Tag Archives: simplicity

tea, zen and the complexity of mental illness

tea at nightmy good friend carol has a new blog, cha-cha-cha – adventures with tea.  she just published one of my melodramatic poems there, ode to tea.

tea – a neverending topic. reminds me a bit of the twitter and face-to-face conversations i’ve had in the last few days (with the ever-thoughtful ashok, for example) about  the yin and yang of the complexity and simplicity of mental illness, and of this bob newhart video about therapy, stop it.

why?

because of the old english stereotype that everything can be made better with a cup of tea.

your dog died?  tell me about it over a cup of tea.  you’re scared senseless at the prospect of driving over a bridge?  have a cup of tea, it’ll settle you down a bit.  it’s been two weeks since you’ve washed your hair?  let’s sit down with a cuppa.

it’s crazy.  having a cup of tea (or going for a walk, or eating healthy, or other well-meaning advice) isn’t going to cure grief, phobias or depression.  mental illness, just like anything about the human condition, is infinitely complex.

and yet …

newcomer: “please give me guidance”

zen master: “did you eat breakfast?”

newcomer: “yes.”

zen master: “did you wash the dishes you used?”

with this, the newcomer was enlightened.

this is a well-known zen story, told by sensei ogui in his book, zen shin talks.

i think when it comes to mental illness – and again, to all of the human condition – it behooves us to reflect on the fact that it is both unimaginably complex and bafflingly simple.

perhaps this is one way to think about it: the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  and sometimes the journey out of the mindboggling chaos of mental illness can start with a simple cup of tea, offered by a friend with warmth and sincerity, and received with gratitude and the comfort of a fleeting moment of joy and pleasure.

image by dsevilla

buddhist carnival – december 2008 edition, part 1

zen calligraphy of the rinzai school; kyoto, japanmerry christmas!

you know what’s funny? by 1992, i had pretty much foresworn elaborate christmas celebrations, and was quite happy with it. that’s the year i met my husband. now he grew up in a buddhist household. “yay, a bonus!” i thought. and yes, definitely, i’m very lucky to have married into that family. but – they go crazy around christmas! it’s one celebration after the other. it’s one of the amusing ironies of life that this old chick, who grew up surrounded by lutheran theologians, would marry into a buddhist family to experience in-your-face christmas. my in-laws celebrating christmas with such abandon is also a sign of their generous religious tolerance, fostered, for sure, by their buddhist background.

so once again – merry christmas to all my buddhist friends!

it’s the 15th of the month and buddhist carnival time again. loden jinpa was going to host it but something came up, so it’s here again. enjoy a smorgasbord of buddhist posts, completely free of eggnog, shortbread and yule logs!

“who prattles of illusion or nirvana?”
you know i always like to start with a poem. this one is from a post at buddhist torrents, about a book of zen poems by lucien stryk.

this anthology, jointly translated by a japanese scholar and an american poet, is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind to appear in english. their collaboration has rendered translations both precise and sublime, and their selection, which span 1,500 years, from the early t’ang dynasty to the present day, includes many poems that have never before been translated into english. stryk and ikemoto offer us zen poetry in all its diversity: chinese poems of enlightenment and death, poems of the japanese masters, many haiku ” the quintessential zen art ” and an impressive selection of poems by shinkichi takahashi, japan’s greatest contemporary zen poet.

here is an example, by ryokan

without a jot of ambition left
i let my nature flow where it will.
there are ten days of rice in my bag
and by the hearth, a bundle of firewood.
who prattles of “illusion” or “nirvana?”
forgetting the equal dusts of fame and fortune,
listening to the night rain on the roof of my hut,
i sit at ease, both legs stretched out.

biography of a ch’an master
while we’re talking about books: brian schell, one of my buddhist twitter friends who patiently withstood my pestering to get him to submit something here, rewarded us well with a book review of footprints in the snow, by chan master sheng yen. one of his books, zen wisdom, is one of my buddhist book mainstays. brian makes my mouth water with his review; i think i’ll go and order it and the zen poetry book after i’m done writing this post. here’s what brian has to say:

i found this book hard to put down …his easygoing writing style and obvious love of what he does makes every page enjoyable. along with the story, the author explains a bit of buddhist philosophy in a comfortable, jargon-free style ….

my favorite parts of the book, however, are his interactions with the monks and abbots of the various monasteries. far from being the altruistic teachers and devoted worshippers we usually envision, he shows us the real picture. many of the chinese monks sell their services for money, they get into trouble with alcohol and women, there is “office politics” in the hierarchies, and so forth …

he goes from poor farm boy to a monk, to a soldier, to an abbott, to a monk again, eventually becoming homeless and rising back to the top. all the way, he refines his teaching style and is attached to nothing. it’s a dramatic story, and there are some good educational bits on buddhism scattered throughout. if you ever wanted to know about monastery life, this is a must-read.

the law of attraction – all about stuff? more prattling?
wayne c allen presents 6 ideas for zen mind, where he talks about the power of attraction (“POA”), which is also known as the law of attraction (LOA), saying

the irony here is that POA and karma pretty much say the same thing. in other words, karma is all about reaping what you sow”if you “put out” fear and insecurity, you’ll get more of it from others, and the world. if you act as zorba the buddha, (an osho idea-that one could be both fully engaged in the world, and fully spiritual) then the world is both a playground and a classroom.

the problem i see with people getting hooked on poa is that it tends to use “stuff” as a marker-get your thinking straight, and you’ll make money, attract houses and cars, and you’ll “be happy.”

as we endlessly say, having such markers is actually the problem. as soon as i measure my “success” by the height of the pile of crap i surround myself with, i get caught in the addiction to stuff.

and this post here is on the other end of “stuff” – axel talks about simplicity.

***

this is it for part 1 of the last buddhist carnival for december.  i’ll post part 2 some time within the week.

in the meantime, if you have a buddhist blog post you’d like to contribute, please send it to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.

image by jpellgen

november buddhist carnival, part 2

here’s part 2 of this month’s buddhist carnival.

thoughts … thank you!
gigablonde offers making peace with meditation, something i can relate to very well. she opens up space for a whole new relationship with meditation through principles of jack kornfield’s buddhist meditation for beginners.

meet whatever arises with kindness and balance and wisdom … and whatever comes to you can be a part of your meditation.
“oh, here’s remembering. thank you for your contribution.”
“worry, thank you.”
“aah, planning.”

buddhism in thailand: ordaining as a monk
we have two posts relating to thai buddhism this month. here is an interesting description of a thai tradition:

in thailand it’s a tradition to ordain as a monk at least once in your lifetime. some ordain for just a few hours while others do it for a whole year. traditionally, it was done for a period of three months known as the rains retreat. ordaining gives you a chance to study and practice lord buddha’s teachings and it gives your parents the opportunity to offer you the monk robes, alms bowl and other necessities.
for someone who isn’t the least familiar with buddhist culture, it would be only natural to view monks as beggars and therefore a burden to society but according to buddhist teachings giving and generosity are meritorious deeds.

read more at monk in thailand.

thai charms and amulets
dr. callaway’s blog has only been around for a short while – talk about a niche blog. it concentrates exclusively on lucky charms and mystical amulets from thailand, made and blessed by buddhist monks. i think there’s quite some potential there – i liked the stories callaway tells, and i hope he keeps up with this blog. good luck charms are a way of life in thailand and southeast asia. it is believed that when chants and prayers are spoken to these charms, the spirits invoked will reciprocate to the owner of the charm or amulet, good luck and protection from harm.

of course this is very different from the more cerebral, less mystical buddhism that we hear about in the west – but i think it’s useful to remember that buddhism, a religion practiced by millions and millions of people (300 million is a number i’ve often seen). with so many adherents, there is a wide variety of practices, and i find it quite fascinating to look at all the different varieties. at any rate, here is dr. callaway’s post, lucky charms.

timeless lessons
reading this post, i am reminded of a twitter remark by merlin mann today, “90% of all self-help is buddhism with comfortable chairs and a service mark“. flippancy aside, i agree with him, although i’d probably refer to buddhist “techniques” rather than buddhism. buddhism as a whole is a rich historical, cultural, spiritual and theological stew, and part of that stew are these techniques – the things practiced by many buddhists: mindfulness, meditation, compassion, etc. of those techniques, many are totally straightforward, and that’s what this last post is about: peaceful simplicity: 10 refreshing ways to live in the here and now. this excerpt is about the practice of smiling:

the foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet. feeling joyful is not paramount for presence, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to induce it. joy creates an almost immediate sense of expansion ” an inner smile that’s like a warm bath. some call this warm bath “flow” or “spirit.” experiencing it connects us to ourselves and to everyone and everything around us.

think about someone or something that you love. this could be a child, a corner in nature, or a cherished memory. whatever you choose, make sure that just contemplating upon it creates an automatic inner smile. then surrender to that inner smile. let it light you up. feel it spread through your body and even beyond it, uniting you joyously with your surroundings.


NaNoWriMo

oh, and before i go, i need to say something about NaNoWriMo, right? here’s a hello then to enlighten up’s buddhist blogger lans in texas, who’s not blogging this month because he, too, is working on completing a 50,000 word novel in november.

that’s it then for this month, folks. if you want to read part 1 of the november buddhist carnival, here it is. as for next month’s – it’s on december 15, and will be hosted by loden jinpa.

if you have a buddhist blog post you’d like to contribute, please send it to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.

simplicity and the internet

as someone with a strong buddhist influence, i often think about simplicity, and make tiny, cautious steps towards it. my baroque mind finds this rather ridiculous because life is most fun and exciting when there are lots and lots of decorations and curlicues, when there is boundless abundance and variations upon variations on themes upon themes, n’est-ce-pas?

and still.

some weeks ago, we held a garage sale. the items we sold were spread out on the lawn. there were more possessions than a poor family in haiti ever has – yet so little was missing from our house that no-one noticed a thing.

this left quite an impression on me. ever since then i try to get rid of at least one thing every day, and have tried not to buy too much.

that’s my material life. then there’s other aspects of my life. i know so many people, and i don’t feel i do them justice. they give me their friendship and i only have so much time and energy to reciprocate (or let’s say i think i only have so much time; i truly don’t know whether this is an accurate assessment).

and then there is the internet. sooooo many interesting people. soooooo many interesting words, thoughts, images, so much fascinating music, so many games to play! for all intents and purposes, or, let’s be precise, for the intents and purposes of this person with this mind, the internet is endless, fathomless.

now what?

i’d like to find a way to honour all the good people on the internet that i come across while at the same time moving closer to the principle of simplicity. i’d like to do this with love, with an open heart, in fluidity and organically.

have you found a way?

i’m asking this question, among others, of the buddhist bloggers that buddhist chaplain andy fisher took the trouble the other day to list. here you are. thanks, andy!

september buddhist carnival – the delusion edition

buddhism, impermanence and natureone of the first pieces of information i came across this morning, before breakfast yet, was the the stock market disaster today. a bit of nervousness wanted to creep in. how good to remember that the fears that can be aroused by such events are made of illusion, and that the stability that we all so yearn for can and will never exist. all we have is the moment. and the moment right here and now is glorious: breathtaking late-summer weather, a handful of local plums in my belly, a house filled with peace and quiet.

welcome, then, friends, to the monthly buddhist carnival. let’s make it a day to celebrate serenity and simplicity.

“you do not need many things”

we always start this carnival with a poem. today, let’s hear zen master ryokan taigu, courtesy of the zen frog:

my house is buried in the deepest recess of the forest
every year, ivy vines grow longer than the year before.
undisturbed by the affairs of the world i live at ease,
woodmen’s singing rarely reaching me through the trees.
while the sun stays in the sky, i mend my torn clothes
and facing the moon, i read holy texts aloud to myself.
let me drop a word of advice for believers of my faith.
to enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.

buddhist economics

echoing these sentiments, anatman relates today’s events to the thoughts of p.a. payutto, thailand’s foremost buddhist scholar:

“every time an economic decision is made, karma is made, and the process of fruition is immediately set in motion, for better or for worse, for the individual, for society and the environment.”

anatman then goes on:

so said the ven p a payutto in his book, buddhist economics: a middle way for the market place.

it may have taken the process decades to come to fruition, but the collapse of lehman brothers appears to indicate that the greed and excess once celebrated by michael douglas’s character in the 1987 film wall street are finally bringing the world’s financial markets to their knees. (…)

through all the years of excess, consumption was the mantra, until we are confronted with not only ecological but also economic collapse. tellingly, ven payutto observed in his book: “…non-production can be a useful economic activity. a person who produces very little in materialistic terms may, at the same time, consume much less of the world’s resources and lead a life that is beneficial to the world around him.

the inner way

a time, then, to turn to – diamonds. the diamond sutra is about “wisdom that cuts through illusion”, sharp like a diamond. i have always liked the image of a diamond, a metaphor that can reflect many ideas, and perhaps like wisdom, can encompass just as vast a multitude. i also imagine a diamond as something deep, hidden, innermost. perhaps you will enjoy as much as i did my good friend carol’s little quiz post on the diamond sutra. and perhaps you will not be as silly as i was when i first “failed” the quiz but rather do what carol encourages in the little video that follows: study the sutra in the inner way.

study and delusion

what does it mean to study a text in the inner way? there is much to contemplate on this topic – the christian practice of lectio divina comes to mind – and i’d also like to present what jim mooney has to offer in his post, resistance is fertile:

i tend to read at a cognitive level. i focus on understanding what is being taught and how it fits in with other teachings. i don’t always then go on to the next step of asking myself, “how do i feel about what i am reading?” tapping into my feelings like this is very difficult for me personally.yet, we can get a lot out of watching our feelings as we read dharma. in particular, uncomfortable feelings are the beginnings of delusions arising in our mind. delusions are distorted ways of looking at ourself, other people, and the world around us.

… our delusions are completely worthless with one exception – they make great “fertilizer.” to grow our minds of patience, love, compassion, and the like, we need fertilizer – situations that challenge our minds of patience, love and compassion.

… and …

other articles submitted to this carnival were by balanced existence who talks about the fundamentals of suffering in buddhism, the three poisons (or doshas): greed (raga), hatred (dvesa) and delusion. or moha (hmm – delusion and illusion really seems to be the topic today).

then there are grace from face to the sun, who discusses why and how to meditate (and who has some really nice images on her blog); someone with the interesting name of fetish self who explores – guess what – illusion and evolution (with frequent references to ken wilber); and nicholas powiull. he, too, writes on illusion – the illusion of individuality.

as usual, i’m presenting this buddhist carnival in two parts. this entry is already way longer than i wanted it to be. oh well. you’ll find part 2 some time in the next week, by september 22 at the latest. in the meantime, if you have or know of a good post on buddhism, please submit it here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival (it’s been a bit wonky lately), just drop me a line.

thank you for the image, giant ginkgo

a buddhist carnival – june 2008, part 2

temple of forgiveness at burning manhere, friends, is the second part of this month’s buddhist carnival. the first part is here. enjoy!

forgiveness
andrew, on his blog rants of a gay lunatic (i have to confess that such a title immediately makes me perk up my ears) does not directly mention buddhism in his article why we must forgive president george w. bush but i’d say it is exactly in line with buddhist thinking:

we are trying to change the world and re-create a great country. i have said that george w. bush has failed as president, and i have said that i forgive him. i will take that a step further and say, “thank you for trying.” i am convinced he did a better job than i could have done. i appreciate his ambition and bravery in accepting – indeed, pursuing – such a responsible position. i don’t envy that responsibility and i don’t envy bush’s lack of popularity. but i do appreciate his attempt, and i wish him well in his retirement.i hope that we will all be able to forgive president bush. not everyone can be a great president – or a great anything for that matter. but in order to create and re-create and continue to create a great and a good nation, we must move past our anger and move on to love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

self-expression, self-less expression
wayne always has something interesting to say, although one of these days i have to get around to asking him why his zen blog has become so insanely busy visually lately (or i guess i’m doing this right now). one of wayne’s interests is how we live in our bodies. this article, self-less expression, is part of that series:

the goal is not to figure out we have a body, only to “give it up,” and become all spiritual. it’s about accepting ourselves exactly and precisely as we are. and then, finding a way, or multiple ways, to be the totality of who we are.

simplicity
and here, from the tao of simplicity:

ever since i became interested in simplicity, minimalism, and the present moment, i have become more sensitive.

the most powerful number is zero! excess information causes paralysis and represses you!

i see that people (including me) have a tendency to take too many notes, hold onto too many emails and paperwork.

***

what else do we have? “glowing face man” wants to awaken the badass within (a worthy goal, wouldn’t you say?) and says “pause and look at the world around you: it will end in a moment.” the daily mind proposes that we meditate at work:

we spend most of our lives at work. some of us will have the same job we have now til the day we die and we will be there from nine til five every single day. if we do not use our work time carefully we will waste a significant portion of our existences doing something that we resent. the way to change that is with meditation.

and our friend anmol, who has also been seen here numerous times, shares his experience with raising enlightened children:

the one thing that children need, is your simple, unadulterated egoless presence and attention. it is the most important thing for them to have, and is the key to providing them the right atmosphere to grow freely and fully. here are some important highlights of what this translates into.

other submissions included

and that’s it for now. the next edition will come out on july 15, 2008. remember, if you have an article about buddhism you would like to see featured here, please use this submission form. also, if you’d like to host a buddhist carnival, talk to me!

(image of temple of forgiveness at burning man by almost jaded)