Category Archives: Buddhism

The Laundry Monster strikes again…

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

Tuesday.

It’s there on the couch. Staring at me. Growing by the day. I shove it over to one side of the couch so that I can watch something on Netflix. But it’s still there. It’s not going anywhere on it’s own. I’d like it to. I’d like that pile of laundry to grow laundry arms, and laundry legs, and go fold itself and put itself away where it belongs. It’s not budging.

I could take care of it today. It’s not too big of a pile right now. Look, a couple of towels. Fold those and the pile gets quite small. Eh. I just got a new Xbox game and I need to play it.

Thursday. The laundry monster has been feasting.

I have to stack the clothes on top of each other in order to clear off the couch. Even then, it’s a tight squeeze for my wife and I to fit on the couch. So much laundry. Plenty of time to take care of it, but if we don’t watch this Netflix movie today, we won’t get a new movie in the mail on Saturday, and then what will we do?

Friday.

Can’t find a pair of matching socks. Grey and tan it is. I don’t have time to fight the laundry monster. I’m already late for work. Such a huge pile. I should have folded this shit earlier.

Saturday.

Corbin is taking a nap. Time to kill the beast. With my wife and I tackling the monster, we make short work of it. Towels.

             Dish rags.

                              Lonely socks.

                                                     Clothes hung in the closet.

A sense of accomplishment, followed by a sense of shame. Should’ve. Should’ve folded it Monday. Should’ve folded it Thursday. Could’ve taken care of it right then and there. Now I’ll have to iron just about all my clothes this week. Could’ve spent that half hour on Saturday doing something more constructive with my wife. Should’ve spent that half hour on Saturday doing something more constructive with my wife. Instead I allowed it to pile up. I fed the monster.

This week, I shall starve the monster.

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Reborn in emotion

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

Yesterday was a veritable roller coaster of emotion and being for me. When I got to work, my laptop arrived via UPS from our corporate office where it had been wiped clean, and liberated from it’s blue screen of death. This was a joyous occasion for me, as I could now do my work much more efficiently. Of course, when I started it up, I found that the IT guys had upgraded it with Office 2007 (had been using 2000 before) which resulted in mixed emotions for sure. While the new Outlook is much improved, Microsoft (as usual) managed to really fuck up one of the programs that they have done really well, Excel. Excel is the near Universal basic spreadsheet program for just about every person and corporation out there, and so you’d think that if they were going to upgrade this program that is used my millions successfully the world-over, they would just make a few enhancements and leave the interface alone, since people depend on Excel’s efficiency. But that’s not what Microsoft does, is it? Ahh….. impermanence.

The rest of my workday was a continued struggle just to find some basic commands, and then a presentation to the district management that I rocked. Then Alex and Corbin picked me up from work (which is always a good way to start my afternoon/evening) and home to dinner. Veggie chili-and-cheese brats with fries while Corbin was occupied with some Sponge Bob (very yummy).

Then we commenced our nightly ritual. Corbin in the bath, while I watched him play with his toys and splash around in the water. Corbin in his PJs, and then Alex brushes his teeth (always an epic struggle) and then it’s time for Daddy story time. We read a few books, and this is really the point where I’m calming/wearing him down. Though lately, story time makes Daddy just as tired as it does the little one.

After he’s in bed, it’s time for Lost. We don’t have TV service, so the few shows we actually like and want to watch we either do on Netflix or just watch on the interwebs. After sufficiently numbing my mind for 45 minutes, I fart around on failblog for awhile and then it’s time for bed. Escape.

Corbin however, had other plans. His sleep patterns have been improving and as of late he only wakes up 2-3 times a night (I can’t believe I said that was an improvement) but last night something kept him up. We were up with him from 1:30am until about 5:30am if memory serves me right. I got frustrated, pissed off, snapped at my wife for no good reason, and managed to fall asleep for 20 minutes holding him in such an awkward position that I can’t move my head to the left well today.

My goal here is not to complain, but to observe. Observe the situation and watch my reactions to the phenomenon. Yesterday was a near complete fail in mindfulness, but that’s okay. It was yesterday. Today I realize where I went wrong, and can kind of laugh at myself.

There’s the concept of “rebirth” which is likened to a wave returning to the ocean (that’s the shortened idiot’s version). Yesterday I was a furious ocean. Each wave that crashed on my little private beach was different than the one previous. Watching the patterns of rebirth I see how closely they are tied to the violent flux of emotions that I experience. My goal right now is to simply ride the wave. Watch my emotional self. Emotions are part of being a human, I have no need to make them disappear, nor do I wish to.

But this is part of the practice. This is why I have chosen this path. Learn to observe the waves in action, and provide a breakwater to keep them from causing more suffering. If I’m tired, I want to just be tired. Not angry or frustrated. Just tired. If I have work to do, I want to just do it. This is the part of the process. Simple. Mindful. Awake. Now.

Cheers.

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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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Hero for the day……

A friend forwarded me this article from the Seattle Times about a little boy who’s wish came true.

Watching her son run across the plaza in front of the Space Needle, mom Judy Martin said Erik goes to school when he’s able, but is often too tired. “He hasn’t had this much energy in a long time,” she said. “They called it the power of the wish, and they’re right.”

Like any good superhero, Electron Boy kept his innermost thoughts to himself. But he did have one important thing to say:

“This is the best day of my life.”

If this many people can come together for one day, for one boy, for one wish, then surely there is hope in this world.

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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"We aren't feeling enough as a culture right now"

Just happend upon this video that is well worth watching. TED has some great talks and videos, but this one just stood out for some reason and really resonated with me. I hope you enjoy.

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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Something brewing in the atmosphere

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a terrible, gruesome act perpetrated by a home-grown terrorist. It’s been recently pointed out in the media and the blogosphere that the current political atmosphere is comparable to what it was then, and I’d have to agree. This morning on NPR there was someone from Pew Research talking about how much more angry and untrusting the right become when a Democrat wins the Presidency than the left do when a Republican does. You can see some of this sentiment now in the Tea Party movement, and much like talk radio in the early-mid ’90s, you see it splattered all over the internet.

Personally, I’m sick of all the bullshit coming from the right and the left which is getting us largely no where except to further the chasm between Left™ and Right©.  Recently I asked Justin what place Buddhist ethics has in political discourse. I did this because I believe there needs to be a fresh voice in politics today. One that isn’t driven by a desire to wipe out the other side’s ideas or beliefs. One that isn’t so dualistic in nature that it can only prop itself up with the rhetoric of the destruction of the “other” side. One that has its roots in compassion, and strives for understanding. We will never, ever all agree on the same political and moral principles, but we can at least stop yelling at each other long enough to understand where the other side is coming from. We need a voice that recognizes that any ONE idea or philosophy is inherently exclusionary and can’t survive in an emergent democracy. We are a nation of many peoples, many cultures, and ideas. This is where we draw our strength and have propelled our country to the world’s utmost superpower. It is only an inclusive, emergent philosophy based in compassion and wisdom that is continually updated to include present-day knowledge that will end the great divide we now see splashed across (and perpetuated by) our headlines.

The old idea of a system based totally on a “free market” certainly is lovely on paper, but eventually leads to plutocratic tendencies and an inherent wealth divide that is virtually insurmountable by those at the lowest rungs of the ladder. And the idea of a communal society simply cannot work on a scale as grand as these United States. It might work just fine on a hippie commune (for which I have great admiration) but there is no way to run that type of system in a world economy. These ideal states are fine for your Philosophy 103 term paper, but have little value in the real world.

A recent example of this would be supply side economics. The idea is a great one. Give tax breaks to the rich, and the rich in turn will buy lots of yachts and start-up companies and do all of these great things that will put America to work and eventually create a healthy middle class by means of employment.  But every friggin time that has been attempted in real-life in the past century, the exact opposite happens. The wealthy don’t invest or go buy a lot of things that put people to work. They just put that fucking money in the bank and get a little richer. Great idea on paper, but zero real-world benefit to the lower or middle classes.

I do believe there is a way to the middle ground here. Repeat after me: there is a middle. There is a happy place where markets can be regulated without hampering innovation, and where government can be a place where society pools its interests to take care of its citizens most basic needs without crippling the economy. There is a way to enjoy your personal liberty and take care of your fellow citizens at the same time.

But how do we get to that middle ground? What are the specifics, and what are the practical ways in which we get there? Is there a way to apply those Buddhist ethics in a secular way to achieve this goal? Is there a way to bring it from the philosophical and into the practical?

I’m considering starting a group political blog to help answer some of these questions (and others) as well as raise some other ones. It will look at modern politics from a Buddhist perspective, one based in compassion, empathy, wisdom, and of course Fudo Myo. It would be an enviroment where, as Justin put it “…. we can we educate moderates and the near-right to expose the problems of the extreme right, instead of fueling their fire…”

If you’re at all interested, leave a comment here.

Cheers.

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Article Swap #3 – Buddhist Ethics in Political Dialogue (guest post by Justin Whitaker)

The following is a guest post from Justin of the wonderful blog, American Buddhist Perspective. This is part of the great “Buddhoblogosphere Blog Swap” that was set up by Nate over at Precious Metal. Check out this post for a list of all the other articles being swapped and hosted today. The article I wrote hasn’t been posted yet, but as soon as it is, I’ll post the link up here. I was in charge of assigning Justin a topic, and knowing that he is a Buddhist Ethicist, I asked the following questions:

“How do we apply Buddhist ethics in a secular way to the political dialogue/discourse we currently have in this country? Right now it is dominated by the fringe extremists with the loudest microphones and it is getting us nowhere. How do we combat (without combating) this extremism using Buddhist ethics? How do we make it part of the dialogue?”

Adam has posed some great questions here. I hope they elicit as much thought in you as they did me and that you will join the conversation. First off, we need to identify what “Buddhist ethics” is or are. From there we should be able to launch into engagement with our current political situation. 
 
Let’s orient ourselves. Where are we? If we call ourselves “Buddhist” (and often even if not) we no doubt see ourselves as on a path to awakening. We can think of this as our vertical or “Developmental” Dimension:  our own ignorance and suffering at the bottom, and perfected wisdom and compassion at the top. And we are also living in the year 2010, mostly (for readers here) in America. This is the horizontal or “Relational” Dimension, the world around us right now and on each stage of the path (see Firgure 1*).   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        In this picture, Buddhist ethics can be seen as our conduct as Buddhists and the reasons we have for that conduct. How do we move “up”? How do we cultivate the twin virtues of wisdom and compassion in a world so dominated by extreme voices and ideas?
 

The Buddha’s own advice to people again and again was to relax their attention on the Relational Dimension and focus on their own development. One of the curious facts about this way of seeing things is that as we advance (upward) toward awakening, we open up more fully (relationally) to the world. Meanwhile, the more caught up in personal delusions, greed, and hatred we are, the more isolated we are from the world. This is what Alan Sponberg has coined as the Hierarchy of Compassion.
 
So this is our starting point. Right here. Not with the politicians or the pundits, but with our own mind and mental states. As laypeople we can begin with the five precepts:
1.   I undertake the training to abstain from harming living beings
2.   I undertake the training to abstain from taking the not-given.
3.   I undertake the training to abstain from harmful conduct in sensuality.
4.   I undertake the training to abstain from false speech.
5.   I undertake the training to abstain from drinking liquor or taking intoxicants.
Each day we can take a moment to evaluate our relationship with these training principles. Our first step in remedying the often contentious political sphere is to ensure that we ourselves are contributing as little as possible to it. Recall Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
 
For some, “ethics” ends there. But I think we can see that the whole of the path is interconnected and that meditation and wisdom are not distinct categories of practice. It is in our meditation that our deepest mental convictions and afflictions become transparent to us, rising to the surface of consciousness where we can make the changes necessary to move closer to harmony with the Dharma. In terms of the political world, in meditation we can let go of divisive labels and self-other duality. In particular, in the cultivation of loving-kindness meditation, we invite to our mind an ‘enemy’ to imaginatively sit with us, seeing this individual as no different from a neutral person, themselves no different from a close friend. We see that all beings “fear the stick and tremble at punishment.”
 
The cultivation of wisdom, too, serves our ethical purposes. While notions such as non-self, impermanence, and interconnectedness can serve as mere intellectual concepts, they can also be applied on the cognitive level to challenge and overcome prejudices. The noble 8-fold path begins with right understanding, and I believe this is not accidental. If we believe in permanent separate souls or that moral actions hold no consequences, it is unlikely that we will follow the next seven steps on the path. While the complete understanding of reality as it is marks the culmination of the path, we cannot even begin if we are clinging to radically false notions.
 
But we are still at a very individual level. How do we ‘reach out’ to others? We begin with those nearest us, friends and family. If you’re anything like me, this group alone contains a very wide spectrum of political views. Generally it’s easiest to talk politics with those who agree with you and at times downright painful to talk with those who appear to be in the extremes. I’ve had conversations with relatives who say they’re “just waiting for him [President Obama] to start taking our guns away” and friends on the other end of the spectrum who lamented how horrible a nation America has become (under President G.W. Bush).
 
Sometimes the best we can do is listen, try to understand where they are coming from. At our best though we can ‘mirror’ the extreme position of a comment to the other person in a way that gets him or her to its extremism clearly. We might remark that Obama is having a hard enough time accomplishing his stated goals, so it might be a bit tough for him to do something that would be so widely unpopular.  Or we might note that America wasn’t exactly Eden before G.W. Bush – or mention a few of the dozens of countries that would be much more ‘horrible’ for our friend. What we see is that extreme positions are often very narrow, both historically and in terms of contemporary realities around the world. 
 
As our own thought and understanding deepens, we are less affected by extreme and misplaced views and opinions; much like H.H. the Dalai Lama as he responded to Chinese claims that he was a devil:

If he were to bitterly argue against such claims, they would only gain strength. But by laughing at them, and making us laugh in turn, we see the absurdity of the Chinese government’s position. The more often this happens, the weaker this extreme voice becomes. Similarly, teaching the history of Tibet, and showing the reality of people there today are other ways to cut through extremist claims.
 
But what the Dalai Lama’s story also shows us is that in the end, enlightened conduct might not win in the political sphere. This is a fact of the deluded state that most of us dwell in. Even the Buddha had enemies, including an angry cousin who tried on several occasions to kill him. The extremists have always been there and likely always will be. Through our own practice, though, we can develop the wisdom of seeing the context of our political lives and compassion through realizing the similarities we have even with our worst enemies. Bringing this ‘home’ in our own daily conduct and meditation frees us from merely reacting to the latest extremism in the world, allowing us to be creative agents of that wisdom and compassion. The greatest contribution, and indeed the most authentic one, that Buddhist ethics can give to contemporary political dialogue is in its tools of spiritual development.
 
* This schematization and the figures are taken from Sponberg, Alan. (1994). “Green Buddhism and the Hierarchy of Compassion,” in Buddhism and Ecology: The Interconnection of Dharma and Deeds. Tucker and Williams eds. (1997). Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, pp. 351-376.

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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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Buddha takes no Prisoners!

Buddha Takes No Prisoners

Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator’s Survival Guide

Author: Patrick Ophuls

North Atlantic Books

Once again, I’ve been tricked by the title. “A meditator’s survival guide” led me to believe this book would have to do with meditation practice of some sort, but alas, it really doesn’t. It doesn’t cover meditation in and of itself. It’s more of an “okay, I can meditate, now what do I do with that” book. Okay, no big deal.

Although reading is one of my favorite hobbies/pastimes, it is becoming increasingly difficult to spend a dedicated amount of time reading the books I want to read. I have a small “to read” stack that is growing faster than I can keep up. What was nice about this book, is that it fit right into that lifestyle. It is split up into 24 small chapters, that each read like a well written blog post. The chapters are short enough and self-sufficient enough that you can read one, and come back to the book a few days later without having to back track to regain the train of thought. When I say well written, I mean it. Patrick Ophuls’ style is straight-forward and engaging. He doesn’t cut any corners, and he doesn’t fluff up his writing with too much… “wordiness”. And you can tell this guy has studied the Buddhist texts quite a bit, as he includes more metaphors than you can handle (really, it does get a little bit old).

I really enjoyed this book. It was Buddhism without beliefs without Buddhism without beliefs. He makes his point to an obviously Western audience, but he doesn’t advocate stripping the Dharma of anything. His approach is practical but not anti-establishment. He’s targeting the average Western lay practitioner, and really hits the mark. It’s approachable yet elevating. Some of the parts that I found to be of great interest:

About choosing a Buddhist path:

It’s not true that all roads lead to Rome; quite a few lead to hell instead. But of the many paths that go to the holy city, we need to choose one in particular for our journey.

On a new definition of metta:

So perhaps the single best word to convey the essential spirit of metta is not….kindness. Rather, it is kindheartedness, because the latter more strongly suggests an inner predisposition or habitual tendency to be friendly and kind no matter what, which is precisely what metta is.

On Buddhist practice as a means for “healing”:

…if healing becomes the goal of practice, then a watered-down, feel-good, lowest-common-denominator Buddhism reflecting the cultural values of a secularized, politically correct, therapeutic society may take root and become the norm. To put it another way, the danger is that Freud’s heroic resignation will replace Gautama’s heroic affirmation so that students learn how to live with their suffering instead of how to overcome it.

Ophuls covers many topics in his blog-like chapters; fixing problems that arise with your meditation practice, choosing a path, choosing a teacher, emphasizing that we need worldly wisdom while living in a worldly world (go figure, hu?). The book is like a FAQ for your Buddhist practice. I definitely recommend it, especially for any Dharma-noob out there. There are some great essays in the appendix as well that I think I’ll save for a future blog post.

Cheers.

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Infection!

This weekend I brewed up my first Barley Wine. (Yeah, it’s a beer, not a wine). My apartment now reeks of hops and alcohol. Very nice. As I was brewing, I decided to pop open one of the Dunkleweisens that I had bottled the previous weekend. I knew it wasn’t going to be ready yet, but just wanted to see how things are coming along. First taste? Not good. Now, it very well could be that the beer just needs to age for a while, and that having 2 of my last 3 batches turn out infected has made me hyper-sensitive to the “infected beer smell”, but I’m thinking this batch might get consumed by the toilet.

Beer wort (that’s all of the ingredients before you add the yeast and make….beer) is a perfect incubator. It has all kinds of wonderful sugars for beer yeast to chew on and live off of for a long time. It’s just the right PH, giving the yeast this perfect little enviroment in which to live. And it’s the right temperature, not too hot, and not too cold. Beer wort is such a perfect enviroment, that it is regularly used in labs to grow certain cultures of bacteria. And therein lies the problem.

It takes just a tiny bit of bacteria or wild yeast to creep on in there and set up shop. It’s a home-invasion gone wrong. Sure, your yeast will live and do its whole turning-sugar-into-beer thing, but now it has company. It’s like your 2-cousin-in-law twice removed that comes to stay the weekend for Christmas and never leaves. Pretty soon their trash is everywhere, and your couch smells like feet and Cheetos. Same thing happens to the beer. Beer yeast produces favorable flavors and aromas. Invading bacteria make your hooch smell like band-aids and rubbing alcohol. Not good.

You do what you can to keep the bad bacteria at bay. The night before I brewed the Dunklewesien, I bleached all of my equipment. Then on brew day, I soaked it all in sanitizing solution. I was careful. Very careful. Anything that went into the wort was sufficiently boiled to remove anything harmful. I cooled the wort down to 70 degrees within 10 minutes limiting its exposure to any wild airborne yeasts. Then I tossed it all in my carboy and……. shit. I was 3/4 gallon shy of 5 gallons. How the hell did that happen? So, I dumped in some cold water to top it off, aerated, and pitched the yeast. Done.

I knew that by dumping the cold water in the fermenter, I was compromising the integrity of the beer. I made a rash decision, and likely paid the price for it. Just a little bit of cold water out of the well. Couldn’t see any bacteria, couldn’t smell any. No idea that it was there. But I knew the possibility lingered, and I let it in any way. It’s so easy to compromise and for what? 3/4 of a gallon more? Silly. Not mindful.

Why does compromise come so easy? Especially when we know it will inevitably lead to “infection”?

As for the beer, I shall wait and see. Wait and see.

Cheers.

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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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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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Belief-o-matic

Just for the hell of it, I thought I’d try the Belief-o-matic again. Each time I get something a little different, which doesn’t surprise me. Here are my results:

1.  Theravada Buddhism (100%)
2.  Unitarian Universalism (99%)
3.  Mahayana Buddhism (96%)
4.  Liberal Quakers (84%)
5.  Hinduism (83%)
6.  Taoism (82%)
7.  Jainism (78%)
8.  Neo-Pagan (78%)
9.  Secular Humanism (71%)
10.  New Age (70%)
11.  Sikhism (68%)
12.  Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (66%)
13.  New Thought (61%)
14.  Orthodox Quaker (59%)
15.  Scientology (57%)
16.  Reform Judaism (52%)
17.  Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (50%)
18.  Nontheist (45%)
19.  Baha’i Faith (40%)
20.  Seventh Day Adventist (31%)
21.  Orthodox Judaism (29%)
22.  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (29%)
23.  Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (24%)
24.  Islam (22%)
25.  Eastern Orthodox (19%)
26.  Roman Catholic (19%)
27.  Jehovah’s Witness (12%)

 

Still not sure how Liberal Quaker and Universal Unitarian creeped into the top 5. While I do share some similar ideas, it seems like the whole “god” thing kinda gets in the way. Weird. And Scientology is #15. I don’t remembering answering any questions about aliens or pyramid schemes…..

Cheers.

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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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Shhhh……

 The dim blue of the white noise machine that is currently rolling ocean waves through its speakers is the only light piercing the darkness in my son Corbin’s room. Sponge Bob is there staring at me from the corner, in front of the rest of his toys that are frozen, poised ready to leap to life from their respective bins the moment he wakes up. It’s 8:30 or so, and this is the first time he’s woken up tonight. Right now I’m practicing shushing meditation.

He wakes up 6-8 times a night, and my wife Alex and I have decided to try the “cry it out” method to break him of this habit that he’s formed. 11+ months of no sleep has turned us into bitter, angry night people. I’ve let him cry for 5 minutes, and now I hover over his crib, shushing in sync with the ocean waves. I rock back and forth, backing away from the crib inch by literal inch. It is a process that is laborious, boring, and mentally demanding. After 10 minutes or so, I’ve backpedaled to the door and make my exit; silent except for my continued, rhythmic shushing. The door closes and I head to the fridge to grab some juice as all the shushing has severely dried my mouth and depleted my saliva reserves. It’s then that I realize that I’m still shushing. Hmmm.

A couple of hours later I’m swimming in the ocean again, rocking side to side and shushing. Now I’m thinking of earlier and my trip to the fridge. The shushing had focused my attention on my movements. No commentary from my mind. Just shushing, and movement. Now I begin to wonder why all this seems like such a chore. Why is it that I would rather go out in the living room and finish watching Weeds with Alex? Isn’t this moment just as special? Then the switch just flips. It becomes easy. With the effort of a passing thought I made a determination that this subtle moving and shushing alone in the dark with my son was the better of the two options. And it became easy. Now I felt the comfort of my own shushing. My son stops stirring. Time to start sneaking backwards. Slowly. Carefully. Purposefully.

When I return to the couch I un-pause Weeds and the noise and light from the TV assault my senses. This is no longer the desired escape from reality it was a few hours ago. I’d rather go back in and sit down in front of Corbin’s crib and just sush. But then Alex leans over on my chest and I wrap my arm around her, and the calm and comfort return.

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The Dharma of Whoopi

So I happend upon this video at CNN today, and thought it was worth sharing.

First, I want to say that Chris Mathews did have the right intent, just the wrong words maybe. It was clear to me that he was trying to say that he saw President Obama as President Obama, not President Obama the first black President of the US.

I think Whoopi brings up some great points here. We’re getting to the point in public debate and discussion where we are taking a step back and really examining our words, and our thoughts. This is what Buddhism does for me. It forces me to look at my thoughts, my intent, my actions and really examine them and their motivations. Of course, 90% of the time this happens in hind sight, but I’d like to think that it’s a start. I’m trying to get to the point where the examination happens before the word or action, but these things take time.

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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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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On Karma and Rebirth

I promised a post on my thoughts on Karma and Rebirth. Here you go:

Yup. There are some ideas that aren’t reconciling with each other in my head. Karma and Rebirth are clashing, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around them. But maybe it doesn’t matter much. Maybe it isn’t something I need to spend much time worrying about. Although they are central concepts to Buddhism, trying to figure them out fully isn’t going to help me right here, right now. It’s just going to make my mind look like this Jackson Pollock painting.

After the next couple of books that I read (review copies that I’ve received), I’ll be diving into The Wings to Awakening, so maybe that will help shed some light. And if not, maybe it will just take some time. If anyone out there has some recommended reading, it would be much appreciated. Also, feel free to leave your thoughts regarding karma and rebirth in the comments section here.

Cheers.

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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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The Brit Hume fallout: Victory for The Extremists

I was going to respond to some really stupid comments and posts I saw being made by Christians/Conservatives on some of the links that Kyle provided, along with some others I found.  I had an agenda, and I was going to set them straight and put them in their places. I started to type in some comments, and then just closed down my browser. I realized what the problem was. It wasn’t them. It was the system that we’ve all been caught up in (myself included).

At first I admit I had to agree with some of my fellow bloggers and Buddhists about how this whole Brit Hume thing actually was a great opportunity for us Buddhists to speak about our faith/tradition/religion. If nothing else, there would be tons of people who would at the very least wiki Buddhism and find out just a little bit about it. So overall, this was a good thing, right? No. You see, in Buddhism, we assess situations and take action based on how skillful (less suffering) or unskillful (more suffering) we deem those actions to be (in a nut shell). Overall, I’d have to say that this entire situation has been quite unskillful.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I like people of all faiths (except Scientology. “Fuck L. Ron Hubbard and fuck all his clones”) because I try not to see people as what faith they belong to. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, I’ve known many people of many faiths in my life, and gotten along with them all splendidly. However, there is one group of people who I really can’t stand: Extremists. Extreme atheists, Christians, Buddhists, liberals, whatever. They always speak the loudest, they get in people’s faces, they cause violence and instill fear. Rather than use reason, compassion and logic, they just shout long enough and loud enough to drown out their opposition. And the internet is the best thing that has happened to extremism since Vietnam. It gives it fuel, life, recruitment, new means of manipulation, and limitless open forums with which to spew it’s filth.

Now, I do stand by what I said before. I think one of the biggest problems with what Brit Hume said is that millions of people are now going to have a skewed perception of what Buddhism is. Unfortunately, a larger problem has arisen. While in an ideal world, we would have had an open discussion between Buddhists and Christians (and maybe even Brit Hume), what we instead found was that The Extremists™ took up the cause instead. It was the crazy Christians, Atheists, Anti-Theists and everyone in between that took up this issue. It was blown out of proportion and skewed into a political, racial, 1st amendment, and religious argument rather than any kind of discovery or debate. Now all that is left are angry words, inflated egos, and the now (possibly) more negative vision of Buddhists and Buddhism.

So now we have to deal with the fallout. This really turned into a much bigger mess than it ever needed to. I still agree that something needed to be said in rebuttal, and I think Mr. Hume’s comment was reckless. But I think how the rebuttal and discourse that followed were handled was even more reckless. What we’ve done now is only further polarize the country over yet another insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) event. Much like Janet Jackson’s boob, Bill Clinton’s…. cigar,  or Mark Sanford’s indiscretion, we’ve blown things way out of proportion. I don’t want to get into the “why” of that now, I just want to acknowledge it. We simply love to sensationalize the mistakes of anyone of any type of celebrity status. A little off topic, but something someone said in my sangha the other day kind of relates here. It was regarding the way we treat our Presidents and elected officials. He said “Every four years we elect a messiah, and at the end of those four years, when we find out he’s human, we crucify him.”

This could have been a moment for pause and reflection. It could have been a moment of great understanding and compassion. But we let it turn into the monster that it became because we allow the extremists to control public “discussion” and represent their respective “sides”. We always hear and see the Christians protesting over this and that, going crazy when evolution is taught in our schools, but that isn’t representative of Christianity. Those crazies just happen to have the microphone. Not everyone that is against animal cruelty throws fake blood on people who buy fur coats. They just happen to make the 5 o’clock news. And so we allow those extremists (who are in the minority) to control not only the debate, but also our view of the entirety of whatever side/religion/organization/movement they belong to.

And not only do we allow this to happen, we actually feed it sometimes! We respond to the crazies on those message boards! This is the fuel that they need to burn their fires of hate.  We try to argue with them, to make them see our point. But they won’t. They’re completely stuck in a state of “I’m fucking right and you’re fucking wrong” and no amount of replies in an internet forum or shouting through a megaphone at a Tea Party is going to change their minds. If their minds are to change, it will have to be of their own doing. So now we’re left with all of those extremists shouting, yelling, posting which only further deepens the divisions that we’ve created for ourselves.

Before I get to a solution, I just want to reiterate that I do believe something needed to be said about this. If I had a moment of face time with Brit Hume, I’d simply say “Brit, what you said offended quite a few people. Not because of you being a Christian or saying Jesus on the air, but because you put one religion down while trumpeting your own. We hear enough of this, and this us vs. them stuff has to stop. Wouldn’t it have been a wiser choice to say something like: ‘I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I think right now you need to use what tools your faith has to offer to help yourself and your family heal. I know that when I turned to Christianity, I found great comfort and forgiveness and it helped me through a very difficult time’. See the difference there?”

I think one of the best solutions for us Buddhists to cultivate is something the Dalai Llama has offered:

“The purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit all sentient beings, including human beings. And therefore it is more important to think of what contribution we Buddhists can make to human society according to our own ideas rather than trying to convert other people to Buddhism. The Buddha gave us an example of contentment and tolerance, through serving others unselfishly.”

It is in the example that we set for others when we live according to the dharma in which we can overcome the extremists. This is the best and most skillful course of action.

That’s all on this. Cheers.

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“The Importance of Ritual (and Irritation)”: Guest Post by Maia Duerr

 A shout out to Adam and to all his blog audience as we commence this big Buddhist blog swap. This is the first time I’ve participated in the blog swap. It’s a lot of fun to dip into someone else’s pool, and to have Shane Hennesey of Zenfant post on my blog, The Jizo Chronicles.

The way this works, all of us who volunteered for this endeavor were matched up with another blogger, and we were to write something for his or her blog. We each suggested a topic to write on, and then Nate Montigny  put these into a hat (was it a real hat or a digital hat? I wonder…) and assigned a topic to each of us. The topic I suggested was “how do you practice with irritation?” The one I was assigned was “the importance of ritual in your Buddhist practice.” I didn’t understand that we weren’t going to write on the topic we suggested… and so I have to tell you, I am irritated that I have to write on a topic other than irritation. I guess that is perfect. I may end up writing about both topics here. 

First, ritual. I grew up Catholic, and I mean really Catholic. Twelve years of Catholic grammar school and high school at St. Andrew’s, in Pasadena, California. This was in the 1960s and 70s, so if you can imagine the scenes in the Meryl Streep/Philip Seymour Hoffman movie “Doubt,” you’re not far off. Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but we were definitely steeped in ritual and nuns and priests. I can remember being herded from our classrooms across the street to the big church every Friday for Mass. When I was growing up, the post-Vatican II Church was just on the cusp of “modernizing,” so I have some faint memory of the mass being said in Latin when I was very young. But most of what I remember is that awkward transition to guitar masses and the priests trying to act very hip. 

Even so, there was still a great deal of ritual. During big masses like Christmas and other holidays, the altar boys, dressed in black robes with a splash of red and white garments, would carry large bronze urns filled with incense and swing them around on their way up to the altar. The most ritual-intensive part of the liturgy was around the consecration of the ‘host,’ when the priest held up the golden chalice and whispered some kind of secret incantation as the bread and wine allegedly turned into the body and blood of Christ. It was wild. So when I encountered Buddhism later in my life, I was already pretty comfortable with ritual. I started practice in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition where there was actually less of it. But by the time I hit Soto Zen, I was happy to see the black robes come out again and hear all the chanting in morning service. I know this can be a turnoff to some people, but I felt right at home. Maybe that’s why there are so many ex-Catholics who seem to turn up in the ranks of Zen Buddhism.

 Over the years, something really valuable I’ve discovered is that it’s important for me to personalize those rituals a bit more, otherwise they can end up feeling kind of dead after a while. In the past couple of years, I’ve created a morning ritual for myself that has really helped me to feel much closer to my practice. When I sit on my own at home, I end the sitting period by lighting incense and then chanting a set of three vows that are close to my own heart – not something that someone else has come up with. This seems to go to the core meaning of ritual for me – it’s a remembrance of things that are close to my soul, that vitalize me for the day ahead. 

Finally, a few thoughts about irritation. After my irritated moment about not getting the topic I wanted for this blog, I realized how much irritation has permeated my practice. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Really, irritation has permeated my life and I would guess that is true for you as well.  I remember one of the first things that my root teacher, Roshi Joan Halifax, said to me: “We spend most of our lives circling around the drain of resistance.” I thought that was fabulous and I’d never heard it before. It’s so true, only the problem is we usually don’t realize how resistant we are to “things as they are.” Irritation really seems to get at the heart of the First and Second Noble Truths, that there is suffering in life and that suffering arises when we resist what’s going on. I’m not sure I can say I’ve experienced any less irritation in my life since I’ve been practicing meditation. In fact, maybe even more. Or maybe it’s just that I am more aware of it (damn awareness!). Sometimes it seems that just about anything can trigger the irritation: the loud breathing of someone else in the zendo (and it’s always someone else, not me!), the co-worker who drives me crazy with his stupid questions, the method for choosing the blog topic that I didn’t have a say in… If it’s not one thing, it’s another, as Gilda Radner would have said. 

One saying that’s made the rounds in many Buddhist settings is that when we practice and live together as a sangha, we are like a bunch of hairy potatoes being washed in the same bucket of water together, continually rubbing each other clean through the process of bumping up against each other in our irritation. If that’s the case, I am getting to be a very clean potato. 

Thank you so much Maia! Wonderful!

For a list of all of the other blogs participating in the swap, head over to Precious Metal. My post is up at Peace Ground Zero, so check it out! Cheers. -Adam

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I’m not a true Scotsman/Buddhist

I enjoy The Zennist for his commentary on the Pali cannon. He certainly knows his stuff, and I’m starting to learn a bit from his blog as well. However, his latest post “On Being a real Buddhist” really kind of pissed me off. I appreciate opinion, and I expect it when reading a personal blog. But to say something like “Less than this is not real Buddhism nor are its practitioners, I dare say, real Buddhists.” and you’ve really crossed a line.

First, please dont’ try to tell others how authentic or ‘real’ their practice is. It’s insulting, and it is divisive (wrong speech). You’re sounding more and more like a Church-of Christ/christian apologetics “I’m holier than thou” types.

Second, you’ve commited a logical fallacy. It is commonly referred to the “not a true Scotsman” fallacy and it works like this:

If Adam, a Buddhist, does not believe in the “immortal-element”, is proposed as a counter-example to the claim “No Buddhist denies the immortal-element”, the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy would run as follows:

(1) Adam doesn’t believe in the immortal-element.
(2) No (true) Buddhist denies the existence of the immortal-element.
Therefore:
(3) Adam is not a (true) Buddhist.
Therefore:
(4) Adam is not a counter-example to the claim that no Buddhist denies the existence of the immortal-element.

This fallacy is a form of circular argument, with an existing belief being assumed to be true in order to dismiss any apparent counter-examples to it. The existing belief thus becomes unfalsifiable. Also, by what guidelines do you define a “true” or “authentic” Buddhist? And, who the hell are you to judge?

We don’t need anymore Dharma Police on the block Zennist. Your insight into the Pali Cannon could be put to better use than to belittle others, create divisions, and prattle on about how we in the West will never be Real Buddhists™. Keep the information coming, but keep the snarkyness in check will ya? There is very little metta in your posts.

Cheers.

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Fox News: now with 10% more proselytizing

For those that haven’t already heard, Brit Hume made some interesting remarks regarding Tiger Woods, Christianity, and Buddhism. I think some of my fellow bloggers have replied quite well enough already, and Kyle has a list going of the posts here. I only have a couple of things to add to the discussion, so here it goes.

I think that the only people Tiger needs to ask forgiveness from are his family and himself. But Hume needs to ask the Buddhist community for forgiveness for such remarks, and if he does so with sincerity, we will act compassionately and give it to him. A simple: “you know, I didn’t really know much about Buddhism when I made that comment, and since then I’ve done a little research. Aparently Buddhism does have quite a lot to offer Tiger in this difficult time in his life” should suffice.

My biggest concern is that he just completely misrepresented Buddhist ethics and morals to his viewers, further polarizing Buddhism here in the US. Now I’m sure there’s a whole new group of Fox News Viewers that have developed even more misconceptions regarding Buddhism, and that just fuels the fire for hate. Thanks.

Americans (and all people for that matter) don’t need Christianity shoved down our throats anymore than we need Buddhism, Judaism, Atheism or any other “ism” shoved down our throats. ESPECIALLY ON A NEWS NETWORK.

My problem lastly is this. If Brit Hume was acting out of compassion, trying to reach out to Tiger, he could have said something like “When my son committed suicide, Christianity really helped me to deal with the pain and loss and move on with my life” and so on. Because, I’m sure it did, and I am glad for him. Instead, he chose to say “He [Woods] is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.”

“Tiger, turn to the Christian faith”.  It is not Brit Hume’s place to proselyte on the “news” network to which he is employed. Further more, he is implying that only a turn to the Christian faith will allow him to make a total recovery. Personally, I don’t agree with that statement on philosophical grounds, but that isn’t what grinds my gears. It’s the fact that Hume completely ignores the morality and ethics of Buddhism, claims Christianity to be superior, and also assumes to know what is best for Tiger Woods and his family (all in only 3 sentences).

There is no intention of compassion here on Hume’s part; it is simply a shot at a religion that is anything other than the Christian one, and the claiming of superiority of one over the other. His intention was clear. He wasn’t speaking out of any genuine feeling for him or his family, rather it was a plea for Tiger to come on over and join the Yacht club with the rest of Fox News. But, what more should we expect of Fox News? [check out Nathan’s post for more into this] They aren’t exactly the pinnacle of journalistic excellence here in America. I’d rather get my news from Highlights magazine than to watch their white-washed, completely slanted and sensationalized version of the day’s events. I’m not going to write Fox News a letter. I’m just going to continue not watching their crap. I don’t want them to change, I want them to disappear and be replaced by an organization that favors journalistic integrity. I’ll just stick to NPR I guess.

 I leave you with something to consider. In the movie “Ethics and the World Crisis: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama”, one of the panelists (I forget who, and can’t find a transcript anywhere) asks, when referring to the use of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as a logo for the 24 hour news networks, “If we DID have a state-run media, how would it look any different from what we already have”? (paraphrased)

Now take Hume’s comments into consideration, and you can see why there has been such an uproar.

Cheers.

*Update:

Kyle from The Reformed Buddhist has been quoted on MSNBC regarding Brit Hume’s remarks. Nice job!

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A new year, a new diet, and some thank you’s.

First, let me look back on 2009. No top ten lists here, (though I feel it’s worth mentioning that Full Sail’s Session Black was the best new beer I had this year) just some quick reflection. My son was born on Christmas Eve 2008, so this year has been all about not sleeping and the baby. My home brewing was a wash this year (2 great batches, and 2 that became infected). I took a vacation and just stayed home to spend time with my family. I helped raise some money for charity in November. I started a blog in March, and….. oh yeah, became a Buddhist. I can’t complain about 2009, and even if I did, what’s the point? It’s all in the past now. While nothing monumental happened, my son hit so many milestones and kept surprising me and challenging me that to call this past year boring would be a flat-out lie. I’ve had a great year, it’s been mostly focused around my family, sharing in our love, and for that I am thankful.

So what’s next in 2010? Normally I’m of the “New Year’s resolutions are retarded” crowd. This year however, I find that it’s a great time to make some commitments, goals, and life changes.

1st: No more meat. Yup, after today I’m going “veg”. A few people have asked me why, and I haven’t come up with a great reason for them. I suppose it’s simply that I don’t want to kill animals anymore. I like them. There are plenty of healthy alternatives, and it’s better for the enviroment to eat a diet that doesn’t involve meat. James from The Buddhist Blog posted this video awhile back that I think has a great message (without being one of those gross PETA videos).

So I have many personal reasons (moral, ethical, enviromental) to not eat meat, and the only reason I can find to continue to eat it is that “bacon is tasty” (which it is. I’v previously stated that I would walk across broken glass like Bruce Willis in Die Hard for bacon). So, I will miss steak, and beef jerky, and bacon, and burgers, but I think I will be getting much more in return. Also, I’m not going to push my vegetarianism on anyone else. Really, I’m not here to judge your diet. Eat what you want, but please do think about where it came from.

2nd: A more committed practice. The idea is to chant twice a day, though I’ve been failing at this miserably. I seem to always find some sort of excuse to not chant. So with the New Year, I’m going to make a stronger mental effort to chant twice daily. The only crappy part about this is the fact that I will sleep/rest less. My son currently wakes up about 5 times a night, and finally gets up around 6:30am. I try and just sit with him for a half hour or so to let my wife gain a little bit of sleep, but now I’ll just have to take him into the living room with me so we can chant together. I suppose I can sleep when I’m dead.

3rd: Add meditation to my practice. This isn’t going to be something that I will start Jan 1. This is something that may not happen for a few months, but it is something I feel the need to add. I’m reading up on different approaches and techniques now, and will try to figure out what works best for me.

That’s it. Those are my concrete goals and affirmations for 2010. Am I a perfect father/husband/employee/friend? Hell no! But I’m already working on those things all the time, and I don’t feel the need to make a new resolution to just make myself feel good. The three things I listed are things I want to do, feel I can accomplish, and I feel like the time is right to make them all happen.

I’d like to take just a moment to thank all of my readers that have stuck with me from some of my first posts on Blogger all the way to now. Likewise, thanks to those of you that have joined as of late, have commented, and have supported and challenged me. Also, thank you to my fellow bloggers that I’ve met and have been willing to discuss everything from the 5th precept to squirrel nuts to the culture and politics of Buddhism in the West and beyond (including Buddhist Purgatory). And last, thank you to my beautiful wife for putting up with my sometimes excessive interweb use. I love you.

Have a happy (and safe) New Year’s everyone.

Cheers.

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The Secret of The Secret™

With all of the posts [Kyle’s John’s NellaLou’s] (there are others out there as well, please check them out for the full story) regarding the wonderful Bill Harris, Genpo, and The Secret™, I thought I might need to clarify myself a bit, before I get lumped in with that whole group. Previously, I stated that I didn’t mind the message in The Secret™, and that I believed in the “law of attraction.” Well, I still stand by that, but with a large * at the end, which I never explained.

There’s a lot of crazy talk in The Secret™, namely about some sort of magical law that says that whatever you put out into the Universe will come back to you. All you have to do is think about something with enough conviction,  and it will come true. Sorry, I don’t buy it.

What I do buy, is that most of the successful people I have met have conviction, determination, and an unwavering sense of “yes, I can and will accomplish this”. And then they actually go out there and chase those dreams and ambitions (and for me, this = success. it’s not about the goal, but the process). To me, that’s the real “secret”. It takes more that wishing upon a star to make things happen in your life. But it also takes more than just action. It takes the right mindset to be able to not give in to failure and overcome obstacles and chase your dreams. This is something I’ve only had marginal success with in my own life. Being able to balance the mental with my actions has always been an awkward dance.

But you see, that’s not “The Secret™” that they $ell you in the DVD, is it? They make it sound like there is some mystical, magical force out there that if we just tap into, we’ll be just as successful as they are. Well, there probably isn’t. Sorry to burst your bubble.

And who are they targeting? The poor, the spiritually bankrupt, and the ex-Christians ready to embrace whatever it is Oprah is selling them this week. And this is why The Secret works for them (not to mention they are really good at smooth talking, using buzzwords and other used-car-salesmen techniques). They target those in real spiritual/financial need, and tell them that fulfillment is as easy as wishing for it. Of course, when a bunch of people called them out on their crap, they came out with the Secret part 2 (yes, I’ve watched both of them). And the groundbreaking bit of information in that one? It’s that not only do you have to wish for something, you then actually have to *gasp!* go out and act on it. And of course if it doesn’t work, you’re either not trying hard enough or the Universe has some other plan for you.

I do need to state that yes, I’ve tried manifesting things. I approached it in the sense that if I really focused my mental energy on something, and gave it my best shot, then there is no way I could be disappointed in myself for really trying. Because that’s when failure occurs. Doubt is a powerful poison that feeds upon itself until you are in ruin. Remaining focused with confidence is one way to combat this. See? No magic involved, just honest effort. But I digress.

Just the mere fact that they present it as some sort of “secret” only known to the most successful people out there is disgusting. This is a classic attempt to prey on the well-known fact that when people hear that there is a secret being held from them, it’s in their nature to find out what that secret is. It’s all marketing schtick meant to entice and get people believing that there is some magical way out of their plight. On the other hand, there is the “secret” that successful people are successful because they make their own success (obviously some people get stuff handed to them, but that’s the minority) through hard work and determination.

But didn’t someone already write a book about that? Ahh! But of course! That would be boring, and wouldn’t sell to the soccer-mom New Age crowd. You know, the ones that fork over hundreds of dollars for crystals, CDs, fill up the motivational seminars, and go out of their way to showcase whatever other crap you can buy in the back of a magazine that makes you feel spiritually evolved. I’ve already talked about how you can’t buy your way to enlightenment, so I’m not going to go there again. Instead I’ll just be left upset with the fact that it’s people like this that have stripped the New Age movement of any kind of organic, authentic identity, and instead have raped it into the multibillion dollar industry it has become. The only thing to do at this point is to single out the Snake-Oil-Salesmen of enlightenment one-by-one, until they have been shown to the world for what they are. Right now, it’s Bill Harris’ turn. Though to be honest, he brought it on himself. Hey wait, maybe The Secret™ does work!

Anyway, have a happy New Year! I promise to post something a bit more positive tomorrow.

Cheers.

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A few of my “-isms” and “-ists”

So, I’m finally feeling comfortable enough to call myself a Buddhist when asked by others what religion I am/belong to. It is a little weird at first, and even saying “I’m a Buddhist” shifts my awareness to a place I’d rather be. But Buddhism doesn’t define my entire belief system, and I thought I’d explore that a little bit here. So here are a few other beliefs that I hold:

1st “-ist”: Pantheist

As far as a deity is concerned, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist. Pantheism has many definitions and people apply it to beliefs that range from strict atheistic-naturalism to new-age conscious-energy to a concept of a pantheistic Christian God. None of those really fly for me personally. For me, I realize (not fully, obviously….) the inter-connectedness of all beings, as well as all non-living matter. We are all star dust. The fact that the Universe is conscious of itself and is able to observe itself is astounding and profound, and I believe worthy of some sort of reverence or respect. Not necessarily worshiping existence, but respecting it, because it means respecting ourselves. Likewise when we respect ourselves, we respect all beings.

I also tend to believe in a bit of the supernatural. However, my scientific side throws a bit of a monkey wrench into this line of thinking. What I’ve come to terms with is that not too long ago, we thought that women menstruated because of their karma or that a woman ate an apple 6,000 years ago, thereby making childbirth painful as well. (on a side note, if Eve never ate that apple, how would childbirth have NOT been painful? what kind of physics would be involved in that one?) We’ve since learned otherwise, and realize that the supernatural explanation we once had is outdated and a scientific explanation based on facts and evidence has replaced it. I realize that someday, my supernatural beliefs may not be so supernatural, and I’m okay with that.

I 100% believe in ghosts. I’ve witnessed them, seen my glasses fly across the room in front of me, and witnessed their presence in the company of others. Now what they are exactly, I have no idea. Are they trapped souls? Probably not. Maybe something so traumatic happened and a fragment of that person’s conciousness somehow became stuck in the collective Universal conciousness? Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is such a thing. Knowing how truly interconnected we are, coupled with new findings in the field of quantum physics has me thinking there might be. Maybe science will have a better explanation for it someday, maybe not.

There are a few other “supernatural” things I believe in, such as the power of attraction, though I don’t know if it works quite the way in which those people on The Secret DVD™ sell it as. Again, there might be a rational explanation for these things, and I honestly try not to cling to them too much, but they are there heckling me in the audience that makes up my mind. I belive certain minerals and gemstones have certain properties. Maybe it’s due to their vibration aligning with ours in some way, I don’t know. There are a few other pagan (thanks to my beautiful wife) beliefs I hold as well.  Again I don’t rely on these things to get me through the day, rather they are passive beliefs that intrigue me and keep me searching for answers in life, which I love. I think it is in the struggle and the challenges we face within ourselves, that’s where we find who we really are, and find a path to betterment. In my life now, Buddhism is the engine that drives those struggles and challenges. I’m forced to examine myself, my thoughts, and my actions more closely; though usually it comes after the fact. I fail at this constantly, but at least I’m able to realize it. But I digress.

I also belive that there might be some underlying force, will, or universal energy that connects us all as well. There is so much in the Universe that remains to be seen and observed, I simply can’t discard such an idea, knowing how profound our interconnectedness is. I liken this to something like the Tao in Taoism or Om in Hinduism or the World Tree/Tree of Life in certain Native American religions. A unifying force or energy that connects all things in this world (and possibly the next).

Okay, next “-ist”: Ignostic

Basically, I think most of our definitions of God suck. None have been updated to include present knowledge (except for the really crazy cult-like ones) and instead rely on old, outdated mythology that was written for a specific set of people. I personally find it ridiculous to cling to these outdated models and myths, though I do see the point in the beautiful symbology present in just about all religious texts, but only when treated as metaphor used as a literary device to convey a deeper message.

Final “-ist”: Apatheist

As far as a creator-type personified deity is concerned, I’m an apatheist. Though my scientific side tells me to embrace atheism, I don’t want to be defined by what I don’t believe in. Also, I don’t wish to polarize myself any more than I already have. Instead, I embrace the idea that whether or not a god exists doesn’t really matter. If it was proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that one did exist, that god is obviously not concerned with the welfare of humanity. Because if one does exist, and it doesn’t do anything about the suffering, disease, and poverty in the world, it isn’t worth my time to worship it. And if there isn’t a god, I’m still going to go to work in the morning and do my best to be a good human being. It really doesn’t affect my life in the here and now, so I really don’t care to focus on it.

So for now, that’s a little about my -isms and -ists. I’ll be posting one more on New Year’s Day. A bunch of the Buddhist Bloggers out there are going to be posting a New Year’s resolution type post on the 1st, and I have something planned for the next year that I’ll talk about more there. And I’ll be posting my thoughts on karma and rebirth eventually, as soon as I’m able to catch up with samsara.

Also, you should know that my point in posting this is simply to share what I believe, and why I believe it. If you believe something else, great! Variety is the spice of life. Just don’t knock on my door and try to get me to buy into your view, be mindful to keep it out of my (and all of our) schools and government, and I promise to do the same.

Cheers.

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Practicing The Jhanas: A book review

Practicing the Jhanas

Practicing The Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation as presented by the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw

Authors: Stephen Snyder & Tina Rasmussen

Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc., 2009

Well, I first wanted to check this book out because I wanted to know more about the Jhanas (I’m reading up on different approaches to meditation, as it’s something I will be incorporating into my practice soon). Unfortunately, I should have picked up Knowing and Seeing by the Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw if that’s what I wanted. Practicing the Jhanas serves as sort of a companion to that book. Even though I hit a road bump before I even started reading the book, I soon found that I was in for a real treat. The book is the authors direct experience of practicing the jhanas (they studied with Ven. Pa Auk Sayadaw – sort of the world’s current expert on the jhanas), and doesn’t delve into the back story or more substance about what the jhanas are. This is a good thing though. The book remains focused on one thing, providing you with a practical guide and companion while practicing jhana meditation. Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Not only is it filled with constructive and useful information, it is also written well. The authors have used a tone that is warm, soft, and relaxing. It’s like they are there in the room with you, guiding you with their practical experience in a tone reminiscent of a mother soothing their child.

This book lays out nearly everything you would need to know when practicing the Jhanas, and makes for a great companion. But that’s why it isn’t especially useful to me at this point in my practice, as I’m not currently meditating( though that will be changing sometime in the next year). Also, the authors do stress the importance of using extended meditation retreats (nearly impossible in my financial and life state) to be able to master the jhanas. At first my reactionary mind cried out “elitists!”, but then I realized how correct they are. I can’t imagine even attempting to master the jhanas while meditating at home for an hour or so a day. In fact, they pretty much say that would be fairly impossible, and they’re right. Mastering the jhanas means being able to enter the jhanas in order quickly and thoroughly, something that may take a few hours to complete. They also emphasise that while on retreat, there really shouldn’t be any break in concentration. Even in between the sittings, while eating, showering or whatever, one should continually try to focus on the Anapana spot (this is central to samatha practice). In short, it takes a lot of work and skillful effort.

As a “Dharma Noob”, I thought it would be helpful to share an “ah-ha!” moment I had from each book I review. For this book, it came in the 2nd chapter when the authors write “Common knowledge of absorptions in the Buddha’s day may have minimized the need for him to give detailed instructions on jhanas, as people of his time were likely to be quite familiar with the instructions.”

I never really considered this before, but it makes total sense. This led to all kinds of questions in my mind. How much information was never written down or transmitted simply because it was common knowledge to the audience at hand? How much have we lost over time?

Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone that wants to practice samatha meditation and work with jhana absorption. However, if you’re just looking for information on samatha meditation or the jhanas, this book isn’t for you.

Cheers.

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A new (old) ritual

This Picture doesn't do the tree justice. If anyone cares to donate an SLR camera so that I might take better pictures, feel free to email me 😉

This past week I received the 3rd best Christmas present of my life (the first being my son who was born last year on Christmas eve and the 2nd being the iPod my wife got me 2 years ago – I heart gadgets) when my Father sent me my Christmas ornaments. I’ve been without them for 9 years, and this is the first time in as many years that I’ve really gotten into the spirit of things.

For me, Christmas has always been about the tree. But first you need a stand for your tree. I think my family has the coolest one ever. My Great-Grandfather built a house in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. It was one of the original neighborhood houses on the East-side, then a center for the manufacturing industries. Eventually, he decided to make a scale replica of the house and make it into a Christmas Tree stand. It’s a really cool stand, that looks exactly like the house. There are spots for lights to light up the house, and he even drilled little holes in it, so we could stick tree sprigs in them to replicate trees.  The house is still standing to this day, and my Father currently has the tree stand. This is the one item that stands out above all from my childhood, and it is the only thing besides my last name and male pattern baldness that has been passed down from generation to generation in my family.

Next on the tree come the ornaments. Yes, I am completely attached to my ornaments. And I am fine with that. I have had my own ornaments since I was born, and I’ve been collecting them every year since. My whole family would make the annual trip to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland to pick out our ornaments for the year. Bronner’s is literally the world’s largest Christmas store. It is Christmas there year-round, and it will absolutely overwhelm you when you walk in the doors. They have pretty much every kind of decoration and Christmas themed item you could ever imagine, and then some. Their ornaments though are a notch above everyone else’s. They are imported from Germany, Poland, Italy and Czechoslovakia and most of them are quite beautiful hand-blown glass replicas of just about anything you can think of. So we’d make the half hour trip over there, pick out our ornaments, and then head home to hang them on the tree. Everyone had their own ornaments, and even their own box to keep them in. And every year, it was a little bit like Christmas came early when I opened up my ornament box and “discovered” ornaments from years past that I forgot I had.

For me, it was this ritual that marked the beginning of the holiday season. I wasn’t really in the “Christmas Spirit” until we decorated the tree. And afterward, everything was about Christmas until the morning of the 25th when it all culminated in the usual gift-giving celebration, followed by food and family get-togethers. This year, I was able to start this tradition with my own family. My wife and I decorated the tree with the ornaments my Father sent me, along with some others ones that we have collected over the years and just haven’t used yet. The next morning when my son Corbin woke up, his face lit up brighter than the tree he was staring at.

So, I suppose the reason for this post was to examine ritual and tradition a little bit. When I started thinking about hanging my ornaments, I realized that this was the act that got me in the “Christmas spirit”. While it certainly isn’t necessary, it helps. This is how I view the various rituals that the many sects and schools of Buddhism perform on a regular basis. Whether it is using  juzu beads, prostrations, bowing, turning prayer wheels or whatever your particular cup of tea (which could also be a ritual).

These rituals aren’t the means by which you realize enlightenment. Big shock, I know. So what is their purpose if not practical? I think it all just has to do with the intention behind the act. If you intend to bow deeply to world out of respect, and repeat this action again and again, and are genuine in your action, how does that not carry over into the rest of your life? If you immerse yourself in loving-kindness practice, this is how you will react to the world. The same thing if all you listen to is Rage Against the Machine (which I love). Eventually, you’re going to hate the government (and white people too I think?). We’ve built up so much of the delusion, greed, and hunger in our lives that sometimes it takes 100 prostrations or 300 nam myoho renge kyo-s to break ourselves out of that mode of thought and being.

But it’s not just some kind of brainwashing exercise. Lighting candles and incense, chanting, offering food and water, these things create the right environment for earnest practice. They are the same as hanging the ornaments on my tree, or watching It’s a Beautiful Life. Those things are not the Christmas Spirit in and of themselves, likewise my offering a pear on my Butsudan alter isn’t going to bring me enlightenment. But it helps me. I understand the symbolism, and how it should reflect in my life.

Of course, there is also the flip side. I’m sure I have neighbors that have put up their lights out of some sort of obligation. I’m sure there are plenty of Buddhists in the world that light incense with no intention behind it. This can be found in all the world’s religions, as well as in social interaction itself. People just going through the motions for whatever reason. And I’m sure that there are some that don’t see the ritual items as physical symbology, interpret everything literally, and hope to bow their way to enlightenment. But I think that most practitioners are aware that many of the rituals they perform are symbolic, and are there to aid their practice, not be their practice.

So it kind of bugs me when people like Sam Harris say things like “While it may be true enough to say (as many Buddhist practitioners allege) that “Buddhism is not a religion,” most Buddhists worldwide practice it as such, in many of the naive, petitionary, and superstitious ways in which all religions are practiced.” [emphasis mine]

I’ll just say that I fully believe Buddhism to be a religion, though whatever way you choose to practice it is up to you. But I don’t think that looking down your nose at the world-wide sangha is helping you to develop loving-kindness or compassion Sam Harris. I could just as easily say that treating Buddhism as anything but a religion, and practicing it as a mere philosophy with only personal gain in mind is futile and selfish. And reducing it to the “Science of Mind” that many propose misses the entire point of Buddhism altogether. But that’s just an opinion. It’s divisive speech, and it makes the claim that I somehow own Buddhism and propose to know the true and “right” version of it to practice; when in fact this would be far from the truth. Rather than attempt to create more division, why not just embrace what it is that you choose to practice, without degrading others?

This kind of talk is common. Many people here in the West believe that Buddhism has too much ritual and metaphor and if we just rid it of these, and it’s cultural baggage, it would be better off.  If that’s what you want, practice that. But there’s no need to go stripping Buddhism of it’s rich culture, tradition, and history. Personally, I’m choosing to learn from the diverse cultures that have developed Buddhism over the past 2500 years or so. I don’t see it as “baggage”, even though there is plenty of it that doesn’t speak to me on a personal level. What do I then do with this cultural “baggage”? I try and understand it. I try and understand it’s purpose and meaning. I take what I can from it, and then move on. I like the metaphors and symbolism, but I understand that is what they are, and nothing more. Calling the culture that has intertwined itself with Buddhism “baggage” is disrespectful on so many counts, but I’ll let Arun talk more about that (that’s kind of Arun’s niche).

So far, all of the ornaments have survived the wrath of Mr. Grab-Hands

Back to the topic at hand. I think that ritual has it’s place in Buddhist practice. One shouldn’t get lost in it, nor do I think one should have a strict aversion to it. I enjoy ritual. It helps me. It helps to bring focus to my practice. While not necessary, it’s a tool that I can use that has it’s roots deep in Buddhist tradition and culture. When I find my mind wandering while chanting, I use my Juzu beads to bring my focus back where it should be. They also help provide that feeling that what I’m doing in the present moment is focused practice, which it then becomes. So what’s wrong with that? Why strip me of that? I like my ornaments on my tree. They certainly aren’t getting in the way of anything. They’re pretty, they make me happy, and it just plain feels like Christmas with our tree now.

I’ll leave you with this. Awhile back, Jack from Zen Dirt, Zen Dust wrote a post called “The Stripping of Buddhism“. One of his readers Lee left the following comment, which I think sums this all up nicely: “I never thought I’d like ritual..but first time I spent time with monks and bowed I found the purpose in my training for bowing…full bowing…chanting…having services..lighting candles…all the symbolic bringing together of the mind in action and letting go self in the process… For some I suppose it’s helpful…but no one should mistake it for some old idea .. not necessary… and somehow unworthy… to bow deeply to the universe is good to do… Gashho!”

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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Guest Post by Rohan – part of the Buddhoblog swap

A few weeks ago Nate at Precious Metal had the lovely  idea of a blog swap where our names are put into a hat and then drawn to decide who would guest post on who’s blog.  And so it was my great fortune that I’ve been invited to post here and in turn John from Zen Dust Zen Dirt is guesting on my blog which is called 21awake.

 As a relatively new parent and knowing that my Sri Lankan heritage meant I grew up with Buddhist parents, Adam asked that I write a little about this  experience and even offer some advice as to him as a father as how to incorporate some Buddhist principcles into life with his children.  Reflecting on this challenge I soon realised that as not being a father myself I was in no real position to give advice in parenthood.  But I did realise that I might have something of interest to share.  And I’ll do so with two quite different stories.

 

One Nation Under Dharma.  It was the initiation ceremony for what is the UK equivalent of the Cub Scouts and I was one of a group of about six of us seven-year olds waiting to get our official scarves and woggles.  And just as I was getting ready to drone out the words with my friends, I got a tap on the shoulder from the group leader. Rohan…you’ll be doing your initiation first.  Because you’re a Buddhist your parents have asked for you to do a special pledge.

 

You can imagine the embarrassment.  While my friends watched (and giggled) I was asked to repeat the following words: I promise to do my best / To be kind and helpful / And to love the Triple Gem. And of course I had no idea what I was saying.   Looking back it was really quite touching and beautiful but at the time it was awfully embarassing because it made me feel different.  I had been outed as this thing called Buddhist for the first time.

 

My parents came to London from Sri Lanka in the late 60s and having left their extended families back home, found replacements in the form of the small but tight immigrant community – all sharing the common languages that are Sinhalese and very hot curries.  And of course Theravadan Buddhism was another of those languages holding the community together since the Sinhalese proportion of Sri Lanka are Theravadan Buddhist and very proudly so.

 

But I do think it would be fair to say that the Buddhism I grew up with would be very alien to that which the majority of Western dharma practitioners recognise.  For while Westerners are mostly attracted to Buddhism for its transformative practices and emphasis on meditation, these are very much absent from popular Sri Lankan Buddhism.  Instead you will see a fair amount of ritual.  This means a bit of incense and a LOT of chanting.  And the social occasions that was the Sunday meal offerings for monks to mark birthdays and the like.  It can be quite the feast.

 

And while many people look at this sort of practice as not especially Dharmic, I will stand up for it since it plays a really important role in a community that is displaced from its cultural setting.  1970’s London was a pretty intimidating place at times for these relatively green young people from Sri Lanka so a place where some of their identity was understood meant – and indeed continues to mean – a great deal.

 

So my relationship to Buddhism while growing up as a second-generation Sri Lankan in London was very much social.  I went to Sunday school classes but there we studied Jataka stories which have an emphasis on basic morality rather than anything more transformative.  However one particular story did move me very deeply and that was the story of the Buddha.  Here is the book that I was given as a ten year old which I still have to this day.  Its simple archetypal story with which you are probably all very familiar struck me greatly and placed the young Siddhartha Gotama as the ultimate cultural hero of my childhood.  In retrospect that was probably very important for my later life and development.

 

 

You’re wasting your time meditating”. These were the words uttered to me by my mother and form the basis of my second story.

 

As you can infer from the above, what we in the West as dharma or meditation practice does not feature much in the Sri Lankan cultural expression of Buddhism.  For all sorts of socio-cultural reasons which I wont bore you with now, authentic and transformative Dharma practice in 2oth century was very much the confines of the monastics and even then, only a very small proportion of  them.

 

So when about 10 years ago a number of normal lay teachers emerged in Sri Lanka who claimed a certain level of classical awakening, they gathered a significant following – my mother included.  And while I doubt the credibility of some of them, some of them seemed genuinely realized to some extent and they began sharing that understanding.  And because popular Buddhism in Sri Lanka wasn’t necessarily the same as core Dharma teachings, these new teachers were seen as a renaissance and in particular – they were seen in opposition to the monks – who were now perceived to have withheld the teachings or at worst, not knowing them at all.

 

This is a complex issue about which I could say a lot but the main thing for the sake of this story was that these new teachers did not recognize meditation as a particularly valuable tool in realizing the Dharma.  And the reason for this was probably that these teachers although they may have had authentic realizations, they probably did not know how they occurred and so had no understanding of practice.

 

And with my mother very much following their teaching, my own burgeoning meditation practice was seen as being a waste of time.  Good for relieving stress perhaps but no more than that.

 

So that was my odd situation.  I had myself learnt meditation through its Western forms such as insight meditation or the Western vipassana scene but as a second-generation Buddhist I had all this baggage which initially was lovely since it gave me a great love for the tradition.  But now due to these new teachers with their there-is-no-practice messages I had all my parents’ generation not recognizing any value in what I was spending an increasing amount of time doing.  Oh dear.

 

As you can imagine it was fairly painful – especially as I was fairly new in the practice and wanting to share my new love with those around me, only to have it denigrated.  But fear not, this story has a happy ending.

 

For as I persisted with my practice, the simple result of it helping improve my relationships with my parents showed them its value in real-terms and in real-time.  And at the same time, my parents began to see the limitations in the there-is-no-practice approach and while they are not meditators, they accept what I do.  And while they would love me to have the big house & big car model as my life’s ambition instead of this thing called Awakening, they understand it’s value and that’s as much as I can ask for.

 

Sorry Adam…you’ll have to advise me! So back to Adam’s original question about Buddhist parenting tips I’m afraid I have none.  But if I were to offer something it would be to include your fatherhood into your practice as fully as possibly.  Thereby the example you will set to your son and to the world is one of wholeness.   Or as I like to say wholiness.  You Zen guys have this phrase Nothing left out – I love that very much and it inspires me constantly on many levels of practice, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary and back again.

 

And if I ever have a child I will drop you an email and you can let me know how it’s done. How’s that?

-Rohan

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Eating Glass

I stayed home from work Thursday and Friday. I’ve felt like crap. Actually, I’ve felt like I ate glass, and it’s refusing to make its way through my digestive system. These pains come and go, but are most intense when I stand. Seems like an odd thing to share with the world, and most unusual for me to post as well. But it’s how I’ve been dealing with it that I’d like to share.

Sometimes, it gets the best of me, and I wince. I cry out or grunt a little. But what I’ve been focusing on doing is when the pain comes, to just let it be pain, and then pass. I’ve been mildly successful in doing this, but when I am able to let the pain just be pain, I’ve found that I can continue on with what I was working on, and then not dwell on it.

For me, this is an important step in my new Buddhist “process”. I’m able to notice when I form attachments, and I’m able to attempt to let phenomenon just happen in the moment. I’m becoming more mindful of myself and my enviroment.

That’s all. Sometimes, I just post to hear myself type. Cheers.

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Dig it

We all have something that digs at us,
At least we dig each other
So when weakness turns my ego up
I know you’ll count on the me from yesterday

If I turn into another
Dig me up from under what is covering
The better part of me

I didn’t at first pay much attention to these lyrics by Incubus, and then just a couple of lines jumped out at me the other day. “So when weakness turns my ego up, I know you’ll count on the me from yesterday“. What a lesson in impermanence. Sometimes we do seem to change from day-to-day (because we do). I’m not the same person now that I was before I started writing this post. It has already changed my perspective, my experiences, even my body. We may change in the eyes of others from one meeting to the next, but we hardly notice these subtle changes in ourselves.

If I have a bad day, someone might wonder “what happened to the Adam that I know?” And their point is actually more valid than they realize. What did happen to that aspect of me that seems so lost now? “If I turn into another, Dig me up from under what is covering, The better part of me” This is what the quest of Buddhism is all about. We won’t find our Buddha nature outside ourselves. It’s right there inside, covered up with attachments, delusions, and whatever else Samsara happens to throw our way.

Of course, I don’t think Brandon Boyd was singing about his Buddha nature, but he does subtly touch on one point I feel is important; it’s that he’s asking for help. He needs for that person that he cares about to help him uncover his better self. I think it would be very hard to simply go it alone in Buddhism. I’m not knocking people who practice at home or anything. What I’m talking about is the help we receive from our sanghas (online or in person or whatever). It’s in our blog discussions, in our in-person meetings that we get help from others in getting through to our Buddha nature. We might not even notice it at the time; but when we discuss the dharma, even in passing, we are helping each other on our path to enlightenment. So keep the posts and the comments coming bloggers. Keep broadcasting podcasters. Keep teaching the dharma venerable masters. Keep discussing the sutras over teas and biscuits sanghas. It’s helping us all dig at the better part of us. Cheers.

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Mullets, Mustaches…….. and Buddhism?

mullet

The versatility of the Mullet is greatly underestimated.......

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve shaved off every hair on my head besides my unibrow, all in the name of fighting cancer. On the night before Halloween I decided to shave a mullet into my hair, give my sideburns a touch of white trash, and generally rock out the trailer park look (my mom lived in a trailer park, so it wasn’t too hard). It was fun, got a lot of double-takes, and a lot of laughs which is what I was going for. Lots of homebrews, mead and smoked salmon were devoured, and we all had a great time. My brother and sister-in-law have a Fall Harvest party every year for all of us to indulge our pagan selves, and this year was no disappointment. Then on Halloween we took the little one out and he scored Mom and Dad plenty of candy (he’s only 10 months old) and had a ton of fun.

Now, however, I’m left with a bald head and face. I’ve only ever shaved off my goatee at most 10 times since I was 15. My goatee is a part of me. It’s my Burt Reynold’s ‘stache, it’s my gap in Madonna’s teeth. So the prospect of not having it for a month actually has been fairly jarring. I’m basically going to be completely uncomfortable with my face for a whole month. I’m going to be self-conscious of the ugly, patchy ‘stache that will eventually grow in about week 3 or so. I’m going to keep feeling my chin for my goat and realize there is nothing there anymore. This is going to be friggin weird.

Suddenly, this “grow a ‘stache for cancer” thing has turned into a month-long lesson in ego, in self, in attachment, and impermanence. And it seemed like such a silly little thing that shouldn’t matter at all. But I suppose this is my new perspective, my new lens. Things that were once simple have become much more complex, all so that I can see how simple (yet profound) they really are. Cheers.

S7303017

I'm bringin' back the bald.......

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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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Blog Action Day – Climate Change

So Blogger has this “Blog Action Day” thing going on, where they want as many bloggers as possible to blog on the same day about the same topic – the climate crisis. So, here we go…….

 The Science behind climate change is sound. We are currently screwing up the planet. If you doubt this, read some Scientific articles (the peer reviewed really boring stuff, not just someone’s commentary) and make your own decision based on the evidence. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on.

 When making beer, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. Let’s start with the recipe. The Amber Ale I just bottled was a pretty straight forward recipe. But you have to know how the different ingredients are going to interact when formulating the recipe, or you’ll end up with a palate full of mess. Too complex, and all the flavors will be muddled and unappealing. Too simple, and you’ll end up with a flat beer that isn’t worth it’s weight in mud. So my grain bill was a little on the complex side, but the flavors mixed well, and none of the grains were overwhelming. They provided just the right flavor along with the maltiness of the extract to achieve a flavorfull and balanced mouth feel and flavor. When adding the hops, I had to be careful not to add to much at the beginning, or the bitterness would have overpowered the fruity and malty flavors. Too little, and it would have been flat, malty, and unbalanced.

 Next, there are a number of precautions one must take. If you let the grains get too hot, you’ll have astringent beer. If you don’t sanitize your equipment properly, you could contaminate your beer and you’ll end up with 5 gallons of crap. Same thing if you slosh the fermenting wort around after the yeast is pitched. And if you fill your bottles too low or too high, the carbonation will be off, which could also ruin your beer. “Adam – this was supposed to be about the climate crisis, not beer.” – I’m getting to it.

 So, what’s the common theme here? Balance. In every step of the process, care must be taken to maintain a proper level of balance. Too much or too little of any one thing or process will ruin the entire batch. It happens to all of us from time to time. Which is why mindfulness is so important when going through the brewing process. When one can achieve the proper state of mind, one can give full attention to the task at hand and brew quality beer.

 The same focus needs to be directed toward the climate crisis. You’ll see a lot of the global warming skeptics talk about how water vapor is the leading cause of global warming, and that man isn’t the culprit. But they fail to realize that it is through our actions that we have raised the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, which leads to an increase in water vapor, which increases the temperature, which leads to more water vapor…… get the picture? We’ve unbalanced the delicate dance that the earth’s climate has been waltzing for thousands of years.

 And it’s not just our “carbon emissions” either. It’s our deforestation. It’s our dumping millions of gallons of chemicals into our lakes and oceans from runoff and sewage. Here in the Puget Sound, a few days after Thanksgiving there is noticeable amounts of vanilla and other spices in the water due to all the pumpkin pie and other holiday foods that are produced. So yes, what you eat and clean your home with does have an effect on the environment.

 In Buddhism, we learn that we are all interconnected. It’s a core teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. And not just the “we are the world” type of connected. When you pour Drano down the sink and flush it into the ocean, you’re flushing it into yourself. You’re flushing it into your grandmother, your dog, your unborn child. When you drive the 5 blocks to the Post Office in your Hummer rather than walk, you’re polluting your own air, your family’s air, the air in Yellowstone. Your actions have far-reaching effects. Knowing this, will you change your mind about the way you act in this world?

 This is why I believe the teachings of the Buddha are so vitally important to humanity. When we are able to fully realize our interconnectedness, will we continue to devour this planet, realizing that we are really devouring ourselves? How could we?

 I encourage you to change your way of thinking. I encourage you to look at how unbalanced your actions are. I’m trying to do the same, succeeding and failing every day. Think about the products you buy. How were they sourced? What ingredients/components were used? What will you do with it when you are finished with it? Do you really need a GMC Yukon, or could you get along just fine with a more efficient Prius or Suburu or smaller SUV? Why not use a CFL bulb, or reuseable grocery bag? Could your company do more confrencing on the web rather than fly people across the country?

 The time for talk is over. Action is the only solution to the problems we’ve created. There are a million resources out there for living a “greener” life. Just be wary of the ones that are only trying to cash in on your good intentions. If Al Gore really cared about more than just making a buck, he’d have covered his costs on the movie and invested in wind power with the rest of the cash. And he’d have found alternative packaging for it. While the message was right, the delivery was simply terrible. But I digress.

 This was the Home Brew Dharma take on the Climate Crisis/environmental issues. I’m sure I’ll blog more about it, as it is a very important topic, especially as it deals with interconnectedness. But that’s my contribution to the Blog Action Day, and I hope I at least made you pause to consider your actions and intentions. Cheers.

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Recipe for Disaster/Lesson in attachment

Recently I made a Pumpkin Ale. I started to brew, and while reading the directions for the third time, something dawned on me. The directions asked for me to steep about 12lbs of pumpkin, and then place the pumpkin (it was in a cheesecloth) in the bottom of the primary fermenter. No problem if you’re using a plastic bucket as your primary fermenter. However, I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that I use for this. The opening on the carboy is about 2 inches wide. Do the math on that one. So instead of placing the pumpkin in it’s cheesecloth in the fermenter, I had to shove it all down in there loose, so it just floated in the wort. This didn’t prove to be a problem during fermentation, but come time to transfer the beer into the secondary, it was disastrous. I was only able to get about 2.5 gallons or so out of the carboy before my hoses clogged and I was stuck.

 Rather than enjoying 5 gallons of pumpkin ale for Halloween, I’ll have about half of that, and I’m not even sure if it will turn out. Hands down the worst time I’ve had brewing (and the messiest).

 At first, I was pretty pissed. I had gotten up at 5am just to start brewing this beer a couple of weeks ago. I had put a lot of effort into it. And then this happens. I was not my usual chipper self after transfering it into the secondary. Usually I at least feel a sense of accomplishment. But this time I was disappointed, upset, and sad. I planned on sharing mass quantities of this beer at a Halloween party. Now I’m not sure if that will happen at all. I had high hopes for this ale. And that’s the problem. 

The problem is in my attachment to what may or may not have been. Rather than just brew, and let things play out, I got all excited and anticipated something wonderful. I made up an unreasonable scenario in my head. And of course, when those expectations weren’t met, I suffered.

 The next day I came to my senses, and just shrugged my shoulders about it. Maybe it will turn out and I’ll enjoy it with friends. Or maybe it will suck and I’ll have to pour it down the drain. Either way, it’s kinda out of my hands. Getting all worked up about it either way isn’t going to help things. All that will lead to is suffering. If I focus on how bad it could be, I’ll suffer right now. If I get my hopes up and then get let down by some bad beer, I’ll suffer then. And even if I get my hopes up and it turns out that the beer is fantastic, I’ll still have suffered. Why? Because rather than focus on what was happening right now, I was off in la-la land day dreaming about a future that doesn’t even exist. Creating a false reality. That’s no way to live. When I look back on the times when I dream up scenarios in my head, I always feel a sense of regret about it. I know that I shouldn’t be doing that. I know that I wasted time on a day dream. I feel childish and stupid for it. But that’s what my journey into Buddhism is awakening me to. At least now I can acknowledge these lapses in awareness for what they are.

 So, I’ll bottle it up tonight, and in a couple of weeks we’ll see how it turns out. Luckily, I’ve got about 45 bottles of Amber Ale that did turn out well. I’ll post a recipe for that one later this week, or maybe next week after I’ve tasted one that has really had a chance to finish. Cheers.

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Chant it out Loud!!!

As promised, here’s a picture of our Gohonzon, enshrined in the Butsudan that me and my bro in law made.

So, how’s the chanting going so far? Weird. Jarring. Calming. Awkward. Uplifting. I’m having a hard time making it a regular habit. My 9 1/2 month old son likes to wake up 5 times a night, so getting up an extra 20 minutes early for Gongyo is quite the chore at the moment. I’m stumbling over the Japanese, though I’m not doing nearly as bad as I thought I would.

But this is all a good thing. It’s forcing me to experience something new, something profound. It’s breaking me out of my shell of comfort that I’ve spent the better part of 26 years building up around me. Because that shell of comfort is an illusion. It’s an attachment-based reality that is filled with unreasonable expectations of myself and the world around me. I need to stop having these expectations, and just let shit ride. I need to stop finding comfort in the what-ifs and maybe-some-days and find comfort in what I have here in the now (which is a home, a stable job, and the best family a man could ever ask for and probably doesn’t deserve – I don’t have it that bad).

Chanting, practicing, meditating, pondering; it’s all forcing me into a new and more fluid version of myself. I’m thinking outside the box, I’m acting outside the box, I’m being outside the box. Now if I can just get myself out of bed to do it every morning……..

Also, I just found out that KISS has a new album out: “Sonic Boom”. (hence the title of this post)Cheers.

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Gohonzon!!!

Well, we recieved our Gohonzon tonight. It was interesting, weird, jarring, and peaceful chanting with a room full of family and strangers. I don’t know many of the chants quite yet, but I managed to fumble along nicely. Paul, who’s home we went to for the ceremony was very nice and welcoming, and no one commented on our lack of chanting skills. Next week we’ll be enshrining it in the Butsadon that my brother in law and I made last weekend. I’ll put up a picture of mine then. This is a picture of one for those unfamiliar.

 

I was holding my 9 month old son, Corbin worried that he would start crying at any moment. It was getting past his bed time and he usually doesn’t do well with loud noises or if a lot of people are around him talking. But he just sat there the whole time. Didn’t make so much as a peep. He looked around at all the strangers, and really seemed at peace. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Alex, my wife, has been chanting to him since he was in the womb. He certainly enjoyed himself, and seemed really centered. And when we all stopped, he starting doing his baby babble as if to fill the silence with his version of Nam myoho renge kyo.

 As for me, well, I was able to do the Daimoku, but the rest was way beyond me. I’ll need lots of practice, but I’m okay with that. If it came easy, I don’t think it would be worth it. I think a big benefit of Buddhist practice is breaking us out of the shells we’ve created for ourselves (and we certainly have thick shells here in the US, don’t we?). So while Nicherin Buddhism wasn’t my first “pick” for the type of Buddhism I would practice, it will certainly suffice. I don’t see any reason why in the future I couldn’t also sit zazen or approach things from a more Therevaden standpoint. Maybe that will be the future face of Western Buddhism. The US has always been the “melting pot”, so why not for Buddhism as well? Maybe that is where we will find our voice in the West. Not in any one particular practice or any new version of Buddhism, but a marriage of many practices and beliefs. Who knows?

 I know that right now, I’m diggin this new sangha and practice, and that’s all that matters to me. I’m fine with any form of practice that helps me realize my own Buddha nature. 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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To Brew or not to Brew… The Fifth Precept

So lots of talk lately on the Buddhablogosphere regarding the precepts, especially the Fifth. Being that my blog is titled “Home Brew Dharma”, I believe I need to add my 2 cents.

Here is what the Buddha said: “A noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them. By abstaining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression.” (AN 8:39, IV 245-47)

 So, seems pretty clear. If you want to be a noble disciple, you need to give up the booze and drugs. Why? Because of the consequences. There isn’t anything inherently bad in any type of intoxicant, it’s the consequences of taking said intoxicants that is the issue here. Intoxicants lead to mindlessness when abused, and the Buddha was trying to get people to be more mindful. This is hard enough to do when sober, let alone hammered. 

Back in the Buddha’s time, it was the rice-wine guzzling, opium smoking low lifes that he was targeting. You see, it’s impossible to follow the eight-fold path while you’re intoxicated. Pretty simple. You can’t be mindful when you’re wasted. Not a big surprise. And it’s hard to have right concentration when you’re staring up at the ceiling of an opium den contemplating the purpose of your pinky toes.

 It’s not only while someone is intoxicated though either. Alcoholism affects a person’s entire life. It brings them immeasurable suffering, but it also affects the people in their life, and society as well. The same thing with habitual drug users. There is no doubt to the far-reaching suffering that lifestyles such as these create.

 What about those of us that practice moderation? Where do we fall in? Is it possible for me to come home, and enjoy A beer? I think so. Remember right intention? I think that applies to the situation at hand. Are you drinking just to get wasted? Or are you treating that one beer like you would anything else in life; something to be savored, and something to be mindful of. I think a case can be made for a more skillful approach to drinking.

When I say I’m going to have a Scotch, I don’t mean a bottle of J&B. What I mean is I’m going to pour an ounce or two of some Glenlivit over some ice, and sip on it for an hour or so. See the difference? Where is the “fear, hostility, and oppression” in that? What are the consequences of my sipping on that ounce of Scotch? I’ll probably enjoy it. I won’t become intoxicated, or even slightly buzzed. Sure, I probably won’t have ultimate right concentration while I’m doing it, but I’m not in that state now, and I doubt many of the bloggers are either while they are busy blogging.

 I’m not trying to change Buddhism to fit my needs. I’m not trying to make excuses. And for those of you who have given up drinking altogether, great (as long as you are doing it for the right reasons). I do agree that intoxication will throw you off your path to finding your own Buddha nature. But I also don’t think that having a beer every now and then disqualifies me from being a Buddhist, especially if I approach it in a skillful manner.

 And as far as drugs are concerned, I think Maynard James Keenan said it best, so I’ll end with a quote of his: “I think psychedelics play a major part in what we do, but having said that, I feel that if somebody’s going to experiment with those things they really need to educate themselves about them. People just taking the chemicals and diving in without having any kind of preparation about what they’re about to experience tend to have no frame of reference, so they’re missing everything flying by and all these new perspectives. It’s just a waste. They reach a little bit of spiritual enlightenment, but they end up going, ‘Well, now I need that drug to get back there again.’ The trick is to use the drugs once to get there, and maybe spend the next ten years trying to get back there without the drug.”

Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Concentration

Finally, we’ve reached the end. I’m actually quite happy about this. I have lots of other ideas and thoughts and such that I’d love to blog about, and after this post I’ll be a little bit more liberated and able to do so. I’d also just like to say to the new readers and followers a few things.

First, I’m not really a Buddhist. Well, not yet anyway. I’m trying to learn all there is to know, and figure out if it’s right for me, and if I want to apply it to my life. So far, I’m heading in that direction. That being said, I’m in no way any sort of authority on anything Buddha. If that is what you’re looking for, try some of the blogs on my blog roll, or Urban Dharma, or go find a friggin monk! I’m just blogging about my beginning experience and journey into Buddhism. This is my perspective, and there’s a good chance that I’m wrong. Now, I do believe I have something interesting to say on the subject, or I wouldn’t be blogging at all.

Second, the main purpose of this blog is to provide me with a creative outlet. So sometimes (like with my first few posts) you’ll see stuff that doesn’t have much to do with Buddhsim. And yes, I do plan on posting more recipes.

 Third, I don’t post daily. I don’t have the time to. I work full time, I’m married, and I have an 8 month old son to attend to. I’m making on honest effort to post at least once a week, but my goal is twice a week.

 Okay, all that house cleaning business has been taken care of. Let’s get right into Right Concentration. This one is very important. But I personally don’t have much experience with it. Right concentration is all about meditation, and I don’t meditate. It’s not that I don’t want to, or don’t agree with it. It’s just a matter of finding the time (remember me mentioning the 8 month old?) and motivation, and putting forth the effort. That being said, here’s my take on it. 

Right concentration is mainly about meditation. It stresses the need to practice insight meditation to achieve a specific state of mind. The goal is to get to the point where you are now in control of your mind/ego, and not the other way around. Rather than thoughts taking over, you’re taking over. You allow thoughts to arise, and then just as quickly dismiss them, and move on. No dwelling. This is truly inner peace, especially for someone like me with ADHD. The goal is complete equanimity, and the Buddha said the way to get there was through meditation.

 Through enough practice, you’ll eventually be able to reach this state of mind. But it doesn’t stop there. I mean, what the hell good would it do you to have that sense of equanimity only during meditation? Not much. So after you get real good at meditating, and can reach that state of clarity of mind, the next step is to keep yourself in that state in the rest of your daily life. You aren’t a Buddhist only while you’re meditating people.

 Personally, I’ve reached this state of mind a few times unknowingly, and I’m guessing that plenty of people out there have as well. One time that sticks out is when I was about 17 or 18. It was summer, and I was a bored youth in Michigan. Gas was only about 95 cents a gallon back then, so I decided to drive over to the other side of the state.

Muskegeon was a few hours drive along a two lane highway that cut through some small towns along the way. I was in my ’86 Regal, listening to some A.M. radio (it was all that worked) and just driving. It was liberating, peaceful. I now realize that while driving, I was in a sort of meditative state. I finally reached my destination, and found some beach. It was dusk and the sun was setting. I parked myself down, and just watched the sunset. No real thoughts crept into my head. If a thought did creep in, it left just as fast. It was the first time in a long time that my mind wasn’t racing. This was the closest I have ever been to that state of equanimity. So that my friends, is Right Concentration, according to me. If you want to know some more on meditation or the eightfold path, ask a monk! Or go out there, and sit down, and shut up! There are some great resources for meditation in my blogroll. Use them. I will be soon. Hell, even wiki has a damn article on it.

And that’s it for the Noble Eightfold Path. That’s all I want to cover on it right now. For those unfamiliar with Buddhism, this was like my shortened version of the Cliff’s Notes version of the Eightfold Path. There is way more involved with all of this. But this is all I care to write about it at this point. I’ll surely revisit all of these at some point. I probably won’t be posting again this weekend, as I’ll be busy brewing up an Amber Ale, and hitting the Evergreen State Fair. Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Awareness

Okay, only two more to go. This is the Seventh Step on the Noble Eightfold Path, and it is Right Awareness (also translated as Right Mindfulness). This one is very, very important to cultivating right view, right action, and all the others. Your state of mind and your awareness are everything, especially in home brewing. Let’s take a look. 

Before, I said that home brewing was a very Zen activity. Well, it can be. It can also be extremely frustrating, stressful, and messy. It takes a lot of preparation, planning, and concentration. There are a ton of things that need to happen in order, and you need to maintain a very high level of sanitation while you do it all. Depending on the beer you’re brewing, hops may need to be added in specific amounts every 15 minutes. The grains need to be mashed at different temperatures for specific amounts of time. Your yeast needs to be started, you need to have some cold water in the primary fermenter if you can’t boil all 5 gallons…….The list goes on and on. Basically, if you aren’t mindful you’ll soon end up running around like a drunken chicken with it’s head cut off, making a mess that PigPen would be envious of.

 So how do you maintain control? Right mindfulness/awareness. Okay. You can only deal with one thing at a time. You can’t add the hops and stir the grain and check on the yeast and check the temp of the room you’re fermenting all at the same time. If you attempt to barrel down that path, you’ll end up screwing something up for sure. What’s important is focusing on what is right in front of you. Give it your full attention, but don’t dwell on it. Notice the color of your wort, then move on to the smell. Now what does the thermometer say? Now walk over to where your hops are waiting. Smell them. Notice the color. Make sure they are weighed out. Now pour them in. Next step…. then the next…. 

Right mindfulness is all about giving something your full attention, but only for a moment. When you give something your full attention for longer, it becomes an attachment, and you loose your real focus. Your mind starts to wander. You’re thinking about the grains right now, but then your mind wanders off to the hops, or the yeast, or “oh my god, did I sanitize the funnel?”. Give something it’s full attention, and then let it go. Let it go. Say that again. LET IT GO. 

Wanna get rid of your road rage? Let it go. Your rage is an attachment. You’ve set up a false expectation for everyone else to drive the same way that you do. So rather than just be a good driver, and go about your business you’ve decided to notice every little mistake every other driver on the road makes, and then get angry about it. How ridiculous is that? I know, I do it all the time. But I’ve started practicing right awareness, and it certainly helps. For one, I can’t be a very good driver if all I’m thinking about is “man that asshole just cut me off. I hope someone cuts him off. Where did he get his license anyway?…..”. If that’s on my mind, operating my vehicle certainly isn’t.

 However, when I am practicing right mindfulness, I notice the car behind me, then I move on to the car in front of me, then to the sensation of wind through my window, then to the car pulling out of the driveway a quarter mile ahead of me, then….. See what I mean? Rather than picking apart every little detail of what others do, I focus on being aware of my environment. I’m aware of sensations. I’m aware of other driver’s actions, but I’m not focusing on their intent, their past driving history that I just made up in my head, or any other road-rage fueled thoughts that bounce around in my mind. My mind would love for me to indulge my inner Henry Rollins and totally rage on these people. It loves it when I loose all focus and just go off into la-la land, making all kinds of stories up. This is what it has been fed it’s whole life. It’s used to this type of diet, and it fears change.

 Unfortunately for it, I’m beginning to see what a wonderful thing Now is. I’m reforming my mind like I did myself long ago. I used to get wasted on crap beer like Busch or Natural Lite all the time in my younger days. Now, I prefer to have one or two home brews or really good micro brews. I enjoy the experience of savoring the flavor, whiffing the aroma, noticing the mouthfeel, the bitterness. Now with Right Awareness, I can savor life in the same way. Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Effort

This one is difficult. Actually, the next three are probably the most difficult out of the whole bunch. They all have to do with mental discipline. None of these can be accomplished with out hard work and focus. The first one I wanna talk about is Right Effort. Now, I said before that this one will prove to be difficult, yet it is also quite simple. One fancy definintion is “Prevent the unwholesome that has not yet arisen in oneself, let go of the unwholesome that has arisen in oneself, bring up the wholesome that has not yet arisen in oneself, and maintain the wholesome that has arisen in oneself.”

Right Effort is all about abandoning that which is unskillful (remember unskillful = more suffering) and actually doing that which is skillful. So the previous 5 steps were a kind of “what not to do” list. They all provided insights as to what was unskillful, and how to approach specific situations. So if you paid attention to those, and are actively practicing them, you’re already halfway there as far as right effort is concerned. Now you have to do more than just “not do” what is unskillful. You have to go the other 50% and actually do that which is skillful.

Let’s take one aspect of right action as an example. In right action we learned that it wasn’t okay to steal home brews that belong to someone else, even if the owner just left them at a party. So, we didn’t steal, which would have been unskillful. So what could we do in this situation that would be actively skillful? Maybe, we could grab those brews, and track down their owner and return them. Maybe we could brew up some of our own and give them away freely to friends and family.

In right speech, we learned that divisive speech is unskillful. So maybe rather than continuing to argue with a loved one, you abandon that mindset and abusive, divisive language and instead engage in speech that will bring harmony and resolution into your relationship. The same could be said for today’s political environment. It’s all partisan this or that, me vs. you, red vs. blue. Instead of all the yelling, finger pointing, and selfish publicity, we need to embrace the type of speech and actions that bring harmony into the situation. Forget O’Reily and Beck. All they do is yell, name call, and add glitz and glamor to the political polarization we so desperately need to rid ourselves us. Instead, embrace those people who are ACTUAL uniters. People prepared and willing to go beyond party lines for the greater good.

You see, it’s not enough to simply “not be bad”. If you really want to affect your karma, you need to do good. You need to lessen your suffering. And in Buddhism, we are all connected. So when you lessen the suffering of another, you lessen your own suffering, thus affecting your karma. So be mindful, be aware, and most importantly, be skillful in all that you do. That’s all for now. Cheers.

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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 Action

The fourth “step” on the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Action, also translated as Right Conduct. Right Conduct is defined as abstaining from that which would cause harm and/or suffering to others or yourself. There are some specifics we have to work with here. They are: abstaining from taking life, abstaining from stealing, and abstaining from sexual misconduct.

 The first one seems simple. Don’t kill. Don’t take another’s life. Most of us don’t have to much of a hard time with that. However, it does say to abstain from taking life. So here we go with the whole eating meat thing. First of all, the Buddha was not a vegetarian. He ate meat. And he died of food poisoning (either from Mushrooms or bad pig meat). He begged for his food, and wouldn’t refuse any food that was freely given to him. He did however ask that no one kill an animal in his name, or to feed him. But if someone wanted to toss their leftovers in his begging bowl, he wasn’t going to turn them down. He didn’t want to add to the taking of life in this world, because he knew it added more suffering to the world. I’m sure those pigs and chickens just wanted to go about their day living, don’t you?

 So what about now? Do you have to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist? No. You don’t HAVE to do anything really in Buddhism. The Eightfold Path is not the 10 commandments people. There are no absolute laws handed down from some divine law giver. And for some people, they need meat to be healthy. I am married to a vegetarian, and I eat a 90% vegetarian diet. I’ll maybe eat meat once a week if we order out (which is rare) or sometimes I’ll have some bacon at home (there is no substitute for pig fat. sorry). Eventually though, I’d like to make it to 100%. I feel that supporting the meat industry is just leading to more and more suffering, senseless violence (not to mention all the enviromental impacts….) and isn’t really helping myself or the rest of the world out.

 I suppose I went off on this tangent because all life in this world is sacred and important in Buddhism. That means mosquitos, your in-laws, deer, any form of life really. What about plants? No idea. Yeah, they’re alive. I suppose the main issue with food is the attachment that comes with it. Why are you eating it? What is the intention behind what you’re about to do? Is it to sustain and fulfill your life? Or are you eating those Swiss Cake Rolls because you’re depressed and bored? Why are you going to drink that home brew? Is it because you’re an alcoholic? Are you just trying to get drunk? Or are you going to drink and appreciate it, savoring every swallow, noticing the aftertaste, the bitterness, the aroma….

 Ok, enough on that. Next is abstaining from stealing. Again, a lot of us don’t have too much trouble with this one. Don’t take what isn’t freely given. Seems pretty simple. The only tricky part is when you don’t steal from someone directly. Let’s say you’re at a party, and there’s a bunch of people there, and you see someone brought some home brews. They’re just sitting there on the table, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed. So you ask the host if they know who the brews belong to, but he doesn’t know. You ask everyone at the party, and no one seems to know. Hmm. Maybe the owner left! Score!! Not so fast. Didn’t we just say to abstain from that which isn’t freely given? Those brews don’t belong to you, nor were they freely given to you. If it isn’t yours, don’t take it, end of story.

 The last part is abstaining from sexual misconduct. This usually entails not having sex with children, or with someone that is married, or is a relative, or animals, or outside of your own marriage. Again, pretty simple. This one is for the lay people. The monastics were all asked to abstain from sex alltogether. But the Buddha knew that family was very important, and that it was the central point from which society grew. And he knew that in order for family to prosper, someone was going to have to have sex.

 The really bad thing about sex is the attachment that comes with it. It’s another one of those impermanent parts of life. The orgasm is a fleeting moment of premature enlightenment, and pretty much impossible to sustain. Sex for the pleasure of having sex leads to suffering. Because, who the hell wants to go from the pleasure of having sex, to not having sex? Sex when used as an expression of love, or a physical representation of emotion is another story altogether. It’s the ego-feeding pleasure-seeking type of sex that isn’t right conduct.

 I can think of plenty of other things that could fall into right conduct, but I think you get the point. It’s especially important remember that the other “steps” in the eightfold path will always go with each other. It’s almost never really just about one. Because even when one abstains from sexual misconduct, it’s the intention behind the abstention that matters as well. 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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