A practice of process/process of practice

Butterfly at the Pacific Science Center, Seattle WA

 

So as you can see down at the footer, I’ve been reading Thanissaro Bikkhu’s The Wings to Awakening for some time now, and the main theme I’m getting is that everything the Buddha taught comes down to a process of practice (or maybe a practice of process?) as well as a system of developing skills. It isn’t as simple as getting totally blissed out on some amateur enlightenment experience. And it isn’t so difficult that it’s completely untouchable and mystical. But it can be overwhelming, and at times seem paradoxical.

For instance, take karma. The conventional wisdom says that we need to develop good karma. And this is true. And isn’t. Because ultimately the goal is to develop the 4th type of karma, that which leads to the end of karma.

And what is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma? The intention right there to abandon this kamma that is dark with dark result, the intention right there to abandon this kamma that is bright with bright result, the intention right there to abandon this kamma that is dark & bright with dark & bright result. This is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright result, leading to the ending of kamma.

It is in a virtuous life that we lay down the foundation for practice we construct that will aid us in our goal of unbinding. But that isn’t really enough either. Because we need to have right view and right mindfulness and cultivate all the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. Developing “right view” alone could take years, decades, lifetimes.

This path at times can seem complicated, especially when one tries to look at the entire path and system all at once. It is easy to get lost in the old sutras, or even in the modern commentary of them. There is a whole site devoted to the lists of lists in Buddhism, and the list is quite extensive.

This is where it helps to see the dharma as a practice, and viewing the dharma as a process really comes in. First, go to the triple gem. Actualize the precepts. Focus on the breath. Then focus on the body without reference to the feelings on the body that come up… etc…

One step at a time. One breathe at a time. We all know that the bucket fills one drop at a time. But in Buddhism we’re trying to empty that bucket. Sometimes we forget that it will empty the same way it filled up. At times we’ll need to use a thimble to gently scoop tiny drops out; other times we’ll need a ladle to splash things around a bit. There are many skills to develop on the path that we can layer onto our practice that all help us to empty that bucket and reach nirvana. 

There is no way to do this all at once. There is no way to do it in a week, a month, a year. You can’t jump right to the 4th type of karma. You have to start with the basics, and know your limitations. It is a process and it takes time. The dharma was laid out in a system of steps to take to finally reach ultimate unbinding, nirvana. Use the steps to focus on where your feet plant firmly on the ground and with one eye look a few feet ahead. In this way the great process will unravel itself and reveal a ground upon which you can forge your path.

So this is where my practice is. I view it knowing that probably no great awakening will happen this month or year. My practice is a process that will evolve, in that I have faith. To see it in this way feels liberating. For now I will stretch, and sit with my breath, and keep an eye out for the ox. I will sit for 20 minutes at a time. Next year, it will look different, more developed (hopefully!). In 20 years, it won’t resemble anything that I’m doing now. It’s hard work and the results aren’t evident right away. This is where faith comes in. Faith that what I’m doing today will lead to a better practice tomorrow. This is the process.

Cheers.

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Bringing us back to shore

Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.

~Shunryu Suzuki

 

The waves will bring us all back to shore. What form we return in depends on how we deal with the currents we face when out to sea.

When the waves come crashing do we try to navigate around them? Do we let them take us where they will? Or do we crash head first into them, waiting with heavy breath for the next one to do its worst, mocking the waves as they come rolling in?

When the sea has calmed, do we float majestically staring at the gulls passing overhead? Or is there a part of us that misses the torrent, so we flail about creating waves where there were none before?

Maybe we make it to the other shore. Shake ourselves off a bit. Take a look around. The ocean behind us, we have only to explore the new experience and the new shore. We may find that this shore is a lot like the one we left a long time ago, the time before the ocean. But our time spent swimming and struggling has changed how we view this new beach. The sand under feet feels the same, yet isn’t. The salty air tastes the same, but doesn’t.

Or maybe we never make it out of the ocean. Maybe we end up like this fish here. Our bodies left on the rocks waiting to feed those about to take the plunge and navigate the stormy waters. Their actions once out there will determine if they will taste the fresh air, or rot in the sun. Our actions become food for the next generation, or their inspiration.

Cheers.

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In a fog

Oregon Coast

 

Fog rolling in thick, endless beyond sight

A steady ebb

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

Nature taking its course without the approval of the rocks

They only want to feel the warmth of the sun.

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My baptism: growing up in a spiritual community

My childhood church - Ascension Lutheran Church, Saginaw, MI

Recently my dad sent me some of my stuff that he had been holding on to. A copy of my birth certificate and immunization record. My handprints. And a certificate from my baptism, along with that Sunday’s church bulletin.

I was baptized in a Lutheran church about two months after I was born. The prayer for the day upon entering the church was

Almighty Lord, you are aware of our problems. When troubles thicken, you do not desert us. We need to be reminded of your presence, your willingness to remain with us, even through suffering and pain. Help us to remember; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, within our world today. Amen

The memories I have of that church are mostly all fond. Sure, when I was real little I hated putting on those stupid itchy clothes, but I can always remember finding something to enjoy when we were there. Most of the time it was the children’s sermon, a time during the service where the pastor would call all the children up to the front of the church and he would tell a story for them. I always liked that.

On that particular Sunday, a few hymns were sung. A few verses were read. The theme of the sermon that day was ” Faithful Examples”. The choir sang. Then my baptism. Obviously, I don’t remember it. But I do remember attending a few later on in life. They were fairly simple ceremonies. My parents would have stood there with me, and I’m sure an Aunt and Uncle and my Grandparents were there as well. The pastor would have said a few words, splashed my head with a little water, then dried me off with a baptismal cloth (which my dad also sent along). The concept of god-parents is present in the Lutheran faith, but we didn’t put as much stock in it as the Catholic tradition tends to. After that, another song or two, and service was over.

There is some more information included in the bulletin. That week, Mr. Landskroener was serving in the nursery, and Mr. and Mrs. Colpean donated that week’s flowers. You see, in my church, there was a strong sense of community. In the back of the church there was the “cry room” where mothers could take crying babies to quiet them or nurse them and still listen to the service through a speaker (there was  a large window there for them to watch as well). The nursery was there for kids that couldn’t sit still (toddlers mostly) so that parents could attend service and not have to worry about a sitter. Every week near the altar there were was a fresh arrangement of flowers donated by someone in the church.

Later in the bulletin the week’s events were listed. Tuesday was 7th and 8th grade catechism class. Wednesday youth choir (which I was later a part of) practiced. Friday the Luther-League mini-retreat began, and it ended sometime on Saturday in time for adult volleyball at the middle school gym. That next Sunday in March there was a couple’s home bible study at the Sanders’ house.

This is the church I grew up in. There was a strong sense of community, albeit relaxed. For the most part, no one was really pressured to attend or made to feel worse for missing a week or not attending bible study. Of course there were a few busy-bodies that fueled the stereotypical church-gossip, but they were in the minority and easy to ignore. Never once did I hear a fire a brimstone style sermon. They were always inspirational (though many times boring to an 8-year-old) and meaningful. I have an extremely hard time relating to the fundamental Christians I see carrying signs that say “God hates Fags” and the ones found on internet discussions condemning all non-believers to Hell. I never knew that.

My dad rarely went to church growing up, preferring instead to stay home and work on the yard, fix the house, all those dad type things that dads have to do. But when he did go and get involved, it always seemed to me like he was doing it out of obligation to the community, rather than service to God. My church community consisted of families. Families that knew each other and their children. People you would stop and talk to if you saw them in the grocery store. So it may come as no surprise that when I decided to no longer tread the Christian path that I wasn’t rebelling against the church. I never had a problem with church. My problem was with the belief system.. It just never really ever made sense to me, and never really spoke to me.

This idea of a spiritual community is something that my wife Alex and I have been searching out for some time, and have yet to really find one. I hope to find such an environment for my children to grow up in. One that fosters their spirituality and sense of community. I feel that it’s important for my children (and my self and wife) to experience something like that. It might not end up being a Buddhist community, as we both hold other spiritual beliefs as well. But being a part of something that shows them how to be in service to something greater to themselves (the community) and fulfills their spiritual needs is an experience I think they should experience.

Cheers.

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The path of least resistance

Scott River, CA

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

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

Never touching those things that are most important.

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

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

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

They require no thought, no attention.

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

Inside is the resistance. Obstacles.

Roadblocks waiting to be tore up.

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

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

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

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

Satisfying results. The voice is appeased.

The path of least resistance.

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When I pray

Rock formation on Highway 2 in Eastern Washington

I can’t speak for all Buddhists. I don’t know what their intentions or motivations are when they pray. I know that for some it is devotional, for some it is for personal gain. For others… who knows? When I say that I pray, you should throw away your notions of Christian prayer and the purpose that it holds. When I pray, I’m not asking for someone else to come to my aid. I’m asking for my greater self to come to my aid. I’m actualizing and putting into practice those things that I know will be of purposeful aid.

When I recite the 5 remembrances, I watch the memories and feelings that arise and deal with them right there (or at least attempt to). When I recite the Gatha of Atonement, I’m not atoning to another person, or a god. I atone for my evil karma, and allow my better self to realize how unskillful my actions have been. I allow the Universe to see me at my most vulnerable.

When I pray and light incense, I’m attempting to manifest those best qualities of myself that I know I hold the capacity for. The prayers allow me a chance to vocalize, internalize, and put into practice those qualities. And they allow me a moment to be mindful of the times when I’ve failed to hit the mark.

Cheers.

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Wordless Wednesday – with words

We live in a 2nd floor apartment, so when it gets hot out outside, it turns our living space into an oven. So we decided to get Corbin this little pool to play in on our balcony. It’s the best we can do for the moment, and he enjoys the hell out of it.

Cheers.

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A practice I can call my own

The Backside of Mt. Baker as seen from Highway 9 near Van Zandt, WA

So I’m currently shaping a daily routine for practice. As you may or may not know, I used to do the whole SGI thing, but left that behind. Now, I am attempting to set up something meaningful and unique that also fits within the scope of the rest of my life. I’ve been trying this out for the past few days (I missed a couple due to time issues coupled with exhaustion) and here is what I have so far:

First, a little stretch. I am probably the least flexible human being on this planet. Even thinking about sitting in full-lotus caused my groin to scream. My hips, legs, back are all in need of a good workout. I found this little routine on Tricycle blog that is supposed to help work/stretch the muscles needed to sit full-lotus. So I start with this. I try to hold each posture (an extremely modified version of each one) for 1 minute, then move on to the next. Next week, i’ll up it to 2 minutes, the week after that, 3 minutes. I’ll try to hold each one for 3 minutes for a while, and see where that takes me.

I’m thinking about adding in a bit of exercise here. Sit-ups, push-ups, yoga, getting on my elliptical. Something, but I don’t know what yet. I just know that my body is out of shape, and I need to do something about it. Sitting for 8+ hours a day at work is taking a toll on my body, and it needs to end.

Next, I chant. I still have all my materials from SGI, so I just chant a couple of chapters of the Lotus Sutra, and then dive into some diamoku. Now, when genuine Nichiren practitioners chant, there is meaning and purpose behind it. For me, I’m trying to use it as simply a meditative tool. Also I still struggle with the Japanese, so that adds a little humility to my practice. Maybe in the future I’ll try chanting something else. We’ll see.

At the end of chanting diamoku, SGI members typically offer 3 prayers that have been written down. Not one of them ever really spoke to me. They all have to deal with the organization and beliefs held within Nichiren Buddhism. Usually I would just try to clear my mind, or offer a prayer for the well-being of my family during that time. I decided that this needed a more personal approach, and so the other night I wrote out the following two “prayers” that I think I will use from now on:

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

All evil karma ever created by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my conduct, speech and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

The first one is the Five Remembrances. They are a reminder that life is short, it is not to be wasted. They are a reminder that life is temporary and frail. They are a reminder that we must love and love now, for there may not be a tomorrow. They are a reminder that our destructive acts in this life have profound consequences in this life. They are a reminder that compassionate acts in this life have profound consequences in this life.

The second one is The Gatha of Atonement, something the Zennies apparently recite frequently. I first saw it on John’s blog, and thought then how I would like to use this in some way. It kind of speaks for itself I think. It is a way to reflect on how much strife I’ve caused in my life. Upon examination, I can come to see how unskillful that behavior was, and in the future abandon such behavior. And sometimes it helps to say I’m sorry, even if no one is listening.

If anyone has a suggestion for a third one, I’m all ears.

Next, I meditate. I’ve just been doing 10 minutes at a time. Nothing too grandiose. Just spending some time connecting with my breath, which proves to be quite a challenge. I can usually make it until 3 breaths before my mind kicks in with all kinds of nonsense.

At some point in the day, I study. Even if it is just 15 minutes. Right now I’m working my way through The Wings to Awakening (check the footer).

This is how my practice looks right here, right now.

It is not perfect. It doesn’t include a real life sangha. It doesn’t include a real life teacher. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll live closer to a dharma center, and those will be both possible and practical.

This is my practice. I think it will work for me for now. It is organic, home-grown, and provides me with goals and challenges. I know I will fail and stumble along the way, but I believe that if I can stick to a routine like this, I can keep picking myself up when I fall down.

Cheers.

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Elephant stampede! Crafting an online identity…

I have a post that’s been published on elephant journal! Check it out here. And a little teaser blurb:

And that’s why we love the online world and our online identities. Because they are easy. And they allow us to present ourselves in the best possible light, always making the right decisions. It’s easy to represent myself as a local-phile. It’s easy to represent myself as a serious student of the dharma. It’s easy to represent myself as someone that has a solid understanding of ‘x’, because everything I would need to know is a few clicks of the mouse away. It’s easy to represent myself however I choose; all I need is the right anonymous avatar and handle.

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Building the Mosque “at” ground zero, and crafted responses

Let me start by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the Muslim faith. There, I said it! I don’t hate Muslims, Arabs, or people from any geographic or religious background. But I’m not a huge fan of Islam. I don’t feel like it’s a very tolerant religion, nor does it treat women as equals, (or sometimes even as human beings) and I don’t feel that pride is man’s great fault or that submission is the answer to our salvation. I think Islam is due for a serious reformation, the details of which I have no interest in discussing here.

That aside, I say build the damn mosque. The organization that is proposing to build it is a peaceful one. They are moderates. They are just people who want to practice their faith together, and belong to an increasing Muslim community in lower Manhattan that has growing needs.

I’ve heard the argument that we shouldn’t have ANY religious institution built at ground zero. Well, first of all, they aren’t building the damn thing on the remains of the twin towers. They are building it 2 blocks away. That might not seem like much, but as a former major city dweller, I can tell you that 2 blocks can make a world of difference. Second, if you look at the map, you’ll see that there are already THREE churches there; The Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, and Saint Paul’s chapel, all of which actually border Ground Zero. So that point is kind of moot, isn’t it? It’s already surrounded by religious institutions. I’ve also heard that there is a strip joint and a porn store near there as well. Sounds like a great way to “remember the fallen” to me…

I’ve also heard that it is insensitive to build it there. Again, why? They aren’t building the Mosque on top of the remains of the towers. It’s being built in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory building. It’s going to have a pool and rec area open to the public. It’s going to be an inclusive community center. It is a place of worship, not a terrorist training camp. Islam did not attack our country. It may have been used as one of many tools that day in 2001, but the religion didn’t attack us.

We have to remember that it was terrorists that took down those buildings. And their purpose wasn’t just to destroy the buildings, it was to terrorize. It was to instill fear into the hearts of Americans. If we oppose this Mosque out of a fear of Islam, then haven’t they succeeded? We are a country that is supposed to champion religious freedom, not hinder it. Muslim Americans are every bit a part of this country as every one else, regardless of how they choose to worship.

Bodhisattva of compassion

I wondered a bit about what the “Buddhist” response to this would be. Then I slapped myself. I don’t want to give the “Buddhist” response. That seems silly. I didn’t automatically adopt a new set of ideals and beliefs the moment I decided to walk this path. The Buddha was not a divine law giver. I didn’t all of a sudden become a compassionate bodhisattva the moment I declared myself a Buddhist. The dharma and sutras are not written in stone. I don’t ever want to say, “well, since I’m a Buddhist, x.” Rather, I want the dharma to help and guide me. What I want is for my practice to move me in the direction of compassion and insight and wisdom.

So I would say that since my practice is moving me toward compassion, I would seek a compassionate resolution to the matter, one that involves the least amount of suffering (dukkah). Clearly for the Muslim community the wisest choice would be to build the Mosque. But what about the families of the victims that do are suffering because of this proposal? Shouldn’t we take their suffering into consideration as well? Certainly we should, and that’s again why I say build the Mosque. These people seem are projecting their hate onto an entire belief system, rather than those that perpetrated the crime. I wonder if it’s because they’ll never really receive the justice they’re looking for, since the terrorists died in the crash. They’ll never be held accountable for their actions, so the ones left here to grieve seek vengeance with the next best thing they can find: Islam, Muslims, Arabs. The axis of evil. Ghosts living in caves halfway around the globe.

And this is why I say build the Mosque. Once faced with the reality of peaceful, community-building Muslims, those left with their anger might be forced to really examine it, because they won’t be able to project it on to those at 51 park place. They might actually be able to let go of some of that hate they’ve built up, and begin to heal when faced with the reality that not all Muslims are evil, and that these people are their neighbors, not their enemies. That to me is the most compassionate response because it is one that deals directly with their suffering, even if it might be a difficult process.

“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who harbor such thoughts do not still their hatred.“He abused me, he struck me, he overpowered me, he robbed me.” Those who do not harbor such thoughts still their hatred.

Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.

~ The Dhammapada

Cheers.

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Welcome!

Thank you for checking out my new blog, Fly Like a Crow.

First, what’s up with the name?

Check out the ‘About’ page at the top for more info on that. And take a moment to explore the other pages as well. They’re short and sweet, I promise.

So what is this blog about?

Beyond what you read on the about page, it will be a place to write and blog on a myriad of topics. Primarily, I’ll be focusing on Buddhism, and my family/being a father. I actually see these two things as being parallel lines on the same track of “me”. They are both an evolving practice where I work towards perfection. Every day brings a new challenge, struggle, and usually some success.

I might just try my hand at some more poetry here. It’s something I’ve only dabbled in before, and has been a long time since I’ve really written any.

I’m going to toss in some politics from time to time. Nothing hateful, no right vs. left narratives. There are plenty of those to go around.

I’ll continue to review books here, whether they get sent to me by authors or publishers, or ones that I just happen to purchase myself.

And there’s a slight possibility that I might get philosophical from time to time. I also might throw in some sutra study that I’ve been working on.

And sometimes, I’ll just throw up a picture or two. I’m also going to try to include a picture with more of my posts in general, and I’m going to try to only use ones that I’ve taken.

Whatever happens, it will flow naturally. Like my previous blogging endeavours, I have no ambitions to blog daily. Once, twice a week is about all I can muster given work and family responsibilities (and enjoying time with my family).

So, take a look around. You’ll notice all of my old posts from the past, minus a few I wasn’t proud of at all. Feel free to subscribe via RSS or email (head to the footer) and feel free to add this blog to your blog roll if you feel so inclined. Thank you for stopping by.

Cheers.

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Stripped down Buddhsim, and study…

Taken at River Meadows Park, WA

So I was going to review a book I just read, but really couldn’t come up with much. After reading Steve Hagan’s Buddhism Plain and Simple, all I had to say was…. “meh”. It didn’t have much substance, and seemed to go too far in stripping down Buddhism.

A book I reviewed awhile back Buddha Takes No Prisoners… was a great book that presented Buddhist practice in a secular-ish, practical way, but didn’t seek to strip down Buddhism to simply “awareness”. Hagan kind of glossed over some stuff in his book, and really it seemed fairly empty to me. Now, I’m all about presenting Buddhism in a way that is accessible to the masses, and maybe this book would serve as a simple intro for someone who had never really looked into the dharma before. Or maybe it’s so stripped down, that it would be a bad first place to start. Anyway, it didn’t really speak to me. I understand that for some, stripped down Buddhism and Buddhism without Beliefs speaks to them, and is the direction they would like to go. But I don’t think that’s for me.

And that’s okay. Reading Hagen’s book gave me the motivation to pick up The Wings to Awakening and dive into that. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It contains some of the essential teachings from the Pali canon with excellent commentary and analysis by Thanissaro Bikkhu. If you’ve never read it, you need to. Also, it’s free to download/view, so you really have no excuse not to! I think I’ll be working with The Wings for a while.

This is sort of where my practice really resides now, in study, in absorbing the dharma. I think that’s just how my mind works. I need that basis of (sutra) study before I can really formalize any sort of practice. I spend some time with the breath here and there, but nothing regular, and haven’t chanted in months. But I think that’s okay for now. I view my practice as a process, and I’m in the beginning of mine. This will give me a solid foundation for whatever form my practice takes in the future, so I’m putting as much effort and time into it as I can for the moment. Skillful means, right? Cheers.

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A good day at the park

A good day at the park always ends in a face full of dirt

 

Cheers.

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A “real man”, and a narrative

I have a guest post up over at the DaddyYoBlog about being a “real man” that leads into a little bit about false narratives. Go check it out here.

A teaser blurb:

Maybe what was lacking was the spiritual side of manhood, of fatherhood. Maybe when our grandfathers came back from WW2, they had no sprit left to give their sons. So manhood became something that was altogether mechanical, and was out of balance. Our fathers then pursued this mechanized lifestyle which fulfilled the mundane aspects of their lives, but left little room for them in the realm of that which is ethereal. For a few years, my dad raised me all by himself, and I now wonder if he struggled with this on some subconscious level. I wonder how detached my grandfather was. I wonder how my Father’s generation prepared for Fatherhood, if at all?

Cheers

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My Team

I was born and raised in Michigan in the 1980’s. Therefore, names like Barry Sanders, Alan Trammell, Bill Lambeer, and Loyd Carr are embedded in my DNA.  Before I could crawl it was decided that I would cheer for the UofM, rather than those damn dirty Spartans from Moo U. Growing up, I cheered for my native teams with the blind admiration that only a child can muster. Football was the sport that I embraced above others as a youth, and we had the Lions to cheer for. Growing up, Rodney Peete could do no wrong. And Barry Sanders was like Achilles come down from Mount Olympus to make a mockery of the opposing teams defenses.

But it turns out that Rodney Peete was a terrible QB, and spent more time on his back than throwing TDs. And Barry Sanders left the Lions early to “retire” dashing all hopes of ever seeing a post-season run by the Lions. I also grew up with the abysmal 90’s Tigers, and the Pistons post-Bad-Boy era which was like rooting for whatever team the Globetrotters were playing against. And yet, I held on to the hope that maybe, just maybe this would be the year that ‘my team’ went all the way.

But then I grew up. And I realized that yes, the Lions suck. The Tigers suck. The Pistons suck (though we I did have the Red Wings growing up, who have always been either excellent or good enough to watch and be proud of). Being a sports fan in the mid-’90s in Michigan was a constant struggle. The teams were mis-managed, the stars were gone, and to say the wins were coming in slow was to imply the wins were coming in at all. So as I got into my teen years, I started to learn enough about the sports world to be critical of the teams I had previously rooted for. And since by this time we still weren’t winning in any sport that didn’t’ involve ice, there was plenty to be critical of. We were going after the wrong athletes, making the wrong plays, and were devoid of talent in general. At this point I was so critical, it was hard to see that I supported these teams at all. Watching the Lions get decimated game after game, usually by the end of the 4th quarter I’d ripped my team so much you’d hardly be able to tell that I was a fan at all.

But all this criticism stemmed from the love of my team, and how I wanted to see them succeed, and was upset that I didn’t. What I wanted more than anything was for them to win, and I believed that they could (some of the time). I was critical of team management and coaches that were making my team the mockery of the NFL. Everyone saw us as a failure. Our teams weren’t spending money where it was most critical. The Tigers left historic Tigers stadium, and the Lions left the Pontiac Silverdome both to brand new stadiums, even with their terrible records. A brand new, shiny stage for the world to see our failure. Eventually the teams and their respective management began to listen to the criticism and turned things around. The Pistons won the championship. The Tigers actually made the playoffs and in 2006 actually went to the World Series (they lost, but it was a huge win for the fans). The Lions still suck, but that’s another story altogether….

I will always love my teams, win, loose or otherwise. But I’ve abandoned the silly “my team is the greatest no matter what” mentality that I had as a child, because as a serious sports fan, hero-worship only blinds one to the reality of the situation. That kind of fanaticism is fine for a child, but the greater reality of the situation is much more complex, and since we care deeply, it deserves our criticism as much as our love.

Cheers, and happy 4th of July.

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Buddha: Man, Myth, or Legend?

It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha passed a man on the road who was struck by the Buddha’s radiance and presence. The man stopped and asked “My friend what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”

“No.” said the Buddha.

“Are you a wizard or magician?”

Again the Buddha replied “No”.

“Are you a man?”

Again the Buddha replied “No”.

“Well, my friend, what are you then?”

The Buddha replied “I am awake”.

In my last post I broached the subject of deifying the Buddha, and Algernon wondered why it is that this has happened over the years. I’d like to say that personally, I find that when we make the Buddha into something other than a man, we devalue the practice of Buddhism. One of the strongest arguments I can find for walking the Buddhist path is that nibbana is open to anyone that is willing to put in the work necessary to achieve that final cessation. When we make the Buddha into something other than a man (though he was an extraordinary man and teacher) it seems to make nibbana an unreachable goal to us mere mortals. His amazing accomplishment was that he was able to escape samsara all on his own, without the help of any magical powers or the gods. There are plenty of myths surrounding the Buddha’s birth and life, and I am in no way arguing that we should throw them out. But I have to wonder, what’s the point in making the Buddha into anything other than an awakened person? Is it simply to give the Buddha more authority? Can’t we honor the man without turning him into a magical shaman?

Your thoughts?

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Conscious Breathing

Conscious Breathing: How Shamanic Breathwork Can Transform Your Life

Sufficient unhappiness pushes us to action. I had sufficient unhappiness and that led me to Vipassana meditation and then to rebirthing. There are times when sufficient unhappiness is a positive blessing. 

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Shamanic Breathwork? Really? But I requested this book almost for that exact reason. In the description it talked about how the author had used Vipassana and Zen meditation along with rebirthing and Holotropic Breathwork™ so I figured there would be at least some good information on meditation in general and how to incorporate it into my daily life. 

The book isn’t quite what I expected. It’s basically a textbook on all things related to breathwork, complete with case histories and over 30 pages of notes/bibliography/resources. Did you know there is an International Breathwork Foundation? As well as a Breathwork magazine? Me neither (yes, I just answered for you. Suck it!). I really had no idea this whole area of expertise existed in any sort of organized fashion. There are plenty more resources found in the book as well, so read it! 

On to the book. Author Joy Manné describes some of her personal experiences with breathwork at the beginning of the book, as well as her struggles with Vipassana. The rest of the book deals mostly with the different approaches to breathwork, how to ground one’s self before/after a breathwork session (as well as some safety precautions), and the different levels of breathwork. Just about every type of breathwork is described in detail along with what it’s application is. There are a ton of “case histories” using real-life examples of people who have used breathwork to discover something about themselves and alleviate their suffering. They are detailed and specific, and whether dealing with past lives or past trauma, the breathwork sessions described here seem to stir up a lot of hidden emotions and feelings. People walk away from these sessions with a better understanding of what it is that is making them tick. I hear people talk about removing layers of “themselves” during meditation, and this seems to be a direct approach to that. If you have even a passing interest in breathwork (how to do it, facilitate it, what to expect) then you should definitely grab this book. She also introduces Vipassana meditation as “advanced” breathwork, and that the other forms mentioned earlier in the book would help one to practice Vipassana more easily. 

The inner skeptic in me had some reservations about some of the content in this book at first glance. First is in her dealing with the Buddha: 

Shamans have psychic and magical powers and so does the Buddha. …This includes shamanic elements such as levitation, clair-audience, and thought-reading….He sees past lives. 

Okay, so, this stuff does appear in some sutras, but personally I have a very hard time taking this literally. I also feel that it devalues Buddhism as a religion when you make the Buddha into something other than an awakened man. One of the things that drew me to Buddhism was the fact that the historical Buddha wasn’t a god, and didn’t have magic powers. He was an (extra)ordinary man who was able to awaken to the true nature of reality. If he was anything but, nibbana wouldn’t be possible for anyone else. He led by example so that others could (and have) followed in his path. 

Then from the Womb Trauma Case History 1: Elaine 

I feel as if I have been it on the head with a stick. Why? I don’t know where I am. I feel and see a phallus. I get the impression I am a fetus. I am in my mother’s belly. I am frightened. … Someone is forcing my mother to make love. It is my father. She was nine months pregnant with me… 

There isn’t much in the way of science provided in this book as to the specific effects of what this type of breathwork does to the brain, and I feel that it detracts from the academic-ish nature of this book. There was a brief mention of peptides, but this book and approach would benefit greatly from some scientific evidence backing up some of the claims made here. Reading through some of the histories, I wondered if what was going on was more neurological than spiritual (or having to do with the ‘mind’). But who knows? These people seemed to be accessing some very deep, intense emotions and memories. Maybe through the breathwork they were tapping into some hidden memories that their brains had attached to these powerful emotions? I think it would be interesting to see some studies done like the ones we’ve seen regarding meditation in Buddhism and the brain. 

I’m not one to disparage another’s attempt to alleviate their suffering. If it’s Judaism, breathwork, Buddhism, Yoga, whatever; I have no issues with it (as long as you don’t force it on others or use it to harm another). Manné does also talk a little about the dangers of spiritual materialism, which is something you might not expect to find in a book like this. I absolutely don’t believe the author is just trying to sell us something here. Shamanic Breathwork has clearly worked for her, and she has had success facilitating sessions with many people, all of whom have been able to deal with some troubling issues in their life. She also cautions about making sure you are ready for a breathwork session, as well as recommending that you seek out an experienced breathworker. I’m not sure it’s an approach that speaks to me, but I would be willing to give it a shot. 

All in all, this was a very interesting take on just how powerful the breath truly is. Breathing is so simple, yet it is something we tend to spend very little time with! This book was yet another reminder of how little ridiculous that we have to actually go out of our way just to touch our breath because we are so conditioned. And for that, I am quite thankful. 

.

Cheers. 

Conscious Breathing: How Shamanic Breathwork Can Transform Your Life
Author: Joy Manné
Published by North Atlantic Books
This book was provided at no cost from North Atlantic Books for review

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And the winner is….

Congrats to Nathan on winning Present Fresh Wakefulness!

To select the winner, I entered in the total # of original comments, and went by the order they appeared in to determine each comment’s number. Nathan was the 3rd to comment.

Thanks to everyone that left a comment, I have quite the reading list now!

Cheers.

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Present Fresh Wakefulness – a review and contest

Present Fresh Wakefulness: A Meditation Manual on Nonconceptual Wisdom

By repeating the recognition of innate suchness, totally free of mental constructs, we lay the basis for accomplishing the mind of the buddhas.

Present Fresh Wakefulness is  straight-forward advice from Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche on how to do away with dualistic thought and awaken. It is a very practical approach to meditation and non-dualism which actually surprised me given the little experience I’ve had with Vajrayana Buddhism. I don’t have much of a knowledge base when it comes to the Vajrayana vehicle, and that was a small hurdle at times with this book. But Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche cuts through the “trappings” that might shy a novice away and delivers a message that is clear to all, regardless of tradition.

The book is written from a series of talks that Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche has given, and as such the dialogue can be informal at times, as one would expect when talking face-to-face with one another. He is very clear that committing yourself to nibbana is not a weekend retreat, hobby, or something to be done in your spare time. Awakening is a process that is inclusive of our every action and pattern of thought. The first part of the book dives into this deep, emphasizing time and again that there is “no samsara apart from thoughts”; and that it is dualistic, conceptual thinking that binds us to samsara. He then goes on to tell about the how of awakening in the Vajrayana vehicle. About this he says

Vajrayana is a very swift path, and to make it real, to actualize it, we need to use all sorts of methods. The Vajrayana approach has great advantages, but it is also very risky.

Anyone that can be this upfront and honest about their path earns a few gold stars in my book. He explains the methods used in Vajrayana without putting them on a pedestal above other schools/methods, which is something I greatly admire. Let your practice speak for itself, without disparaging others.

One thing about this book that I found difficult was that it was transcribed from talks that Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche gave, and in the transcription, something gets lost. When you write a book or blog post or article, it is true that you attempt to write using your own voice. But there was something choppy and slightly disconnected about it. It was as if the talk was happening in the next room, and you could only hear it through the wall. As a result, you’d miss out on his presence, eye contact, and all those other non-verbal modes of communication that accompany speech. So the “voice” of the book seems to stumble at times, and I think this leads to a little dryness as well.

But it is still well worth the read. I think a newbie Buddhist such as myself would be able to learn from it, but someone with a little bit more of a base understanding around Vajrayana would find it even more valuable. And as such, I’m going to give this book away to one of my readers.

All you have to do to win this book is to leave a comment on this post naming one book that has both challenged you and helped you on your path. I’ll use random.org on Sunday June 27th to pick a winner, so be sure to comment before then!

Cheers.

Present Fresh Wakefulness: A Meditation Manual on Nonconceptual Wisdom
Author: Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche/
Translated from the Tibetan by Erik Pema Kunsang
Compiled by Marcia Binder Schmidt
This book was provided at no cost via North Atlantic Books for review.

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We're all one, man!

An interesting discussion (here and here) has been happening around the interwebs around Stephen Prothero’s book: God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter. I haven’t read the book, but I understand that his basic argument is refuting the idea that ‘religions are all basically the same’ statement. And personally, I have to agree with that. I’m not going to attempt to defend his position here (because I haven’t read the book!), but rather talk about the “all religions are the same/we’re all on the same path to God” lines that get thrown around quite often.

I don’t understand how people can claim that all religions are really just the same thing. Each one seems to address a different problem and propose its own unique solution to said problem. In Buddhism, we find that life is unsatisfactory, and to alleviate the suffering that accompanies this, we need to follow the 8-fold path to awakening (that was the 25 word idiot version of the 4 noble truths). In Christianity, Sin is man’s greatest enemy, and the only way to be rid of that sin is salvation through Jesus Christ. In Islam, it is pride that gets in our way, so submission to God is the way to rid ourselves of that pride. In Scientology, there are space demons that take over our bodies, and the only way to get rid of them is to give Tom Cruise all of your money. The list goes on and on; these are all very different ways of seeing the world and making sense of our place in it.

Now some would argue that focusing on these ideas, and each religion’s respective dogmas and scriptures is a superficial way of approaching the experience of religion. Some argue that when looked at from a mystic’s perspective, you can throw out all of the definitions traditionally used and reach a higher definition that would transcend all the dogma, ritual, and beliefs people traditionally associate with their respective religion. But I have to wonder, at that point, why even say that you are practicing said religion (and aren’t you really just practicing New Age…ism at that point)? When you start to talk about Jesus not being the son of God that performed miracles, rose from the dead who said that anyone that wants into heaven has to come through him; what is it about your practice that you would consider Christian? Why even use that word? It is similar to when a New Ager or Pantheist would call everything “God”. Sure, monotheists don’t have a copyright on the word, but I have to wonder if what you are describing is so radically different from any interpretation or definition held by 99.99% of people who use it; why use it at all? Why put your belief under that same tent? A part of me wonders if this happens when people are afraid to completely let go of the religion they grew up with? And so holding on to a part of that past self/culture makes the new set of beliefs…safer?

Personally, I find it a little insulting when people say that we’re all practicing the same religion, or that all paths lead to God. Sorry, I gave up on God well over a decade ago. I took up the Buddhist path because it ends in liberation, not because I believe I’ll end up in a literal heaven with God for eternity. I also think it’s a little disrespectful to not recognize that there is a difference in what we are practicing and trying to achieve, and to then attempt to re-define my beliefs to more closely align with yours.

Okay, so there are differences, so what about our similarities? Isn’t there one central theme that runs at the heart of every religion? Nah. I don’t think so. While all religions have the capacity for such things as charity and compassion and respect, those aren’t the tenets or beliefs that they are centered around. Ask %99 of Christians what their religion is about, and I’m guessing you’re going to hear something like “believing in Jesus Christ”, “faith in God” or something along those lines. And while the man preached about compassion and charity at length, the religion itself isn’t centered around it. It accompanies it. I’d even say that compassion isn’t at the heart of Buddhism, but is rather an effect (vipaka) that one cultivates when practicing the dharma. Would many Muslims say that compassion is the heart of their religion? Taoists? I doubt that’s what you’ll hear. And remember, we’re talking about religions here. Not your individual experience which may or may not parallel someone else’s.

But, knowing that each religion has the capacity for these things does give us the hope that we can all connect with each other on such manners. Religion is largely a response to living life as a human, all of us trying to figure out our place in the cosmos and answer the questions that we have about our shared human condition. The religious are all connected in the sense that we are all searching for something (be it God or enlightenment or Elohim) and whether we are searching for that something inside or outside of ourselves, we should be able to respect whatever means we employ to find that divine something (as long as it doesn’t involve blowing your self up or burning “witches” etc…).

So why prattle on about the differences in the world’s religions when so much strife has been created because people can’t seem to get over them? I think it’s important to understand the differences because largely, we don’t respect them. A part of the fighting that occurs between the world’s religions stems from a basic lack of respect (and this lack stems from a whole slew of things) of each other’s beliefs and practices. If we can begin to accept the differences we all have, we can then place them where they belong and figure out how to best deal with each other in the most compassionate way. But I truly believe that as long as we keep talking about how we’re really all the same, or glossing over the sacred practices many of us hold dear, we aren’t going to be able to reconcile with each other in a meaningful way. Yes, most religions share some basic concepts (which are mostly secular anyway) and we should work together to strengthen those when need-be. But it’s hard to reach out to someone who isn’t even going to respect that you are on your own path, and that it’s okay that we don’t have everything in common. I believe it is extremely important that we develop compassion toward one another, and part of that compassion is respecting one another’s beliefs as being of the utmost importance to that person.

What do you think?

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Why you should(n’t) be a parent

Of the many hats I wear, “Father” is the one that feels most comfortable. I must admit that I was (am?) scared shitless when I found out that I was going to be a dad a little over 2 years ago. How could I be a Dad? How could I afford it? Can I still party hard? Did I have to put away my Tool CDs in favor of Barney or whatever other monstrosity was being marketed to kids these days? Would my wife and I still be able to maintain our close relationship? So many thoughts, mostly worries, ran through my head those first few months. And I really had no idea what to expect. No one does. My wife is due again in September, and I’ve been able to finally reconcile with myself that I have no idea what to expect this time around, and that revelation is okay.

But for the 4 of you out there that read this blog and don’t have children, I thought I’d put together a little list of reasons as to why you shouldn’t have kids. People that have kids and those that don’t live in two completely different worlds, and I thought this might put into perspective just how different things can be. The responsibilities are endless and paramount, but there are lessons to be learned along the way.

So without further ado, here are some reasons as to why you shouldn’t have kids (and if you stick around, there might be a few reasons as to why you should).

1. You shouldn’t have kids if you value sleep. I seriously haven’t slept more than 4 or 5 hours straight in almost 2 years. Routinely I’m only getting about 5 hours of sleep a night. And with another child on the way, I can look forward to not sleeping through the night for another two years or so. Yippee! Though I have heard rumors that they now make kids that learn to fall asleep, and I’m considering trading mine in for one of those…

2. You shouldn’t have kids if you value your free time. Because, there is no free time. There is only parenting time, work, and sleep. Sure, after the kids go to bed you can sit around, watch some TV, read or whatever, but usually for us that means fall down on couch exhausted. Might be partially due to the fact that Corbin never, ever slows down. His thirst for knowledge and inquisitive nature lead him to be constantly discovering and running around. The kid is a sponge. He’s just under 18 months and can count to 10, read letters in succession, name 16+ species of dinosaurs and 20 Marvel super heros. That’s not me bragging (I have no idea what other kids his age are fixated on) that’s just examples of the things he soaks up. He didn’t settle with just learning Spider Man  and Allasaurus, he wanted to know about Hulk and Rouge (he has a Marvel super hero poster, he calls them “super guys”) and pteranodon and diplodocus (dinosaur book). He simply has to know these things. He needs constant stimulation or he gets frustrated. Also, he’s pretty young, and not quite to the “hey I’ll just play in my room for the next hour” phase yet. Also, he figured out how to dismantle the baby gate, so there is no more baby prison around my place.

3. You shouldn’t have kids if you enjoy having extra cash. This one is a given. Extra mouths require extra food which requires diapers and clothes and toys and co-pays and Iron Man plates and boxes of crayons and an endless supply of paper.

So, okay those are pretty ubiquitous when it comes to parenting, and most people know (at least in some part) that these things will happen going in. But then there are a ton of little things as well. Like heading to a friend’s house that isn’t baby-proofed. And I’m not even talking about locks on drawers, but just stuff lying around in arms reach of my toddler. You put your child’s safety and your friend’s CD/faberge egg/replica Tie Fighter collection at risk. So then rather than visiting, you spend most of your time corralling.

Or then there’s shopping. It used to be we could head to 5-6 different grocery/supply stores in one day to do all of our shopping, but that can’t happen anymore. Now we can hit a max of about 3 (maybe 4) stores because we have to take into consideration his nap time, snack time, bed time, diaper changes, and general fussiness about being locked in a car seat/shopping kart for a few hours. Having kids can be a pain in the ass! There, I said it.

The point is, having a child doesn’t just change your life, it becomes your life. It affects who you are and what you do in every way imaginable (and many that aren’t). It used to be that scary/sad movies didn’t affect me much. But now I start to well up anytime I see a child in danger, getting abused or when anything bad happens to a kid on TV (or in the news). I am no longer Adam. I am now Daddy. And it is through this filter that I now view life.

With this change comes an opportunity to examine our selves. Parenting, much like Buddhism, is a process of discovery. We can look at ourselves and ask, “okay, why is it that I feel that having kids can be a pain in the ass sometimes?” Usually it comes down to an inconvenience, laziness, apathy, not being able to be okay with the present moment, or some such thing. You’re then able to uncover the motivations behind those excuses and really dredge some shit up. Which can then lead to the revelation that you loathe the person looking back at you in the mirror, because the person you see is a reflection of a person you don’t want to be. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because at that point, you’re able to actually do something about the “problems” and baggage we’re carrying around with us. You have to be a little disgusted by yourself to effect some change in your life. At this point you can then begin the process of striving for the change you are looking for. Those excuses you came up with about why it’s so damn hard to wake up in the middle of the night and why you’d rather be golfing with friends than feeding your kid dinner suddenly start to look ridiculous upon evaluation. They don’t go away overnight (or ever?), but you can begin to see them for what they are: hindrances. They hinder your ability to fully embrace this moment with kind-heartedness and acceptance. They hinder your ability to produce the end results you fantasize about (rather than put into action). And they hinder your ability to live with the love you usually feel about being a parent. Because even though the responsibilities of being a parent are enormous, a majority of the time we are able to embrace them with joy and a smile.

So if you can get over all the crap you have to deal with as a parent (which you may just fall in love with), that I talked about in the beginning of this post you might find there is a greater source of joy out there than you could ever imagine and discover quite a bit about yourself along the way.  For for me, that simple joy comes from moments like these, moments I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for:

 

 

 

Cheers.

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Still LOST?

Yup, I’m a LOST-a-holic, or at least I was until this past Sunday’s (Monday on the web for me) series finale. If you’re looking for Buddhist themes running throughout LOST check out Kyle’s blog  or the Worst Horse for a good round-up (I won’t get into those too much here, as PLENTY of people have already done that). What I want to dive into is the finale itself. First of all, yes, I liked it. I know there are many out there that didn’t, and there are many out there that simply didn’t understand it. So let’s dive in.

Almost goes without saying, but yes, SPOILER ALERT!

So we finally find out……not much really. And that’s okay with me. I liked that we didn’t find out the origin of the island, or a lot of the more mystical elements of the series. One of the most engaging aspects of the series was that sense of being kept in the dark, and the mystery that shrouded the island and characters. To take that away on the last episode would have done a disservice to the narrative that the writers created in the first place. It also would have been another depressing chapter in the history of spoon-fed tv series/movie shows that Americans seem so fond of.

But I think that the fixation upon “what is the island?” “what’s up with Walt?” “why didn’t Ben go into the church?” and other such questions that led viewers to disappointment detract from the real appeal/theme of LOST, and the significance of their final outcome.

Yes, the supernatural and spooky elements of LOST (along with those ridiculous cliff hangers) certainly did draw in and sustain many of the viewers, however, that wasn’t the real point of LOST, was it? LOST was never about the island, the island was merely the stage where the real story could unfold and the characters could reveal themselves in their true light. Every episode was filled with their stories, and very little in the way of the supernatural really every happened (which is what gave birth to many people’s love/hate relationship with the show). The show was about the process of human transformation. Just look at the Sawyer character. He went from low-life con-artist to hero and good guy (with many flip-flops along the way). Or Jack’s stubborn “there is no purpose” nature in the beginning to full-fledged faith-based believer. This is where the real power of the show was.

So about the finale. Yes, everything that happened, happened. And the “flash sideways” world that was created was a type of purgatory. And yes, it all did make sense! Some have argued that the writers wrote themselves into a corner, and were “unable” to explain the greater mysteries of the island. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There was plenty of opportunity to explain away the mysteries of the island, the writers simply chose not to (though I have read that due to time constraints and other real-world circumstances, some of the predicted story lines didn’t end up the way originally intended). But that’s okay; the show doesn’t suddenly lose its appeal because the writers live in the real world. It seems nobody wants a mystery anymore, we’d rather just have someone tell us the answers.

So what was it all about? What did it all mean? I’ve seen plenty of explanations out there, and even more complaints. Here’s my take (and what I’ve been saying LOST is really about for a couple of years now):

It’s all about the connections we make on our journey as a human. The characters couldn’t escape them even if they tried. Example: Sawyer goes to Australia to find the man who conned his mother and caused his parents to die (who turns out to be Locke’s con man father) and meets up with Jack’s dad in a bar who is there to see his daughter Claire who ends up on the plane to LAX with everyone else. There are about 20 more of these 7 degrees of separation, but you get the point. Everyone on the island was connected in some way before they got on the plane and those connections are what drove their personal transformations while on the island. This theme was the basis for the flash-sideways story line, as it took a connection to one another in order for each person in purgatory to “awaken”, thereby allowing them to move on. 

There was also the whole “let go” theme that I found interesting as well (there are many, many others, take your pick); in that everyone needed to let go of something in order to move on with their lives. This was true for their lives on the island, as well as for many of them in the flash-sideways universe/purgatory/dmv line. There are lots more to discuss, as LOST was a very complex show. And I’d love to sit here and talk about all the cool themes and intriguing story lines (Jack’s son in purgatory being a manifestation of his own wants/desires regarding his relationship with his own father) but that would take forever.

But if the writers had closed every story line, and gave us all the answers, there’d be nothing to discuss, would there? This show will keep us talking for a while, and I’m sure to revisit it a few times over my lifetime.

In the end, it all seemed to come down to one of the lines that made the show famous from Season 1: “if we can’t live together—we’re gonna die alone”.

p.s. – I will say that the death of Locke/smoke monster was anti-climatic, but that was the only thing I found disappointing about the finale.

 

Cheers.

Thank you Hunter for pointing me to this TED talk by JJ Abrams which explains why he left the mystery box closed on this one.

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A Lotus, a Scotsman, SGI, and an open path…

There is something that I’ve been wresting with for a while now in my Buddhist practice. As some of you might know, I started my Buddhist path in the SGI. Well, kind of (I’ll get to the real beginning later). It’s been nearly a year, and there are too many things that have been nagging me about Nichiren Buddhism in general. So here, I’m going to attempt to explain my experience, and some of my thoughts/feelings on Nichiren and SGI. Please note that I admit that I am completely a dharma-noob, and am fully open to criticism if some of my facts are wrong here.

So, a little over 3 years ago, I started looking into Buddhism. When my wife was much younger, she and her family practiced Nichiren Buddhism in the Nichiren Shoshu school. Later some of the members split off and became the SGI (I’m not going into “the split” in any kind of detail here because it isn’t relevant) and her family practiced with that lay-organization. So she had some background with the SGI, and I started looking there first. I also wanted to know about Buddhism at large, so that’s where I started my search. I wanted to know about the Buddha, what he taught, why there were so many schools (and what each one had to offer) and what made the SGI so special. So I read wiki and listened to podcasts and dove into a couple of sutras here and there, read some contemporary literature and commentaries on sutras, and decided that yes, this is a path that I’d like to start on. It spoke to me like no other religion or philosophy had before. It was in the Four Noble Truths that I found more insight and wisdom than any other text or sermon I’d previously come across.

Flash-forward to last spring/summer. It turns out some of the SGI members that my wife and her family used to practice with years ago are in the area where we live. I didn’t know much about Nichiren Buddhism, but started to look into it. I found Nichiren to be a bit of an extremist in some of his writings, but as I learned a bit about the culture he lived in, it became clear as to why he was so adamant about what he believed. So I thought, okay, I’ll give this a shot. If anything, it was connecting me to Buddhists in my area (I didn’t think there were any up here!) and would give me real live people to talk to about the whole process.

Okay, and now we’re here in the present day. And after practicing for a while, I have some issues with SGI and Nichiren Buddhism in general. Before I get into them, I need to state that the issues that I have are my issues, and I’m not condemning anyone’s religion, nor am I trying to refute anyone’s religion (and hopefully I didn’t over generalize too much). So here are my grievances in no particular order.

1) Nichiren Buddhists claim that Nichiren Buddhism is the only “true Buddhism™” and all other teachings (and schools of Buddhism) are “lesser” teachings. Even the different schools of Nicherin continually attempt to refute eachother and claim ownership over true Buddhism. It’s all over SGI publications and I’ve heard it at several meetings as well. They characterize “old Buddhism” as being fatalistic, not open to the masses, rudimentary, and not generally valid. In the SGI, they talk about priests and monks as if they were just money-hungry hucksters trying to trick people into worshiping them.

This is just more arrogant bullshit. There are few things in the world I can stand less than religious pissing contests over who has the “true” faith. Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit. I also don’t give a shit if I’m “right” or “wrong’ (as if a thing like that could even be quantified). I really don’t. I didn’t pick the Buddhist path because I thought it was the One True Path™, I chose the Buddhist path because it is right for me. Some people like IPAs, I prefer an Amber Ale. There is no “right” beer. Get over yourself.

2) Nichiren Buddhists rely completely on the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin and The Lotus Sutra, and take a literal interpretation of much of the sutra. I’ve been told that The Lotus Sutra is the only valid teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha, because he supposedly (and this is to be taken literally and as historic fact) said that the Lotus Sutra is the highest teaching, and that every single teaching he spent those 40+ years teaching were only to prepare people for the Lotus Sutra. The SGI basically throws out every other teaching and sutra (both the older Pali and Mahayana) claiming that they are “lesser” teachings, and that everything related to true Buddhism can be found in The Lotus Sutra. They really couldn’t care less about the 4 noble truths, the 8-fold path, dependant origination, mindfulness, or cultivating compassion and equanimity the way the Buddha taught it. I’ve been told that those teachings are like “grade school Buddhism”, and that only the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Daishonin are advanced enough to be called true Buddhism.

While I find there to be valid and useful teachings in the Lotus Sutra, I am not about to throw out any of the Buddha’s teachings. I can’t bring myself to believe that the Lotus Sutra was actually hidden away in a Dragon Realm for 500 years, or that it is the literal word of Shakyamuni Buddha. Most scholars seem to agree with me on that as well.  I also don’t find the teachings of the Lotus Sutra to be a good vehicle to be solely relied upon. For me, a better approach is to incorporate the teachings into my life alongside the rest of the Buddha’s teachings. I understand the metaphors as metaphors, and take the teachings to heart. (I should also emphasize that I don’t know if every school of Nicherin Buddhism takes the Lotus Sutra as a historical teaching or not)

3) Recently, I’ve been told that Shakyamuni wasn’t the true Buddha, and that he was simply preparing the way for his mentor who was reincarnated/reborn as Nichiren Daishonin who is the “true” Buddha.

Well, I didnt’ know there was such a thing as a “true” Buddha and an un-true Buddha. That also contradicts the fact that I’ve been told that I’m a Buddha (just haven’t realized it) as well. Does that mean that I’m an un-true Buddha? Crap. I guess I’ve been doing it wrong.

4) Nichiren Buddhism seems to hinge on two things that I find incompatible with reality. First, that the Lotus Sutra is historical and the literal word of Shakyamuni Buddha, and second, that Nichiren Daishonin is the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

I’ve touched on this already, but basically I just don’t believe that the LS was preached by the Buddha, then hidden away in a dragon realm, only to then be revealed as a teaching that was made for the masses. It certainly seems inspired by his teachings, but his literal word? I can’t believe that. Nor does the evidence point in that direction. There are great and significant teachings to be found there, but they need not be taken at their word for them to be meaningful and beneficial to one’s practice. 

I found this comment on Barbara’s Buddhism Blog over on About.com back in December that sums up the myth of the latter-day of the law and Nichiren nicely. Basically, you’d have to believe that Shakyamuni lived 3000, not 2500 years ago in order for the timeline to work out. And you’d also have to believe that the Buddha was into making specific prophecies, neither of which I find realistic or necessary on a path of awakening.

5) SGI is a cult of personality (note: I didn’t say cult). Members are taught to look to the leader of the SGI, Daisaku Ikeda, as their leader, mentor, and sensei. It is taught that there is a line of succession from the Buddha to Nichiren to Ikeda, and that he is our mentor.

One of the main pieces of literature for the SGI is The World Tribune. It’s a 6-8 page newspaper that arrives in the mail once a week (for $30/year) and it is basically a press release for Daisaku Ikeda. You can’t go 4 sentences without either reading his name, or reading something that he’s written. I’ve tried. It’s filled with stories about how people’s lives were terrible until they realized their mentor/disciple relationship with Ikeda, and stories about Ikeda having the “heart of a lion king”, and it seems that every week Ikeda is receiving an honorary degree or award from somewhere. 

Personally, I find Daisaku Ikead to be largely uninspiring (though he has written some inspriational lines here and there), and wholly lacking any real spiritual presence. He seems more like your average stereotype of a Japanese businessman than someone who is on a path of enlightenment. Ikeda certainly has a skill for talking to people, but less in a Dalia Lama type of way, and more of an insurance-salesman type of way. Everywhere I turn, it seems like I’m being “sold” this religion; and as such, there is very little substance revealed in his or the organizations’ words at-large. It is mostly just dialogue promoting the religion and organization in some way, though at times it can focus on how the SGI is the only true Buddhism, and rhetoric that simply aims to validate their position as “true Buddhism.” And let’s not even begin to get into how many millions of dollars that man holds on to, and how many monuments have been erected in his name (all while he denounces people who have statues of the Buddha as idol worshipers) or how tied in the SGI is in with the government in Japan.

6) Members that turn away from the SGI are either harassed or attempts are made to get them back. It isn’t an issue of “okay, best of luck on your path!”. It is seen as something gravely disappointing and almost evil.

My mother-in-law recently sought out some local practitioners of the Nichiren Shoshu school, and when some of the SGI members found out, they flipped. We were then told that basically, the Nichiren Shoshu was evil, and that all they do is worship the priesthood, and likened them to horrible things like the Catholic Church and the Dalia Llama (exact words – theirs, not mine). We were then given some material which on the cover said that it was a refutation of the Nichiren Shoshu. I glanced at it, but really couldn’t have cared less. You would have thought they’d be happy that there were other Buddhists in the area, but apparently, it’s a very bad thing that they are even practicing here! 

Along with this is the whole concept of kosen-rufu and shakubuku which is basically a Buddhist version of what Christians call “witnessing” (basically an attempt at conversion). Personally, I hate it when people try to sell me their religion. Nothing will turn me off faster. I don’t want a one world religion. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk to people about what I practice, it just means that I’m not going to go up to people and try to convert them. I think a better approach is to live the best life that you can, and if your greater virtues are rooted in your practice (whatever it may be) and people want to know about it, then take that opportunity to let them in on it if you feel so inclined.

7)The reasons I started on the Buddhist path were many at the time. I sought a philosophy and religion that addressed mindfulness at its core. I have ADHD, and at times my mind resembles a giant projection screen with 40 small screens of picture-in-picture all going at once, each one changing randomly at times. It makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on anything, and it also makes it impossible to remember the little stuff. I’ve perfected the art of forgetfulness. My emotions can run wild at times, and lead me to suffer because of it. While I don’t want to offer up Buddhism as “self-help”, I do believe there are real world benefits to practicing, and much self-improvement can be gained along the way. I also believe that Buddhism integrates nicely with my other beliefs that center on inter-connectedness and compassion, and help to balance my life in favor of ethical conduct.

I find Nichiren Buddhism to be an unsatisfactory vehicle for most of these things. Again, these are my feelings on the matter. If you or someone you know is able to find comfort or refuge or benefit from practicing Nichiren Buddhism or with the SGI, by all means more power to ya’. I have a few other minor issues with the practice as well, but I’m sure there will be comments on this post (I hope anyway) and I’ll be able to address some of them there.

I should make mention that there are aspects of the practice that I enjoy (diversity in the organization, accessability, ritual, focus, something to share with my wife…. among others), and that it hasn’t been a completely terribble experience. I should also note that I don’t believe that every Nicherin Buddhist (or SGI member) is a fundamentalist, but that the statements made above seem to be part of the “party line”, if you will.

So, where does all of this leave me? Buddhist purgatory I suppose. At the heart of Nichiren Buddhism is the practice of chanting nam myoho renge kyo (daimoku). The act of chanting  is something I tend to enjoy, even though chanting in Japanese can be challenging and unfamiliar. For me, it helps to knock me down a few pegs, and bring me down to the mundane. And while I find little connection to the gohonzon itself, it does help to center my practice. I think I’m done with the SGI, though as for chanting, I’m going to make a real effort to chant more regularly. However, my intentions will be decidedly different from that which Nichiren Buddhists hold so dear.

My wife really enjoys the practice, though she’s no fan of Ikeda or the fundamentalism we’ve encountered so far (though we have found some really nice people too, and I’m sure there are plenty more reasonable members out there… somewhere…). As such, chanting together is something we can share, something that will bring us closer together. I haven’t been chanting much lately, and it’s largely due to the issues that I’ve stated here. Getting this out in the open will hopefully help me to re-focus my practice. I want it to be more personalized, and something that truly speaks to me.

So like I said, I’m going to chant with my wife. And sometime in the future, I’ll incorporate a meditation practice. I envision chanting, then spending 15 minutes (to start) afterward in meditation. I see chanting as a tool to use to clear my mind, to sort of “prep” it for meditation or contemplation. But what type of meditation practice? Samatha? Vipassana? Zazen? I have yet to decide. I have a stack of books to read, starting with The Wings to Awakening, followed by a bunch of Zen books (nothing with “and the art of…” in the title) and then I think I’ll move on to just the sutras (prob with commentary) and see what I can find in the way of contemporary Theravadin literature.

I’d like to say I’ll seek out a teacher, but around here there are practically none. I have had an offer to sit with a grassroots Zen group that’s a little over and hour drive from here, but that is simply too far. I have a 17 month old son, and a wife that will give birth to a baby girl at the end of September. My family is my main responsibility in life at the moment, so for now I will have to go it alone. Thankfully, I live in 2010, and am financially secure enough (for now…) to afford access to the internet. I can find many of the sutras online for free (or for cheap on Amazon or local used book stores), and teachers are making themselves more accessable online as well. I also am able to seek the greater iSangha for help and guidance (and laughs) if need be.

I’m not opposed to settling into a tradition at this point. Far from it. What is right for me at this moment is to learn. That’s how I work. I need the intellectual foundation first, and from there I will develop a practice that is meaningful and provides me with the direction and support needed to cultivate the mindfulness, compassion, and equanimity that I started searching for in the first place.

Cheers.

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More than just a weed…


Witnessing the joy your child finds in pulling up dandelions at the park does two things. First, it makes parenting worth it. It makes the sleepless nights, frustration, and absence of “adult time” all worth the effort and sacrifice. It’s hard to see that sometimes.

Second, in those moments, the entire world melts away, and it is just you and your child. Smiling. Engulfed in a moment. Equanimity.

And then he puts a ladybug in his mouth.

Cheers.

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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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Thoughts on blogging

I had this nice little post ready about peace. After I read it, the words were hollow. So I deleted it. This blog is hollow. Writing makes sense. Blogging doesn’t make any sense anymore. Am I writing, or addressing? The purpose of this blog was to get me to write more often. It was supposed to be the vehicle that helped me to master my craft. But almost a year later and the writing has not improved. I would even wager to say that my writing has gotten worse over the years.

Yet, I kind of enjoy the engagement of blogging. But I’m wondering what purpose it now serves. Maybe I need a change in approach. A change in subject matter. Maybe it’s just a matter of connecting my inner voice to my fingertips. I usually find that what ends up on this page isn’t what I really intended. And I’m not really sure what the root cause of that is, nor what the solution is.

I’m kind of in a similar place with my practice. I’m not sure if Nichiren is the right vehicle for me. I haven’t been chanting much at all lately. Some of that is due to pure laziness. But part of me is dissatisfied with SGI and Nichiren Buddhism in general. Not a hate or dislike, there is just something that really doesn’t speak to me. For me it’s hard to find a connection there.

Oh, and we’re having another baby. So yeah, that’s kind of been on my mind lately.

Cheers.

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And more snow related suffering…….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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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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Just ignorant!

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

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

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

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


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

NOT FOR ANY MAIL!!

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

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

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

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103!

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

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon !

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

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the American Embassies in Africa !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the USS COLE!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM attack on 9/11/2001 !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further more, IT’S JUST A FUCKING STAMP!

Cheers.

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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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