Tag Archives: attachment

What I’ve come to understand of karma

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

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

~ from the Ariyamagga ( or Noble Path) Sutta

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

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

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

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

~ From the Kamma (Karma) Sutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

 

 

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Home, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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Raising spiritual children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s a Buddhist?

Someone that follows the teachings of the Buddha.

What did he teach?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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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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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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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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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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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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A new (old) ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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Recipe for Disaster/Lesson in attachment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Intention

When I brew a beer, I’m not doing it to win a medal. I’m not doing it win the admiration of friends and family. I’m not trying to get a high alcohol percent so that I’ll get wasted when I drink them. No. When I brew beer, I do it because I enjoy brewing beer. I enjoy the entire process. The sanitation, the measuring, the endless waiting, the focus on detail. It is an extremely Zen activity. I approach it the same way some would approach a Japanese Tea Ceremony. No motion is wasted. No thought wanders beyond the brewing process. You see, I brew beer for the craftsmanship aspect of it. And yes, I do try to get a quality product each time. But my intention is never really on what will happen to the beer once I taste it. It can’t be. My intention lies in my approach to the process.

 Right intention is the next “step” on the Noble Eightfold Path that I’d like to discover and discuss. Right intention can also be translated as “right thought” or “right resolve”. Basically, are your intentions good or bad? What’s the origin point of this particular thought or action? Right intention forces us to look at the why behind the things we do. Why am I driving this Prius? Is it so that my friends and people on the street will see me in a better light? Or is it because I care about the purchases I make and the impact they have on this planet?

 Not to rant, but one of the things I really disliked about my time living in Bellingham were the Yuppies. It was mostly Yuppies and college kids in that town. And all the Yuppies thought it was such a great thing to shop at the local Co-op and buy organic and Go Green! The problem is they would drive their Hummers and Escalades to the Co-op. They had no idea what organic, or local meant. They were shopping there because it was trendy. So they could impress their friends. Sorry, but this is not right intention.

 So what else does right intention mean? It’s about doing things that are pure, renouncing that which is wrong, selfish, full of attachment. Is your intention in line with the Four Noble Truths? The rest of the eightfold path? If not, better re-evaluate. In Buddhism, it isn’t just about the action. It is also about the intent, thought, and purpose behind each action. It must come from a “right” place.

I’ll be discussing “right” vs “wrong” in a latter post. Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transfer of Essence

Today I transferred a batch of ale into the secondary fermenter. The reason you do this is to separate the beer from the yeast cake. Beer is made up of 4 main ingredients: Water, barley, hops, and yeast. The yeast is what transforms the sugars in the barley into beer. Without yeast, you’d have terrible tasting, acrid, cloudy water. Yeast really is the life of the beer. So why would you want to separate the beer from the yeast? Good question.

Too much of a good thing in this case can have unpleasant results. After a few days, the active fermentation has subsided and most of the yeast has settled to the bottom. Fermentation will continue however, but not like it did at first. After a few days, you need to separate the beer from the yeast. I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that holds the beer at first, then I transfer to a 5 gallon version. If you don’t do this, the beer will have too much yeast flavor and sediment. It will be cloudy. So for a more refined product, this is a necessary step. 

Personally, I’ve taken this step myself. I transferred myself once upon a time. I lived in Michigan for the first 20 years of my life. My family was there. My schools were there. My friends were there. The “nurture” part of my self was constructed there. My ideals, outlook, inner voice were all a product of my environment. It was my yeast. 

After about 18 years though, my yeast began to settle. It wasn’t sustaining me any longer. It didn’t provide me with what I now needed to finish the process of self. For this, I needed to seek another container. Another environment. A new opportunity for nurture to shape my essence.

 I’m still not sure what the last straw on the camel’s back was. You see, it wasn’t my friends. It wasn’t my family. It wasn’t my job or my apartment. It wasn’t any of those thing that were stifling me. It was me that was stifling me. You see, even when you transfer the beer, millions of the yeast cells still travel with it. So some degree of fermentation still persists. It was this part of me that I couldn’t remove that was stifling me. Causing me to mentally suffocate. 

I hated this part of myself. It was lazy. Apathetic. Unemotional. Detached. Depressed. Irresponsible. The list goes on. I realized that even if I removed myself from the container that created this self, part of that self would travel with me, like the yeast.

 Yet if I could leave some of that part of self behind, was it possible to leave it all behind eventually? To no longer be burdened by the self that I was? I had to try. So I left. I left that container as abruptly as I had entered it 20 years prior. This fresh start would be what I needed. Heading west where the air was fresher. The ideas were fresher. My essence could be fresher. Yet there was still that part of my self that was traveling with me. What of it?

 There is one cardinal rule when home brewing. Above all, make sure everything is sanitized. Sanitation is the most important step you can take to ensure a quality product. It only takes a little bit of wild bacteria or yeast to enter your beer to ruin the whole batch. Ruin the whole purpose. Fermenting ale is about one of the most perfect habitats for bacteria. It’s the perfect temperature, there is plenty of food, it’s safe. When you transfer the beer, you are leaving your beer vulnerable to contamination, which is why sanitation is key.

 On my travel I broke my phone, and scattered the pieces. I left no trail as to where I might be headed. I only brought the clothes and books I really needed. I avoided strangers. I avoided contamination. This journey taking me to my next container was an important one. I needed for it to be free from anything that might contaminate my newly found self. It would not take much to ruin a trip like this. A call home. Befriending the wrong types of people. Getting caught up in the drama of the strangers the accompanied me on my journey across the country. Taking a bus was risky enough.

 So now years later, after I’ve fit into the new container, I have to wonder. Is is really a new process that my self is going through? After all, when the beer is transferred, some of the yeast goes with it. So it isn’t really a new fermentation taking place, is it? It is really the same fermentation that has transpired since the beer was created. There are really only two differences. First, there is the new container. Smaller, more tailored to the final outcome. I have to imagine this is where my self is currently at, in this new container. Second, the saturation of the yeast. It’s easy to see the layer of yeast in the primary fermenter. You can see the process that has transpired over life span of the ale. You can clearly see what effect that original, life giving yeast has had on the beer. Now (after the beer has been transferred from the primary) the beer isn’t so inundated with that which made it was it is today. Now I am detached from the environment that made me, me. Yet part of that self is still present, and that might be the real problem.

 The past and your original nurturing environment is a quick anchor to who you believe yourself to truly be. We all have this aspect of self. It’s the “I” we refer to in our minds when we speak about ourselves. But this is not the real “I”. The true self is the one in our minds we refer to when no one else is around. It’s the real “I” that we cannot lie even to ourselves about. No matter how much bacteria we allow to creep in, no matter how many containers we transfer ourselves to, we cannot escape this “I”. The self. It has always been there. This is what drives some to a life of addiction. They try to cover up the real self with superficial highs. Some of us are trying to escape it. Others are ignoring it. But none of these are healthy or rational options. The only sane thing to do is to accept your self. Fully. Unconditionally. Your self is perfect. It is with this realization that one can begin to truly transform one’s self. Once you can accept your essence for what it is, you can really bring about change in your life. You can get rid of all the bacteria you’ve let in. You can begin to see the container for what it really is: just an empty space that is incomplete without that which fills it. You are not your laziness. You have become lazy out of fear of reaching your full potential of self. You are not beautiful. You have attached beauty to yourself for fear of your true self being ugly. 

I suppose the hardest part is finding that true “self”. The real “I”. We enjoy contaminating ourselves. We’re afraid to face who we really are. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it is a survival mechanism our ego has developed to keep us focused on anything but accepting ourselves and each other for who we truly are. Our mind and our ego like to make us believe it is something that it is not. Our mind likes to think our self is Bad, or Good. Perverted or Pious. Lethargic or Ambitious. But our true nature, simply put, exists. It is. It cannot be good or bad. Those are human attachments. The beer is not how it tastes. That is not what the beer is. The beer is just the beer. It is water, barley, hops, and yeast. And it’s quality does not lie in any of those individual parts. It cannot. For beer is made up of four parts. The quality (or lack thereof) can only be seen or perceived when the sum of all those parts is present. Your quality or lack thereof is only seen when the whole you is present. It is not seen in your liver or teeth.

 So we must take a knife and cut away all of the layers of false self we have covered our true self with. We need to find our true quality of self again. We have built layer upon layer of false self that focuses on the individual parts. Your hair. Your teeth. Your ego. Your attitude. Your intelligence. None of these things separately make up the self. Not one of these things determines who you truly are. Because when we are able to find our true essence, and accept it, then we can truly enjoy our self. We can be at peace knowing we are perfect just the way we are. That the essence of who we truly are cannot be contaminated. It cannot change depending on the container. It simply is. When we reach this realization, we can then begin to deal with the individual parts as individual parts, and not the self.

 As for the beer, well, it is simply those four parts. It’s essence lies when those four parts are combined. If it becomes contaminated, it will still resemble beer. It will still look like beer. Although it’s true self might be hard to taste, it is there in the bottle, waiting to be discovered. Cheers.

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