Tag Archives: skillful

Intentions and raccoons

Friday evening there was a knock on our door. An old man, out of breath from climbing our stairs was at our door, flashlight in hand. He was looking for his cat that had escaped. He informed us that she had never been outside in the 5 years that she lived with him, and was probably frightened. He gave us a description of the cat, her name, and went continued on to a neighbor’s house. Knowing cats, there was a good chance that she bolted and probably got lost and scared and hid somewhere.

It was a good thing he knocked on our door. We kept checking out of our living room window for the cat, and at about 10pm we saw her. Not wanting to scare her off, I went to the old man’s house, and got him to come to where she was. His front door was cracked and he was waiting in his armchair, hoping that she would remember the way back home. As soon as she heard his familiar gasping, she perked up. “Molly!” is all he had to say. He picked her up and held her close as he caught his breath. He got her home safely that night.

We’ve been taking care of 2 of the stray cats in our neighborhood by putting some food and water outside for them. One of them (we call her Fluffy Kitty) we brought inside a few nights last winter when the weather went down below zero at night. She was dumped in our neighborhood, and was loosing weight. The other (we call him just Stray Kitty) is still thin, but improving greatly. We’ll be catching him to have him spayed and get some shots at a local animal shelter that does that type of thing for feral cats. Without the food we put out, I don’t think Stray Kitty would still be alive.

It’s about 10:30pm on Saturday as I’m writing this, and we’ve just had another visitor(s) from the animal kingdom. We’ve had a female raccoon stopping out front of our apartment about twice a week for a few months now. Once I left the garbage sit outside, and woke up to a huge mess (okay, it happened twice!). She comes to find whatever scraps she can, and then moves on. But tonight she brought 3 baby raccoons with her to munch on the remains of the cat food we had left out. Usually, the cat food is all gone by nightfall, but occasionally there are still a few scraps for her. I’ve never intentionally left food out for the raccoon, as I know that feeding wild animals will only end in their harm.

Tonight we came face to face with that harm. We noticed a bit of blood on the steps a few days ago, but thought maybe one of the resident cats got into a fight. Turns out it was the mother raccoon. I’m thinking she was hit by a car. She was dragging her left rear leg as she walked. It looked shattered or dislocated. My best guess is that she was hit by a car and somehow survived. It didn’t look like she had been attacked by another animal. She was barely hobbling along, leading her children to where she knew there might be a free meal. Maybe she knew this might be one of the last opportunities she has to prepare them for the harsh world they’re about to face.

It tore my wife and I up to see her like that. I can’t stand to see animals suffer, and it was even more painful with the knowledge that she was taking care of those 3 young raccoons . In the morning I’ll call a local animal rescue to see what they recommend. Maybe there is still some hope left for her, and her family.

I’m sure there is some greater lesson about animals and humans and habitats and what not here. But right now, I’m feeling a little guilty.

I can’t help but blame myself a bit for leaving that food out there. Maybe it was my actions that led to this. Maybe she was on her way here when she got attacked. It was my garbage and cat food that helped to keep her coming back into the city.

And yet, if we hadn’t feed those stray cats and paid attention to which cats came and went and became invested in their health and well-being, there’s a good chance that old man’s cat wouldn’t have decided to hunker down where it did. It ended up sitting out on the sidewalk next to one of the stray cats. They seemed to be momentary friends, which is odd for cats to do. Maybe the stray knew that Molly was lost and scared and decided to sit with her so that she didn’t feel alone. If she hadn’t of sat there next to Fluffy Kitty, I probably wouldn’t have seen her.

Our intentions start out simply. They lead to actions, and those actions then have consequences in real life. That’s the only lesson here. Intentions.

Cheers.

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Bringing us back to shore

Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.

~Shunryu Suzuki

 

The waves will bring us all back to shore. What form we return in depends on how we deal with the currents we face when out to sea.

When the waves come crashing do we try to navigate around them? Do we let them take us where they will? Or do we crash head first into them, waiting with heavy breath for the next one to do its worst, mocking the waves as they come rolling in?

When the sea has calmed, do we float majestically staring at the gulls passing overhead? Or is there a part of us that misses the torrent, so we flail about creating waves where there were none before?

Maybe we make it to the other shore. Shake ourselves off a bit. Take a look around. The ocean behind us, we have only to explore the new experience and the new shore. We may find that this shore is a lot like the one we left a long time ago, the time before the ocean. But our time spent swimming and struggling has changed how we view this new beach. The sand under feet feels the same, yet isn’t. The salty air tastes the same, but doesn’t.

Or maybe we never make it out of the ocean. Maybe we end up like this fish here. Our bodies left on the rocks waiting to feed those about to take the plunge and navigate the stormy waters. Their actions once out there will determine if they will taste the fresh air, or rot in the sun. Our actions become food for the next generation, or their inspiration.

Cheers.

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Earth Day Post: Blue Dharma

Today is Earth Day. Now, I know that the Buddha never lectured on water conservation, solar energy, or global climate change. But he did talk at length about compassion. He did speak of karma.

What we need  is more awareness of the far-reaching effects of our actions. Armed with this information, we are then able to make choices in our lives that lead to more skillful outcomes. We can live more compassionately, and create a more compassionate world. Earth Day is a great day to take a moment to contemplate the inter-connectedness of life on this planet.

One thing that connects all of us is water. The Earth is covered in it. Every species depends on some form of it. Nations have built themselves upon proximity to this natural resource. It is used in holy rituals throughout many (if not all) of the world’s religions. And just as it brings us together, it can cause a great divide. It comes in bottles and hurricanes, hail and hot springs. But of the potable variety, we are running out.

Pilchuck River near Darrington, WA

I could go on and on about how precious it is. How we need to manage our water usage better. How many people will die this year because they couldn’t get clean drinking water. How your life style and mine are ruining this planet. How a vegetarian lifestyle requires 60% less water consumption than one that is meat-based. How in the next 50 years, we’ll see nations go to war over not oil, but water. How you should do x, y, and z to help change things.

Instead, I’m going to leave you with some facts*. If you really take the time to let these facts soak in, you’ll know what to do. If you actually care about cultivating compassion, you’ll know what to do, and what types of companies/projects to consider supporting in the future. Though, I will jump on my soapbox for a minute, and ask you to please, please, please, NEVER BUY BOTTLED WATER. It is one of the most wasteful and irresponsible choices you could make as a consumer.

By 2025, 1.8 Billion people will live where water is scarce.

On average, 2 Billion gallons of water are used every day to irrigate golf courses in the U.S. In Florida, 3,000 gallons of water are used to water the grass for each golf game played.

U.S. swimming pools loose 150 billion gallons to evaporation every year.

Only 2.5% of the world’s water is fresh. About 2/3 of that is frozen. Most of the rest is in aquifers that we’re draining much more quickly than the natural recharge rate.

The Great Lakes contain roughly 22% of the world’s fresh surface water.

2/3 of our water is used to grow food.

Americans use about 100 gallons of water at home each day. Millions of the world’s poorest make due with less than 5.

46% of people on earth do not have water piped into their homes. Women in these developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water.

The Tibetan Plateau is sometimes called the Third Pole because of all the frozen water it holds. It supplies fresh water to nearly a 1/3 of the world’s population. The glaciers there are melting.

One out of eight people in the world lack access to clean water.

3.3 million people die from water-related illness each year.

The weight of China’s Three Gorges Reservoir will tilt the earth’s axis by nearly an inch.

The longest water tunnel, which supplies New York City, leaks up to 35 million gallons a day.

Dam projects have displaced up to 80 million people worldwide.

Fish caught downstream from sewage treatment plants in five U.S. cities contained traces of pharmaceuticals like Dilitiazem, Norfluoxetine, and Carbamazepine as well as other toiletries.

The following is a list of items, with how many gallons of water it takes to produce each item (from scratch to your shopping cart/mouth)

2,900 – One pair of blue jeans

1,857 – One pound of beef

766 – One cotton T-shirt

84 – One pound of apples

20 – One glass of beer

37 – One cup of coffee

816,600 = gallons used during the lifetime of a typical cow destined for human consumption

Cheers.

             *most of these were pulled from the February 2010 special edition of National Geographic

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Something brewing in the atmosphere

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a terrible, gruesome act perpetrated by a home-grown terrorist. It’s been recently pointed out in the media and the blogosphere that the current political atmosphere is comparable to what it was then, and I’d have to agree. This morning on NPR there was someone from Pew Research talking about how much more angry and untrusting the right become when a Democrat wins the Presidency than the left do when a Republican does. You can see some of this sentiment now in the Tea Party movement, and much like talk radio in the early-mid ’90s, you see it splattered all over the internet.

Personally, I’m sick of all the bullshit coming from the right and the left which is getting us largely no where except to further the chasm between Left™ and Right©.  Recently I asked Justin what place Buddhist ethics has in political discourse. I did this because I believe there needs to be a fresh voice in politics today. One that isn’t driven by a desire to wipe out the other side’s ideas or beliefs. One that isn’t so dualistic in nature that it can only prop itself up with the rhetoric of the destruction of the “other” side. One that has its roots in compassion, and strives for understanding. We will never, ever all agree on the same political and moral principles, but we can at least stop yelling at each other long enough to understand where the other side is coming from. We need a voice that recognizes that any ONE idea or philosophy is inherently exclusionary and can’t survive in an emergent democracy. We are a nation of many peoples, many cultures, and ideas. This is where we draw our strength and have propelled our country to the world’s utmost superpower. It is only an inclusive, emergent philosophy based in compassion and wisdom that is continually updated to include present-day knowledge that will end the great divide we now see splashed across (and perpetuated by) our headlines.

The old idea of a system based totally on a “free market” certainly is lovely on paper, but eventually leads to plutocratic tendencies and an inherent wealth divide that is virtually insurmountable by those at the lowest rungs of the ladder. And the idea of a communal society simply cannot work on a scale as grand as these United States. It might work just fine on a hippie commune (for which I have great admiration) but there is no way to run that type of system in a world economy. These ideal states are fine for your Philosophy 103 term paper, but have little value in the real world.

A recent example of this would be supply side economics. The idea is a great one. Give tax breaks to the rich, and the rich in turn will buy lots of yachts and start-up companies and do all of these great things that will put America to work and eventually create a healthy middle class by means of employment.  But every friggin time that has been attempted in real-life in the past century, the exact opposite happens. The wealthy don’t invest or go buy a lot of things that put people to work. They just put that fucking money in the bank and get a little richer. Great idea on paper, but zero real-world benefit to the lower or middle classes.

I do believe there is a way to the middle ground here. Repeat after me: there is a middle. There is a happy place where markets can be regulated without hampering innovation, and where government can be a place where society pools its interests to take care of its citizens most basic needs without crippling the economy. There is a way to enjoy your personal liberty and take care of your fellow citizens at the same time.

But how do we get to that middle ground? What are the specifics, and what are the practical ways in which we get there? Is there a way to apply those Buddhist ethics in a secular way to achieve this goal? Is there a way to bring it from the philosophical and into the practical?

I’m considering starting a group political blog to help answer some of these questions (and others) as well as raise some other ones. It will look at modern politics from a Buddhist perspective, one based in compassion, empathy, wisdom, and of course Fudo Myo. It would be an enviroment where, as Justin put it “…. we can we educate moderates and the near-right to expose the problems of the extreme right, instead of fueling their fire…”

If you’re at all interested, leave a comment here.

Cheers.

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No Direction Home…….

The other day, Nathan had a post over on Dangerous Harvests about “what “right action” is when it comes to interacting with people begging on the streets”. I started a reply there, and realized that my story would serve better as a post than as a comment.

I spent quite a few months homeless in Seattle when I first arrived on the West Coast about 7 years ago. The reasons for this were many, but I’ll just say that it was my choice, and that I wasn’t running from the law. It was a truly eye-opening experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Seattle, and what to do when I got there. I tried finding jobs, and even tried joining the military (they wouldn’t take me – ADHD) but when my money ran out, I was left to figure shit out for myself. It was a tough experience. Luckily, I was in Seattle, where there is a good system in place for helping out those less fortunate.

I had no idea what to expect from the other homeless on the streets and in the homeless “system”. Would they be welcoming? Stab me in the back the first chance they got?

Their reasons for being there were about as varied as you could imagine. Of those that I met and was around, I’d guess that around 60% or so suffered from some form of mental illness, some more pronounced than others. For some, they arrived on the streets this way. For others, the streets simply magnified what was already there. There were those that simply fell on hard times, and a few people I met were part of the dotcom boom/crash that were trying their best to make it back into the workforce and afford a place to live. Some were criminals on the run, a few had warrants for petty crimes and had gone into hiding, and a few were here illegally. Many that I met were on some form of assistance, whether it was food stamps or Social Security.

In Seattle, it was possible to eat 3-5 times a day for free, find a place to take a real shower, do your laundry, and find a place to sleep during the night (usually in a church). The only people who went hungry were the ones that were banned from certain hand-out areas because they had been violent there, or those whose mental illness was so bad that they couldn’t function well enough to find assistance. And there were plenty of both. The violent ones were generally suffering from some mental illness, and of course not being allowed to get food at a soup-kitchen or church only made things worse for them.

At the shelter that I stayed at, everyone was pretty healthy mentally, and generally got along really well. Some of us hung out during daylight hours, and helped each other out. But the one thing that no one prepares you for is the boredom. It is excruciating. Imaging having nothing to do all day, every day, and not being able to look forward to anything, ever. Wake up, clean shelter. Take bus downtown. Do laundry, take shower, find food. Wander aimlessly for 4 hours. Find food. Wander aimlessly for another 2-4 hours. Get on bus, head to shelter, sleep. Try not to pay attention to those around you going about their lives, buying clothes, seeing movies, spending holidays with family. Repeat for the rest of your life. Repeat in your mind for the rest of your life.

Is it any wonder people turn to drugs and alcohol? For those that go down that path, it breaks up the monotonous nothingness of your existence. It is something to do. It is something to feel other than depression. Even though I really shouldn’t have been spending money on smokes, I did. They were terrible, 2$ a pack smokes from a res somewhere, and they got me through the day.

I never went down the drug path. My goal was to start a new life in a new place, without destroying myself in the process (though I dare say quite a bit of my “self” was destroyed…..). So regaining a meaningful life became my only thought. I had to find a job. I needed to find transitional housing so that I had a stable place to sleep and bathe and do my laundry so that I could show up to my job and not be a…… bum. When I asked my shelter-buddies about starting on this path, they all knew exactly how to help. But my question was then, “why aren’t you doing this?”

For some reason, many of them simply didn’t want that life. Maybe it had to do with the relative comfort in which many of them lived. As I said before, most had some type of income (SS), everyone had access to a shower, laundry, and at least 3 meals a day. Living that life, one could easily get by without much effort. It wasn’t the best life, but there was no boss to listen to. No responsibility. No struggle.

Some simply didn’t want to be a part of the society that had turned it’s back on them. Which was understandable given many of their stories. And for some, I just couldn’t understand. They had all the makings of someone with a successful station in life and for whatever reason they just didn’t try. Maybe life had beaten them down so low that they became satisfied with the homeless lifestyle. I still have no answers for many of the questions that confronted me during that time.

So back to Nathan’s question. What is “right action” when dealing with these people? First, see them as people. Some of them have chosen their position and others have had it thrust upon them. Regardless of circumstance, they are human beings just as you are. No better, no worse. They reflect the same potential we all have. They are experiencing the human condition in a radically different way than we are. Not completely a part of our society, though not completely apart from it either. Should you offer them food? Money if they ask? A cigarette if you have one? It’s really up to you. No dollar-in-the-guitar-box is going to put them over the edge for that down-payment on a condo. No one meal will stave off the hunger forever. One cigarette will burn away and the craving will return ever so shortly. These things are all band-aids for a more serious condition, though none of them do much harm. If your wish is to practice generosity, then practice generosity. You can’t save them all, and you should never feel like your efforts are going unnoticed or aren’t making a difference. Be generous when you can, but don’t feel obligated to hand out your change to everyone that asks it of you.

Besides the epic emptiness of life that comes with being homeless, there is one more crippling ailment. It is the isolation. You can’t help but feel like the stereotypical Dicken’s street urchin outside of a bakery window salivating over the freshly made cherry pie on the counter. Only the whole world is that bakery. Society as we know it is that pie, and it would bring such joyous comfort if it was even just a taste. When you walk down the street, you know you are not a part of their society. That bakery window is always there in front of you. When you get on the bus, it is there. When you come out of the bathroom at the library, it is there. It’s the look in their eye. Or rather, it’s the non-look in their eye. I can’t forget that. Ever. The fact that someone would cast me away simply because of the contents of my wallet was the most dehumanizing thing I have ever experienced. With the simplest of looks, I was negated. I didn’t exist to them.

So what is “right action” when dealing with those who call the street their home? Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their presence. Acknowledge that they too, are humans. Acknowledge that they deserve a “good afternoon” just as much as anyone else. Not only do they deserve it, they are probably in need of it more than anyone. A simple human connection goes a long way.

Cheers.

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And more snow related suffering…….

“In some areas homes have been without power since last November, facing record snowfalls and the collapsing infrastructure of America’s Midwestern water and power lines and disaster response systems.

“Power outages began with a storm in December knocking down around 5,000 power poles, and has been accelerated by an ice storm Jan. 22 knocking down another 3,000 power lines on the reservation.

“Frustration at the insufficient response of the Red Cross and governor’s office is mounting,” she added. “All of this while people sit without power, water and face food shortage.”

There is more snow-related devastation to report on, this time right here in the mid-west. Yet almost no one has heard about it. I can see why there was so little press about the dzud in Mongolia, but this is happening right here in our own backyard. I don’t want to pull the race card, but being a card-carrying member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, I fell like I have to call a spade a spade.

The news here in America is tiered according to race. When white children disappear, it makes the cover of Newsweek. When black children die in inner-cities, it barely makes the 6 o’clock news. And when thousands of Native Americans are left without power (heat), food and water, no one speaks at all. Scott Peterson got how much news coverage? How many unsolved murders were there that year?

Yes, I’m white. But that doesn’t mean that I want my news and information white-washed for me. Native Americans have suffered more than any other racial/ethnic group in the history of this continent, and they continue to be marginalized. I’m not one of those people who gets pissed off because there’s an NHL team in Chicago called “The Blackhawks”. But was does irk me is how my ancestor’s entire history, culture, and contribution to the world we live in today has been white-washed and almost completely written out of the history books. I’m also not one of those people who is going to get pissed off because you supported people in Haiti when they were in need. Compassion is compassion, and turning charity into a polarizing, fodder-for-more-partisianship mechanism is reckless and misguided. I’m all for helping out our fellow humans when we are in need, regarless of geography. But I will ask that you at least acknowledge the need right here in our own backyard.

Our culture is dying, our languages are fading away, our history has been all but lost to the great textbook publishers in Texas. Please don’t let our people suffer the same fate. You can donate to the local Red Cross here.

Cheers.

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Just ignorant!

I received this email yesterday, and it just plain blew me away. I couldn’t believe the level of ignorance and hate displayed. But then, I could. Because this is what happens when lies are allowed to prosper, and are fueled by hatred (which of course stems from ignorance). You can read a copy of the email here (yes, this is the same email that I received).

The other day I posted on how extremists are polarizing this country and destroying it from inside. I have no problem when people pick a “side” (Christian, liberal, atheist, Conan or whatever), but when you then identify your side by your hate of the “other” side, we have a problem. There’s no reason to be against the “other” side just because you’ve identified with yours! That’s right! You can actually hold liberal ideals, and NOT hate conservatives! Crazy, I know.

Unfortunately, we’ve been ingrained since youth to always “win” and come out on top, and be #1.  We’ve carried this into every aspect in our lives, including public (and private) dialogue. Maybe it’s part of our wanting to fit in and be correct, a little bit of ego stroking. I don’t know. Unfortunately, this desire to be right and to be on the winning side leads to all kinds of unskillful conduct.

I would like to preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of President Obama. I voted for Nader, but would have voted for Ron Paul if he had made it on the ticket. Yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but I have my reasons.  However, I am able to disagree with someone’s leadership/politics or whatever without making shit up, degrading the faith of millions, and spreading blatant hate speech. Let’s get to that email now.


PLEASE, DON’T USE THESE STAMPS!  NOT FOR VALENTINE’S,

NOT FOR ANY MAIL!!

USPS 44-Cent Stamp Celebrates Muslim holidays Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha .

If there is only ONE thing you forward today… let it be this!
REMEMBER to adamantly & vocally BOYCOTT this stamp, when you are purchasing your stamps at the post office.

All you have to say is “No thank you, I do not want that Muslim Stamp on my letters!”
To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of Pan Am Flight 103!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the Military Barracks in Saudi Arabia !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the American Embassies in Africa !

REMEMBER the MUSLIM bombing of the USS COLE!

REMEMBER the MUSLIM attack on 9/11/2001 !

REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM attacks!

Pass this along to every Patriotic American that you know and get the word out!  Honor the United States of America !

So where to start? If you clicked on the link above, you’ve already read how factually inaccurate the part about the stamp is, so no need to bother with that as Snopes already did the work. Let’s take a look at the “Muslim” part of this. “To use this stamp would be a slap in the face to all those AMERICANS who died at the hands of those whom this stamp honors.” Really?

Well, first of all, those were radical, extremist terrorists that were also Muslim. And yes, they did perform these acts in the name of their religion, which is absolutely despicable and horrendous. People do stupid shit in the name of their faith all the time (which I am in no way excusing), and have since the dawn of organized religion. It’s something that won’t cease anytime in the near future as the violence and ignorance only continues to escalate exponentially. Secondly, this stamp does not honor terrorists, murderers, or violence in any way. All you need to do is look up Eid Al-Fitr to figure that out. But of course, in the eyes of crazy conservatives, Islam = murder and terrorist. Ugh.

This email and the sentiments behind it clearly indicate more than simple AMERICA! FUCK YEAH! type of jingoistic “patriotism”. The authors intent is clearly to demonize Islam, and further the fear/hate-mongering of all of those that practice it, regardless of the individual. We could just as easily follow this logic and use examples of when Christians have murdered, raped, and tortured all in the name of Christianity, and then call for the boycott of all Christmas/Easter stamps. And then try to justify hate for all Christians and their religion because of the actions of a radical, disturbed few.

I like the “Honor the United States of America !” as if this type of thing honors anything at all.

Then there is the last sentence of the email “REMEMBER all the AMERICAN lives that were lost in those vicious MUSLIM attacks!” Look at what they’ve done. They’ve capitalized American and Muslim. America vs. Islam. Us vs. Them. They’ve created a division between a country and a religion! Muslims are the evildooers! Kill ’em all! This of course neglects the fact that there are millions of Muslims that live right here in America, that are just as much a part of this country as Republicans, Trekkies, Buddhists, and Oakland Raiders fans are. And don’t give me that “but we’re a Christian nation!” BS. People have religions. Countries don’t have religions, especially when there is no state-endorsed religion here in the US.

I could go on and on about how the people who sent this around are just part of the right-wing Christian extremists that are ruining our country and bla bla bla, but that’s been said a million times before. No, the worst part about this is the willful ignorance and intolerance of those that created and spread these lies. In the email I received, there was a link to the Snopes article debunking the whole thing! But no one paid attention to that for some reason. It would have been too much work to actually figure out something for themselves (or click on the damn link I guess…). Instead, they’ll form their opinions based on a fucking chain email, and then vote accordingly. And this email had over 100 addresses on it. Just think about how many other people received this and forwarded it on to their friends and co-workers. But it’s just one of those stupid chain emails, right?

Wrong. This just reaffirms what a few of us bloggers have been discussing lately. A few disparaging, untrue words can cause havoc, and an untold amount of suffering. Minorities become further marginalized when things like this email keep piling up on the collective psyche of the ignorant masses. I must reiterate that people are going to vote based on emails like this. Opinions are formed when people like Anne Coulter and Brit Hume speak, especially when these talking heads bring up topics that their audience (and obviously themselves) know nothing about. They’ll just take their word for it, after all, they’re all on the same side! We put so much faith and trust in other people in this modern age of “MUST HAVE INFO NOW!” that we rarely take the time to discover the truth for ourselves (even though it’s right at our fingertips). Maybe it’s that looking at scientific journals with peer-reviewed studies filled with evidence is a boring waste of time, so why not just have Rush Limbaugh tell me what global warming is really all about. It’ll be fun! I’m sure he’ll tell me what I really need to hear, and we can make fun of the traitorous liberals while we’re at it! Why would I want to see what this Jihadist stamp is really all about when my uncle Rick can just shoot me an email?! Oh right, because then I’d find out it’s just a stamp that celebrates a couple of important Muslim festivals that don’t involve beheading infidels or anyone blowing anyone up, and I’d learn that the stamp is something I’d have to go out and look for and probably special order anyway.

This is why I think it’s important to speak up when any type of hate, ignorance, or misinformation is being spread, and we have the ability to do something about it (but we all have our own niche, right?). I’m a Buddhist blogger, so this is the type of thing I’m going to speak on from time to time. I’m certainly not going to turn into a “wrong speech watchdog” or anything like that, but I can’t help but point out some of these things in the hope that truth and understanding triumph over hate and ignorance. Wrong speech quite frequently leads to wrong action. And when it comes to religious intolerance, wrong action gets really ugly.

Further more, IT’S JUST A FUCKING STAMP!

Cheers.

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The Brit Hume fallout: Victory for The Extremists

I was going to respond to some really stupid comments and posts I saw being made by Christians/Conservatives on some of the links that Kyle provided, along with some others I found.  I had an agenda, and I was going to set them straight and put them in their places. I started to type in some comments, and then just closed down my browser. I realized what the problem was. It wasn’t them. It was the system that we’ve all been caught up in (myself included).

At first I admit I had to agree with some of my fellow bloggers and Buddhists about how this whole Brit Hume thing actually was a great opportunity for us Buddhists to speak about our faith/tradition/religion. If nothing else, there would be tons of people who would at the very least wiki Buddhism and find out just a little bit about it. So overall, this was a good thing, right? No. You see, in Buddhism, we assess situations and take action based on how skillful (less suffering) or unskillful (more suffering) we deem those actions to be (in a nut shell). Overall, I’d have to say that this entire situation has been quite unskillful.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I like people of all faiths (except Scientology. “Fuck L. Ron Hubbard and fuck all his clones”) because I try not to see people as what faith they belong to. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Pagans, I’ve known many people of many faiths in my life, and gotten along with them all splendidly. However, there is one group of people who I really can’t stand: Extremists. Extreme atheists, Christians, Buddhists, liberals, whatever. They always speak the loudest, they get in people’s faces, they cause violence and instill fear. Rather than use reason, compassion and logic, they just shout long enough and loud enough to drown out their opposition. And the internet is the best thing that has happened to extremism since Vietnam. It gives it fuel, life, recruitment, new means of manipulation, and limitless open forums with which to spew it’s filth.

Now, I do stand by what I said before. I think one of the biggest problems with what Brit Hume said is that millions of people are now going to have a skewed perception of what Buddhism is. Unfortunately, a larger problem has arisen. While in an ideal world, we would have had an open discussion between Buddhists and Christians (and maybe even Brit Hume), what we instead found was that The Extremists™ took up the cause instead. It was the crazy Christians, Atheists, Anti-Theists and everyone in between that took up this issue. It was blown out of proportion and skewed into a political, racial, 1st amendment, and religious argument rather than any kind of discovery or debate. Now all that is left are angry words, inflated egos, and the now (possibly) more negative vision of Buddhists and Buddhism.

So now we have to deal with the fallout. This really turned into a much bigger mess than it ever needed to. I still agree that something needed to be said in rebuttal, and I think Mr. Hume’s comment was reckless. But I think how the rebuttal and discourse that followed were handled was even more reckless. What we’ve done now is only further polarize the country over yet another insignificant (in the grand scheme of things) event. Much like Janet Jackson’s boob, Bill Clinton’s…. cigar,  or Mark Sanford’s indiscretion, we’ve blown things way out of proportion. I don’t want to get into the “why” of that now, I just want to acknowledge it. We simply love to sensationalize the mistakes of anyone of any type of celebrity status. A little off topic, but something someone said in my sangha the other day kind of relates here. It was regarding the way we treat our Presidents and elected officials. He said “Every four years we elect a messiah, and at the end of those four years, when we find out he’s human, we crucify him.”

This could have been a moment for pause and reflection. It could have been a moment of great understanding and compassion. But we let it turn into the monster that it became because we allow the extremists to control public “discussion” and represent their respective “sides”. We always hear and see the Christians protesting over this and that, going crazy when evolution is taught in our schools, but that isn’t representative of Christianity. Those crazies just happen to have the microphone. Not everyone that is against animal cruelty throws fake blood on people who buy fur coats. They just happen to make the 5 o’clock news. And so we allow those extremists (who are in the minority) to control not only the debate, but also our view of the entirety of whatever side/religion/organization/movement they belong to.

And not only do we allow this to happen, we actually feed it sometimes! We respond to the crazies on those message boards! This is the fuel that they need to burn their fires of hate.  We try to argue with them, to make them see our point. But they won’t. They’re completely stuck in a state of “I’m fucking right and you’re fucking wrong” and no amount of replies in an internet forum or shouting through a megaphone at a Tea Party is going to change their minds. If their minds are to change, it will have to be of their own doing. So now we’re left with all of those extremists shouting, yelling, posting which only further deepens the divisions that we’ve created for ourselves.

Before I get to a solution, I just want to reiterate that I do believe something needed to be said about this. If I had a moment of face time with Brit Hume, I’d simply say “Brit, what you said offended quite a few people. Not because of you being a Christian or saying Jesus on the air, but because you put one religion down while trumpeting your own. We hear enough of this, and this us vs. them stuff has to stop. Wouldn’t it have been a wiser choice to say something like: ‘I don’t know much about Buddhism, but I think right now you need to use what tools your faith has to offer to help yourself and your family heal. I know that when I turned to Christianity, I found great comfort and forgiveness and it helped me through a very difficult time’. See the difference there?”

I think one of the best solutions for us Buddhists to cultivate is something the Dalai Llama has offered:

“The purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit all sentient beings, including human beings. And therefore it is more important to think of what contribution we Buddhists can make to human society according to our own ideas rather than trying to convert other people to Buddhism. The Buddha gave us an example of contentment and tolerance, through serving others unselfishly.”

It is in the example that we set for others when we live according to the dharma in which we can overcome the extremists. This is the best and most skillful course of action.

That’s all on this. Cheers.

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To Brew or not to Brew… The Fifth Precept

So lots of talk lately on the Buddhablogosphere regarding the precepts, especially the Fifth. Being that my blog is titled “Home Brew Dharma”, I believe I need to add my 2 cents.

Here is what the Buddha said: “A noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them. By abstaining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression.” (AN 8:39, IV 245-47)

 So, seems pretty clear. If you want to be a noble disciple, you need to give up the booze and drugs. Why? Because of the consequences. There isn’t anything inherently bad in any type of intoxicant, it’s the consequences of taking said intoxicants that is the issue here. Intoxicants lead to mindlessness when abused, and the Buddha was trying to get people to be more mindful. This is hard enough to do when sober, let alone hammered. 

Back in the Buddha’s time, it was the rice-wine guzzling, opium smoking low lifes that he was targeting. You see, it’s impossible to follow the eight-fold path while you’re intoxicated. Pretty simple. You can’t be mindful when you’re wasted. Not a big surprise. And it’s hard to have right concentration when you’re staring up at the ceiling of an opium den contemplating the purpose of your pinky toes.

 It’s not only while someone is intoxicated though either. Alcoholism affects a person’s entire life. It brings them immeasurable suffering, but it also affects the people in their life, and society as well. The same thing with habitual drug users. There is no doubt to the far-reaching suffering that lifestyles such as these create.

 What about those of us that practice moderation? Where do we fall in? Is it possible for me to come home, and enjoy A beer? I think so. Remember right intention? I think that applies to the situation at hand. Are you drinking just to get wasted? Or are you treating that one beer like you would anything else in life; something to be savored, and something to be mindful of. I think a case can be made for a more skillful approach to drinking.

When I say I’m going to have a Scotch, I don’t mean a bottle of J&B. What I mean is I’m going to pour an ounce or two of some Glenlivit over some ice, and sip on it for an hour or so. See the difference? Where is the “fear, hostility, and oppression” in that? What are the consequences of my sipping on that ounce of Scotch? I’ll probably enjoy it. I won’t become intoxicated, or even slightly buzzed. Sure, I probably won’t have ultimate right concentration while I’m doing it, but I’m not in that state now, and I doubt many of the bloggers are either while they are busy blogging.

 I’m not trying to change Buddhism to fit my needs. I’m not trying to make excuses. And for those of you who have given up drinking altogether, great (as long as you are doing it for the right reasons). I do agree that intoxication will throw you off your path to finding your own Buddha nature. But I also don’t think that having a beer every now and then disqualifies me from being a Buddhist, especially if I approach it in a skillful manner.

 And as far as drugs are concerned, I think Maynard James Keenan said it best, so I’ll end with a quote of his: “I think psychedelics play a major part in what we do, but having said that, I feel that if somebody’s going to experiment with those things they really need to educate themselves about them. People just taking the chemicals and diving in without having any kind of preparation about what they’re about to experience tend to have no frame of reference, so they’re missing everything flying by and all these new perspectives. It’s just a waste. They reach a little bit of spiritual enlightenment, but they end up going, ‘Well, now I need that drug to get back there again.’ The trick is to use the drugs once to get there, and maybe spend the next ten years trying to get back there without the drug.”

Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

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

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

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

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

 

oops- wrong hooker….

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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The Eightfold Path: Right Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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