Tag Archives: Eightfold Path

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

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

your sorrows grow like wild grass after rain.

If, in the world,

you overcome this uncouth craving,

hard to escape,

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

— from the Dhammapada

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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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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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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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.



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The Eightfold Path: Right Concentration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

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

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

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

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


oops- wrong hooker….

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


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

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

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


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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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