Tag Archives: right view

What I’ve come to understand of karma

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

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

~ from the Ariyamagga ( or Noble Path) Sutta

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

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

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

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

~ From the Kamma (Karma) Sutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

 

 

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Empty Bowl

Infuriated with the stress of it all, the student closed his laptop in anger. He got up from the flat wooden chair, stretched his back and wondered out loud “what good is it all?” He wondered what good any of this talk of “Buddhism” ever got him. What good any of this “Zen” had ever done for him. For all his talk little benefit could shine through at that moment.

“Where is this Zen?” he thought. “What good are these koans I keep in my head, or the effort to focus on my breath and turn down the chatter in my mind that only returns moments later? Where is this Zen?”

He turned and saw an empty metal bowl on the floor that his son had been playing with earlier. Now it sat among the quiet clutter of midnight, reflecting the lone light left on for the student to work by. In that moment the Universe expanded forever, eternally empty was the vessel without name. Shining. Brilliant and Empty. Form with no form stretched across the cosmos until –

“Bowl”

Of course it was a bowl. But when it was a bowl, it was no longer empty. Filled it was again. Stories of Japanese masters pouring tea and chopping wood filled the student’s head. Now he wondered “what happened to this zen?”

Now he looked at the bowl deeply. It was empty, and he knew that, but it wasn’t the same knowledge of the bowl he had moments prior when all that he knew of the bowl dropped away. He tried to get back there again, but realized the folly in that pursuit.

What now was he left with? Ahh! Before, it was no longer a bowl. Then once it was a bowl, it was distorted. Bowlness, he thought, was all that could be thought about the bowl tonight.

The student turned off the light and went to bed.

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Lost in Translation

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cheers.

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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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On and off the shelf

It’s about 1am on Thursday night, and we’ve just got our 1 month old daughter, Zoa, to sleep. It’s been and on-and-off (mostly on) struggle to get her down at night. And then my son Corbin wakes up. I go in, try to comfort him, but nothing works. I’m not able to get him back to sleep until nearly 5am, and then have to wake up at 6:45 to head to work.

In this 4 hour period I go from rage to depression to fear to calm to half-asleep to happy. No where do I find my Buddhism. Why? Because it is in its usual resting place, the shelf.

The Literal Shelf:

I haven’t meditated since before my daughter was born, which was a month ago. My son has been sleeping less at night, sometimes waking up for 4-5 hours, sometimes 30 minutes at a time 3-4 times a night. Or sometimes he sleeps right through. My daughter hasn’t been going to sleep well either. I used to do my meditation routine at night, right after everyone was in bed. Meditate, or sleep… meditate, or sleep…. not really a hard choice on my part now. Setting up the altar and meditating in the morning isn’t really an option, as I wake up with my son (anywhere from 4:30am-7am) and there is no chance in hell I can sit staring at the floor with him running around loose.

So right now, my Buddhism sits on the shelf, in the form of a book usually. I’ve decided that for now, study shall suffice, at least until we can get some kind of regular night-time and sleep routine going. I realize that meditation is only a tiny part of Buddhist and Zen practice, I do. I realize that really living the path means bringing the teachings with you into the mud of life. But I’m having enough difficulty just remembering to take out the damn trash, let alone to do it “mindfully”. I have no teacher, no formal sangha. My knowledge is a lacking, and my insights are few and rare. Right now study isn’t just a way to practice while being convienent, but is a necessary and important part of my practice for today and tomorrow. I simply wish I had the time, capacity, and patience to bring “it” off the shelf more often. Which brings me to-

The Figurative Shelf:

I notice more and more that the times when I’m “being a Buddhist”, come short and fast, and they are gone. I can remember to breathe from the hara, but then it’s gone as soon as my breath leaves. And when I remember again a few minutes later, I kick myself when I look at all the crap I filled my head up with in between.

But much of my life is no different from this. Those feelings I had late the other night, they came and went faster than I would have admitted at the time. I’m finding most of my life resides on the shelf. Little stories I have of “me” to be taken down and checked out when convenient. Some of them barely get out of their usual space before they come right back, while others are near impossible to put back once taken.

 

Anger in its many forms is one of these. Stress, rage, loneliness, burden. This story I call “Only my self and the fire” is an old and familiar one. One too familiar, and not old enough. I know how harmful it can be, yet its pages suck me in and keep me there longer than I’d like. But eventually a chapter or two in, and I realize how many times I have read this one, and how it always ends the same. As time passes I’m finding that it goes back on the shelf a little easier each time, and that it takes me a page or two less each time to get it there. Progress.

There is another, one titled “Riding on Cloud 9 in Fantasy Land”. This story sits on my shelf more often than not, but when I pick it up, I am transported. Taken away to a place where nothing can harm me. No bill collectors are allowed here and everyone has a perfect credit score. People don’t fight. Kids sleep through the night. Cats scoop their own litter box. Cars repair themselves for free. Everything works out in the end here. This book isn’t just hard to put back on the shelf, it’s impossible. The only way to get it back on the shelf is if another one of my stories knocks it out of my hand. I don’t like it when that happens. I really enjoy that story.

And this goes on and on and on. These novels and short stories that I’ve created for me and about me, are constantly going from hand to shelf, hand to shelf. The speed at which must be quite dizzying to onlookers, as I know it wears me out. And to top it off, there are times at which the books and stories I’m grabbing seem to have no real rhyme or reason, other than to grab them and hold on.

I’ve done this for years and my shelf is in disarray. Unfortunately, I’ve been viewing Buddhism and spirituality as just another story, to take on and off the shelf. If I had the presence of mind, I’d open up the pages, and realize that they aren’t things to be taken off the shelf and put back on at a whim. No, these are much more powerful. They are a Dewey Decimal system to keep these books organized. Help me clean them up and put them where they go. Separate the fiction from non-fiction. Buddhism and spirituality are there for when it’s time to let some of these books go, and reduce some of my inventory.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do this type research needed into these very special ‘books’. They are there at home now, sitting on that damned shelf. Too often I leave them on that shelf, ignored until they are to be picked up when convienent.

In a flurry, on and off they go.

But they are an empty shelf!

Just hear without the noise.

Unite heart and mind.

Cheers.

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Present Fresh Wakefulness – a review and contest

Present Fresh Wakefulness: A Meditation Manual on Nonconceptual Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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

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Why you should(n’t) be a parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Cheers.

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Craving Sprouts, eating a burrito…

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

Grocery shopping is generally a fun event for me. I’m a bargain hunter. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I’m the Indiana Jones of sales. I refuse to pay full price for just about everything. Yes, I’m cheap, but I have to be. I’m supporting a pregnant wife and a 17 month old boy on just my income (which isn’t much). We shop at a couple of places that save us 50-60% over going to Kroger/QFC or Safeway. They have a fair amount of organic food, but we also have to settle for some GMO crap in a box each excursion.

Last week after we shopped, Corbin (my son) wasn’t too cranky, so we went to grab some burritos from Taco Del Mar. It was my first trip there since my recent vegetarian conversion. So lots of beans, rice, cheese, and no meat. Weird. But we get back to our place, scarf down the burritos, and put the little gorilla to bed. Then comes our ritual of grocery re-arrangement and stocking, and its off to the computer to watch some 24 via the interwebs. Off to bed at 9:30.

Wait. This is not the life I want to lead. These are not the choices I want to be making. I don’t want to buy Little Debbies and Hamburger Helper. I don’t want pasta made from flour made from god knows what. I don’t want 40 different types of corn in my diet. But this is what I’ve bought. These are the choices I have made. It’s hard to be mindful when you’re broke.

Yes, this is suffering. I suffer because I’m not content with the way things are. The reality is, I’m doing the best I can to provide for my family and still be around to know they exist. Yet I’m not okay with that. My best isn’t good enough. Right now, my best doesn’t cultivate mindfulness. Right now, my best isn’t providing the type of environment I want my child growing up in. Right now all this corn in my diet is giving me IBS.

It is difficult balancing the spiritual with the mundane.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we do make some good choices. The only TV we watch is what is on the Internet. We don’t have cable or digital rabbit ears. We get a produce box twice a month from a local CSA farm. We do our best to be mindful about our purchases, though I leave myself with much to be desired in the way of some of my habits (and non-habits). These are choices that we have made about how we want to live our lives, the impact we want to have on the earth, our bodies, and society. More craving.

My “dream life” isn’t a rich or extravagant one. Far from it. All I want is a simple 3 bedroom home with a decent yard and a place for a garden where we can grow copious amounts of fresh produce. I want Corbin to have his own grass, and not have to make a trip to the park to enjoy the outdoors (and a basement to make into a man-cave where I could serve my home brew at my own private bar. But that’s another post altogether). He should have his own tree to kick and swing from. He should have his own field to loose his toys in.

The conventional Buddhist wisdom might tell me to simply accept this moment and situation for what they are, don’t dwell on what could be or a “dream life”. But I’m not convinced. I think a little suffering is in order. I think a little suffering will go a long way toward creating the type of environment I want to provide for my family. I will do what I can to be mindful and compassionate now, as I have been. For me, it is not enough and I think my bar is set at just the right height to push me in the right direction.

So for now, I’ll continue to dream about my garden fresh watermelon and cucumbers, and I’ll eat my burritos. That’s the best I can do.

For now.

Cheers.

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Infection!

This weekend I brewed up my first Barley Wine. (Yeah, it’s a beer, not a wine). My apartment now reeks of hops and alcohol. Very nice. As I was brewing, I decided to pop open one of the Dunkleweisens that I had bottled the previous weekend. I knew it wasn’t going to be ready yet, but just wanted to see how things are coming along. First taste? Not good. Now, it very well could be that the beer just needs to age for a while, and that having 2 of my last 3 batches turn out infected has made me hyper-sensitive to the “infected beer smell”, but I’m thinking this batch might get consumed by the toilet.

Beer wort (that’s all of the ingredients before you add the yeast and make….beer) is a perfect incubator. It has all kinds of wonderful sugars for beer yeast to chew on and live off of for a long time. It’s just the right PH, giving the yeast this perfect little enviroment in which to live. And it’s the right temperature, not too hot, and not too cold. Beer wort is such a perfect enviroment, that it is regularly used in labs to grow certain cultures of bacteria. And therein lies the problem.

It takes just a tiny bit of bacteria or wild yeast to creep on in there and set up shop. It’s a home-invasion gone wrong. Sure, your yeast will live and do its whole turning-sugar-into-beer thing, but now it has company. It’s like your 2-cousin-in-law twice removed that comes to stay the weekend for Christmas and never leaves. Pretty soon their trash is everywhere, and your couch smells like feet and Cheetos. Same thing happens to the beer. Beer yeast produces favorable flavors and aromas. Invading bacteria make your hooch smell like band-aids and rubbing alcohol. Not good.

You do what you can to keep the bad bacteria at bay. The night before I brewed the Dunklewesien, I bleached all of my equipment. Then on brew day, I soaked it all in sanitizing solution. I was careful. Very careful. Anything that went into the wort was sufficiently boiled to remove anything harmful. I cooled the wort down to 70 degrees within 10 minutes limiting its exposure to any wild airborne yeasts. Then I tossed it all in my carboy and……. shit. I was 3/4 gallon shy of 5 gallons. How the hell did that happen? So, I dumped in some cold water to top it off, aerated, and pitched the yeast. Done.

I knew that by dumping the cold water in the fermenter, I was compromising the integrity of the beer. I made a rash decision, and likely paid the price for it. Just a little bit of cold water out of the well. Couldn’t see any bacteria, couldn’t smell any. No idea that it was there. But I knew the possibility lingered, and I let it in any way. It’s so easy to compromise and for what? 3/4 of a gallon more? Silly. Not mindful.

Why does compromise come so easy? Especially when we know it will inevitably lead to “infection”?

As for the beer, I shall wait and see. Wait and see.

Cheers.

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Atheism vs(?) Buddhism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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It is what it is …… and that’s okay

Awhile back, during one of our Buddhist meetings, someone went off on a tangent about how she hates it when people say “It is what it is”, and how fatalistic and negative it is, that there is no hope in a statement like that. Immediately my mind went into “WTF?” mode, but decided to bite my tongue being the new guy and all.

I’ve been mulling on this for a bit, and think that she was far from the truth. It seems to me that “It is what it is” is at the heart of Buddhism. Recognizing that phenomenon occur whether we like it or not is part of the practice. There will be a point in my life when I will step on a piece of broken glass. There is no changing that, there is no changing the pain I will feel. However, Buddhism teaches that we can be free from the suffering that can occur because of this empty phenomenon of pain. When the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile hit, we say that it was due to karma. But a correct (right view) understanding of karma shows us that it wasn’t because the Haitians were Nazis in their former life, it was that things were set into motion and then the earthquake happened (also, I’m pretty sure some plate tectonics had some influence there). Once the earthquake happens, it is what it is. It happened. Now (this may sound harsh) deal with it. It is how we choose to deal with phenomenon that determine how/if we suffer. Suffering is always optional. Of course, it’s hard to see that suffering is optional when your family was just crushed by a building. But to me, that’s part of the allure of Buddhism. It does offer hope and a way to escape the suffering we face everyday, regardless of how tragic our situation might be.

But I think the first step in lessening and eliminating suffering is recognizing things and situations for what they are. Essentially, It is what it is. True liberation comes from freeing ourselves of the suffering that occurs when we fail to realize this.

Cheers.

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Samsara Happens

super troopers Pictures, Images and Photos

Life has been pretty good this last week. I got my bonus at work, I was  asked to collaborate on a pretty awesome interweb project, I’ve gotten some more people and $$$ for my mustache team, my wife was offered free CNA training and job, my Buddhist practice is starting to feel a bit more normal and natural, and my son is really starting to act like a little boy now. And then last night, I got a ticket. A car was stopped turning left into a smoke shop, and I (along with the 3 cars in front of me and a bunch of cars behind me) passed the car on the right shoulder to get around him and keep things moving. Apparently, that’s illegal here in WA. I had been told otherwise, and just thought I should follow the flow of traffic. The Sheriff, however, had a different idea. He pulled me and the two cars in front of me over and issued us all tickets for $124. So how’s life now?

Still fuckinpinhead Pictures, Images and Photosg great! Didn’t you hear me list all of that stuff up at the top? This is what Buddhism has done for me. It has allowed me to deal with the shit that samsara throws at me and move on. Sometimes, it rains happy little rainbow unicorns in my world. Other times, I swear that Pinhead guy from Hellraiser is following me around just to screw with me. Dick. Before, I think I would have really crashed and been upset and depressed about the ticket.  I would have said “Karma is a bitch” or something like that. But karma is not a bitch. Karma is just karma. Actions happen. And what happened was I got a traffic ticket. And then I chose not to suffer for it.

It’s funny that without Buddhism, I wouldn’t have been able to see how that ticket isn’t a source of suffering. I now know that it’s my reaction and wrong view and attachment and false perception of what that ticket is that would have been my source of suffering. So instead, I just didn’t suffer. We continued on our trip to find pumpkins, and all was well. Samsara happens. It’s how you choose to deal with it that determines how you suffer (or don’t). Cheers.

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