Tag Archives: religion

Excerpt from the Kalama Sutta

I posted this on my tumblr blog today, but thought I would share it here as well.

The Kalama Sutta is often cited (and it is usually only a few lines that are taken out of context) as the gold standard for free inquiry in Buddhism, and as such is often used to justify throwing out teachings that don’t agree with one’s “common sense” – something not found anywhere in the sutta itself. Instead what this sutta expounds is a process for finding the dharma, and this process is mostly self-reliant, but must be tempered by checking what we find by that which is also “praised by the wise”, or else we might come to identify only with “common sense” – which is something we’re trying to transcend in the first place. It is our thinking, clinging mind that makes up “common sense”, and abandoning that clinging mind is pretty much the whole point of taking up this path.

If read carefully, we can see that the Buddha is expounding the dharma using upaya (skillful means) to a specific group of people, but his advice to the Kalamas is universal. That is to say that when one has faith in the path Buddha laid out for us, it is important to take up the path with the intention of self-discovery. Teachers and roshis and wise people we meet on the way are there to help guide us, but we should never rely on an appeal to authority if we are to face our Buddha nature and escape samsara. I think the following excerpt help keeps all of this in context:

“What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For welfare, lord.”

“And this ungreedy person, not overcome by greed, his mind not possessed by greed, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.”

“Yes, lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of aversion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For welfare, lord.”

“And this unaversive person, not overcome by aversion, his mind not possessed by aversion, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.”

“Yes, lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? When lack of delusion arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?”

“For welfare, lord.”

“And this undeluded person, not overcome by delusion, his mind not possessed by delusion, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare & happiness.”

“Yes, lord.”

“So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?”

“Skillful, lord.”

“Blameworthy or blameless?”

“Blameless, lord.”

“Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?”

“Praised by the wise, lord.”

“When adopted & carried out, do they lead to welfare & to happiness, or not?”

“When adopted & carried out, they lead to welfare & to happiness. That is how it appears to us.”

“So, as I said, Kalamas: ‘Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness” — then you should enter & remain in them.’ Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

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Justice?

Last night as I was working on homework, I saw my twitter stream go nuts. Within less than 30 second there were 45 new tweets (this is a lot for my stream, I’m only following like 380 people). Reports were coming in that Osama Bin Laden had been caught or killed. No, definitely killed. US has his body. Obama to give conference soon…Then Obama gave his speech, confirming that yes, we had finally caught the man behind the USS Cole and 9/11 (and many other attacks).

During his speech, Obama made the statement “Justice has been done”.

“Justice”? Revenge? Yes. Justice? Hardly. I don’t see how this is justice. First, how is there any justice found in death? For a few reasons I am against the death penalty, but mainly because I don’t see how it is a punishment. What punishment is found in death? I can find none. Remember when we found Saddam? And he looked like this:

 

He basically became a laughing-stock. Look at him! We showed the world that this despot had no power left, and had been reduced to hiding out *literally* in a hole in the ground. He was then tried and sentenced to death in front of the whole world. This is what we do with even the most vile and lowly among us here in America. We give them a trial. But with Bin Laden, that ending never had a chance to happen. Instead, he went down in a blaze of glory, fighting his enemies to the bitter end. A martyr. Rather than demonstrate our own ideals of democratic justice, we ended up just killing the man. The SEALS obviously did their jobs, and returned fire like they should have, I’m not questioning their decisions, nor Obama’s. But I think somehow an opportunity was missed. We fed into the shoot-first-ask-later stereotype we’re associated with globally. Coupled with Bin Laden’s heroic death, our actions may just end up giving our enemies something new to fight for, one more thing to hate America over.

Back to the point of justice, how does this one death provide justice for all the lives he helped to destroy? How does it right the wrongs that led up to the attacks on the USS Cole and 9/11?  How does it right all of the wrongs carried out since? I don’t think it does. I think Osama Bin Laden was a real piece of shit. And there isn’t any doubt that the world is a bit better off today now that he isn’t in it. But I can’t find a shred of justice in his death. Maybe peace and comfort to some, and vengeance for others. But justice is sorely lacking in this situation.

I believe that rather than celebrating this death, we should attempt to examine the situation at hand on a little more of a global scale, checking our nationalism at the door. Let’s acknowledge that the world is just a little less evil than it was the day before Bin Laden was taken from it. But let’s also acknowledge the fact that the systems in place that created Bin Laden are still present today, and that our country still faces threats to our liberty both foreign and domestic. Maybe we can use this opportunity to examine how it is that Bin Laden came out as the winner in this situation.

Before I end, let me be clear. It’s not that I’m upset about this happening. I’m not. Like I said, the guy was a colossal piece of shit, a total waste of existence. I’m just not up for celebrating death, especially when it is being used as some kind of national rallying cry. I think I’ll save my celebrations for when we end the Patriot Act and bring our troops home. Then you might see me waving a flag in the streets.

Cheers.

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Raising spiritual children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s a Buddhist?

Someone that follows the teachings of the Buddha.

What did he teach?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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Affirm life; do not kill

— On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags lay in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus.

Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where they had been hidden for a year — apparently to conceal illegal abortions.

…Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions — if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal.

…Suchart Poomee, 38, one of the undertakers being questioned, confessed Tuesday he had been hired by illegal abortion clinics to destroy the fetuses, police said. He said he had been collecting the fetuses since November 2009. It was not clear why they had not yet been cremated.

The above is from the following article, please take a short minute to read it.

I’ve been thinking about posting on the issue of abortion for a while now, and this article presented a good context for it. At first I was shocked and saddened by what happened, mostly it was just at the magnitude of that many dead fetuses. For me this article brings to light issues that fall outside of the black/white pro-choice/pro-life debate we usually hear about. I don’t know if there is a unifying theme to my thoughts here, so I think I’ll just go for it, and ask for your forgiveness regarding the scattered nature of this post..

First thing I think about is the entire premise of pro-life/choice. Seeing death of this magnitude definitely makes me question my long-held stance of being pro-choice. It’s hard for me to argue for someone else’s right to do something like that.

I find I sometimes have to remove the human element away from the situation in order to argue in favor of being pro-choice. I wonder if it is possible to feel empathetic toward all those involved in the process, and what that looks like.

I don’t want to force a woman to have a baby if she doesn’t want to, regardless the reason. And I sure as shit don’t want to see a return to back-alley abortions.

I wonder if it is more disheartening because of the magnitude of seeing thousands of fetuses all there, all at once. It’s in my face and not in the back of a clinic with no windows. I wonder what else I take for granted simply because it happens behind a door in a place I’ve never been.

I wonder what those at the temple have to go through when dealing with the aftermath of these illegal abortions.

I don’t like the term pro-life. It isn’t accurate. Many of the same people who call themselves “pro-life” are also “pro-war” and “pro-death penalty”. Clearly all life is not precious to them. Why the distinction?

The doctrine of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) comes to mind when I try to think of this topic. Sometimes I think that I’d be okay with abortion if it was done in the 1st trimester if by choice (later for medical reasons). But then I start to wonder where it is that life begins. Is it when the brain has activity? The heart beats? When the sperm fertilizes the egg? When I try to think of this in terms of dependant origination I can’t pinpoint the moment where life begins. I keep going back to the sperm, and egg. The egg that was present when my daughter was fertilized in my wife’s womb actually grew in her mother’s womb, where an egg that was fertilized had been since she had been in her mother’s womb and back and back to all the ancestors of our collective past. All of this is precious.

I think that abstinence only sex-ed doesn’t work. Not at all. Clearly this is evidence of that. Humans want sex. Teenagers want it even more. (and yes, I did just draw a distinction between humans and horny teenagers)

Birth control is there to help prevent people from having an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy, but it’s only 98-99% effective. I have 2 children that can attest to the other 1-2%. Our planet can’t continue to grow at the rate we’re breeding and people shouldn’t have to be brought in this world to parents that want nothing to do with them when there are other options available. Sometimes biology happens. Sometimes you make the best of it, and alter your life and raise two beautiful children. Sometimes it isn’t possible to bring a child into the world and offer her what she needs.

  

Is killing sperm the same as killing an embryo the same as having an abortion at 4 months? If yes: Really? If no: how come?

When does a fetus become a baby?

Legislating morality in the way it seems to happen in Thailand (as well as in many other places) leads to situations like this. Illegal abortions. People put in awkward and potentially dangerous positions.

We legislate morality all the time. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Who’s morality is better? There will never be a system that gets it right 100% of the time.

I believe that non-theraputic male circumcision is wrong. How do I justify that stance with being pro-choice?

I think there are too many filters to view this through, which is why we’ll never resolve this issue. Ever. It is legal, political, moral, and personal. All or none at once. The fetus has a right to attempt to become a person. The woman has a right to not be a mother. The doctor has a right not to perform the procedure. The courts have a right to say who is right and who is wrong.

How do we affirm life and support everyone involved? How do we apply the Bodhisattva vow when it comes to abortion?

The article says that the fetuses were placed in the bags by workers when they were found. Were they just out in the open before this? The image of thousands of fetuses just lying around a morgue is horrifying to me. I haven’t been able to shake it.

For the first time in my life I am able to understand those that picket outside of an abortion clinic. Most definitely there are those that are there for religious and political reasons, but I know that some of them just care. Deeply. And I identify with that.

I understand the desperation a soon-to-be parent can feel. I will never be able to feel that through the filter of motherhood, but as a parent I can say that those shoes are familiar ones. I feel for those that feel the need to end a pregnancy early. But I will never have a woman’s perspective on this.

I feel for those that miscarry. I feel for those that lose a child, no matter what age.

I think I am glad that women have the option, but I wish that it was an option rarely exercised.

I have no easy answers. The gray is too strong on this one.

Edit: I originally had a picture of my 2 children included, but after reading this over a few times felt that wasn’t a good choice for a photo. Not sure why. So I replaced it.

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The Lesser of Two Evils

It’s election day. Well, kind of. Here in Washington State, we receive our ballots in the mail a few weeks before the election. I love this as it gives me the ability to look at an initiative or candidate on the ballot, read through the voter’s pamphlet, and do some research online all at the same time, and all in my underwear with a bottle of home brew in my hand if I so choose.

I’ve really been struggling this election. Usually I refuse to succumb to the “lesser of two evils” approach to voting. Thankfully in my state there were 8-10 candidates running for President that made it onto our ballot in ’08, so I didn’t have to choose between 2 candidates I felt would have been bad for the job. However now that the primaries are over, I don’t really have that choice in the current election. It’s either red/blue democrat/republican (and all establishment) on pretty much all of the races. In the past I’ve voted as a way to endorse a candidate I felt would represent my and my districts/states interests well, and if neither candidate was worthy, I would abstain in that particular category.

The lesser of two evils? Not according to this interesting bar graph...

But I don’t have that luxury this time around. To not consider the ramifications of my actions is irresponsible and naïve. The Senate race between Senator Murray and challenger Dino Rossi is a close one, and could sway the majority in the Senate one way or the other. The race in my Congressional district is also a fairly close one. My choices in these two races are actually pretty easy as I like both Rick Larsen and Patty Murray, and feel like they do a good job most of the time. Some of the state races I’ve yet to decide about though. It’s an important decision as it is a census year. The congress that we elect will have the power to draw up new district maps, which will influence politics, elections, and federal money destinations for the next 10 years.

We also have several ballot initiatives here. 2 concerning the state liquor laws, one that proposes a state income tax on those making over 200,000/year (or 400,000 combined family) and one that deals with taxes on junk food and bottled water.

The reason I’m posting about this here is because in Buddhism we can’t leave our ethics and morality on the proverbial cushion. If we are to truly engage the precepts and teachings, then we must strive to apply them in all aspects of our lives. And at the core of those teachings is the process of examination. There isn’t a blanket list of “do’s” and “don’ts” (except for some directed at the monastics) in Buddhism. Instead we’re asked to examine each moment and situation as it is, fully and use the precepts and teachings to help guide our actions. We must contemplate the possible effects of our actions, as well as our intentions and the motivations behind those intentions. I don’t think there is a Buddhist Way to vote, nor do I advocate any such premise. But I do believe that we should bring our process of examination into those political actions that we undertake. Buddhist practice isn’t something to turn on and off like a light switch (though it is a stubborn switch to leave on, isn’t it?) when we please. It is something that we bring into the marketplace, into the dust and dirt of life.

The moral and ethical teachings are relative for a reason. There are no one-size-fits all answers to the questions and situations that arise in this vast world. Instead what we have are guideposts, and tiny bodhisattvas that sit on our shoulders and ask us “why?” “where does this volition come from?” And so it should be when it comes time to make a decision that will effect not only my life, but my children’s, my neighbors, and this whole world.

Take for instance the liquor law initiative. Right now in this state, if you want liquor, you have to go to a state-run liquor store to buy it. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and the prices are pretty high. When I first moved here I was blown away at this draconian system. However if this initiative rolls through, the liquor stores will be gone and grocery stores can begin selling liquor on their shelves. With this comes the end of a government monopoly (something I usually oppose depending on the issue) increased access, and lower prices on booze. But this also comes with increased access for teens to obtain alcohol, a loss of revenue for the state (which we currently CANNOT afford) and a loss of jobs for all of those employees. Here, sticking to an ideal (government = bad, private sector = always better) would have potentially fatal consequences, and have ramifications that will stretch out far and wide. If this doesn’t pass, we still have booze, albeit an ineffectual system for distributing it. Personally I’d like to see some modifications of the current laws (more stores, open more hours, lower prices) that kept revenue flowing to the state and liquor out of the hands of kids as much as possible.

I hate broad brushes. I’ve never once voted straight-party. Liberal or Conservative, neither has all the right answers. The lines between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are blurry at times. Life is relative. And I think this is why the Democratic party consistently fails. They embrace the relative while the Republicans stick to their ideals and policy of absolutes. They always have 1 message. 1 platform. The Democrats have more messages and more platforms than The Flying Spaghetti Monster has noodly appendages. It’s a tough sell when your party slogan makes for a better .PDF than a placard. But this is a more accurate description of America, isn’t it? Do we have one voice about anything? I digress…

I have no interest in thinking about how The Buddha would vote, or voting in a “Buddhist” way. The Christian Right has been doing this for years in our country. Groupthink and religious politics largely disgusts me.  However I am interested applying the dharma to my decision-making process in and of itself. Not in choosing who to vote for, but in examining the process I’ll use in making my decisions.

Cheers.

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A Zen cage for my monkey mind: my journey into Buddhism (part 2 of 2)

 

So in my post yesterday I gave a little background into my motivations for taking up this Buddhist path. For me, recollecting this was an important part of my current journey. Ever since breaking ties with SGI, I’ve been fine being an “unaffiliated” Buddhist. However, I’ve been realizing more and more that this type of path is so crooked and covered in brambles that I’m never likely to make it far. I know myself enough to know that “loose-knit” just isn’t going to work for me.

On my last post a commenter asked if committing to a particular school was necessary (I go this question on Twitter as well). I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary. However, rather than finding it limiting or too narrow, I find practicing within a framework more liberating. I have no real access to a real life teacher/dharma center/sitting group which makes focus hard enough as it is. Family matters are my primary concern, along with my 40+ hour/week job. So for me, establishing at least some type of framework will be liberating in the sense that I’ll be a little less scattered and a little more focused in my pursuits.

So I’m leaning toward Zen. That’s something I never thought I’d say actually. In the beginning I thought Theravada was the path for me, being as close as one could get to one of the original schools of Buddhism. That was important because at the time I was only really concerned with what The Buddha™ taught. I thought that Zen was so far off from anything the Buddha taught that it shouldn’t really be called Buddhism. I also thought that since the Mahayana sutras were probably not conceived until well after the Buddha died, that made them invalid on some level.

Well that was then and this is now. I’m finding that Zen is a practice that better suits a lay person with my motivations than others I’ve encountered and looked into. I’ve realized that it doesn’t really matter if the Buddha delivered the Mahayana sutras or not, because they and the schools that use them work; for me the proof is in the pudding. I should also state that my decision to pursue Zen didn’t come about because of an aversion to another school. I don’t care about who is right or wrong. Dharma pissing contests are as important to me as Protestants who squabble over whether baptisms should consist of water splashed on the head or being submerged in a Louisiana swamp. I’m choosing this path because it speaks to me, not because all the other ones don’t.

It seems to me that Zen very much focuses on the nature of mind, but brings it down into the dirty marketplace of life. Particularly I have an interest in the Rinzai school and their greater focus on koans (I also so far enjoy Hakuin more than I do Dogen) though as I said without a teacher/center close by it doesn’t really make any sense for me to narrow things down that much. I also understand some of the limitations I’ll face by “going it alone” for the time being, but I’m fine with that. I have much to study, and a meditation practice to integrate more fully with my daily routine. Maybe once things are settled a bit with the baby and I figure out what I’m doing about school in the winter, I’ll drop by a temple in Seattle a few times next year and find out if that’s something I want to pursue with regularity in the future.

So there it is. For now I’ll be using a Zen cage to trap my monkey mind. That doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly adopted a set of beliefs and now believe in the greater Zen dogma. For me it’s more like a rusty compass to help me get where I’m going.

Cheers.

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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.

Whoa.

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!

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Parenting, Personal

My thoughts on “Socially Engaged” Buddhism

There certainly has been quite a lot of talk lately about Socially Engaged Buddhism, and whether or not it is crap, real, necessary, or unavoidable. I’ve completely avoided commenting anywhere on any of the posts about this. I’m guessing that if you read this blog, you’ve seen some of the discussions come up elsewhere as well. If not, check out Nathan’s blog for his take (he also linked to most of the other discussions/posts there) as I think it’s worth reading.

I’ve thought quite a bit about this the last couple of days, and given it quite a bit of thought. Let’s start with defining it. From Wiki:

Engaged Buddhism refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice. Finding its roots in Vietnam through the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Engaged Buddhism has grown in popularity in the West.

John over at Point of Contact had this to say:

(via Jizo Chronicles) How is this different than mundane/non-engaged/boring Buddhism? Because still the only difference I see in the inclusion of social activism. And with that inclusion you can count me out. My activism is not dictated by my religion but is an organic creation from my personal, day-to-day practice.

Why put a meaningless label on it?

(via Point of Contact)Don’t practice social engagement as a Buddhist.  Don’t practice charity as a Buddhist. Don’t show compassion as a Buddhist. These are the things that every personal practice should contain without contraining them with religious identity.  When you chose to show charity, compassion or social engagement as a part of your personal practice you can do so without waving a religious banner.  Do it for the benefit for others.  Period.  End of sentence.  No strings attached.  No politics or banners.  Slogans or comments.  No conversions or evangelizing.

Part of me certainly agrees with John. When one is engaged fully in their practice, the changes one incurs will naturally be brought out into other aspects into their lives. But part of me agrees with what we find in the definition here. “Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights” to me says that people are seeking a vehicle in which to apply what they have learned and experienced to greater social causes. This is the same thing we find with organized/structured religion. One might not want to use labels or constructs, but I think having a Zen or Pure Land or Therevadan framework is helpful and can be conductive. They are rafts to use when crossing the river, which are to be discarded when one reaches the other shore. I’m wondering if this is what those that consider themselves Socially Engaged Buddhists are doing as well.

Kyle over at The Reformed Buddhist had this to say the other day:

I don’t want this to come across as yet another rant against politics or social justice, as these are all fine undertakings, just as much as opening a soup kitchen, teaching a child to ride a bike or making dinner for the family. But when we attempt to justify these endeavors as the purpose or goal of Buddhist teachings, then the practice becomes something other than Buddhism. They are at best, distractions from our practice and are just more squirrel mind running ramped. And at worst, they are delusional additions to Buddhist teachings in order to create an artificial goal of happiness, or social change or whatever the extra desires may be.

What he and a few others referred to was that the goal (yes, I know….) of Buddhist practice isn’t to help others, do charitable works or any of the other things that fall under the “Socially Engaged” tent, but rather that the end goal of Buddhism is the cessation of suffering. Certainly I agree with that. Plenty of the Pali texts end with the Buddha bringing whatever it was that he was teaching in that particular sutta back to the Four Noble Truths. It always comes back to suffering, the source of suffering, the knowledge that there is a way to end suffering and then the path out of suffering.  And with this again, I have to agree.

And yet, Nathan had this to say regarding the “looking (only) within” aspect of the path:

This is an old, old debate between those who argue Buddhism is about working to disengage from worldly concerns, and those who see Buddhism as a path that includes coming back to “the marketplace” (Ox Herding Pics) if you will. I think everyone is on a continuum between these two extremes, from solitary monks living in the mountains to lifelong social activists whose work is deliberately guided by Buddhist teachings.

With Nathan I have to agree as well. But I think that even within each individual we find people fall into different places on their own continuum. Some of us bring our practice into politics, others check it at the door. But those who bring it into politics might not bring it with the same fervor when it comes to familial manners. And it is here where I think some of John and Kyle’s (and others!) frustrations over who gets to define what “Engaged Buddhism” means. I am no less engaged than someone else simply because I decide to not be as vocal about issues of race or gender equality as others out there who may not be as vocal about environmental or poverty issues as I am (examples). I also wonder if it’s a slippery slope into “if you are an Engaged Buddhist, you will vote/believe/speak out against/for topics a, b, and c.”

Along these same lines, I have seen plenty of suttra thumping over various topics around the blogosphere/forums/interwebs. Rather than analyzing their own intentions, opinions, and leanings; there are those that would simply say “I’m a Buddhist so I believe such and such”. If I ever say that, please kick me in the nuts. I didn’t adopt a specific set of beliefs when I decided to walk this path. I never said “Hey, I’m a Buddhist now, so I believe in “z” because it says so in X suttra.” Those are all appeals to authority and the Buddha-dharma has no room for those. Now I do believe that belief has a large role to play in Buddhism, but it is more of a trust-based belief. The way that you follow the advice of a doctor even though you don’t fully understand the science behind what it is he has to say. You apply the advice, and if it works, well, it works.

Much of this path lies in the process of discovery and inquiry. Something I’ve been digging at lately is the topic of abortion. Certainly it is a social and political issue. Does Engaged Buddhism allow for both Pro-Choice and Pro-life social activists? (I think I’ll save my personal thoughts on this for a later post.) If “economic justice” is included in Engaged Buddhism, does a Buddhist Tea-Partier that believes we shouldn’t tax the wealthy at a higher rate than the poor have the same voice as the liberal who believes we should tax people because they are wealthy? One could argue issues of economic “justice” for either side depending on one’s politics. Maybe that’s where things are getting messy for some. Maybe it’s that people are bringing their politics into Buddhism, rather than bringing their practice to their politics.

Is this all just coming down to “who gets to define ‘engaged'”? Is it just about the labels?

One final thought. John had raised some points about doing things in the name of Buddhism. Certainly many of us here in the US are familiar with Christian organizations that give out a side-order of proselytizing with their charity. During my homeless months in Seattle, I slept in a church basement at night. We were never preached to nor were we asked to even attend service. Some did and some didn’t. It was truly charity for charity sake. Of course, there was also one of the food lines I stood in where they handed out Vitamin C tablets with a Jesus pamphlet (had to take it if you wanted the vitamin). These two different approaches definitely left two distinct tastes in my mouth (and not just because of the vitamins).

So it got me thinking. Imagine the week after the earthquake in Haiti, two groups of people went down to dig two wells. The first group is a Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/Muslim/pick your religion group who goes down and announces that they are the “X religious group” here to dig a well. They dig, and leave without ever directly trying to convert anyone, but they are sure to mention that “hey, we’re such and such, of course we’ll help!” Awesome. Well is dug and people have clean drinking water.

The second group has no affiliation. They are just a bunch of random strangers that met on craigslist and wanted to help out in Haiti. So they go down and dig the well. The villagers ask “are you with such-and-such church?”. “No” they reply. “We’re just fellow humans, of course we’ll help.” Awesome. Well is dug and people have clean drinking water.

In then end isn’t the well still dug either way? Or is there a difference? Does it matter if the religous group leaves their conversion attempts at their door, even if they announce they are doing God’s/Allah’s/Cthulu’s work? (I have yet to see a charitable Cthulu cult but if you know of one, please let me know).

At first when I came up with this scenario I thought the second group’s impact would be much more profound in that the beneficiaries of their charitable actions would see that it doesn’t take any type of organization or religion to foster compassion for fellow human beings and such. But then I realized that compassion is a key component in many of the world’s religions, and something most of us could all work on in our daily lives. And that it’s nice to have an organization to support that effort. It’s nice to have a website and an organization to find like-minded people with which one can be of service to others. Because while the second group sure is a nice ideal, we all know what people really use craigslist for 😉

So really I’m fairly undecided about all this. And that was the real intent behind this post. I realized that I had no preconceived opinion about Socially Engaged Buddhism. And that listening to all the dialogue going back and forth was interesting, but it wasn’t an organic way to form an opinion that was mine. I’m usually quite opinionated, but for some reason this issue threw up a huge road block for me. It was awesome. I’ve no doubt that social conditioning has some part to play in whatever opinion I do ultimately form around this, but it’s liberating and refreshing knowing that I can walk into a discussion and have zero knee-jerk responses. I’m not sure the last time that has happened.

I came across the following from the Pabbata Sutta that I think fits nicely with this theme:

“ Like a mountain of rock
in the wilderness, in a mighty grove,
dependent on which there prosper
lords of the forest, great trees —
in the same way,
those who here live dependent on
a clansman of conviction
— consummate in virtue —
prosper:
wife & children,
friends, dependents, & kin.

Seeing the virtue of that virtuous one,
his liberality & good conduct,
those who are perceptive follow suit.
Having, here in this world, followed the Dhamma,
the path to a good destination,
they delight in the world of the devas,
enjoying the pleasures they desire.”

Cheers.

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“I never really cared for smells & bells” – an Interview with Jomon of the blog “Nothing to Attain”

Every so often, Nate over at the Precious Metal blog throws out a call for some sort of blog swap. This time we were tasked with interviewing the blogger we were paired up with. You can see a list of all those participating here. I was paired up with Jomon (Laura) from the wonderful blog “Nothing to Attain“. Update: my portion of the interview is up at Laura’s blog here. Here’s the interview:

In exactly 108 words, describe Laura to the world.

Hah!  I have really go to work on being too dang wordy!  108 words would be a great practice for the blog!

Speaking of transplanting (see her questions to me on her blog), what about it met your expectations? What about moving to the West Coast shocked you or failed to live up to your expectations? What is it that you miss about the Mid-West? What is it that you will never, ever miss?

I miss my parents and my mid-West friends but they now have a wonderful place to visit.  I seriously miss Major League Baseball.  Portland is tough for baseball fans, and worse for this third-generation Cardinals fan (my maternal grandmother used to take my mom out of school to watch games).  Not only does Portland not have a major league baseball team, we are losing our AAA team!  So my husband Patrick got the iPhone app that allows us to listen to all the MLB radio broadcasts.  We get to hear all the corny St Louis area car dealer commercials we grew up with.  And don’t hate me, but I still love Budweiser.  I know, seriously, I’m living in Beervana, and I still love Budweiser.  I tried, I really did.  I guess you can take the girl outta St Louis…

I do believe it is safe to say that I will never, ever miss pulling ticks off of my skin and clothing after hikes in the woods.  I continue to be shocked and awed by the beauty of the PNW.   That and the prevalence of Buddhism.  The midwest has pockets of teachers and practice centers, but not the wealth we have on the coasts, especially the number of retreat centers.  And Portland!  Throw a baseball in Southeast Portland and you’re likely to hit a Buddhist.

How do you balance your personal life with your practice/sangha?

Personal life has pretty much fused with practice / sangha.  My husband and I got married at Great Vow Zen Monastery.  We had a realization that spiritual practice needed to be at the center of our lives.  We didn’t need to be in the same tradition; we just happen to be lucky that we both managed to find our way onto the same path.

So now my husband is the president of the ZCO Board, and I’ve been the Portland Shuso for the past year, and serving on a few committees as well.  We both have held various service positions, like chant leader, and bell-ringer over the years.  I guess our center is benefitting from the fact that we don’t and probably won’t have children.  I feel something like motherly love towards our Sangha and temple.  Patrick and I sometimes look at each other, awestruck at whatever it is — luck, good karma — that brought us to such a place of deep, authentic practice.

Letsee, though, non-Buddhist stuff — dragonboating is a great activity — I’ve been taking a bunch of yoga classes, doing photography, going to basketball or baseball games.  We do our best to get out into the forests or camping on the coast.  And there may be another attempt at a dog this fall.  We are such dog people; it is painful to be without a dog for this long.

Do you have a favorite sutra, or one that speaks to you more than any others?

You mean like reading the Sutras?  Heretofore I have not done a lot of reading on Zen and Buddhism.  I know that is a bit backwards from many practitioners, who get inspired by reading then start practicing.  I have read some of the Vimilakirti Sutra.  Just reading Robert Thurman’s intro to his translation was enough for me to chew on for months!

We regularly chant the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra.  That is where the name of my blog comes from:  “With nothing to attain a Bodhisattva relies on Prajna paramita and thus the mind is without hindrance.  Without hindrance there is no fear.”

One of my biggest struggles in life and in practice is with attainment.  Getting somewhere.  Being somebody.  Improving.  Meeting goals and objectives.  It gets at the heart of a deep assumption that I am somebody and that there is something inherently wrong, or unworthy about that somebody.  The words “nothing to attain” serve as such a great reminder that this is not at all the case.

Same question kind of, but instead of sutra, whats the one koan that has spoken to you, or ‘shook’ you more than any other?

This is a good question — my experience with koan practice in general is that koan practice itself shakes me to the core, and then shakes that ‘core’ apart!  Koans lure out all our best strategies and then they reveal those strategies to us as completely ineffectual.  I suspect they are all pointing to something more than just our best thinking and strategies.  I have most recently worked on “the True Person of no rank,” and that one flirted with me, charmed me, and then it grabbed me and held on.

What’s up with Rinzai?  What made you choose Rinzai? It seems that the Soto school of Zen is the more popular one here in the US, so I’m wondering what it was that drew you there.

Our teachers come from the Yasutani-Maezumi lineage, which is really a fusion of Soto and Rinzai.  Currently their teacher is Shodo Harada Roshi, a Rinzai teacher, and his influence can be felt deeply.  I certainly didn’t research all the branches of Buddhism and then pick “The One” for me.  I just happened to trip over myself and land in the laps of some very amazing teachers who have come out of this / these lineages.  It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t go all researching about.  I would have developed a bunch of ideas about what Zen is, what Rinzai and Soto is, and it probably would have made a convincing argument to myself to stay the hell away from all of it!  Zen has such a macho rep, and there is some truth to that, I suppose.  I hear some of that from people who from the outside say Zen is “too disciplined”, “too regimented”, “too cold”.  I have been fortunate to practice in a woman-led Sangha, and with such skilled teachers, and such a mature Sangha, that in my experience, there is a really huge, warm heart in Zen!  Roshi Chozen has been doing a Metta Sesshin for many years.  It was controversial at first because Metta is not officially a Zen practice, but she acknowledges there was some need to warm it up a little.

More on Rinzai: how would you describe Rinzai to someone that knows next to nothing about it? What advice would you give to someone thinking about diving in to that particular school?

I have rewritten this answer until it is hash.  And I still do not feel adequate to really say something useful and I am not exactly sure that the following is not  a bunch of bullcrap.  I can pretty much just say some of the things I have heard our teachers say about the distinction, and I have felt the distinction when they have done more Rinzai-inspired sesshin, so please, add grain o’ salt here.

One of the differences is that of gradual (Soto) vs immediate (Rinzai) enlightenment.  The Soto school stresses that we are already Buddha.  The Rinzai school stresses pointed effort and the experience of kensho.  To me, when you put them together, it is like Suzuki Roshi’s comment that we are all fine just the way we are, and we need to do better.

This intensity of Rinzai appeals to me very deeply.  We don’t know if this is our last moment.  So to practice intensely is in alignment with that deep truth.  And it reminds me of the wholeheartedness of dragon boating.  A close friend of mine described my husband and me as “constitutionally incapable of phoning it in.”  This is not to say that a Soto practice is not intense; that shikantaza is not an all-consuming practice.  This is why I defer an answer to an actual teacher.  What the hell do I know about it?

Rinzai, Soto, Zen, Insight, Shambhala… regardless of where you practice, the advice I would give anybody about diving into any spiritual community would be the same — to show up.  More than once.  To take your time, to observe, to pay attention to your heart and your head in equal measure, to ask around about the reputation of the place, to observe the senior students, to see if the people at this Temple have something you want.

If I knew anything about anything before I started practicing, I swear I would have thought I’d have to be an Insight Meditation practitioner wearing layers of colorful drapey clothing, and purple scarves, not so much Buddha, more mindfulness.  I never really cared for smells & bells.  I had to come at it slowly.  It took me a year to really begin a regular practice with the community downtown.  There was never any pressure, just a constant, open-handed offering.   I found that for me, it’s not really about the forms.  It’s the relationships.  The Sangha.  Whatever form that takes is not so important I think. I mean, it is, but the important thing is to practice.  To show up.  That is the most important thing.

What sparked the moment when you said Yes! Buddhism is it for me! (or whatever)

It was after my first weekend meditation retreat.  This was a super-gentle, Vipassana-led, women-only, completely permissive retreat at a really nice hippie-run hot springs resort out here.  You can’t get a more gentle intro to retreat practice.  And even so, holy shit it was hard!  All that sitting with my bored, pained, dissatisfied, worried, judging, self-critical self.  And while things did smooth out a little bit by the end of the retreat, it wasn’t until a few days afterwards that my soon-to-be husband and I were having a VERY painful discussion about our relationship, which was in crisis.  And for the first time in my life, I could actually HAVE that discussion, and actually hear him, and really hold his feelings and experience before just reacting with my own defensiveness.  It was not just mind-boggling, but it turned out to be what saved our relationship.  Yes!  Buddhism is for me!

Does your extended family all practice? Or are you the black sheep? How do they feel about it? Has it caused any strife?

My parents do not understand it at all.  I think they might worry a little bit.  They’re a bit old school Christians, and I know they’re a bit uncomfortable with the “graven images” of Buddha.  I get that.  But we can and do talk about it, and I think they have been reassured to some degree that there is no worship of an idol going on here.  There is nothing I could do to diminish my parents’ love for me.  They are worriers, though. As far as extended family Buddhists, I am apparently related to Jimmie Dale Gilmore by marriage.  It’s a fairly remote connection, but if you count my extended family out that far, then I’m not alone in practicing Buddhism.  Otherwise, yeah.  Becoming a Buddhist came totally outta left field for my family, but it’s not much of a struggle with them.  My dad isn’t interested.  I don’t talk about it much to them.  They really don’t get how we can take so much time off to attend retreats.  That is just so not in their Protestant Work Ethic frame of reference.  It’s become such a clear priority for our lives.  And our lives have been gradually reflecting more of this priority all the time. They just want me to be happy, and I think they can see a lot of the contentment and satisfaction, the fruits of practice, so that is reassuring to them.

What is it in life that you struggle with most?

Confidence.

What is it in your practice that you struggle with most?

Confidence.

What do you tell people who are unfamiliar with Buddhism when they ask you about it?

I think most people who are unfamiliar with Buddhism are surprised that all Buddhists are not necessarily vegetarians.  That and the Buddha is not worshipped as a God.

Why blog?

I have no idea!  Seriously!  I thought it would be for my Illinois friends and others.  I thought this would be how we could kind of stay in touch.  But they don’t really read my blog.  They’re always, “oh yeah.  What’s the address for that again?”  But now I have made a few connections through the blog that really does feel like community.  I am happy to be so focused on my own practice and the temple and all, but it is also really nice to have this broad sense of Sangha.  I think it’s a real connector for Gen X practitioners, too.  Our brick-and-mortar Sangha is comparatively well-dispersed generationally, but I know that is not really the case around the country, and there is some understandable concern about what will happen when the Boomer generation has gone.  Buddhist blogging can be a doorway into practice, I think.

What types of changes have you noticed in yourself/not-self since you began practicing?

Heh heh!  Not-self…  Yeah, that cookie keeps trying to crumble, which has not been a real comfy experience I tellya.  I am a lot less wound up and a lot less of a perfectionist.  My standards for myself and my surroundings have gotten a little more relaxed.  I was pretty hyper-organized, always 5 or 10 minutes early for everything, and while not a clean freak, there was a bit more of a tendency to lose the forest for the trees sometimes.  There was a point in my practice when all of that just kind of started melting down.  It was awful!  It was definitely against my will, and I just had to deal with it.  It seemed like there was a big part of self-identity that was held together by this anxiety, and once that started letting go, it all just started falling apart, and I would forget really important things, I would double-book appointments then forget both of them.  Missed appointments, forgotten promises dramatic screw-ups.  My old strategies just stopped working, and it was really disturbing.  And yet, I found that the world didn’t end.  My friends and colleagues still cared about me, even if I dropped the ball on some really important things.  This is similar to the lessons from being the chant leader.  The experience of making mistakes in front of the community.  Not only have I lived to tell, but the community still accepts me!  And that acceptance is not based upon being perfect at anything.  It’s not about a me that is doing.  It’s about just being.  I have observed practice having a balancing effect on others, too.  It is amazing, really.

What do you care about now that you may not have paid much attention to before?

I think before, my spiritual practice (probably universally), was about feeling better, or feeling more in control of my life.  I don’t know that that is necessarily changed,but now, in addition to continually being treated to the reality of no control, there is a deeper question: “What is TRUE?”  Which can just be there, control or no control, feeling better or feeling worse.  What is TRUE?

Thank you for taking the time for this interview/swap! It has been fun and informative!

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A practice of process/process of practice

Butterfly at the Pacific Science Center, Seattle WA

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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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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Super-powering your way to Nirvana

Recently at work we had a “get to know you” type conference call. I’m the only person in my position at my center, and our company’s centers are spread throughout the country. So other than the occasional email or IM, we rarely get to connect with each other. We had to list a bunch of random personal information (favorite food, most played song on iPod, what you wanted to be when you grew up etc…) but there was one question in particular that stuck out to me, based on the responses.

The question was, “if you could have any super power, what would it be?” The top 3 answers by far were : the ability to stop time, invisibility, and teleportation. As far as I know, I’m the only Buddhist out of the group. But these answers all have a very Buddhist theme don’t they? Seems everyone is trying to escape samsara! People would rather be anywhere than right here, right now. Rather than deal with a difficult situation, it’s easier to flee or become invisible. I suppose that this isn’t too surprising though really. But it just shows that each of us is trying to deal with the suffering we face everyday. Some choose to engage it, some try to end it, and some try to run away from it. No matter our traditions our religious affiliations, we certainly all seem to share this common element.

My answer? I want the ability that whenever I need to purchase something, the exact amount of $$ would be in my wallet. Not filthy rich, just enough so that I wouldn’t have to worry about money ever again. C.R.E.A.M. bitches!!!!!!!!!!!

Cheers…..

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Atheism vs(?) Buddhism

Over on Sweep the Dust, John asks “Can Buddhism be completely atheistic?” I replied in the comments there, but I’d like to elaborate a bit here as well.

Atheism is tricky to pin down now ‘a days. There is the “extreme” atheism that denies the existence of anything supernatural whatsoever, including karma and rebirth. And then there are those that identify as atheists simply because they don’t believe in god/gods. Either one is fine by me. I can embrace the atheistic idea of no deities, but I choose not to define myself by what I don’t believe in.

I believe Buddhism to be largely apatheistic in its approach to deities. It doesn’t really matter if god/gods do exist, because they obviously don’t care about ending our suffering. It falls upon us to end the cycle of samsara (though we may call upon the bodhisattvas to aid us).

But as for “complete” atheism, no, I don’t think it’s really compatible with what the Buddha taught. The Buddha spoke for kalpas upon kalpas about karma and rebirth. It’s kind of hard to deny this, isn’t it?

I think the Buddha addressed skeptics when he states that it takes a noble version of right view to correctly see how karma and rebirth work. So for us, it takes practice, and a little faith. Yes, faith. It takes a bit of faith that yes, we walking a path that results in liberation. It takes a bit of faith to plop down on that zafu for the first time. It takes a bit of faith that the Buddha and the teachers that followed him knew what it was they were talking about. It takes a bith of faith to put into practice the teaching of the Lotus Sutra before you see any real change. It takes a bit of faith to get us on our path (and sometimes to keep us going) because we aren’t fully enlightened. We are unable to see reality as it truly is. But we work towards it, strive towards it.

Now, before you start quoting the Kalama sutra, hold on. First, he was speaking to a particular group of people about a particular set of circumstances. Much of what he said there rings true today and should be applied to one’s teaching. However, no where did he say that one shouldn’t trust wise teachers, or that one shouldn’t trust in (what later became) the sutras. Remember the 3 jewels? It takes trust and faith to walk this Buddhist path. If not, how on earth did first you come to practice Buddhism? You had to have a little faith and trust before you started practicing. You had no direct experience beforehand.

If one wishes to remain skeptical towards karma and rebirth, I think that is healthy. It isn’t taking something on blind faith, it is remaining skeptical while working through it in your practice. Though I think a strong disbelief in either is a form of aversion and craving/attachment. It seems like a thick wall to put up in front of you and your practice. Some may say that Buddhism requires no belief in karma and rebirth. That may be true. Your average practitioner doesn’t have to believe in either. But if we are to believe what the Buddha had to say, and that what he achieved was real, then we also should accept that when we get to that point, we won’t need to believe in either, we will be able to discern it for ourselves.

Karma and rebirth are still tricky for me, as I’ve posted before. But thanks to some helpful dharma bums here on the interwebs, I’ve read a little more, and things are starting to almost make sense for me. I suppose I’ll just not worry too much about it, and focus on what set me on this path in the first place; becoming more mindful, attaining a “quieter” mind, breaking habits, and living more compassionately.

Cheers.

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Someone said something about Buddhism!

I suppose I’m a bit late to the party, but life kept me away from the internets this weekend for the most part. It seems as though Bill Maher said something about Buddhism, and now people are upset. So I went over to the post in question, read it, and chuckled a little bit.

Bill Maher is a comedian. Some find him funny, others not so much. No biggie. We can’t all like the same flavor of ice cream either. As of the past few years, Maher has really targeted religion and the religious as the butt of his jokes. His movie Religulous focused on crazy people who believe in the different Abrahamic religions, and was kinda funny at times, but largely disappointing. It also seemed like there was supposed to be a point, but then there really wasn’t one. Oh well. In his bit over at the Huffington Post, he starts talking about sex-addiction and Tiger, making some funny points:

But all this talk about sex addiction now – please – sex addiction is just something Dr. Drew made up because he had no other way to explain Andy Dick. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s also the American Psychiatric Association, which does not list sex addiction in its manual; it does not regard it as a real psychological syndrome, like delirium or bipolar disorder or any of the other things Glenn Beck suffers from.

hahaha Andy Dick and Glenn Beck in the same rip?!?! Comedy gold!!!

Moving on.

But before Tiger moves on there’s one more apology he really should make, and that’s to Buddha, for dragging him into this mess and proving once again, that whenever something unspeakably tawdry, loathsome and cheap happens, just wait a few days. Religion will make it worse.

He’s got a point here. People play the God/Jesus card all the time after they get caught cheating/lying/stealing or whatever. It’s actually really annoying, mostly to the people of that particular faith. Tiger said he was re-comitting to his path. I certainly wish him well. Yet part of me thinks that in his forgiveness speech, Tiger was purposefully targeting the Brit Humes of the world that seemed to think he needed Christianity, and Buddhism was a second-class religion when it comes to redemption. If the public hadn’t gotten involved in his personal religion, I wonder if he would have ever mentioned it?

Maher goes on to make some other jokes at the expense of Buddhism. Most of which are gross exaggerations of a limited, superficial understanding of Buddhism:

And it really is outdated in some ways – the “Life sucks, and then you die” philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.

Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves” makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life – I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that’s inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.

ha. Kinda almost funny. I think better jokes could be made here, even if they did offend more than these. Come on Bill, you’re slipping.

I’ve seen quite a few in the greater “buddhoblogosphere” post about this, and about Maher’s comments are coming from a place of ignorance. Well, yeah. Of course they are. I wouldn’t expect someone like Bill Maher to make informed statements about Buddhism, and then turn them into jokes. Because once someone is well-informed on the Four Noble truths, there isn’t much to laugh at about them.  They were also meant for HIS audience, and if you haven’t noticed, the audience he’s targeting isn’t the religous. So no, I’m not really upset at the comments he made.

One of the jokes he made has brought up the same comments over and over again:

And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn’t there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, “My name is Herb Zoller and I’m an accountant.” …something?

People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: “His poop is royal!” Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, “That’s our leader” doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.

I actually kind of laughed at this one. Any time someone can make fun of Sarah Palin, I laugh. Also, the whole process is kind of well….. funny when you think about it from an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it? But the bloggers were focusing on this comment quite a bit, saying that this practice is grounded in Tibetan Buddhism, and is mostly cultural anyway, so he’s really way off base here.

But is he? Like it or not, The Dalia Llama is the face of ALL Buddhism in the West to non-Buddhist Westerners. Would a joke about  Amitābha Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, or Robert Thurman really have really flown on Huffington Post? Doubtful. We kind of have to admit that by making the Dalai Llama into such a celebrity and rock star, we’ve also thrown his brand of Buddhism into the spotlight, which doesn’t leave much room for any of the others out there.

All in all, I think it was a moderately funny post on his part. I can handle someone laughing at my religion. I believe in some pretty unconventional (esp by Western standards) stuff, so I have to recognize that others aren’t going to see eye-to-eye with me at times, and that’s alright. I can’t count how many times I’ve laughed at Crazy Church People, babbling idiots, or Magic Mormon Underwear. To now get upset when someone pokes fun of my beliefs would be pretty hypocritical on my part.

Yet, there is a real problem here. Unfortunately, there are people who base their views off of what a comedian like Bill Maher or Dennis Miller or John Stewart has to say. Bill Maher has his version of the “ditto-heads” that flock to his every word, and spread it like a virus. So while I really don’t see anything to get upset with about his comments in and of themselves, the problem really lies with what happens to those comments when they reach the public.

I’ve already seen this happening in some of the comments:

I worship at the Altar of Maher.

Me too. He is a genius. I heard him last night on Larry King. His comments on Palin and Obama, etc., hit the balls outside the fence.

Hey Bill, You are the best at exposing the lack of credibility and believablity
of these crutches going under the name of religion(s)

This is a tiny sample to be sure, used to illustrate my point. But the fact of the matter is that this piece will give people a reason to hate Buddhism, to spread further misconceptions about the dharma, and might turn people away from ever seeking it out in the first place. Using beer as an analogy, let’s say you decide to be bold, and try one of those new-fangled micro-brews instead of the usual lite lager crap. Now let’s say the first beer you try is Stone Mill Pale Ale. You know, the one that looks like it came from a small town micro brewery in Cali? So you get home and crack one open and, EWWWW. It’s freaking awful. Just a little bit more flavor than your usual can beer, but that flavor is awful. Why the hell did you ever think to try something new? Never again.

Of course, Stone Mill is made by Anheiseur-Busch, and is about as far from a local delicious micro-brewed Pale Ale that you could ever get. Your first exploration into something new and exciting just got you burned because you believed what you were buying was somehow a good representation of what you were looking for. But it wasn’t. This is the same flavor that people will be left with if misconceptions about the dharma are left to propagate unchecked. So yes, we should speak up. But we should also take a moment to realize that Bill Maher is a comedian, and comedians will make jokes at the expense of just about everyone, as long as there is an audience for them. I’m not going to take offense at what was said. His ignorance has been pointed out by plenty of others in the buddhoblogosphere, so I’m not going to list all the ways in which he is wrong.

John has a good thread going on about engaging ignorance in Buddhism. I’m trying to figure out what our role is exactly in all of this. Do we simply confront Bill Maher and his misconceptions? Or do we try to get the correct version (not talking about sects/schools here) of the dharma out there in the public to let people see what the Buddha really had to say about suffering? I don’t know if there is an easy solution here.

As for jokes…..

“Sarah Palin thinks the alphabet has 22 letters. She’s so dumb she thinks the capital of China is Chinatown. Sarah Palin is so dumb, she thinks billboards are postcards from giants. The governor of Alaska is so dumb, she thinks soy milk is Spanish for ‘I am milk.'” –“Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac

oooooh snap!!!

Cheers.

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Belief-o-matic

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

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

 

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

Cheers.

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An invalid response to life and death. On The Human Condition: part 2

This is part 2 of a series, and I think it would be best to read the first post first, or else you might have no idea what I’m talking about. Also, sorry if this one jumps around a bit.

 Religion. There, I said it. You better man your battle stations, put your earplugs in, your blinders on, and close your mind at once; because I just mentioned religion on the interwebs. Of course if you read the first post, you’d know that I’m going to be exploring religion from the human perspective, not a Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Pagan, Pantheist, Wiccan, Hindu or any other perspective.

So, from the human standpoint, why religion? Why did we begin turning to religion in the first place? Some will tell you that it was a way to assign meaning to the seasons, lightning, floods, earthquakes, the moon; to explain all of the natural phenomenon that early man took notice of. I don’t believe this to be valid. As I see it, religion was based out of a response to living as a human. To life and death on this planet. This is where the seed of religion was planted and cultivated. 

So what? Big deal, right? No, not so much. If religion is based out of a response to living life as a human, and experiencing death as a human, we must evaluate our present belief systems on that criteria first and foremost. In essence, is your religion (or lack thereof) a valid response to living life as a human? Does it fit with everything we now know about life on this planet?

 A little background on me. Once upon a time, I was a Lutheran. Good church, nice people, wonderful pastor. A very laid back congregation. None of the fire and brimstone fear mongering. I went to Sunday Bible School and such as a youth. I even sang in the youth choir. I went through all the motions, did my best to believe. But even from a young age I remember something nagging at me about it all. For a brief time, I went to a Baptist church because my ex-stepmother pretty much forced us to. This was the fire and brimstone, brainwash ’em when they’re young brand of Christianity. I hated it. I also hated how they made me feel as an outsider. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long. We went back to my former church, and things were better. Mind you, we only went maybe twice a month or so. Religion wasn’t a huge thing in my family. 

Well, somewhere around 13-16 or so (can’t remember, too many raging hormones) I really started to take a look at the whole God thing. It started making less and less sense to me. In fact, it started to become quite ridiculous. The creation story, the flood story, angels, devils, the plagues. I looked at the myths of ancient Greece and Egypt, looked at the Bible, and then it hit me. I had been punk’d. It was all a sham. It was a bunch of silly nonsense that people spoon fed me and forced me to believe in. So, I stopped going. I suppose this was my atheist/agnostic period.

 Later, I fell in love with a beautiful and wonderful debil worshipping (at least that’s what the fundies would say) pagan/Buddhist spiritual woman and it really all started to go down hill 😉 yadda yadda yadda fast forward to today. Today, I consider myself a non-traditional pantheist and umm… dare I actually say it…. a Buddhist. I suppose that’s something I’ll have to get used to. Weird.

 So back to the response. Why do I feel that Christianity is no longer a valid response to life as a human? Well, part of it has to do with Science. Science provides conclusions based on evidence. Science is not static. It admits when it is wrong, and changes in conclusions happen when new evidence is presented. Science has explained our evolution into homo sapiens. Science has explained what makes the stars glow, the planets go ’round, the birds sing and the floods rise. The more we learn about this emergent universe, the fewer places there are for God to hide. When we start to realize this, we can begin to realize that it isn’t any god that controls our lives and deaths, and in fact we have been in control the whole time. And if we are in control of our lives and our deaths, what use do we have for God? 

If we seek God out of comfort, what does that say about our relationship with each other? Have we become that distant, that separated from our human nature that we can’t find comfort in each other? Again, God is not needed, nor warranted in this situation. We should be looking toward each other for comfort, for help. We should find solace in our interconnectedness, but we have forgotten that we are connected at all. We should be able to ask our neighbor to borrow a wrench, but we don’t. And when we are asked by that neighbor for a favor, we tend not to trust him. The reasons for this are mainly fear based, and I feel that’s another post altogether.

 There is of course, death and the great unknown. We all like to believe that we live on after death. But that’s all that it is, a belief. A wish in the wind. Because everything we know about organic matter says that we cease to be when brain function stops. Now, I’d like to believe that some part of me lives on after this point, that what I am right now is just a brief splash in the eternal river that is me, that there is no end to the flow, and that I’ll continue on in another direction. But who knows? And what good does it do to speculate? Again, does it matter to how you live your life right now? 

So we construct a God that gives us a concrete choice of heaven or hell. Believe or don’t believe. Weird. So, in order to get an eternal afterlife of bliss, all I have to do is have blind faith in something? Sweet! Sign me up! ….. Actually, I gave up fairy tales a long time ago. The truth is there is no heaven or hell. Heaven and hell are merely a reward and punishment system set up to further a belief system that is no longer valid in this emergent universe. My only guess as to why it keeps on perpetuating itself in the face of a mountain of evidence that contradicts it’s history and origins and existence is that comfort example I talked about earlier. 

It’s comforting to know that those around you believe the same as you. People of like mind tend to flock together. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with with this. Some people like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and some don’t. No biggie. But what’s different about a flock of Christians is that when confronted with the fact that their God is no where to be found in this Universe, they have their group and their group mentality to support them. No one wants to be wrong. The ego can’t handle being wrong. The ego has set up a specific reality for you, and anything that shakes that reality off it’s hinges could mean the death of the ego. So it finds solace in being surrounded by those that believe as you do. Call it mob syndrome, mass hysteria or whatever. When there is a mob of people together, they (in their minds) can do no wrong. And if the mob is right, the ego can be stroked into complicity.

 There is also that whole “fear of the unknown” thing as well. Though I think that ties in more nicely with the inability of most to admit that they are wrong, or that they don’t know. Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat. Curiosity unchecked has killed plenty of humans as well. We have this need, this hunger to know everything. We are terrible at keeping secrets, and even worse at letting others keep theirs. We must know everything, and we must know it now! I’m not sure why it is that we can’t leave things as simply “I don’t know”. As far as the origins of the Universe are concerned, I’m happy saying “I don’t know”. As far as what happens in the afterlife, I’m also happy saying “I don’t know”. Because in the end, all of that has nothing to do with what happens in the now.

  If you were given absolute proof that Thor or Allah or Zeus or any of the other 2500+ gods out there existed, how would it change your life? How would your day change? Would you order a different $5 foot long for lunch today? Would you love your spouse more or less? Would you quit your job? Would it change how you suffer?

 Of course not. It really wouldn’t change much of anything. It would have little to no impact on day to day life, and have very little impact on this moment. And that is all we have. And that is why I feel that monotheistic religions (especially Christianity- from my experience) are no longer valid responses to life as a human here on this beautiful planet Earth.

 So why do I feel that Buddhism is a valid response? That can be found in the major doctrine of Buddhism; The Four Noble Truths. They are –and this is paraphrased, probably badly– 

1. That as a result of being born, you will encounter suffering.

2. Suffering is caused by our craving/attachments, delusion, and greed.

3. That there is a way to end suffering by ending our attachments, delusion and greed.

4. The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path (which I’ve already covered)

 There are plenty of translations on the 4 Noble Truths, so I tried to keep them as general as possible. If I really screwed them up, let me know. But don’t nitpick.

 So that’s all I have to say on this for now. Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but I really wanted to give this one a little time. I hope that when you read this, you’ll re-evaluate your belief system, and really try and discover whether or not it is a valid response to life as a human. Until then, cheers. 

*As always, I fully admit I could be wrong about any of this. The Buddha also advised against divisive speech. I realize this, and if this does cause any suffering, I apologize. I’m not calling your world view invalid. Just that for me, I believe that this particular world view is no longer valid when we take into account present knowledge.

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