Tag Archives: impermanence

Lost in Translation

 

“Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering — in short, suffering is the five categories [aggregates] of clinging objects.”

This is the 1st noble truth (1NT) as translated from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta {Setting in Motion the Wheel of Truth} as you often see it. Now, maybe I’m overstepping my bounds in calling this into question. I am but a novice when it comes to Buddhism. I don’t know Pali or Sanskrit, can’t read anything in any Asian character. As far as my foreign language goes, I know about 14 sentences in Spanish (thanks public schools!). But to me there is something that is being fundamentally left out of a translation like this, in so much that “suffering” is left to stand all alone. If you read other translations, you will find suffering substitued for “pain” or “stress”. Kind of all pointing at the same thing. But even these still seem to miss the mark.

The word dukkha is what we see being translated into suffering/stress/pain here. Dukkha is much more than the common translation suffering would imply though. Dukkha is the description for the fundamental delusion and off-centerdness of our experience of life. It has its root in its antonym sukha, which has as its root a word meaning a wheel that is in kilter, or an axle that is precise which would allow a wheel to spin flawlessly. This fits in well with other circular imagery found in Buddhism, like the wheel of Samsara.

So why do we translate dukkha? Why not leave it as it stands like we do with karma, satori, or any of the other terms commonly used in Buddhism? It almost seems more appropriate to do so. Often times I’ll see the word suffering used as a way to express physical pain or frustration or anger or any of the other types of “conventional” suffering. These are all things that fall within the wheelhouse of dukkha, but so is a birthday celebration, an unexpected kiss from a loved one, or the joy you receive watching your child play with her toys. These too, are dukkha. They are dukkha because they are phenomenal expereinces. “Birth is suffering” – and not just from the perspective of the mother! Birth is suffering because it brings us into the world of samsara, one filled with clinging to that which is temporary. It is not death in and of itself that is dukkha, but the fact that our existence here is marked by death, and can only ever be temporary, fleeting as fast as the Mayfly blinks in and out of existence. It is all dukkha because it is part of the up and down bumpiness that life as a human generally entails. A wheel out of kilter.

Buddha’s prescription is simply to put the wheel back on its axle, to be able to experience a joy that isn’t fleeting or temporary or bound up by any of the sensory experiences we so desperately cling to. His medicine for our illness is something beyond the aggregates. This is liberation.

So I’m keeping dukkha, dukkha. Suffering seems to imply something is wrong physically, when it should imply that physically is wrong.

 

Cheers.

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Another Hsu Yun poem…

 

 

Found this poem, thought I would share

The water and my mind have both settled down
Into perfect stillness.
Sun and moon shine bright in it.
At night I see in the surface
The enormous face of my old familiar moon.
I don’t think you’ve ever met the source of this reflection.
All shrillness fades into the sound of silence.
But now and then a puff of mist floats across the mirror.
It confuses me a little
But not enough to make me forget to forget my cares.

 

~Hsu Yun

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10 from 2010

I thought I would do a quick ego fluffing year-in-review type post. Here it goes:

1. The biggest thing that happened this year was obviously the birth of my daughter Zoa. She is now 3 months old, and sassy as hell. It is still really weird for me to think that I’m the father of 2! children. A family of four. How the hell did that happen?!?!

2. For awhile there I thought my job and company was in jeopardy. We’ve weathered the storm and I remain gainfully employed at a company that I am proud to work for.

3. Next week I start school. I’ll be taking 3 classes, working full-time, and trying to spend as much time with my family as possible. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up the 3 classes at a time thing, but the more I can, the sooner I’ll have my degree. And then the sooner we’ll be more financially secure and stable (at least, that’s the plan….) so hopefully I can last at that pace until summer of 2012.

4. This year I changed blogs, joined twitter, wrote for Elephant Journal and shifted the focus of my content here. I’ve been trying to be more aware of how I spend my time online, as well as how much time I spend here. So far the process is evolving nicely. I also started a photo blog which is sort of on hiatus at the moment until I have more time to snap some photos. But I am tied only very loosely to it, so it will just sit there for now. And I’m okay with that. I’m also okay with not posting here regularly. No pressure.

5. I decided to focus my dharma practice in a more Zen-centered path. I’m enjoying what I’m learning, and struggling to put it all into practice. I’m inching my way forward, but forward nonetheless.

6. Last year I made some resolutions. Let’s see how I did:

  • 1st – no more meat. Verdict: fail! So I don’t eat meat for any meal, whatsoever. I don’t order any meat when we eat out. But my son is a very picky eater. Some of the things he will eat are meaty. Sometimes he doesn’t finish his food. So I eat it. I’d rather it didn’t go to waste considering the manner in which it got to our dinner table. I don’t care if that makes me a non vegetarian or not. I didn’t make the choice about my diet in order to provide myself with a label or status.
  • 2nd – a more committed practice – verdict – fail! I wanted to chant daimoku twice daily and such, but I didn’t. In fact, I decided not to continue practicing strictly in the Nichiren tradition anymore. However I have found other ways to integrate other practices and study into my life. So whatever.
  • 3rd – incorporate meditation into my practice – WIN!!! Yeah, I’ve meditated a bit this year. Nothing strict or regular, but I have. And I’d like to find more time to do so, but not sure how that is going to work with work/school/kids/wife/need to shower and eat.

7. This year my only resolution is to be a better husband and father, and to do my best to be there for my family and balance all of my commitments.

8. The best book I read this year is probably The Eight Gates of Zen. Although I’m currently digesting The Flatbed Sutra of Louie Wing and it is really, really good.

9. Here are the 4 posts I wrote this year that I am most proud of:

Affirm life, Do not kill – it was a post around some of my thoughts/feelings on abortion.

My Personal Internet Usage Policy – this one got the most hits I’ve ever had on one day (400 something) and got really good reception. I even saw some people who said they printed it out and hung it by their computer!

Bringing us back to shore – no one else seemed to like this one, but I did damn it!!!

My Team – I wrote this on July 4th, and it actually has nothing to do with sports, though I think my metaphor got lost. Oh well, I dug it.

If you had a particular favorite that I didn’t mention, let me know in the comments.

10. I discovered that I am now that old guy that doesn’t enjoy any newfangled music! Seriously though, I’ve been able to find very little new music that I like anymore. Here are a few gems that I was able to find:

Chiddy Bang (my interest in hip hop in general is declining, but groups like this and a few other indie MCs out there are keeping my iPod fresh for the time being)

Alberta Cross – excellent Canadian band my friend turned me onto. A distinct Neil Young influence, something I don’t mind in the least.

 

Iron and Wine – amazingly talented music. So talented, you’ll likely never hear it on the radio.

Ray LaMontaingue – ‘soul’ is the first word that comes to mind when listening to Ray LaMontaingue as he plays with all of his and then some.

And the award to the catchiest damn song I heard all year (or was it last year? I don’t remember, I’ve just been unable to get it out of my head):

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Home

 

Here’s to 2011. I hope you all have a wonderful and safe New Years.

Cheers.

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Welcome!

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

First, what’s up with the name?

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

So what is this blog about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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Filed under Book Review, Buddhism, Home Brewing, Other, Parenting, Personal, Political

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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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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Reborn in emotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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A life of impermanence/embarassment

Today is my birthday. I am 27 years old. I don’t need to meditate on a dying corpse to see the truth of impermanence. I can see it in my own life, in my constant death and rebirth. I am lucky to have lived 27 years and I am thankful for each day.
 
For the past 10 years or so, I’ve had a series of (mostly)extremely uneventful birthdays. I’m usually broke (as our my friends/family) and have managed to move residences a bunch of times right around my birthday. Who moves in January? So my birthdays have become less of a day of celebration, and more of a day of nostalgia. A day for me to look back to the past, remembering some of the good times over the years (of which I have had plenty).
 
For fun, I figured I would show you all a little history of the “me”s that have come and gone over these 27 years. They have all since died, but a part of them continues on always. So have fun sharing in my nostalgia/embarassment!

Just a couple of weeks ago when it snowed here.

A week or so after my son was born.

A week or so after my son was born.

My wife and I before the baby. I kind of hate myself here. He looks all rested and full of energy. Jerk.

Enter the Gut (and yes, I was hammerd here)

My best Bill Brasky impersonation after a dozen or so drinks. No, I don't remember college.

oh to be 18 again. I'm sure my father's hairline wishes he was 18 again too.

I was about 16 here. On a tractor, clearing our 4 acres to make a go-kart track.

Puberty was a cruel bitch.

Oh the Nostalgia! I'm the one on the right.

No comment.

I've been a little bit metal my whole life.

Hope you enjoyed. Cheers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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Dig it

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

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

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

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

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

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Mullets, Mustaches…….. and Buddhism?

mullet

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

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

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

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

S7303017

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

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What happend to the beer I brewed?

So about a year ago I brewed a very tasty Belgian Golden Strong Ale. I drank just about all of it, but saved a 22oz bottle for my wife. She was pregnant while the beer was good for drinking, and I wanted to leave her some to try. So the other night we popped it open and she loved it. I had a small bit in a glass as well. I had no idea where this beer had come from. This was not the beer I last tasted 6 months ago!

 What happened? Time. It was the same beer, from the same batch I brewed a year ago. But this was so much better! So much more refined. Better head, richer flavor, a full and complex aroma. All it took was time. You see, there is still a bit of live yeast that travels into the bottle, and when you add the priming sugar, this yeast eats the fresh sugar and carbonates your beer. But this also finishes the process. With time, all the flavors you had hoped for develop, and you end up with (usually) an awesome final product.

 Awhile back I bottled a batch of American Brown Ale. It’s been bottle conditioning for a few weeks. So what makes this beer an American Brown? There’s a list of parameters that it falls into based on color, gravity, flavor, bitterness, aroma, etc…. It’s just an easy reference to classify the wide array of combinations you could come up with. Humans like to classify things. It makes it easier to communicate, and we are social mammals. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 The problem arises when the classifiers take the place of the true object you’re trying to classify. For example, saying that “I’m a college student” or “I’m a delivery driver” is inherently false. These classifiers are not what you truly are, but just a description of one aspect of your life. Your true self is ever changing, ever in motion, and ever evolving. Your true self is not your occupation, skin color, or hair style. These things are simple human attachments and qualifiers, nothing more.

 Ever bumped into someone you haven’t seen in years? Like 5, 10, or 20 years? It’s almost as if you’re bumping into a different person, isn’t it? You even have to re-introduce your self in a way. Why is that? Time. Impermanence of self. I talked before about finding self. But, where the hell is it? It doesn’t seem to remain constant, does it? Are you the person you were 10 years ago?

 I’m not. In fact, I’m thinking of holding a funeral in his honor. He will be missed by some, (though not most if I remember correctly). But that person no longer exists. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you. He’s taking the spiritual equivalent of a dirt nap.

 So, if there is no constant self, what the hell are you? If there is no constant beer, what the hell did I just brew, and what’s gonna happen to it? Let me first say that I haven’t a clue about whether or not there is a “soul”. I’ve never seen, heard, or touched one. I’ve yet to hear a concrete explanation as to what it is, what it’s properties are, where it resides, what it’s purpose is, and why I don’t know it exists. So let’s just forget about that, shall we? Maybe that’s for another brewing session. So who/what the hell am I? Well, I’m not any of the superficial me. I’m not really the physical me. The physical me is changing at a rate and quantity I can’t even begin to fathom. Do you know how many of my cells have lived, multiplied, and died in the time it’s taken me to write this? That’s way to big a number to play “99 bottles of beer on the wall” with.

 So, ok. I’m not really the physical me, since it’s in such a rapid state of change that pinning me down would be nearly impossible. Like my beer, the hundreds of thousands of yeast cells living out their natural life cycle are what is making up it’s physical properties, and it’s in a constant state of flux.

 With all of this physical chaos, it’s no wonder my mind is a mess. Hmmm… maybe I’m my mind. My thoughts. Nah, that’s mostly ego, and the mind’s survival mechanism playing itself out.

 Am I my traits? No, because those change as well. I can remember how much of an asshole I was 10, or even 6 years ago. Thankfully, with the help of time and graduating from the school of hard knocks with an AA in skating by, I was able to realize that being a jerk off wasn’t what I wanted from myself.

 This isn’t getting me anywhere. What about the beer? OK, when I brewed the whole batch, it was all the same. Only time made the difference. It was tasty, effervescent, probably the best beer I’ve ever had. But only after a year or so. The first versions I drank weren’t quite as good. But it was the same damn beer.

 OK, what’s different from me now than before? I’m slightly more responsible, much more handsome, quite humble, and generally a much calmer person. But all of these things I’ve learned over time. It was my past experiences that shaped who I am today. Remembering them helps to provide an anchor to these past experiences, so I may draw upon them to better myself in the present moment. Getting closer now….

 So, my past experiences, thoughts, feelings, these are what have helped shape who I am today, but they are NOT me. The “me” of a year ago is no longer. The “me” that started writing this blog no longer exists. So, again, where/what am I? What about that yeast that’s in the bottom of the bottle, “finishing” the beer? What is it that is “finishing” me? Is it my past experiences? The knowledge that I’ve gained? My emotional self? Maybe my evolving ego and mind?

 What I have come to believe is simply this:

I am the impermeable Adam. I exist in the moment before I realize I exist in the moment I exist in. It is when I realize that I exist that the person who existed in the moment before has departed. It is effortless, mindless awareness that allows me a window into myself.

 And then Attachment.

 Attachment has made you believe you are that selfish person you were 5 years ago when you didn’t share that cab with that stranger you were standing next to who was going to the same neighborhood you were. Attachment has made you believe you are a fat person. But you are not a fat person. You are a person who is fat. You exist independently of your weight issues, your impotence, your compassion. You are impermeable. The words your mind uses to describe you are subjective and not absolute. They are not universal law. You are subject to change at your own discretion.

 Knowing that there is no constant self is liberating. You no longer fit into a frame or mold. You are no longer the person your mind has created. It is also a little weird. If there is no constant self, what is it that is changing?

 Back to the beer. What has changed? The beer is still only water, hops, barely and yeast. That’s it. The only thing that has really changed is a bit of biological process, and my own subjective qualities I’ve placed on the beer. Kinda like myself in a way. A few cells die off, a few glands secrete some juices, and I construct a model of who I am in my own mind. This is me. I’m not a home brewer. But I do home brew. That’s the difference. Cheers.

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