Center"

I also wonder what the “bar scene” is like where this monk is at. I doubt it looks much like the bar scene that I experienced in college. I’m guessing it’s more of a relaxed atmosphere where the level of conversation high and the level of intoxication is generally low? Without more information, I don’t want to make anymore uniformed judgements. I’ll just say that if it helps to spread the dharma to those that want to hear it, and can help people lessen their suffering (even a little bit) then I say go for it. Is it unorthodox? Yeah. But maybe that’s what the community needs there. I for one, am all about Dharma Drinks.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Home Brewing

Just ignorant!

I received this email yesterday, and it just plain blew me away. I couldn’t believe the level of ignorance and hate displayed. But then, I could. Because this is what happens when lies are allowed to prosper, and are fueled by hatred (which of course stems from ignorance). You can read a copy of the email here (yes, this is the same email that I received).

The other day I posted on how extremists are polarizing this country and destroying it from inside. I have no problem when people pick a “side” (Christian, liberal, atheist, Conan or whatever), but when you then identify your side by your hate of the “other” side, we have a problem. There’s no reason to be against the “other” side just because you’ve identified with yours! That’s right! You can actually hold liberal ideals, and NOT hate conservatives! Crazy, I know.

Unfortunately, we’ve been ingrained since youth to always “win” and come out on top, and be #1.  We’ve carried this into every aspect in our lives, including public (and private) dialogue. Maybe it’s part of our wanting to fit in and be correct, a little bit of ego stroking. I don’t know. Unfortunately, this desire to be right and to be on the winning side leads to all kinds of unskillful conduct.

I would like to preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of President Obama. I voted for Nader, but would have voted for Ron Paul if he had made it on the ticket. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I have my reasons.  However, I am able to disagree with someone’s leadership/politics or whatever without making shit up, degrading the faith of millions, and spreading blatant hate speech. Let’s get to that email now.


PLEASE, DON’T USE THESE STAMPS!  NOT FOR VALENTINE’S,

NOT FOR ANY MAIL!!

USPS 44-Cent Stamp Celebrates Muslim holidays Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha .

If there is only ONE thing you forward today… let it be this!
REMEMBER to adamantly & vocally BOYCOTT this stamp, when you are purchasing your stamps at the post office.

All you have to say is “No thank you, I do not want that Muslim Stamp on my letters!”
To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Military Barracks in Saudi Arabia !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the American Embassies in Africa !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the USS COLE!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM attack on 9/11/2001 !

REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM attacks!

Pass this along to every Patriotic American that you know and get the word out!  Honor the United States of America !

So where to start? If you clicked on the link above, you’ve already read how factually inaccurate the part about the stamp is, so no need to bother with that as Snopes already did the work. Let’s take a look at the “Muslim” part of this. “To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.” Really?

Well, first of all, those were radical, extremist terrorists that were also Muslim. And yes, they did perform these acts in the name of their religion, which is absolutely despicable and horrendous. People do stupid shit in the name of their faith all the time (which I am in no way excusing), and have since the dawn of organized religion. It’s something that won’t cease anytime in the near future as the violence and ignorance only continues to escalate exponentially. Secondly, this stamp does not honor terrorists, murderers, or violence in any way. All you need to do is look up Eid Al-Fitr to figure that out. But of course, in the eyes of crazy conservatives, Islam = murder and terrorist. Ugh.

This email and the sentiments behind it clearly indicate more than simple AMERICA! FUCK YEAH! type of jingoistic “patriotism”. The authors intent is clearly to demonize Islam, and further the fear/hate-mongering of all of those that practice it, regardless of the individual. We could just as easily follow this logic and use examples of when Christians have murdered, raped, and tortured all in the name of Christianity, and then call for the boycott of all Christmas/Easter stamps. And then try to justify hate for all Christians and their religion because of the actions of a radical, disturbed few.

I like the “Honor the United States of America !” as if this type of thing honors anything at all.

Then there is the last sentence of the email “REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM attacks!” Look at what they’ve done. They’ve capitalized American and Muslim. America vs. Islam. Us vs. Them. They’ve created a division between a country and a religion! Muslims are the evildooers! Kill ‘em all! This of course neglects the fact that there are millions of Muslims that live right here in America, that are just as much a part of this country as Republicans, Trekkies, Buddhists, and Oakland Raiders fans are. And don’t give me that “but we’re a Christian nation!” BS. People have religions. Countries don’t have religions, especially when there is no state-endorsed religion here in the US.

I could go on and on about how the people who sent this around are just part of the right-wing Christian extremists that are ruining our country and bla bla bla, but that’s been said a million times before. No, the worst part about this is the willful ignorance and intolerance of those that created and spread these lies. In the email I received, there was a link to the Snopes article debunking the whole thing! But no one paid attention to that for some reason. It would have been too much work to actually figure out something for themselves (or click on the damn link I guess…). Instead, they’ll form their opinions based on a fucking chain email, and then vote accordingly. And this email had over 100 addresses on it. Just think about how many other people received this and forwarded it on to their friends and co-workers. But it’s just one of those stupid chain emails, right?

Wrong. This just reaffirms what a few of us bloggers have been discussing lately. A few disparaging, untrue words can cause havoc, and an untold amount of suffering. Minorities become further marginalized when things like this email keep piling up on the collective psyche of the ignorant masses. I must reiterate that people are going to vote based on emails like this. Opinions are formed when people like Anne Coulter and Brit Hume speak, especially when these talking heads bring up topics that their audience (and obviously themselves) know nothing about. They’ll just take their word for it, after all, they’re all on the same side! We put so much faith and trust in other people in this modern age of “MUST HAVE INFO NOW!” that we rarely take the time to discover the truth for ourselves (even though it’s right at our fingertips). Maybe it’s that looking at scientific journals with peer-reviewed studies filled with evidence is a boring waste of time, so why not just have Rush Limbaugh tell me what global warming is really all about. It’ll be fun! I’m sure he’ll tell me what I really need to hear, and we can make fun of the traitorous liberals while we’re at it! Why would I want to see what this Jihadist stamp is really all about when my uncle Rick can just shoot me an email?! Oh right, because then I’d find out it’s just a stamp that celebrates a couple of important Muslim festivals that don’t involve beheading infidels or anyone blowing anyone up, and I’d learn that the stamp is something I’d have to go out and look for and probably special order anyway.

This is why I think it’s important to speak up when any type of hate, ignorance, or misinformation is being spread, and we have the ability to do something about it (but we all have our own niche, right?). I’m a Buddhist blogger, so this is the type of thing I’m going to speak on from time to time. I’m certainly not going to turn into a “wrong speech watchdog” or anything like that, but I can’t help but point out some of these things in the hope that truth and understanding triumph over hate and ignorance. Wrong speech quite frequently leads to wrong action. And when it comes to religious intolerance, wrong action gets really ugly.

Further more, IT’S JUST A FUCKING STAMP!

Cheers.

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Please Help Haiti

International Response Fund

If you are able to give anything at all, please do.

Elephant Journal also has a great list of links, as does John at Zen Dirt as well as Nick at ItsJustLight that all point in the direction of aid and relief for those that are suffering so much now.

Do what you can, even if all you can do is spread the word to help.

Cheers.

Update: The Tzu Chi Foundation is there in Haiti now. I didn’t know this type of Buddhist organization existed. They could use our help!

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Goodbye China!

After the Brit Hume thing, Marcus from Marcus’ Journal wrote:

If you joined the letter-writing campaign to Fox News, if you condemned them on your blog or even just left a comment on a blog elsewhere, now consider doing at least double the amount of writing in the case of Buddhists who are being imprisoned and tortured on a near daily basis. Read the links below, find out what’s been going on, and write a letter condemning the use of torture and unfair trials in China against Buddhists. Post it up on your blog as a model for others to copy, and then sign it and send it. I’ll be doing the same.”

Well, I didn’t write Fox News. I didn’t write them because I knew it would only make Rupert Murdoch and the powers that be at Fox “News” smile. They would probably get a kick out of all the letters. I can imagine them printing each angry letter on rolls of toilet paper with which Bill O’liely would then wipe his ass with. I didn’t want any part of that. I felt like the biggest impact I could make was to do what I’ve always done with Fox News, not watch it. Not watch it on TV (which I don’t have) and not watch it on the web. I then blogged about my reaction to the mess, but didn’t link to any videos because I didn’t want to promote Fox anymore. I think that was about the biggest contribution that I as an individual with no real influence or power in the world could make.

I attempt to make similar choices when I buy food. I try to buy local and organic (but sometimes I’m broke so Kellog’s it is). It’s my way of “voting” about what products and practices I want to succeed. Well, I’m going to do the same with China. Their list of human rights violations is getting longer than Ron Jeremy at a Victoria’s Secret by the minute. Their record on the enviroment is just as glamorous. So, I’m not going to follow Marcus’ sample letter. Instead, I’ve created my own. It might be more abrasive, and it might be just as easily dismissed as any of the other letters that may or may not make their way to someone who may or may not care; but I’m going to follow through on the action. I’m boycotting products made in China as well as other countries with serious human rights issues (to the best of my financial ability).

On a side note, it appears that Google is also contemplating pulling out of China for similar reasons. Check it out here.

I find that this approach might have more of an effect than just a letter. Or maybe not. Either way, I’m doing a small thing that may lessen the suffering of others, and that’s the point. And I think this approach will “hit ‘em where it hurts”. Here is a copy of my letter:

Dear Ambassador Mr Zhou Wenzhoung,

          It has come to my attention that your government has sentenced Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche and Dhondup Wangchen on trumped-up charges and without legal counsel. China’s continued violations of basic human rights has left me with one choice: a boycott. I will not buy any more products that were constructed, assembled, or otherwise “made” in your country. I will encourage my family, friends, and those that read my blog to do the same. I cannot in good conscious support a country that does not support even the most basic of human rights, and acts with such reckless regard to the enviroment. Until China decides to release Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche and Dhondup Wangchen as well as any other prisoners who’s rights have been clearly violated, until your country takes a progressive stance on worker’s rights, until you reverse your blatant disregard for the enviroment, I refuse to support your government financially. The opportunity is yours to lead the world, yet you do nothing but hinder peace, progress, and liberty for your people and the world. It’s time for a change China.

Sincerely,

               Adam L. Johnson

 

To:
President Hu Jintao
Guojia Zhuxi
Beijing
People’s Republic of China

Premier Wen Jiabao
Guowuyuan
No. 9 Xihuang-chenggen Beijie
Beijingshi 100032
People’s Republic of China

Wu Aiying
Minister of Justice
No. 10 Chaoyangmen Nandajie
Chaoyangqu
Beijingshi 100020
People’s Republic of China
TEL: (86) 10 6520 6706
TEL: (86) 10 8313 9065
Email: pfmaster@legalinfo.gov.ch
Email: minister@legalinfo.gov.cn

UK
Madame Fu-Ying
The Chinese Embassy
49-51 Portland Place
London, W1B 1JL
TEL: 020 72994049

US
Ambassador Mr Zhou Wenzhoung
The Chinese Embassy
3505 International Place, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel Operator: +1-202-4952000
E-mail: chinaembassy_us@fmprc.gov.cn

 

gān bēi (cheers).

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On Compassion

Warning:

1) The content in this post is meant for adult audiences. It contains material that is graphic (unfortunately) and violent in description.

2) This might be a little bit on the long side, and my apologies for that. But this is not something that can quickly be covered in a blog post. But I will do my best.

3) This post will probably raise more questions than answers.

I’ve been sitting on this post for some time. I started to write it, and then just saved a little bit as a draft. It felt like it was going to be an important one, and as this is a very serious topic, I’d thought I would make sure and give it proper consideration.

Awhile back I ran across this article. Please read it before reading any further here. I’m not sure how much media coverage this has gotten. I don’t have TV (I do Netflix or watch on the internet or listen to NPR) and I tend to be out of the loop on things, but I don’t recall hearing much about this story in the major media outlets after it first broke.

At first, I was saddened by this. I was emotionally overrun. I’m not sure if it’s my practice that led me to feel this way, or maybe it’s just the brutality that I hadn’t imagined possible in our backyards. I haven’t felt emotions like this from a news story since little Kayla Rolland was killed. I didn’t break down and cry, but it was the first time in a long time since I felt so much empathy from a news story. I couldn’t and didn’t want to read any more or hear about it. It was too brutal. Too savage. This is not a reality we as Americans are accustomed to dealing with. This is something that happens in Darfur or Burma. But savage brutality is not limited by geographic or political boundaries. It is not something that is intrinsic in any singular race, age group or religion. The reality is that sometimes, Darfur is in our backyard, and right outside of our schools.

After the initial sadness of this story vanished, it was replaced by anger. Pure hatred. Remember that scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton just goes to town on Jared Leto? That’s exactly what I wanted someone to do to these boys. This trash. Wastes of human existence. I wanted them to know how it felt to be in that girl’s position. To have the totality of yourself be completely dominated and then obliterated in one moment. This girl will never be the same. Any semblance of who that little girl was before that night has been nullified.

But now I’m trying to feel compassion for these individuals. Not just because that is the “Buddhist” thing to do, but because I’m starting to see that true compassion cannot exist conditionally. In order to do that, I suppose I have to first understand how/why this took place. I don’t think there is an easy explanation, but I’m going to try and at think it through here.

First, let’s take a look at the attackers. The attackers themselves were just children, all teenagers. We know how out of control a teenage boy’s hormones can get, but we also know that rape is almost never about sex. Rape is about anger, about power. I can watch a scary movie and not get too freaked out about people getting killed in it. But I cannot watch a rape scene. This is still something that is fairly taboo in movies today, but is steadily creeping in. I’m wondering now why it is that I have such a hard time watching sexual assault, even when I know it’s fake. I think maybe because it represents a loss of innocence. It represents the de-humanizing of another individual. Watching someone be assaulted in this manner is watching someone have all their power, their freedom, their will, their “self”, stolen by another person. It is the most brutal of torture, because it tears apart the victim’s mind. Their reality becomes forever shattered. A body is much easier to heal than a mind/psyche. I wonder what will happen to this girl?

So why the power grab? Did this just boil down to a case of pecking order, alpha male, leader of the pack macho-ism? I think it’s something more than that. I think part of it is the desire to fit in. It seems like this need and desire to belong and be accepted is growing inside our youth, multiplying itself exponentially with each passing generation. It used to be that you needed to just fit in with your peer group. Now, you have to fit in with the entire world. The information age has given birth to a new global community. We’re able to invite the whole world into our lives with a blog, a MySpace profile, Facebook, Twitter. And with that invitation, we’ve unknowingly opened ourselves up to criticism on a global sense. So instead of trying to impress just their schoolmates, kids now have to compete with children from all over the country, and all over the world. And of course there is the media. Kids are trying to fit in with Hollywood, with MTV and their teen celebrities of the week. This enormous pressure has led kids to try and leap over moving cars in the attempt to be the next YouTube star. They’re willing to risk it all for popularity.

Maybe that’s why the 20+ witnesses did nothing to help out their fellow human. They were too worried that if they would speak up, that they’d be thrown out to the fringe of their social stratosphere. Or maybe it’s the YouTube culture that has made them numb to reality. They’ve become accustomed to playing the audience in the grand play of life, rather than step up and be the actors. It’s easy to sit in the cheap seats and hurl insults or applause. But it’s so much harder to get up on stage and put yourself out there for the whole world. And when they do step out of their shells, what does our youth do? They put it on the internet. They text. They don’t take the big leaps in real life, because the risk is too great.

Back to the attackers. What made them think that this wasn’t that big of a deal?

Theory 1) the disconnect

First let me say that I love the internet. I love what it has done for communication, the flow of information, and all the pictures of stupid drunk college kids doing something embarrassing. I’ve talked about this a little before but this time is a little different.

Maybe it’s something bigger than just internet and TV. I wonder if this mentality started becoming more prevalent when our society started becoming more automated. We have less of a hands-on approach to life than we ever have before. All of our food comes pre-packaged for easy consumption. Our grapes come from Chile, our Chili comes from a can, and who the hell knows where hot dogs come from? Our clothes come from China, our news comes from a box, and our relationships come to us via MySpace. We rarely touch the things that affect us most in life; and are mostly clueless and unaware of their true nature and origins. If we’ve become this disconnected from our food, our shelter, our every day necessities, isn’t only natural that the next great disconnect would be with each other?

And once we become disconnected, why then should we assign any meaningful value to each other? Is that what happened here? Did these boys become so disconnected from humanity that they no longer viewed this girl as having any intrinsic value whatsoever? It’s obvious that these kids didn’t give two shits about their actions or think there would be any consequences, but why? This was so brutal! This goes beyond your everyday bullying or school fight or over aggressive male dominance bullshit. This even goes beyond your normal case of rape.

Theory 2) The boys are evil.

That’s not meant as a joke either. These boys might just be evil. Stripped of any kindness, compassion, empathy, or anything else of value. These boys might just be empty inside and downright evil. Maybe they’ve never known compassion in their own lives, never been touched by kindness. But is that possible? That they’ve grown up in a micro-society void of any goodness, right here in America? Some sort of empathy vacuum? Maybe it isn’t void of any charity and kindness, but rather in their world, that which we consider “good” is just the opposite. Narcissism, indifference, and cruelty are their noble virtues put up on a pedestal to be videotaped and broadcast via YouTube. Those that don’t fall in line will be ostracised, victimized, and scattered to the margins of their society. Is all of our “good” seen as weak and useless in their world? And if the media has become their primary parental figures, influencing them more than their biological parents, their religion or their neighbors; and knowing what the media does to distort the truth and sell ads, maybe it’s not that crazy?

I suppose it’s just speculation, I’ll never know for sure. Maybe this is what’s so troubling. We’ll never get to the root cause of this. It will happen again, and once more we will be left shaking our heads, wondering what went wrong. Wondering how our own youth could do this to each other. We’ll cry out for their heads on a platter, and they will be sent to jail for most of their young adult lives, and then some. And it will happen again. And again. Because as a society, we aren’t willing to look at the “bad guys” as having any value. The problem is with them, not with us, so we’ll just lock them up when they step out of line (and we know they will). All the time not realizing that there might just be a way to prevent this from happening.

How do we do that? I don’t know. Maybe we could start with compassion?

That’s all for now. Cheers.

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Samsara Happens

super troopers Pictures, Images and Photos

Life has been pretty good this last week. I got my bonus at work, I was  asked to collaborate on a pretty awesome interweb project, I’ve gotten some more people and $$$ for my mustache team, my wife was offered free CNA training and job, my Buddhist practice is starting to feel a bit more normal and natural, and my son is really starting to act like a little boy now. And then last night, I got a ticket. A car was stopped turning left into a smoke shop, and I (along with the 3 cars in front of me and a bunch of cars behind me) passed the car on the right shoulder to get around him and keep things moving. Apparently, that’s illegal here in WA. I had been told otherwise, and just thought I should follow the flow of traffic. The Sheriff, however, had a different idea. He pulled me and the two cars in front of me over and issued us all tickets for $124. So how’s life now?

Still fuckinpinhead Pictures, Images and Photosg great! Didn’t you hear me list all of that stuff up at the top? This is what Buddhism has done for me. It has allowed me to deal with the shit that samsara throws at me and move on. Sometimes, it rains happy little rainbow unicorns in my world. Other times, I swear that Pinhead guy from Hellraiser is following me around just to screw with me. Dick. Before, I think I would have really crashed and been upset and depressed about the ticket.  I would have said “Karma is a bitch” or something like that. But karma is not a bitch. Karma is just karma. Actions happen. And what happened was I got a traffic ticket. And then I chose not to suffer for it.

It’s funny that without Buddhism, I wouldn’t have been able to see how that ticket isn’t a source of suffering. I now know that it’s my reaction and wrong view and attachment and false perception of what that ticket is that would have been my source of suffering. So instead, I just didn’t suffer. We continued on our trip to find pumpkins, and all was well. Samsara happens. It’s how you choose to deal with it that determines how you suffer (or don’t). Cheers.

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"Patriot" Day

Well, personally I think it’s ridiculous that we turned the tragedy that was 9/11 into “Patriot” Day. I find it insulting to use the senseless death of innocent thousands to stir up national pride and patriotism.

 I still don’t know what the hell happened that day. Why did tower 7 fall? Did the Bush administration know more than they told the public? Why are one of the hijackers still well and alive? Who knows. And I’m not sure what good it will do to carry around those attachments anymore. I doubt we’ll ever have satisfying answers to the questions that still linger. The 9/11 commission didn’t do their job, and now we’re stuck with all these doubts and suspicions and conspiracies. I suppose now it’s just time to move on. Do what we can about the situation that fostered that violent act now, here in the present.

 There is one prevailing question that still lingers though: “Why”. Why did these people have to die? The answers that the victim’s friends and families have been provided don’t seem to satisfy. I don’t think any answer will. The crime was too extreme, too senseless for conventional reassurances. The thing we have to embrace now is our ability to move on. Not to forget, but to move on, and move forward. Create a world in which this type of violence will not occur. Not through the use of more violence, of more suffering. Instead we must seek out a skillful approach through dialogue and mutual respect. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I doubt much suffering will occur as a result of our trying.

 That’s all I have to say on this. I don’t have a personal story to attach to that morning. I was asleep in my dorm room when the planes hit. My roommate tried to wake me, and I just dismissed his rantings as nothing worth dragging me out of bed about. He finally woke me up and the totality of what happened suddenly hit me square in the face. I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t anxiously await news from a loved one that they were alright.

 This morning I read a post which I feel is one of the most moving and thought provoking pieces on the 9/11 tragedy that I have ever read. Here is the link. Cheers.

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One more thought on the 5th….

So just one more thought on the fifth precept, and then I’ll leave it alone.

 I think that maybe what is most important to remember about Buddhism is not the Four Noble Truths, The Lotus Sutra, The 3 Jewels, or any of that. I think the most important thing to remember about Buddhism is that it is about suffering, and how to end it. That being said, my drinking a beer now and then is not a huge cause of my suffering. In fact, it causes very, very little suffering in my life and the lives of my family and community. I’m more concerned with my setting up false expectations, my mindlessness, my rush to anger and judgement, my procrastination, my attachments. These are of great concern to me, as they are the major causes of my suffering. For now, I’ll focus on those, and worry about the drinking at some other point, if ever.

 *note – If you’re an alcoholic, or drink just to get fucked up on a regular basis, you might want to start there.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

So if you haven’t noticed by now, Buddhism is all about suffering. It isn’t about salvation, god, moral absolutes, everlasting life, reincarnation, ancestor worship or anything else. It deals with suffering. And the next “step” on the Noble Eightfold Path is making sure that the lay people aren’t adding to their own or the suffering of others through their occupation. It is Right Livelihood. 

Before I continue, I suppose that the word “right” needs a definition. In Buddhism, there is no divine law giver. No man on a mountain with stone tablets, no guy in the desert with a magic rock. Buddhism doesn’t concern itself with absolute morals. Remember, it’s all about suffering here folks. So when the term “right livelihood” is used, what I should really say is “skillful livelihood”. You see, since there are no moral absolutes, and Buddhism only concerns itself with suffering and how to end it, we define things by how skillful they are. If they reduce suffering, they are skillful. If they increase suffering, they are unskillful. I hope that clears some things up. 

So the Buddha said there were a few types of occupations in which you should avoid, because they were unskillful. The first is dealing with weapons. Weapons never decrease suffering. They inflict pain, death, and totalitarian authority. So don’t make them. Don’t sell them. It’s that easy. 

 The next is don’t take a job that does its business in human beings. So, no prostitution (sorry, pimps included), no human trafficking, no slave trading. Don’t buy children or adults. These are pretty simple so far, yeah?

 

oops- wrong hooker….

 Next is don’t take a job in which the business is meat. Specifically, anything to do with carcasses. Don’t be a butcher. Dealing in meat is dealing in death. Don’t be a taxidermist. By the way- taxidermy freaks me out. It’s one of the most unnatural things I’ve ever come across in my lifetime. It’s gross.

 

 Next is don’t take a job in the poison industry. In today’s world, this one is a bit more complex. Most of the chemicals we use on a daily basis are poisonous. A lot of the products we use build up in our system and can wreak absolute havoc on our bodies. Check out this blog for more info on that. If the Buddha were alive today, I think he would look at our industrial empire and see suffering everywhere. While all of this technology has helped society out immensely, no one can argue that it hasn’t also added to our suffering. I’m collecting my thoughts on this specific topic, and will post about it soon. For now, look at the industry you are in. Are the things you make poisonous? Are they adding to suffering (unskillful) or reducing it (skillful)? 

  Lastly, and I cried a little at first when I found this…….. don’t take a job that deals in intoxicants. Shit. Yes, intoxicants include drugs and alcohol, and anything that prevents you from maintaining your mindfulness. I’ve heard that Tich Nat Han has taken this and applied to many of the things we now take for granted in our busy, modern lives, and how they are intoxicating. He’s next on my list of authors to read. So umm…. where does this leave me in regards to home brewing? I’ve always wanted to work at a brewery and (pipe dream) possibly own one someday. Maybe…….

 Well, one of the five precepts in Buddhism (it’s a list of things you’ll do/won’t do as a Buddhist – another post) is not to take intoxicants. I’ve also heard it as “I will not take intoxicants to the point of intoxication”. I might be on to something here. If I take this precept, and only drink one beer, that’s ok. I’m not drinking it to get drunk (right intention) and I’ll still be sober (right mindfulness). But how would I promote this while working at a brewery?

 

 I’ve got an idea. Maybe I should start my own brewery. Deal in bottle conditioned ales only, kind of like Chimay. Encourage people to savor the beer, to experience it. Discourage people using it to get wasted. Only sell the beer in 22oz bottles. And I’m talking quality ales here people, not King Cobra or Mickey’s. This could be the key. Do what I love, and promote a more skillful approach to brewing. That might just work.

 Currently, I know that my job lessens the suffering of others. I help people communicate with each other that normally wouldn’t be able to. My company provides a great service to those in need (and wish for me not to mention them here). What about you? Think on that, and ask yourself what your occupation did today to help end suffering. Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Speech

So the next “step” on the Eightfold Path is Right Speech. Right speech is defined by the Buddha as abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter and gossip. This one is pretty straight forward. Don’t lie. Don’t demean others with your words. Don’t gossip and talk badly about others in front of them or behind their backs. All of these add suffering to the world.

It’s important that you think about what you’re going to say before you say it(right intention), and the consequences of those words. Our words live on forever in the hearts and minds of those that listen; our friends, family, colleagues, potential employers. Anyone. Your words have value, and you should treat your speech as such. Why should one take you seriously if your speech is filled with sarcasm, gossip, stereotypes, and half-truths? We must be mindful of our speech. Our speech has consequences. When practicing right speech, we should make sure our words are of benefit to others.

So what about when you’re arguing with someone? What if they are being a jerk? If it’s the truth, can’t I tell someone that they’re being a jerk? Hmm….. no. You’ve abandoned right view already. The person isn’t being a “jerk”. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that I was pulling into the parking lot of Homebrew Heaven , my local home brew store, just about to pull into the front spot and some guy in his Tahoe cuts me off and pulls in to the spot I was going for, even though I had my blinker on. I might honk, flip him off, and call him a jerk or other choice word (what I like to refer to as a Michigan wave) as I went about looking for a new spot. This would be my knee-jerk reaction, and it would be severely lacking in skill (Buddhists talk about actions being skillful or unskillful).

Right speech (and right intention and right mindfulness and right view) teaches me that the Right thing to do would be to find another spot. To allow him to have that parking spot. Maybe he was in a huge hurry. Maybe he was delivering some tragic news to one of the employees. Or maybe he was just not mindful of others. In any case, right view teaches me that he wasn’t being a jerk, because all that happend was he parked his car. It was my attachment to wanting that parking spot that would have caused the knee-jerk reaction. And right speech teaches me to think before I speak, (this includes hand gestures) and make sure my words are words of encouragement, that they are truthful and beneficial. Calling that guy an asshole would have only caused more suffering and made both of our days worse.

And while we’re on the subject, I have to rant just a bit about something that I find to be VERY unskillful. And that is gossip. I can’t stand it. I hate it. I know, I know, I shouldn’t say “hate”. But hey, I’m no Buddha!!! And I really think the worst kind of gossip is celebrity gossip.

This adds nothing to society. There is no benefit from stalking others, and gossiping about their lives, especiallyin public. Another part of the Eightfold path speaks of Right Livelihood. People that make a living off of the suffering of others are doomed to suffer themselves. This is filth. It is literary soul devouring garbage.

People get so sucked in to the lives of others, and what they did or didn’t wear or who they slept with or who’s having a baby with whom…. they loose focus of their own lives. They’re no longer living in their own present moment, but in the fantasy, vicarious life of others. Do I care about Brangelina and if it breaks up? No. I don’t know these people. While I do hope that they lead good lives, and are able to find a way to ease their suffering, I’m not concerned with their lives. Not at all. I find their lives even less interesting than the lives of my friends and family, who are all pretty ordinary. The lives of celebrities are fake, they’re surrounded by a false reality. I want no part in it.

 And quite honestly, those that gossip about their lives, only further the suffering of the celebrities. And before you say “how can someone that rich suffer?”, keep in mind what suffering is. Suffering is what happens when you don’t want the pain or debt or celebrity status or whatever your reality is. So yeah, even Bill Gates suffers. To me, knowing that little fact can be pretty comforting in a weird way. Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right View

So I’ve begun my journey into Buddhism. I am completely a novice, and don’t claim any “Zen Pedigree” or master status. I’m exploring the Dhammapadha, and kinds of other Buddhist texts to start with. I’m inundating myself with knowledge, and I’ll come to my own conclusions at the end. I thought I’d share this exploration with you, and start with the first step on the Noble Eightfold Path, Right View. (for those of you who are unfamiliar with Buddhism or the Eightfold Path, try the following link http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html)

 So what is meant by “right view”? Can I apply to to all aspects in my life, including home brewing? If so, it will pass my first test. Right view can be translated as right right perspective, right vision or right understanding. It is a way to view the Universe. In Buddhism, attachment is talked about as being a source of suffering. Right view teaches us how to see the world without attachment. Tricky, hu?

 So when I opened up my latest batch (an American Brown Ale) and shared with some friends, they seemed to really enjoy it. However, I thought it could use a few more weeks in the bottle to “finish”. Maybe they were just being polite, though I think they really did enjoy it. So, if we were all tasting the same beer, why so many different opinions? Shouldn’t we all have either enjoyed it, or hated it?

 Well, come to find out, we were all attaching “good” or “bad” or “tasty” to the beer. Right view says we were all drinking the same ale, and it was neither good or bad in itself. You see, there is nothing absolutely good or universally bad about it. It was all our subjective opinions, our attachments that got in the way of seeing the beer for what it really was. Just beer.

 With right view we can see situations for what they really are. Cut through all the bullshit. You can see that pain is just a sensation. You know that old saying “It is what it is”? Well, that is right view. Because when a tornado rips through small town USA, and a lot of buildings get destroyed, and people get hurt, all that happened was the action. Now, you can say “that was horrible, all that destruction was pointless”. Or, an observer from far could say “what a beautiful storm”. In the end, you’ll just have to accept that the storm happened, and that’s all.

 I heard something once that demonstrates this fully. I heard it on a podcast from Kusala Bhikshu (www.urbandharma.org) once in which he was explaining the difference between pain and suffering. Suffering, he said, is when you don’t want the pain. If you can understand that suffering is optional, you can understand how to view those things that cause your suffering.

 Right view is also about making sure you are viewing things how they are. Some actions can be “wrong” in the sense that they aren’t “right action”. You see, the Eightfold Path doesn’t work like your uncle’s 12 step program. All eight “steps” need to work in unison. So you use right view to attain right livelihood, which leads to right mindfulness, but only if you’re using right intention. Got it? :)

 So, while I’d like to go into more detail about right view, I feel like I need to cover the rest of the eightfold path. So we’ll leave it at that for the moment. These posts will be fairly short, but that does not mean that whole books couldn’t be or haven’t been written about the eightfold path.

 On a side note, I entered one of my ales into the Washington State Fair. I’m looking forward to getting some feedback on my beer from a pro judge. It will be nice to see how it does in competition. The prize is only like 10 bucks or something, so I’m not concerned with that. I’m just interested to see how it compares to others beers, and maybe get some tips from some of the other brewers.

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