Tag Archives: buddhism

am i my body? my feelings? musings on identity and focusing

lately, my three-year-old grandson is quite interested in the whole concept of identity and relationships.

“what’s your mom’s name?” “mommy!”

“who’s that?” “that’s callan. he’s my sister. jaden is my friend.”

“grandma, who’s that in the picture?” “the father.” “what’s his name?” “i don’t know. jack, maybe?” “no, that’s not jack.” “michael?” “no, not michael.” “is his name gordon?” “noooo! not gordon!” (that went on for 10 minutes, to ever-increasing amusement)

and the most interesting one:

i poke him in the belly. he giggles.
me: “who’s that?”
him: “that’s my belly!”
me: “that’s fabian!”
him: “no, that’s not fabian. i’m fabian!”

he’s not his belly. that’s something i’ve been thinking about quite a bit these last few months. to what degree am i my body? my mind? my soul? my ideal version is that it’s all me. i am my mind and my toenail. but it’s so easy to split it all off, and especially from the body. when i say “my feelings” there is a different connotation, a different implication, a different understanding from when i say “my knee”. there is a tacit understanding, often, that i am indeed my feelings but my knee is something that is owned by me, subservient to me. which of course raises the question of who “me” is (that’s material for another post; suffice to say that i quite like what matthew says here, informed by buddhist thich nhat hanh).

these thoughts about identity come to the fore even more now that i am taking a course in focusing. part of this is to go inside and acknowledge/describe a “felt sense” – processes, feelings or sensations that are experienced in the body. a suggestion in focusing is to describe such a sense like in this example:

i notice there is something that feels sad.

what’s curious is how my body reacted to that distancing. there are a number of layers: “i notice”, “there”, “something that …”; even “feels.” it is very different from

i am sad.

my body didn’t like the distancing.  the challenge i see before me is to use the various distances, rather than judge them. i know how very useful it can be for my clients to distance themselves from their feelings, to contemplate the possibility that they are not their feelings, and/or that they are not dominated by their feelings. if that can be useful for them, then clearly i might find some use for it as well.

fortunately, one of the core philosophies of focusing is that wherever the focusser wants to go is right. so there is not party line for me to tow; i don’t HAVE to use the distancing, i CAN use it. that makes me much more amenable to playing with it …

august 2010 buddhist carnival: right action

every month i delve into the buddhasphere to come up with interesting tidbits in buddhist writing. this time around i was interested in the concept of right action.

the poem we start out with today is the famous shin jin mei poem

the perfect way knows no difficulties
except that it refuses to make preferences;
only when freed from hate and love,
it reveals itself fully and without disguise;
a tenth of an inch’s difference,
and heaven and earth are set apart;
if you wish to see it before your own eyes,
have no fixed thoughts either for or against it.
to set up what you like against what you dislike –
this is the disease of the mind:
when the deep meaning of the way is not understood
peace of mind is disturbed to no purpose.

thanks, tricycle!

right action and the death penalty

i’m including this one because the writer draws a (perhaps tentative) conclusion that is different from my own; it’s important to me look at a diversity of points of view. also, it’s fitting to start with this one because “do not kill” is almost always cited as the first exhortation in the teachings about right action. i like the simplicity of it, similar to hippocrates’ basic idea, “first do no harm”. here is an excerpt of the post dying for killing:

one of the most important things the buddha taught was “do not kill.” it’s commonly accepted as the first precept. so, buddhists clearly do not believe that it’s right to kill, to take life. as the buddha did not teach, “do not kill except in the following cases…”, it’s commonly accepted that all killing is wrong. this is why many buddhists are vegetarians, peace activists and conscientious objectors.

isn’t it amazing how something so straightforward can be treated with such confusion? because here’s where i start wavering.

right action and the body

here, in fact, is a translation offered by a buddhist from malaysia about the buddha’s teaching. it is interesting how in the west, the idea of right action is usually linked closely to ethics whereas this section clearly is concerned with what one does with one’s body:

and which, friends, are the 3 kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma? here someone, stop all killing of living beings, abstains from injuring living beings; with rod & weapon laid aside, gentle and kind, such one dwells sympathetic towards all living beings.

avoiding the taking of what is not given, one refrains from stealing,what is not freely give. one does not take by way of theft the wealth and property of others, neither in the village nor in the forest. abandoning abuse of sensual pleasures, such one gives up misuse in sensual pleasures. one does not have intercourse with partners, who are protected by their mother, or father, or mother and father, or brother, or sister, or relatives, who is married, betrothed to another, who are protected by law, in prison, or who are engaged to other side.

that is how there are three kinds of bodily moral behaviour in harmony with the dhamma… such is right action!

right action, teaching and fun
this excerpt here from back to buddhism illustrates why it can sometimes be difficult to find interesting posts about buddhism – many buddhists just don’t bother to stick the label “buddhism” onto all they write.

i really don’t think it’s necessary to categorize something as buddhism or not-buddhism; after all, there is really not much difference between the two. when i write about racism, i am writing about right mind. when i write about teaching, i am writing about right action.

so let’s see what he says about teaching.

in all my classes, whether they are english or computer science or meditation, i make a concerted effort to make sure it is fun. in fact, i try to make class silly. the class has to be fun for me and it has to be fun for my students. if we are not having fun, we are not learning.

… after lunch is the most difficult time to teach. to counteract the drowsiness of my students, i knew i would have to really knock the lesson out of the park.

it’s relatively easy to act out the verbs – walk, shout, am. it’s also not so hard to point to nouns and dress them up with adjectives. even adverbs are not so hard to impersonate

however, acting out through and at and with is a bit more of a challenge; toward was nearly impossible.
we made it through prepositions i had planned. salt played a big role in the lesson. the salt is on the table, above the table, under the table, with the glass, behind the glass. there was a combination of horror and laughter when the salt went in the glass.

right action, software and the mundane. oh, and green living

at first glance, this post on buddhism and software selection (first found on another malay buddhist blog, buddhist bugs) seemed a little lightweight. well, it is, just like the book they suggest, what would buddha do? nevertheless, there is something intriguing to seeing buddhist teachings applied to something so seemingly mundane (and yet very important for businesses, just like not stealing and not cheating). after all, if we don’t apply the teachings to the mundane, what’s the point?

and if you’re in the mood for more lightweight reading, go to mother nature news and read about the book what would the buddha recycle? once again, it’s easy to raise our highbrow eyebrows but let’s be honest – isn’t light and fluffy material like this that sometimes provides the entrance to more profound learnings?

right action and inaction
buddha’s pillow has a number of posts on right action, like this one on responsibility:

many of us choose inaction in stressful or frightening situations. this is not practice. inaction in the presence of conscious choices of right vs. wrong actions is irresponsible to oneself and one’s world.

right action and social responsibility
more on responsibility.  here`s an interview at shambala sun about social action:
goodman: kittisaro often quotes ajahn chah as saying, “if it shouldn’t be this way, it wouldn’t be this way.” yet we live in a world of great suffering. how do you reconcile ajahn chah’s teaching with the buddhist precepts of “right speech” and “right action”?

thanissara: at some level it’s obviously true”it can be no way other than it is right now. however our actions in the present condition the future.

buddha didn’t just sit there and say, “oh well, the world is at it is.” he acted. in fact he tried three times to prevent a war between those in his home country of kapilavastu and the king of kosala. yet he wasn’t able to stop the bloodshed. he had to accept that this was a karma he couldn’t alter, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t try. on leaving the area, it is recorded that his beloved attendant ananda asked him why he was so sad, to which the buddha replied that his people would be massacred within the week.

right action, therapy, living in the now and values

the smart buddhist, written by a therapist, has all kinds of choice morsels on offer. here he touches on a sensitive point for me, the idea of being value neutral as a therapist:

the experience of living in the present, paradoxically, can tempt us into experiential avoidance all over again, just in a new form. it’s quite possible to trade escape from the now for escape into the now. the recent enthusiasm for mindfulness and acceptance in the west needs to be channeled properly or we risk creating just another form of western self-indulgence. by themselves, mindfulness methods as they’re often used in western psychotherapy don’t give sufficient attention to the organizing influence of purpose in human life. in the spiritual traditions from which such practices were drawn, “right action” is specified through ethical principles. but western therapists are encouraged to take a value-neutral professional stance, and not direct our clients to any particular belief or “right action” enjoined by a religious or spiritual tradition. nevertheless, we still can help our clients gain access to their deepest aspirations and turn a life lived in the present moment into a life worth living.

right action and rightness

in the last little while, i’ve come across a number of situations where people understandably got a little itchy at the idea of rightness, for example in the comments on my post about trying to come up with a definition of mental health. what’s with this right action, right thought, etc.? part of this comes precisely from the doctrine of value neutrality that many of us been exposed to – in therapy for some of us, but definitely in science. historically, this is also (paradoxically) connected to the very fabric of democracy and human rights, for example when it comes to religious freedom. it is useful, then, to look at this idea of rightness. dogen sangha gives a bit of insight here:

there is none among the many kinds of right that fails to appear at the very moment of doing right. the myriad kinds of right have no set shape, but they converge on the place of doing right faster than iron to a magnet, and with a force stronger than the vairambhaka winds.

(even though each of milliaeds rights do never have any kinds of decisive form beforehand, and so there is no right, which exists before at the present moment, and at the same time there is no right, which continues its existence to the next moment. right is always exists just at the present moment, and such a present moment continue at every moment.)

right is a simple fact, which occurs just when it is done at the present moment, therefore it is perfectly impossible for right to exist at a different moment other than at the present moment at all.

right action and musicianship

we started with the art of poetry, let’s end with the art of trumpetry. here is a beautiful piece at macfune about musicians and right action

what, then, of the moral commitment of the musician? what is it to be a trumpet player? certainly we can differentiate between the hack who puts some plumbing to his lips every once in a while and the truest artist whose spiritual being is not separate from the physical processes inherent in performance. the difference is morality. the difference is how one lives one’s life, not how one thinks idly about right and wrong but how one acts.

(side note: nothing is still, nothing is constant, nothing exists from one instant to the next: all we are is action. there are no nouns in this universe, only verbs. all nouns are categorical statements that limit and defy the constantly changing nature of phenomenal existence. “i” should be understood as a verb, not a noun.)

right. so the musician is, like all artists, exploring the fundamental question of human existence: the moral question. when we listen to miles, coltrane, glenn gould, to the cleveland orchestra playing beethoven (!), or to any other great musician, if we pay attention we can hear a profound moral question posed.

i remember reading somewhere or other that the key to understanding jazz is to hear the hidden social message: in the softest, most intimate ballad are the seeds of a profound sadness, and in the most joyous, swinging celebratory bop number is wild rebellion, lurking just beneath the surface.

if you’ve made it this far, thank you! come again next month, on september 15, or read some of the other buddhist carnivals.

july buddhist carnival: the humble edition

in the last few weeks, i have had many an occasion to think about humility. here, then, is a buddhist carnival dedicated entirely to humility.

this time, i will start with a poem of my own:

ha’aha’a: humility.
beyond this and that,
above servitude,
below arrogance,
not higher not lower –
just that:
here i am.
naked.
let the winds blow …
ha’aha’a.

(ha’aha’a is hawaiian for humility. when the the spirit of aloha is explained, ha’aha’a has a place: a – akahi (tenderness); l – lokahi (unity, harmony, oneness); o – olu’olu (kindenss, being pleasant and agreeable); h – ha’aha’a (humility); a – ahonui (patience and perseverance)


everything is eye level

humility, very simply, is the absence of arrogance. where there is no arrogance, you relate with your world as an eye-level situation, without one-upmanship. because of that, there can be a genuine interchange. nobody is using their message to put anybody else down, and nobody has to come down or up to the other person’s level. everything is eye-level. humility in the shambhala tradition also involves some kind of playfulness, which is a sense of humor….in most religious traditions, you feel humble because of a fear of punishment, pain, and sin. in the shambhala world you feel full of it. you feel healthy and good. in fact, you feel proud. therefore, you feel humility. that’s one of the shambhala contradictions or, we could say, dichotomies. real humility is genuineness.

this is a quote by chögyam trungpa, at art of dharma. the post is about a comparison between buddhist and christian ideas on humility. i love the idea of playfulness in humility, and the paradox of pride and humility. definitely something to investigate a little further.

humility and moral outrage

staying with the theme of christianity and buddhism for a moment longer, paul knitter from how a christian buddhist sees it starts his post on the limits of moral outrage with these words

in these days of widespread – including my own – moral outrage at sacerdotal pedophilia and episcopal cover-up, this sentence from richard rohr’s the naked now stopped me in my moralistic tracks: “moral outrage at the ideas of others hardly ever serves god’s purposes, only our own.” (p. 132)

and later on asks

so, how can we be “outraged” without become “dualistic,” without making it an either/or between good/bad? how can we declare our opposition to something without cutting off our connection with that something?

he suggests

in declaring what we think is wrong or what we believe needs fixing, we have to feel, and we have to enable others to feel, that we recognize our own limitations. we are conscious that in speaking strongly we can never speak definitively. there’s always more to learn. there are always other perspectives. and yes, we may be wrong. we know that. and we must be aware of that as we voice our outrage

and concludes

if we can be outraged but at the very same time humble and compassionate – then, and maybe only then, can our outrage serve god’s purposes.

i wonder whether it’s possible to be outraged and humble at the same time. is it still outrage when we add considerations of humility and compassion? rage implies singlemindedness, even when used outside of human emotion. “the fire raged through the city”, for example, evokes a force that consumes everything in its path, without looking left or right. humility is everything BUT singleminded – it always considers the other.

humility and “i deserve to be treated with respect”

in buddhism … pride is thought of as one of the obstacles to a happy, peaceful existence. pride gets in the way of compassion, and compassion and cherishing others are what buddhists say lead to a happy and content life (more about compassion tomorrow). when you embrace pride, though, you see yourself as higher than others and you value your happiness over the happiness of others. when you embrace humility”the opposite of pride”you see yourself on the same level as others, and you value their happiness just as much as you value your own.

let me tell you, i struggled with this teaching for a long, long time. there was this one part of me that was all like, “i’ve worked hard to get where i am, and i am special, dang it. just look at all of those bestsellers that i’ve penned. i deserve to be treated with respect. i’ve earned it.”

this from alisa at project happily ever after. i still get a little confused over how humility and the idea of deserving/being special etc. related to each other. maybe the idea of equality helps here, too. e.g. if i’m happy to celebrate someone’s small accomplishments, then why not celebrate mine, too. if i’m special, then others are special, too, and vice versa.

shin buddhism, humility and “inner togetherness”

jeff wilson has a guest post at daily buddhism, where he shares some delightful words about shin buddhism. he points to the great importance of relationships when it comes to humility:

for me, shin practice is about humility, gratitude, and service to others. and also good food and dancing, since shin temples are true communities, with many activities for all ages and lots of yummy japanese cooking. … none of us are deluded about our level of attainment-we are ordinary people, prone to foolishness. but everyone, shin buddhist or otherwise, exists within an inconceivable network of support from all things, an ever-changing matrix that provides us with nourishment, shelter, love, and, if we don’t let our egos get in the way, pushes us on toward final liberation. awakening to this inner togetherness which we all share helps us to get a perspective on our karmic limitations, and this engenders humility, patience, and a sense of humor about our shortcomings and those of others.

humility, bullshit and conceit

i am always interested in buddhism from the point of view of martial arts. at dharma-zen blog: martial arts in the modern age we find the lovely zen story of buddha mind and bullshit mind.

the eight winds cannot move me
one fart blows me across the river

maybe you want to go and find out what that’s all about ..

image by alex de carvalho

monthly buddhist carnival – the weird and cranky edition

angry buddha sculpture

do
not
act
from
ego.
it is a sticky little
mouse trap that
begins
with
a
wheel
running us in
circles.
get off.

(from full on arrival)

today is a weird day for me, completely, it seems, driven by ego.  today is june 15, time for a buddhist carnival, like every 15th of the month.  today, i will take you on the back alleys of the carnival – you know, the ones with the empty boxes just barely stacked behind the circus tent, with the lion tamer hissing at the trapeze artist, and the guy who runs the merry-go-round lighting up a joint for the fourth time today, and it’s only quarter past five.

let me show you a bit of the ego that drives the circus of this blog.  maybe the shock of the 100-watt light bulb will scare the ego away.

aha!  and already we have the ego talking – because that’s the language of the ego:  “scare”.  fear works, doesn’t it?  just ask any abused woman who stays with the guy who beats her day in day out.  ego knows that fear works, it keeps people trapped.  trapping – that’s another thing this ego knows about.  i’ve spent most of today trapped behind the computer, and not because someone put me in a cage, no – simply because i trapped myself there.  cranky, with only a glimpse of pleasantness here and there, i didn’t want to go anywhere and do the things that move my mood ahead.  and you know what?  there was a grim satisfaction with all of that.  check up on lexulous, go to twitter, check email, round and round and round – “a wheel running us in circles”.   “you hate this!”  “yes!”  i can feel my teeth clamped together, ready to snap at anyone.  i haven’t started dinner.  i haven’t written this blog post.  grrrrr.  “you hate this!” “yes!”  round and round.  there’s a sense of wicked pride in wasting time.  grrrr.

(there’s probably something underneath all this. )

it feels strange to spew all of this forth in a blog post; i’m not supposed to do this – what am i, a 15-year-old emo who regales her audience with every detail of her oh-so-fascinating inner life?

grrr.

but it felt like i needed to try something different.  so there you go, you heard my ego talking.  and now for some people who have way more interesting things to say, this time simply as links to interesting buddhist blog posts i came across in the last little while:

http://www.thereformedbuddhist.com/2010/04/early-western-buddhist-scholars.html

http://rogernolan.blogspot.com/2010/05/perspectives-no-self-anatta.html

http://www.prairiewindsangha.org/2009/10/five-contemplations.html

http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2010/06/bg-176-the-place-of-the-erotic/

http://buddha-inside.blogspot.com/2010/05/answer-to-anger-and-aggression-is.html

http://www.tibetanbuddhistaltar.org/2010/06/the-original-longing/

http://buddhismnow.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/jinkji/

http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/3993

may 2010 buddhist carnival

callirgraphy: zen art

it’s a day late but here it is: my monthly buddhist carnival, serving up interesting little tidbits from the buddhist blogosphere.

we always start with a poem.

how bitter, how blue is the anger!
at the bottom of the light in april’s atmospheric strata,
spitting, gnashing, pacing back and forth,
i am asura incarnate

this is the lament – or perhaps just observation? – of kenji, one of japan’s most celebrated poet. he was a staunch follower of nichiren buddhism who has been accused by some of seriously fanning the flame of japanese imperialism during world war ii. this article by hiroaki sato at the asia-pacific journal provides an interesting insight into japanese culture and history and its connection with buddhism. a great article, and also one that dispels the idea that all buddhists are gentle and ever peace-loving. in addition, this essay is also a thoughtful reflection on the difficulty of translating japanese poetry into english.

buddhism and mental health: PTSD

since this month is mental health month, i’d also like to refer to at least two posts that talk about buddhism and mental health. at wildmind, we find this:

in northern india, the tibetan government in exile has been taking care of monks and nuns who have been brutally tortured by the chinese before they managed to escape to safety in india … there is no ability to provide the years of psychotherapy that might be necessary. the only hope for these people was to create a program of relaxation and meditation that could be taught in a group setting.

… the tibetan program was so impressive to researchers that a group from columbus, ohio, decided to try it out with women who had experienced domestic violence and other similar traumas. the group worked with the institute of buddhist dialectics and devised a program of short lectures and twice daily meditation. the results? significant reduction in overall PTSD symptoms, increase in positive emotions and reduction in fear, shame and sadness. many of the women continued to experience an overall benefit 365 days after the program ended and also experienced improved overall functioning.

(i’ve abbreviated some of this, hope that’s ok, wildmind people)

buddhism and mental health: the pros and cons of meditation
here is a mental health blog from singapore. it’s always nice to find blogs from non-western countries! he offers three different points of view on the usefulness of meditation when dealing with mental health challenges: meditation is definitely useful; meditation retreats can be harmful to some participants’ mental health; and meditation is useful, as long as it is undertaken with the help of a mental health professional.

the neurology of dualism

from mental health to neurology, not too much of a jump. travis eneix makes a very good point about accepting the concept of dualism for what it is:

the neurological structures of the brain are specifically evolved to give us the sense of being separate from our environment. it is an actual felt experience that what you feel as you is separate from things beyond the sensate barrier of touch, and therefore not-you.

with this simple knowledge, hard won by dedicated and caring scientists over the years as knowledge itself evolves, we can immediately take that feeling of separation into account not as a mistake, but as a useful tool for navigating our lived experience. instead of trying vainly to be rid of that sense, which if you listen to the non-dual teachers none of them are, you can view the sense as simply that, a sensation.

open source buddhism

something that travis and i have exchanged a few messages about is open source. the idea of open source has fascinated me for quite a while (actually, i’m surprised i haven’t written much about it. a little bit is here) so i was interested to find this site on open source buddhism. here they explain what it is:

a key component of open source is peer production. this is a form of joint collaboration by groups of
individuals. it relies on self-organizing communities of individuals who come together to produce a shared outcome, result, or product.

this same style of organization, as well as the philosophy behind it, can be applied to buddhism as well. we are living in an era where we have access to extant forms of buddhism and the records and documents of many forms that do not survive in a living form today. for those of us who are converts to buddhism, we do not have a vested national or cultural reason to embrace a specific form of buddhism over another. if one is thai, for example, it would make sense that the thai form of theravadan buddhism would be embraced and followed as a practitioner. …

as a european american, it does not necessarily make sense to embrace a very culturally entrenched form of buddhism. people do this and, for example, take tibetan names, where tibetan clothes, and generally embrace a culturally specific form of buddhism. this is definitely one possible path. an alternative to this is to look at the various forms of buddhism, evaluate the teachings and practices of them, and to work with those aspects that make the most sense within a non-buddhist culture without the history and relationship to buddhism that other nations and peoples already have. …

this is not a call to abandon traditional forms of buddhism but is, rather, a decision to not necessarily be limited by boundaries or practices simply because the form of buddhism practiced in a specific region or period had these limitations.

more about buddhism and open source here.

how important is enlightenment?

all of us who have spent some time hanging out with the ideas and practice of buddhism have thought about the place of enlightenment in our lives. here’s how one buddhist teacher, amaro bikkhu, talks about it

we developed a tradition of having a winter retreat during the cold, dark months of january and february. about three weeks into one of these early retreats, i was working very diligently and was extremely focused on the meditation. i wasn’t talking to anyone or looking at anything. every lunar quarter we would have an all-night meditation vigil. this was the full moon in january. i was really charged up and was convinced, “okay, tonight’s the night.”

want to know the rest? go here.

the importance of immediate response

from inexhaustible things:

someone said, “if you give a man a fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of the day. if you teach a man to fish, you’ve fed him for the rest of his life.” whose idea is this? does it match your own circumstances right now? is this piece of wisdom the rule for every instance? how would you behave if it was?

regardless, i responded: if you see someone who needs to be taught to fish, teach him to fish. if you see someone is hungry, feed him.

life can be this simple.

i don’t know what to add.

zen and calligraphy

having started with a poem, let’s end this edition of the buddhist carnival with another view at a creative endeavour: calligraphy.

on sunday chozen-roshi, co-abbot of great vow, gave a wonderful talk pointing out the variety of lessons we can learn from brushwork. the main point that stood out to me was how a skilful calligrapher is attention to each brushstroke, finishing each cleanly and starting each freshly. there isn’t regret, “oh, that stroke was all wrong. i should just give up.” in a similar way a student of zen is attentive to each moment. she also pointed out in calligraphy the delicate nature of various pressures. at times only the thin delicate tip of the brush makes a mark. at other times one presses the whole brush on the paper. in a similar way to live our lives skilfully we learn when to press harder and when to let up.

buddhist carnival – april 2010

it’s been two years now, i think, that i’ve been starting the buddhist carnival with a poem. this one i found when i was rooting around the buddhasphere in connection with the post on mice, death and neuroticism. when i first found the poem, i didn’t really want to post it. it starts like this

meditation on death
marananussati

like a flame blown out by the wind,
this life-continuum goes to destruction;
recognizing one’s similarities to others,
one should develop mindfulness of death.

just as people who have achieved
great success in the world have died,
so too i must certainly die.
death is harassing me.

death always comes along
together with birth,
searching for an opportunity,
like a murderer out to kill.

(the rest is here)

so why didn’t i want to post it? because it seemed so … morbid. “death is harassing me”, “like a murderer out to kill,” etc. not beautiful. not accepting. such crass language.

fortunately, i woke up from this disney dream. much of death is ugly, unacceptable and crass. prettying it up with songs of hosanna and pink ribbons wouldn’t be very buddhist, would it?

to illustrate the idea of death, why don’t we go to the worst horse. this is a camera.

so what’s the deal here? well, this item is one of the most recent pinhole cameras ” yes, it works ” by the artist wayne martin belger. as belger explains, the camera is “named ‘yama,’ [after] the tibetan god of death. in tibetan buddhism, yama will see all of life and karma is the ‘judge’ that keeps the balance. the skull was blessed by a tibetan lama for its current journey and i’m working with a tibetan legal organization that is sending me to the refugee cities in india.”

cleaning house

let’s stay with a bit of harshness here. “it is important to clean house”, says marguerite manteau-rao, “and keep on purifying one’s mind through unbroken mindfulness. just as critical is surrounding oneself with good people, starting with one’s most inner circle. this is an aspect of practice that often does not get enough attention.” she then goes on to quote from the kesi sutta from the pali canon

“if a tamable horse does not submit either to a mild training or to a harsh training or to a mild and harsh training, lord, then i kill it. why is that? [i think:] ‘don’t let this be a disgrace to my lineage of teachers.’ but the blessed one, lord, is the unexcelled trainer of tamable people. how do you train a tamable person?”

what do you do with untamable people? do you kill them?

dying completely

the barking unicorn is someone who i have come to like (and sometimes dread) because i often feel he’d like to tame me 🙂 while i sorely dislike people’s attempts at taming me (why do you think i dropped out of grade 9, never to return to high school?) i must admit that i’ve benefitted a lot from the barking unicorn’s words. for example, when i went to germany and needed to deal with my pretty intense fear of flying, i decided to build my own in-flight magazine, studded with online writings that i knew would keep my attention. one of them was the barking unicorn’s article about the unicorn and the goddess. it truly brought me grace – and it’s also in line with this whole idea of death that we seem to be pursuing right now. here is a teaser.

“dancers die completely… when a dancer dances she ceases to exist, annihilated utterly as if she had never been.”

a dancer’s ego is what dies and ceases to exist. the ego is that which considers itself an “i” separate from everything else. the ego is your delusion that you are you and the rest of the universe is not you. ….
the ego is the final, tallest, thickest barrier to enlightenment. when the ego dies and ceases to exist, one enters the state of being enlightened, of realizing that there is no “i” and no “you”, no “here” or “out there”. there is no dancer, no illusion of an “i”. there is only all in one. the dancer ceases to occupy a place in existence, and the goddess fills her place.

although her ego dies, a dancer persists as the vehicle she drives – a fleshly body with perceptions of sensation, experiencing things. when she is dancing – enlightened – a dancer experiences bliss – a quiet, serene state of contentment with things just the way they are. …

“let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life – after that you cannot be deceived.”

enlightenment changes an aspect permanently, even though that aspect may be reborn into samsara again (“get a new vehicle,” in that metaphor). this change, this difference from those who have yet to “die completely,” is the goddess kiss to which i refer. it is the indelible mark of one who has been “made more than mortal forever.”

to dance is to be out of yourself. larger, more beautiful, more powerful.
this is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking. ~ agnes de mille

from dying to awakening and knowing: words

jayarava has a very interesting post about linguistics, discussing the word “knowing” in various languages. for example

there is [an] important sanskrit verb √budh ‘to perceive, notice, understand, to awake’. from this word we get the important buddhist technical terms buddha ‘awoken, understood’ and bodhi ‘awakening, understanding’. we also get the verbal noun buddhi ‘intelligence, reason, mind’. the only trace of this word in english is in the word ‘bid’, as in “do as i bid you” which is related to the causative form bodhaya- ‘to inform’ via the anglo-saxon bÄ“odan ‘command’.

words for buddhism, and for christians

for decades i have harbored an interest in buddhism, however i would quickly become so confused when confronted with all the different kinds of buddhism and words that were so foreign to me that my head would spin and i would simply give up. finally, i decided i was going to stick with it ……. and now i see that the very confusion i had experienced is probably similar to what someone who grows up in a non-christian culture would experience when learning about christianity. within christianity there is more than the catholics (and all of their “varieties”) and the mainline protestants (with their own different sub groups) but all the small community-based, storefront churches as well. what is a buddhist, a muslim, a hindu to do when confronted with all this?

so it has been with me as i learned about theraveda, mahayana, zen, tibetan, pure land, vajrayana, etc. once i began to at least attain a basic understanding, the next question began to arise …. so which one should i study and/or follow?? in fact, i hear this question quite often among those who are searching for a path.

here is my reflection on this question ….. first, i asked myself, how did i choose to become catholic? well, i didn’t really, now did i. it was a decision that was made for me by by parents, my family, my cultural and national heritage. hmmm …well, my parents or my family are not going to be making this decision for me. i am not aware of an english or polish tradition of buddhism, so i have no cultural group to return to ….. and i certainly don’t want to choose the wrong buddhism to learn about ………… after all, i already have 50 years into this catholicism, i am not so sure i am going to have another 50 years to develop my understanding of buddhism, so i had better get it right!!! (maybe, if i am lucky, in my next rebirth i will be born into the right one!!!)

here is how i have answered this question for myself …. i have decided to simply pay attention to where i am.

this – and more – is from a buddhist catholic.

buddhists, christians and social media

continuing in the vein of buddhism and christianity, here is something that attracted me first because of the title – why do we need a buddhist social network – but ended up interesting me more because it offers yet another angle on the question of whether buddhism, at least here in north america, is more of a religion or more of a (sometimes neutral?) common ground.

i was thinking about exactly how the buddhist community here in columbus is different than the christian communities in which i grew up. in the christian faith- and in most others as well- you find a good church, and then you keep going to that church exclusively. every once in a while there might be an event with multiple churches, but for the most part people either stay put or they stop going altogether, especially if other family members attend a particular branch.

in the buddhist community however, there is a tremendous amount of sangha-hopping. in fact, buddhist sanghas tend to be more of a ‘family’ set-up, where each person has an immediate sangha and an extended sangha who are often times scattered all over the world. while large traditions often sponsor the opening of large, beautiful new temples, these are not representative of the number of people that might actually practice their tradition alone, even amongst their own regulars.

the second major difference is that americans frequently attend retreats and dhamma talks held by monastics regardless of their tradition (with the exception of people who belong to ethnically close-knit buddhist communities). this is tantamount to catholics going to southern baptist revivals to ‘broaden their experience’. both are christian- but how much do they really mix? on the other hand, one of my dear friends is a japanese nichiren buddhist with whom i have gone to a variety of buddhist events all over town- even the tibetan temple downtown. this is unusual when you compare buddhism to other faiths- but then, buddhism tends to defy these concepts (and all concepts as a rule).

buddhist concepts, reiki concepts

let’s end with a rather longish treatise on the question of whether reiki has a buddhist origin, by oliver klatt, reiki master and editor of the german-language reiki magazin. i have to admit that i did not read through the whole article; i’m including it here because sometimes reiki gets all cute and new agey on us, and i find it refreshing when someone takes a more sober in thorough approach to investigating things.

we often read today that the usui system of reiki has a buddhist origin or that the spiritual roots of the system are in buddhism … taking a closer look at the spiritually significant elements of the usui system as the first step [i] examine them to determine if they have a special proximity to buddhism. then, in a second step, it appears reasonable to examine the spiritual orientation of the usui system as a whole and to also scrutinize it for a special closeness to buddhism. it appears to make sense for both steps to also examine a possible proximity of the usui system with the other major spiritual traditions and religions of the world. if it turns out that the usui system actually does have a close proximity to buddhism but is also close to the other religions and spiritual traditions, then we cannot claim that the system has a “special close relationship” with buddhism … in summary, no special relationship between the usui system of reiki and buddhism is discernible; in any case, no closer proximity than it also has to other religions or spiritual traditions.

of mice, death and neuroticism

what a nice surprise! two years ago i asked a question on louise m. brookes’ blog and today she replied. louise teaches bushcraft and wilderness survival, and blogs about building your own renewable energy systems, sustainable technology as well as personal development, fitness and health.

she had said

death makes all of our attempts at life utterly meaningless, laughable, ridiculous almost, yet we continue, most of us with our singularly particular neuroses.

and i commented

i’m curious why someone like you, who spends so much time in nature, would say that? isn’t death just part of the cycle?

here’s an excerpt of the reply

nature has a wonderful perspective on death, one that it is continually sharing all the time, it does not consider it either bad or good. death just is, death just happens …

any moment our life can be extinguished which renders all our ‘activity’ fairly redundant and apparently without import … i say apparently because we confer great meaning on our unknown spans of life … but we fail to attach great meaning to death … in many of our day to day lives it doesn’t bear thinking about and perhaps it should. the nature of nature is impermanence. it gives me great freedom to know that i can be plucked from my reality without a moment’s notice … death balances the gift of life, like the apex of a pendulum’s swing. when we fail to grant death its place in our day to day life, we fail to have truth …

when we deny death and avoid it and live with our eyes shut we are automatically neurotic. which was why i pointed it out in this manner as rendering ‘our attempts at life as meaningless, laughable and ridiculous’, like our discussing of the price of peas when someone is pointing a weapon at us.

we have just been adopted by a cat. every day she brings us various bits of mice and birds and leaves them on our doorsteps as offerings. mice who up until their early demise in the jaws of a cat were busy fetching food and building nests for their young – the difference between mice and men is that the mice are much more aware of the cat in any given moment than we are of death.

had we all known perhaps we would make different choices about what is important and what isn’t… would i stand there still and wonder for as long about which make up looks best? would i spend more time with my loved ones, would i help more folk that crossed my path?

this, of course, reminds me of the buddhist (and also hindu) practice of mindfully and intentionally engaging with death. as v.g. gunaratna says

it is not for nothing that the buddha has, in the very highest terms, commended to his disciples the practice of mindfulness regarding death. this is known as “marananussati bhavana”. one who wants to practice it must at stated times, and also every now and then, revert to the thought maranam bhavissati — “death will take place.” this contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the visuddhi magga which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega) and with understanding (ñana).

for some reason – perhaps because of my father`s interest in buddhism – the idea that death is always near has been given to me when i was quite young, when i was about 14. i still remember it clearly. i was strolling on the sidewalk, almost home, when i realized that in the apartment building next to me, they were fixing the roof.

in germany, most roofs are made with heavy roof tiles. with a flash, it occurred to me that right here, right now, one of those tiles could fall down, hit me in the head, and kill me. i also felt in my bones a fundamental existential principle: “ìf not now, when?”

this second of realization was one of the most significant moments in my life. why i reacted to this experience with gratitude and an almost excited astonishment instead of fear, i’ll never know. it was a gift, just like having louise’s blog post land in my lap was.

may we be continuously aware of the freshness of each moment.

mice play, cats eat, i
work in the garden, sow, plant.
—  now? later?:  i die.

buddhist carnival, the first in 2010

it’s january 15, and time to serve up this month’s buddhist carnival, a selection of posts from the buddhasphere.  here is this month’s poem:

a first kensho

when things abruptly shift
like part of the body misaligned by a sharp move
when the house goes, or the he or she,
any room at once gets a new look
and old familiar chairs are instantly antique
a trip to the kitchen strewn with the rubble of routine.
what’s left when things get quiet, the certainties leave?
the reality of ‘you’ and what to do with that.

and because i like poems so much, let’s have another one.  here is an excerpt from one of my twitter friend dirk johnson’s creations.

all acts are sweepstakes.

the odds are against you.
there’s nothing to win
or to lose. the ruse of what

you credit with possibility
is zeros and ones on the fed
computer, a tally of your failures

and triumphs, hills and valleys, spills
on your bicycle ride from a pub.
you could enter a precious moment,

watch rain drops gather at the tip
of an oak leaf and tremble
at their certain fall. but this

is no more real than the bare
bulb a silk moth flings itself against
and pings off of again and again.

isn’t it beautiful?    don’t you want to read the rest?

redemption, forgiveness and tiger woods
earlier this month, there was a bit of a flurry in the buddhasphere as a result of a discussion of forgiveness and redemption, inspired by tiger wood’s story.  brit hume of FOX news had made some curious comments on the subject:  “he is said to be a buddhist. i don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the christian faith. my message to tiger would be, ‘tiger, turn to the christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.

those words provoked a letter-writing campaign by buddhists, started by the reformed buddhistthe examiner took this opportunity to examine what is directly related to buddhist philosophy in regards to the terms ‘forgiveness’ and ‘redemption’.

redemption means the settling of a debt, whether of monetary or spiritual value. this concept is indeed meaningless in buddhism. there is no debt, no sin, no accounts to be settled. however, there is the concept of ‘merit’, which is the accumulation of good karma through positive acts. it is sometimes described as if you are swimming in a lake, and there is a current following you with either positive or negative effects- most often, a mix of the two unless you have been consciously and deliberately creating a more positive (or negative) flow. but still, there is no ‘debt’ or balance to be maintained. you can have an effect on future events by acting in the present moment, but there is no way to ‘make up for’ or absolve yourself. the consequences of past events are unavoidable, period, including the consequences of being born human- old age, sickness, and death. it happened to the buddha, it happens to everything- people, religions, nations, planets.

forgiveness is another matter entirely.

more here.

buddhist magazines: racist?
john pappas over at the elephant journal has a great article on popular buddhist magazines.  of tricyle he says that it has

more glossy advertisements for crap then cosmo. “do you need a new zafu? new malas? what does your mala say about your practice? perhaps a brand new meditation timer is what you need? big wallet, then big mind©®â„¢ is for you!”

yup, i have to agree with that one.  then he goes on to shambala sun

one major snag is that shambhala sun tends towards the “self-help” buddhist revolution. this is not a revolution that i have any quams with but i have no interest in reading about how buddhism will help me “overcome shyness” or how to get through a “mindful divorce”. if that is your bag, then great! roll with it. i’m just not that interested. if i want to better myself, i like to go closer to the source.

shambhala sun publication’s strength lies with its blog.

but here’s the interesting part, one that has always made me a bit uncomfortable:

there is one huge glaring problem with these publications though – the lack of inclusion of asian practitioners (as well as any minority) in the ranks of their staff-writers and advisors of these magazines. they all do a horrible job of this. for a detailed description of this go over to the angry asian buddhist. arun has spent plenty of time on these issues and can present it with more passion that i can. just a brief view at any of these magazine will show you that asians are not well presented. arun even did a graph! it is sweet.

this says one thing to readers ~ western buddhism is for whites and is white dominated.

and in a more than superficially obvious connection, the renegade buddha declares i am not a western buddhist.  “sometimes,” he says, “being religious means wearing funny hats.”  or sitting on top-of-the-line zafus.  same thing.

flourishing
the good man william harryman at integral options has a series of talks by the dalai lama here http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2009/12/all-in-mind-dialogue-with-dalai-lama_19.html.  this is part 3, where the dalai lama joins the founder of positive psychology, martin seligman, and buddhist scholar alan wallace to consider what it takes to flourish “…really flourish… individually and collectively.”

irreverence is next to godliness
finally, a few days ago, i discovered jack zen.  on his blog with clean, open lines, he writes a short post here, a few words there.  like seeing things as they are:

i had a conversation recently with gabriella gupta who suggests that irreverence is next to godliness. it’s certainly in line with the buddhist admonition that “when you meet the buddha on the road, kill him.” as severe as it sounds, it’s simply a reminder that we hold no idolatrous images of reality, instead simply seeing it as it is. when we simply see things as they are, we don’t need reverence to see the beauty of the infinite. we don’t need to pitch tents to preserve the eternal.

image by boeke