Friday, December 29, 2006

Give Just Ten Percent

"The ten percent [of ourselves] who changes our day is the one who thinks every moment of life is special. The ninety percent is the irritated, speedy little 'me' who says, 'I’m busy. Leave me alone. There’s nothing new under the sun.' The ten percent is saying, 'We are the sun.'" (Ruling Your World, Sakyong Mipham)

The new year is fast approaching, and what better time than to take stock of your life, and dedicate just 10% of it to true daily practice. Allow the other 90% to continue living exactly as you do now. There’s no pressure to change everything at once, and besides, you can’t overcome 10, 20, 30+ years of programming overnight. Allow yourself just 10 minutes each day to quietly focus on your breath and contemplate such virtues as compassion, love, impermanence, and generosity. At the end of your contemplation, endeavor to bring just a little of that contemplation into the other 23 hours, 50 minutes of your daily life. Perhaps show just a little more generosity than you normally do. Even just smile and say hi to the store clerk who you look at every day but never truly see. Just 10 minutes a day to start your morning will reap amazing benefits over time, just as exercise gets easier and more enjoyable as you build your base fitness.

Happy New Year everyone! At the chiming of the new year, take just 1 completely mindful breath and breathe in your first breath of 2007.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Goal of Buddhist Practice: Link to Thoughts Chase Thoughts

There is a great post at Thoughts Chase Thoughts regarding The Goal of Buddhist Practice. In that post, Tom brings to our attention an article written by B. Alan Wallace and Shauna L. Shapiro entitled, "Mental Balance and Well Being" from the October 2006 issue of American Psychologist. The segment of the article he quotes is as follows:
The goal of Buddhist practice is the realization of a state of well-being that is not contingent on the presence of pleasurable stimuli, either external or internal. According to Buddhism, this movement toward well-being is a fundamental part of being human. As the Dalai Lama commented,
I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.
A fundamental insight of Buddhism is the recognition of the fluctuating, impermanent nature of all phenomena that arise in dependence on preceding causes and contributing conditions. Mistakenly grasping objective things and events as true sources of happiness produces a wide range of psychological problems, at the root of which is the reification of oneself as an immutable, unitary, independent ego. By first recognizing these ways of misapprehending oneself and the rest of the world, one can then begin to identify the actual sources of genuine well-being. The true causes of such well-being are rooted in a wholesome way of life, are nurtured through the cultivation of mental balance, and come to fruition in the experience of wisdom and compassion. In this way, the pursuits of genuine well-being, understanding, and virtue come to be thoroughly integrated.

This excerpt is a wonderful explanation of Buddhist practice, and I look forward to reading the rest of the article. Thanks to Tom for posting this.

A Practice for the New Year

In Being Dharma, Ajahn Chah gives us a wonderful practice that can truly set us on the right path as we begin the new year. He says,

When you put your head on the pillow [each night], contemplate the in and out breath. Think to yourself, How about that--tonight I am still breathing! Tell yourself this every day. You needn't do a lot of chanting and recitation. "Am I still breathing?" You wake up in the morning and think, Hey, I'm still alive! The day passes, the night comes again, and you ask yourself once more. Ask yourself, "If I lie down, will I get up again?" ... Day after day, you have to do this. If you keep at it, things will come together and you will see. You will see the truth of what is taken to be self and others. You will see what is convention and supposition. You will understand what all these things really are.

I read this practice on my way in to work on the train, and it immediately hit me--how often do I really show appreciation for life? The Buddha uses the simile of a sea turtle who lives in the ocean and comes up for air once every couple years. Floating in the ocean is a life preserver. It just floats on the water's surface, being pulled this way and that by the currents. It is said that the likelihood of a human birth is the same as the probability that our friend the sea turtle will come up for air and just happen to poke his head directly through the opening in the life preserver. It is a great blessing to have this human life. As we start the new year, each new morning, notice that you're still breathing and give thanks for the opportunity to continue practicing this day. Each evening, notice that your breath is still flowing in and out, and acknowledge your blessing. Allow sleep to come as you mindfully follow your breath. Such a simple practice, but it has such profound effects.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Buddhist Practitioner: A Full-Time "Reflecter"

I recently read the following line by Santoshni Perara: "A Buddhist practitioner is a full-time 'reflecter'." That is a very good way to consider your practice. Often, it is very easy to get caught up in the rapid flow of life, being carried this way and that, going through the motions without truly contemplating your actions, your thoughts, or your words. As Buddhists, we see the highest spiritual value in grabbing hold of a thick, solid branch so that we can remain stable within the rapid flow of life. As "full-time reflecters," we do not jump out of the river altogether--that is escapism, which is the antithesis of Buddhist practice. Rather, we steady ourselves and observe life as it flows through and around us. We practice noticing the most minute aspects of our bodies, our minds, our feelings, and objects of our mind. This practice confers the greatest of wisdom--the ability to see the true nature of all things, including our selves.

In this wonderful holiday season, take a moment for a short meditation.

1-Minute Meditation: Take a moment and consider your life as a river. Looking just at today, at the past few hours, where has your life dragged you without your conscious decision to pursue that particular route? Even if you truly had no choice (i.e. you had to go to work today), it is still highly valuable to be mindful of your decision to go to work and consciously choose that course of action, observing and noting the backdrop of bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, and mind objects that arise as you contemplate, and decide upon, that course of action.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Heedlessness is Just Holding Things as Certain

From Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings, by Ajahn Chah:
In practice, some come to see easily, some with difficulty. But whatever the case, never mind. Difficult or easy, the Buddha said not to be heedless. Just that--don't be heedless. Why? Because life is not certain. Wherever we start to think that things are certain, uncertainty is lurking right there. Heedlessness is just holding things as certain. It is grasping at certainty where there is no certainty and looking for truth in things that are not true. Be careful! They are likely to bite you sometime in the future!

What is heedlessness? Not only is it not paying attention, but it's not caring to pay attention. When we're heedless, we do out of habit, not out of conscious deliberation and choice. But it goes deeper than just doing out of habit. It strikes right at the heart of your inner mind. When we're heedless, we don't CARE enough to pay attention. If we did, we'd be paying attention and choosing our actions consciously.

When a loved one asks, "Did you pick up the detergent from the market?" And you answer, "No, I forgot." Did you? Sometimes you really did, and in that case, there is no problem. But often you remembered, but really didn't feel like going. Maybe you made a conscious choice not to go; or maybe you "allowed" something to distract you so that you were sure to forget.

But then you get home and answer, "I forgot." That's an easier answer, isn't it? But it's heedless. Usually such an answer just flows from your lips. That's habitforce, and it's proof that you just don't care enough--that you truly don't comprehend the benefit of--paying full attention and seeing the negative effects of your lack of mindfulness in allowing yourself to lie. Maybe you did consciously choose to fib in your answer; maybe that took some careful deliberation to decide. But it's still heedless because you chose to ignore the negative effects of such a lie.

1-Minute Meditation: Where have you been heedless today? Where have you allowed yourself to act under force of habit, as though all things were certain and not requiring of consideration, including potentially un-thought-of effects? Now look deeper. Why don't you think it's important enough to be heedful? [Ego might answer, "I *do* care!" But be honest. If you really did care, you would have been heedful in that moment, wouldn't you?]

Friday, December 08, 2006

Seeing Magnificence

From Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by J. Goldstein and J. Kornfield:
When we let go of whatever we are clinging to, we can appreciate each thing as it is. There is no scarcity of things to appreciate but only a scarcity of moments when we are capable of truly seeing because of how often we are unaware, unmindful. ... When the mind is still, we can see a magnificence in even the most ordinary things--the vividness of a sunset, the warmth of a smile, the simplicity of serving a cup of tea."

How much beauty have you missed out on today because you were distracted by other, seemingly more important, things? Notice how the authors put a sunset--a classic--in the same terms as a cup of tea. This is a most wonderful "side-effect" of mindfulness. When you are truly mindful, each and every thing is magnificent, a true beauty. I am being misleading by calling it a "side-effect." In reality, such vividness of experience is our very nature. We only obscure it in the way we use (abuse?) our minds, craving this experience, mourning the loss of that experience.

Our practice is to unlearn the habits to which we are addicted and unleash the perfect mindfulness that is our very nature, our Buddha-nature.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Henry David Thoreau - 12.01.1856

From The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 12/01/1856:
I see the old pale-faced farmer out again on his sled now for the five-thousandth time--Cyrus Hubbard, a man of a certain New England probity and worth, immortal and natural, like a natural product, like the sweetness of a nut, like the toughness of hickory. He, too, is a redeemer for me. How superior actually to the faith he professes! He is not an office-seeker. What an institution, what a revelation is a man! We are wont foolishly to think that the creed which a man professes is more significant than the fact he is. It matters not how hard the conditions seemed, how mean the world, for a man is a prevalent force and a new law himself. He is a system whose law is to be observed. The old farmer condescends to countenance still this nature and order of things. It is a great encouragement that an honest man makes this world his abode. He rides on the sled drawn by oxen, world-wise, yet comparatively so young, as if they had seen scores of winters. The farmer spoke to me, I can swear, clean, cold, moderate as the snow. He does not melt the snow where he treads. Yet what a faint impression that encounter may make on me after all! Moderate, natural, true, as if he were made of earth, stone, wood, snow. I thus meet in this universe kindred of mine, composed of these elements. I see men like frogs; their peeping I partially understand.

** Thanks to The Blog of Henry David Thoreau for this entry.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cultural Adaptation of Buddhism

In a comment to my post on Religious Traditions and Community, Pastor Jon raised an important question:
I am curious how much the practices of your group have been molded to accommodate western culture, and how much they remain authentic to their Korean tradition. For example, is it normative for groups like yours to meet on Sunday?

I found this such an important topic that my response deserved its own post:

I want to start this essay by stating that I feel it's very important for Buddhism to adapt, to a degree, to Western culture. To not adapt would be tantamount to hypocritically contradicting Buddhism's views toward, and use of, skillful means in conveying its teachings. I will return to this point later.

Let's first approach Jon's question from the viewpoint of my temple's monastic order--the group that has dedicated their lives to Buddhist practice. In this aspect, our temple almost identically adheres to native Korean Zen temple practices. While not privy to every detail of their lives, I have experienced the daily routine of my temple. The percussive beat of the moktak wakes temple residents at 5 am. A quick shower is followed by morning exercise, the morning bell chant, 108 prostrations, chanting, and seated meditation. Work practice--gardening, cleaning, cooking, etc.--comprise a portion of the rest of the day, as does sutra study and meditation, seated and walking. The evening bell chant, prostrations, chanting, and meditation end the day. This same routine is followed by native Korean temples, such as the one at which our head priest was ordained, throughout that nation. (I'd also like to note that the Japanese Zen temple to which I belonged before joining my current temple also practiced identically to its parent temple organization in Japan.)

In terms of our Sunday schedule, I don't know the Korean custom for lay services. That being said, I think this is one of those areas in which cultural adaptation is so important. In Journey to Mindfulness, Bhante Gunaratana explains that in the rural Sri Lankan village in which he grew up, the villagers visited their Theravada Buddhist temple daily. He wrote about how he woke each morning to his parents changing sutras in Pali. Again, this is Sri Lanka, not Korea, and a Theravada sect, not a Mahayana Zen sect, but in our society, very few people--sadly--have that kind of devotion to their religion. People in my culture are not, generally speaking, willing to sacrifice many of the things they love to follow such a time-consuming devotional routine. That does not mean, however, that we cannot benefit greatly from Buddhist teachings. Actually, I think it is imperative for the health of our culture to embrace practices such as those contained in Buddhism--our lives tend to be so hectic and over-scheduled that mindful meditation and a focus on developing compassion for all others is a vital necessity.

Given the work schedule of our culture, it is convenient to schedule group services for Sunday, as we have done. While I cannot verify whether there are Zen services in Korea on Sundays, I can confirm that the activities in which we engage at the services--reciting the refuges, chanting, and meditation--are primary practices in all Korean Zen temples. Additionally, many of our chants are actually in Korean (with English translations available for our study, of course).

For those who are more dedicated to their practice, we have twice-weekly membership sittings. These include additional practices performed in Korean Zen temples, including prostrations, additional chants, walking and seated meditation, and interviews. For the truly devoted, my temple has designated times for congregants to come for work practice. Plus, as is common among Korean temples (and I'd imagine most other temples and churches), members are always invited to come to the temple whenever they wish to meditate, study, do prostrations, etc.

Back in the 5th century BCE, the Buddha preached regularly the necessity of skillful means on the path to Awakening. Because of the nature of the path, the teachings must meet each person where they are at in their life and must convey the Dharma in a manner from which the person can benefit (it is completely senseless, for instance, to explain the multi-faceted layers of Dependent Arising when a person is struggling with acting toward others out of loving-kindness and compassion). In my culture, to get people to sit in silent meditation for an hour is already a monumental achievement. Therefore, to offer a Sunday service, even if such a practice is not normally followed in Korea, is a skillful means of giving people the opportunity to experience the benefits of Buddhist practice for themselves.

Notice that we never change the key practices--meditation, prostrations, chanting, etc. What changes, adapts, evolves, is the means by which we make the practices available to as many people as possible so that they can see for themselves if Buddhist practice fits their disposition in this life. Even if it doesn't right now, they may return to Buddhism later in their lives, recalling their exposure to it. We even have several Christian congregants who have realized the necessity and benefit of regular meditation and, hence, regularly attend our services and trainings. For those who develop greater levels of devotion, the opportunity is there for advanced practices, as have been available in Korea for millenia.

In adapting to Western culture in this way, the pioneer monks who brought Buddhism to the West performed the most skillful, and most compassionate, act possible. Just as the Buddha, 2,500 years ago, taught his disciples how they, too, could Awaken fully, these pioneer monks gave us in the West this same gift. The Buddhist approach may not be right for every person in this lifetime, given the innumerable dispositions and attitudes of people today, but I can think of nothing our culture needs more than the message of peace, mindful living, and love taught by the Buddha.

Thanks, Jon, for such a thought-provoking question!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Interfaith Blog Event #3: Religious Traditions and Community

Welcome to the third Interfaith Blog Event! In each installment of this series, which we're hoping to do on a monthly basis, we'll explore a single topic across three different religious traditions. I am, obviously, writing from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Jon, from Jesusfollowers Journal, will be writing from a Protestant Christian perspective, and Sojourner from A Pagan Sojourn, will be writing from a Pagan perspective.

The topic we'll be discussing today is the following:
Within your religious traditions, what rituals and/or traditions give you a sense of connection to your fellow congregants, beliefs, and communities? What actions do you take to ensure the stability of those connections? Do you feel that the connections that have been made are sufficient for your spiritual and/or religious needs?

[Jon's Essay] [Sojourner's Essay]

In the 4th century CE, Buddhism was introduced to Korea by a Chinese monk. Buddhism quickly flourished in Korea, and traditions quickly developed, some dating back to the inception of Buddhism in the 5th century BCE. These traditions still live in our temples today, thanks to the line of teachers that has ensured their continuity.

Every Sunday, my temple hosts two services, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. During our standard Sunday morning service, we sit in seated meditation, followed by a short session of chanting and recitation in which we mindfully take refuge in the Three Jewels of the Buddha (our perfect inner nature), the Dharma (the teaching and path to recognizing our true nature), and the Sangha (the community of beings with whom we live). The recitation is followed by another seated meditation, after which we listen to a Dharma talk by one of our priests.

Our Sunday afternoon service is different. It begins with a seated meditation, followed by a recitation in which we take refuge in the Three Jewels. We then mindfully chant & sing a very simple verse, "Ma-Um," which means, "My mind is Buddha." Singing is followed by a question and answer session.

While these two services have very different atmospheres, two commonalities emerge--the taking of refuge in the Three Jewels, and meditation. I believe these two "rituals" give the primary sense of connection among our congregants.

Meditation has many different flavors. Some methods focus on concentration through counting the breath. Other methods are more analytical, examining such topics as emptiness, impermanence, or any number of other areas. Still other methods are based on generating and sustaining loving-kindness and compassion. Meditation is a very personal endeavor, with each person working on the aspect of the path that he or she needs to at that time. How, then, can the practice of meditation function as the primary means of community and connectedness?

The answer lies in the depth of wisdom contained in the seemingly simple formula of taking refuge in the Three Jewels. We say, "I go for refuge to the Buddha. I go for refuge to the Dharma. I go for refuge to the Sangha." Each of the refuges is simultaneously operative on several levels. When I take refuge in the Sangha, at the most basic level I acknowledge the shelter and protective value of community. Slightly deeper, I remind myself that my temple's community is there for me. Deeper still, I recognize that the entire world of beings is my protector because each plays a vital role in my life--family and friends nurture, protect, and love me; strangers and other "neutral" beings serve to educate me and provide me with opportunities to meet new people and act compassionately, lovingly, and mindfully; enemies challenge me to overcome my anger, greed, and hatred, giving me the opportunity to learn patience, love, and compassion for all. Thus all beings deserve my utmost respect, compassion, thanks, and blessing.

At the deepest level, that simple sentence, "I take refuge in the Sangha," represents the truth that my community is not different from me--I am not fundamentally different, or separate, from other beings, sentient or insentient, in the world. We are all of the same basic nature, Buddha-nature. One person may understand this truth intellectually. Another person may argue against it ontologically. But once a person personally experiences this truth, it is clear and authentic. The experience is intimate, immediate, spontaneous, and obvious, like feeling a sneeze coming on--you just KNOW when you're going to have to sneeze, there is no doubt about it, and nobody can really explain to you the feeling of having to sneeze. You have to experience it for yourself to know it.

This truth of inter-being, expressed in the third refuge, is the reason why group meditation is such a powerful communal practice. In row upon row of cushions, we sit, meditating on the aspect of the path that is right for us at that very moment, and the energy of the community truly unites us into a congregation, as we all share a common goal: to develop altruism and wisdom to the utmost degree.

The truest experience and development of community paradoxically occurs on retreat. I say paradoxically because our Buddhist retreats are marked by silence. Shorter retreats are comprised of intensive, repeated meditation sittings and walking meditation, interspersed with silent meal preparation and mindful eating. Longer retreats include silent work practice, such as mindful cleaning, gardening, and sewing, and interviews with the head priest. (Yes, you do get to speak during interviews. :) ) Retreats provide the ideal mixture of solitary and communal meditation--you sit in communal meditation like during services, but the intensive repeated sessions and silence often lead you toward much-improved mindfulness and invaluable insight. And the feeling of unity, of inner connection, of true inter-being, of the congregants is unmistakable.

In order to ensure the stability of these connections, we need only to practice in a group setting. Group meditation can never, and is not meant to, replace solitary practice. However, when performed in conjunction with a regular solitary meditation practice, group services and retreats not only develop our capacity for altruism and insight, but also foster the deepest levels of community and oneness among the congregants. The connections I have established in this way are more than sufficient for my spiritual needs, and in speaking to my fellow temple members, that feeling is nearly universal. I have heard story after story at my temple from members who had struggled spiritually, physically, and emotionally under other religions, who have since found in Buddhism the spiritual connectedness of community, discipline, happiness, and emotional and physical health that they could not find anywhere else. Therefore, it is my fervent wish that more people begin Buddhist practice and personally experience the truths that become self-evident in such practice, bringing a level of true happiness, mindfulness, and peace to this country that has been eroding for years.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

-- Robert Frost

I've always loved this poem by Frost. So short; such a simple structure. Yet it conveys such depth of experience. Frost's message reminds us of the Buddhist principle of impermanence. Just as the beautiful gold of dawn ends, so all conditioned things in this world end. This wonderful Thanksgiving day spent with family will end. Therefore, I am immensely thankful for the time I was able to spend with my family yesterday, and the time I will be spending with my fiance's family today.

1-Minute Contemplation: What do you take for granted? Said another way, what is there that you assume (often unconsciously) will last forever? Take a moment to identify something or someone in your life that you don't appreciate fully, and locate within you the assumption that must underlie such a lack of appreciation--that this thing or person will always be there. Find the experience within that will allow you to personally realize that this thing or person IS impermanent. Allow the unfettered thankfulness that you have been suppressing to arise naturally from your experience of impermanence.

I thank you, personally, for reading my blog.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

In honor of our beloved turkey, please visit Farm Sanctuary's Adopt-a-Turkey Project and adopt your own turkey so that these precious animals can enjoy Thanksgiving with a sumptuous feast just as we do!

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Inner Freedom - A Quote

"On the other hand, if we do not practice [concentration and turning the mind away from its obsessions], we no longer remember the meaning of vimutti--a meaning that is not confined to a word, but is the experience of being freed from inner torment and thus, as a result, from the torment of one's own difficult, even addictive behavior patterns which are driven by unbearable mental states. If you think this description is excessive perhaps you have not observed yourself closely enough. If you watch yourself through any given day, observing the arising of desire and dislike, the sequence, say, of distraction, impatience, fantasy, dismay, and self-judgment, you will begin to understand that the ordinary mind is caught up in a rapid-fire sequence of mental states a large proportion of which is truly difficult to endure, and drives you to take whatever actions you believe will bring relief. We take this situation for granted, but when the possibility of vimutti, or inner freedom, can be borne in on us, we will understand completely why inner freedom is considered the most beautiful of all mental states." (The State of Mind Called Beautiful. Sayadaw U Pandita. 2006. Pg. 13.)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Poem from Ko Un: Winter Journey

From Ko Un ("Buddhadharma," Fall 2006):
Winter Journey
How can you make it through winter
without knowing the fragrance of winter wind?

Dreams of that fragrance
are utterly unknown
to frogs, and snakes

Utterly unknown,
and that's the place you'll reach in the end.

Utterly, completely unknown!

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Monday, November 13, 2006

90,000 Subtle Gestures

It is said that there are 90,000 "subtle gestures" to practice in Buddhism.

In Zen, every single thought we have, every single act we perform, every single statement we make, should be made such that we are mindful of the thought we are choosing to have, mindful of the act we are choosing to perform, mindful of the statement we are choosing to make. We've all had the experience of driving or walking along and suddenly realizing we have no idea where the last 20 minutes have gone. But less obvious are the daily chores you perform. Take showering, for instance. I know I can coast through my morning shower completely oblivious to everything. Sometimes it's too such a degree that I have no idea where the last 10 minutes went. But more often, I'm thinking about something else and yet am still somewhat conscious of the routine I'm following.

In true Zen practice, however, we are mindful of every single act. When my practice is strong, when I am washing my hair, I know with every ounce of my attention that I am washing my hair. When I am lathering the soap, I know with every ounce of my attention that I am lathering the soap.

The question is, why shouldn't I just enjoy letting my mind wander around while I shower? What's the point of joyfully enforcing such strong mindfulness? In Buddhism, the highest goal is to penetrate through our habitual delusion and see our true nature. How can we possibly attain this awakening if we cannot even maintain mindfulness on washing our hair? Mindfulness of all our actions IS our spiritual practice because when I am washing my hair, my true nature is "the washing of hair." When I drink tea, my true nature is "drinking tea." When I am dicing apples, my true nature is "the dicing of apples."

You might say, "Oh, I get that. I understand how that works." Or you might say, "That doesn't make any sense to me." It is my own personal experience that when I have been able to attain even the slightest glimpse of this truth (not intellectual knowledge or understanding, but true personal realization of this wisdom), the freedom, the joy, the clarity of mind I experienced was so great as to be indescribable. Mindfulness is the key to Awakening.

The 90,000 subtle gestures are the 90,000 different thoughts and actions you perform every day that give you the opportunity to think and act mindfully. Each of these 90,000 subtle gestures is a blessing, a stepping stone toward Awakening for the benefit of all beings.

EDIT (11/13/06): I just read a post over at The Journey that discusses mindfulness as discussed in Matthew 6:25-33. While we may disagree philosophically about the nature of the universe, the spiritual importance of mindfulness, living in the present, transcends such polarities.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Purview of Buddhism is the Mind of Living

The purview of Buddhism is the mind of living.

Books abound with Buddhist philosophy. Walk the aisles of your local bookstore and you'll find shelves of books discussing Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, Chan teachings, and dissections of the sutras. These books aren't Buddhism. Buddhism has no Bible, no book that expounds the Truth for its adherents. To be a Buddhist is to experience life, in all its wonder, in all its pain, in all its beauty, in all its horror. There is suffering in life: people die, people lose their jobs, predators hunt, and kill, their prey. There is complete joy in life: puppies are born, children dress up in adorable Halloween costumes, people embrace in loving relationship. To be a Buddhist is to recognize, honor, and be thankful for EVERY SINGLE EXPERIENCE, pleasurable, painful, or neutral.

All those books on the shelves do nothing but point at our lives and beg us to remove the filter we maintain between what we think of as our "selves" and the lives we lead in the world. In the Heart Sutra, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara proclaims, "All dharmas [objects, events, and beings] are defined by emptiness, not birth or destruction, purity or defilement, completeness or deficiency." [1] This teaching isn't a sermon proclaiming the Word. When we read this line, it hooks itself in our minds and impels us to look at all objects, all events, everything in our lives, with fresh eyes. It implores us to experiment, to test our views of everything, at all times. In the words of Suzuki Roshi, we train to keep Beginner's Mind at all times. In the mind of a beginner, everything is new and fresh, and the beginner is open to all experiences, all teachings. In contrast, the mind of the expert is closed off to fresh viewpoints, trapped in seeing all things in terms of his past experiences rather than what is presenting itself in this very moment.

The purview of Buddhism is the mind of living. All of our practices have a clear purpose--to remove the filter we continuously erect that prevents us from seeing all things, including ourselves, as they really are, in all their majesty, in all their painful reality. "[We] take refuge in the [Perfection of Wisdom] and live without walls of the mind." [1] We train our minds to live.

[1] Heart Sutra. Translated by Red Pine. 2004

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Integral Options Cafe: Sogyal Rinpoche on Karma

As posted by Bill at Integral Options Cafe, this was worth a repost because it's so clear, so logical, and so empirical.

Today's Rigpa Glimpse of the Day:
Is karma really so hard to see in operation? Don’t we only have to look back at our own lives to see clearly the consequences of some of our actions? When we upset or hurt someone, didn’t it rebound on us? Were we not left with a bitter and dark memory, and the shadows of self-disgust? That memory and those shadows are karma. Our habits and our fears too are also due to karma, the results of our past actions, words, and thoughts. If we examine our actions, and become really mindful of them, we will see that there is a pattern that repeats itself. Whenever we act negatively, it leads to pain and suffering; whenever we act positively, it eventually results in happiness. ~ Sogyal Rinpoche

Monday, November 06, 2006

What is Truly Skillful Teaching?

The heart of Buddhist training, and its brilliant effectiveness, lies in the use of Upaya, or skillful means. The Buddha gave many teachings in his day to many people of different levels of ability to comprehend and put into practice his teachings. Instead of presenting set "lectures," the Buddha taught each person according to his means. Some people's mental disposition and past experiences allow them to understand and improve their practice through direct Wisdom teachings--to these people the Buddha taught at an "advanced" level, framing the teachings in terms of emptiness and our inherent Buddha-nature. For others, such an approach would leave them behind, unable to improve their, and others', lives through the Buddha's teachings. To these people, the Buddha taught in a more directly practical manner. For example, to those whose dispositions were such that they could comprehend direct Wisdom, the Buddha may have explained the manner in which karmic influences affect our lives, and how to apply wisdom and compassion in all of our actions. To those for whom such teachings would fail to point them toward their own Awakening, the Buddha may have taught them the Five Precepts to guide them in their lives.

This isn't some judgmental approach that proclaims a certain class of people as "better" or more advanced than others. Rather, it is the ultimate expression of compassion and wisdom, the BEST thing the Buddha could do for that person at that time in their particular circumstances. The Buddha taught that each of us has the ability to Awaken to the fullest extent, and out of his perfect compassion, he guided each person with whom he spoke toward their own Awakening at whatever level they were capable of benefiting.

Any honest look at the world around us, and the people with whom we live, clearly shows that there is no single approach to life that will "work" for everyone. I have many Christian friends who, in their hearts, "know" that faith in Christ is in the best interest of every single individual on the planet. However, a number of my experiences in life have directly contradicted what Christians believe is True (e.g. I have directly experienced some level of interbeing and non-self, which Christianity strictly opposes). Therefore, Christianity clearly does not "work" for me; it does not model my experiences of the world, and I find several teachings in its most holy book to be 100% unethical (the denouncement of homosexuality comes to mind). I would be forced to lie to myself and others if I attempted to follow its teachings. Note that this isn't meant to bash Christianity. In terms of skillful means, Christianity does "work" for many people and is therefore an important guide by which many people live their lives. This is simply a personal example of skillful means in my life.

1-Minute Contemplation: Is there someplace in your life in which you used unskillful means in relating to others? Maybe a friend of yours required gentle compassion and you chose to use "tough love." Or maybe you tried to forcefully persuade somebody to your view, when a more gentle "guiding" approach would have been what they truly needed to hear. Contemplate this situation for 1 minute. How might you have acted more skillfully?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Altruism as Essential Spiritual Practice

"So in a sense we could say that the practice of generating and cultivating the altruistic intention is so comprehensive that it contains the essential elements of all other spiritual practices." [1]

In Buddhism, we train in ethics, in concentration, and in wisdom. An aspect of wisdom is to see through our motives to discern whether we are acting out of altruism or veiled greed, in other words ethically or unethically. Concentration is the tool required for such penetrating insight.

Shantideva writes,
As long as space endures,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world. [1]

It is the deepest, most important, part of our practice as Buddhists to generate this pure altruistic intention for every single thought we have, every single action we perform, every single word we say. We awaken in the morning with the intention to help all beings (note how this is not limited to humans!) in everything we do. We lie down to sleep, thankful for every moment during our day in which our thoughts, words, and actions were altruistically based, and repentant of every instance in which we acted out of greed, hatred, or delusion. There is no judgment, only sorrow over the harm we caused others by our noncompassionate action, and a further vow to dispel the sufferings of every single being with whom we come in contact. In the morning, we begin anew, vowing to base every moment of our lives on compassionate wisdom.

1-Minute Contemplation: Before you go to bed this evening, take 1 minute to contemplate your thoughts, words, and actions throughout the day. Were they based on compassion and love? Or were they based on your selfish ego? Maybe your intent seemed compassionate but a little probing reveals that it was simply veiled greed. See the harm you caused others through your egotistical acts and vow to base every action, every thought, on compassion and love. Leave a note for yourself so that in the morning, you remember to rededicate yourself to pure compassionate action in every moment of the day.

[1] Transforming the Mind. His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 2000.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Scribe Jamboree: November 3, 2006

Welcome to another week of Scribe Goodness!

Two good posts over at peregrinatio:

1. A quote of a poem called "Fundamentalism".

2. A great post on Why Read Dawkins or Dennett, two of my favorite writers. Why, oh why, must Dawkins damage his amazing pedigree of biological writing by writing so ineptly on religion?

Angela-Eloise at Blogickal posted a beautiful photograph she took at sunset.

There was a good post over at Arbitrary Marks entitled Henry Neufield on atheist-Christian discussion which excerpts from, and links to, a deeper discussion on the issue.

Over at The Wild Hunt is a very enlightening post about Samhain.

Over at thinkBuddha, Will writes about Emmanuel Levinas and the influence he has had on Will (and where Levinas's phenomenological theories have shortcomings).

Finally, over at the journey is an interesting post entitled The God of War, about views of the Judeo-Christian god.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Today I am Waiting for a Bus

A Poem by Ko Un, from "Buddhadharma", Fall 2006:
Some say they can recall a thousand years
Some say they have already visited the next
thousand years
On a windy day
I am waiting for a bus

No matter what we think we know about the past,
No matter what we believe about the future
This life or the next,
Today is windy. Today we need to ride the bus.

We have two options:
Wait skillfully
Or unskillfully.
We can never experience the future
Until it becomes the present. This moment
Was the future for the infinite past
And will be the past for the infinite future.
To wait unskillfully is to disrepect your
Infinite past and your infinite future,
And wasteful of all the time you spent
Planning and thinking about
This very moment.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Scribe Jamboree: October 27, 2006

Like the Phoenix, The Daily Scribe has risen from the ashes and flies again! I want to wish Shawn well in all his future endeavors and congratulate him on his spiritual rediscovery.

This week, Sojourner from A Pagan Sojourn writes about whether ethics are absolutely determined or are only determined by our culture, in a relative manner. I admit this is somewhat of a shameless plug since this is part of our monthly Interfaith Blog Event, to which I contributed an essay as well.

Nathan from discusses Exchanging This for That, a very interesting look into Nathan's immersion in the Christian subculture (aka the church life) and its effect on his ability to act and minister to others as a Christian.

At Decompose, Mike writes about Calvary vs. the Emergents - #4, where he delves into particular Christian views on mysticism and Eastern spirituality in the Emerging Church.

Finally, at Panthea, Grian was inspired to write about Whether God/dess Exists after reading a review on Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. (If the link to the blog post doesn't work, go to the main page and find the link in the left sidebar--the permalink wasn't working for me this morning).

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Buddhism and the Idea of God

After replying to an interesting post on Evolution Considered over at Bhikkhu's Blog, I noticed a link he provided to an essay at Access to Insight on Buddhism and the God-idea by Nyanaponika Thera.

I found this essay to clearly describe Buddhist views on theism. The author draws a nice distinction between theism and belief in a creator god, noting how the former can be seen as a type of skillful means in certain circumstances, while the latter is rejected.

I especially like the way in which the author explains that Buddhism does not deny the existence of higher planes that may, in some ways, be superior to our world and type of consciousness. These planes may be populated by beings that are, in some ways, more powerful than human beings--we may call them God, gods, deities, angels, or spirits. But of course that does not imply that they are any wiser than we. These planes probably have their rulers, as we do on our plane. As the author writes, "But like any human ruler, a divine ruler too might be inclined to misjudge his own status and power, until a greater one comes along and points out to him his error, as our texts report of the Buddha."

The end of essay is worth quoting here, verbatim:
These, however, are largely matters beyond the range and concern of average human experience. They have been mentioned here chiefly for the purpose of defining the Buddhist position, and not to serve as a topic of speculation and argument. Such involvement can only divert attention and effort from what ought to be our principal object: the overcoming of greed, hatred and delusion where they are found in the here and now.

An ancient verse ascribed to the Buddha in the Questions of King Milinda says:
Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Interfaith Blog Event #2: Ethics, Intrinsic or Relative?

Welcome to the second Interfaith Blog Event! In each installment of this series, which we're hoping to do on a monthly basis, we'll explore a single topic across three different religious traditions. I am, obviously, writing from the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Jon, from Jesusfollowers Journal, will be writing from a Protestant Christian perspective, and Sojourner from A Pagan Sojourn, will be writing from a Pagan perspective.

The topic we'll be discussing today is the following:
Is there anything you consider to be intrinsically right or wrong? What grounds do you have for that conclusion? How does the concept of morality impact your everyday life?

[Jon's Essay] [Sojourner's Essay]

Back in the 5th century BCE, Siddhartha Gautama was born in a country immersed in Hindu spirituality. B.K.S. Iyengar states, "In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part." [1] Later, he continues, "By profound meditation, the knower, the knowledge, and the known become one. The seer, the sight and the seen have no separate existence from each other. It is like a great musician becoming one with his instrument and the music that comes from it. Then, the yogi stands in his own nature and realizes his self (Atman), the part of the Supreme Soul within himself." [2]

As a prince, Siddhartha's education included detailed study of the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of Hinduism as revealed by the Supreme Being. But after having renounced his royal lineage to pursue the life of a monk, and training with the greatest spiritual teachers of his day, Siddhartha found that such training was highly beneficial, but it did not lead to the highest attainment--ultimate peace, Enlightenment. Specifically, Siddhartha could find nothing within that corresponded to the Atman. Rather, on the night of his Awakening, he personally experienced the emptiness of all things, that everything, and everyone, existed based upon the cumulative effect of other existing causal factors and the proper conditions within which such causal factors may operate. Hence, the animating principle of the Atman was illusory--we existed not because a piece of the great Brahma, the Creator, was injected into us by said Supreme Being, giving us a fully independent existence, but solely based on the existence of other causes.

After his enlightenment, the Buddha met up with some old friends with whom he had practiced for years. As his first teaching as the Awakened One, he taught that, as we observe the world, one thing is obvious: Suffering exists. This teaching had two components. First, it implied that because we were born, we would experience disease, old age, and death, as well as personal hardship. These "unavoidables" often lead us to experience the second component of this Truth--mental suffering. This second component of the First Noble Truth explains that these unavoidables are not suffering; suffering is our mental response to such experiences. We cause ourselves to suffer because of our response to our life experiences.

In his practice, as the Buddha removed the causes of suffering--the mental poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance--he noticed that genuine, perfect happiness arose naturally, replacing the suffering that had existed previously. As a young prince, he had experienced the pinnacle of worldly pleasures. But this new, genuine happiness completely transcended such worldly happiness. It is "The joy which is beyond the pale of the senses which reason cannot grasp." It is "The treasure above all others. There is nothing higher than this." [3] Furthermore, the Buddha observed that all beings desire happiness and avoid suffering. Therefore, combining these two insights, it was clear to the Buddha that the attainment of genuine happiness for all beings, and the removal of their suffering, was the ultimate spiritual aim.

Before examining how this aim determines Buddhist ethics, let's examine happiness. The Buddha observed that happiness comes in two forms, relative and genuine. As he experienced as a Prince, worldly happiness is relative--what makes one person happy may cause suffering to another. Consider a person out on a hot day. If the person enjoys hot weather, he will be happy. But if he does not like hot weather, then such temperatures will cause him to suffer. Continuing this example, if the person does not like hot weather and hence enters a cool bath, this will please him. But relative (worldly) happiness is also transient--if he stays in the cool water too long, he will become cold, and hence will begin to suffer.

Contrary to relative happiness, genuine happiness does not fluctuate wildly. Genuine happiness is absolute--genuine happiness to one person is genuine happiness to all people. The principle characteristic of genuine happiness is inner peace [4]. "[If] we can develop this quality of inner peace, no matter what difficulties we meet with in life, our basic sense of well-being will not be undermined." [5] No external factor can create such peace. But how can it be developed? Like everything else in life, it is dependent on causes and conditions. Hence, we must identify its causes and conditions and then cultivate said causes to bring about genuine happiness.

In the 2,500 years since the Buddha first explained these teachings, it has been experienced over and over by Buddhists that altruism is an essential ingredient of genuine happiness. For thousands of years, Buddhists have written of their experiences with altruism--that not only do altruistic actions cause others happiness and reduce their suffering, they also make the altruistic person's life meaningful and happy, and reduces that person's suffering. In summary, therefore, we have discussed the following:

  1. We have observed that all beings desire happiness and avoid suffering.
  2. The Buddha experienced genuine happiness and gave us the path to attain such happiness ourselves.
  3. Altruism is an essential ingredient of genuine happiness.

By merging these three observed truths, we can develop a statement of Buddhist ethics: "An ethical act is one which does not harm others' experience or expectation of happiness." [6]

This definition raises an obvious concern: how does one determine whether an act will harm another's experience or expectation of happiness? Before we consider this question, however, let's apply this definition to isolated examples of the Five Precepts, the traditional guidelines of Buddhist ethics, to gain a better understanding of how to make practical use of this definition. The first precept is "Do not kill." Obviously, killing another being harms that being's experience of happiness and its desire to avoid suffering. Furthermore, it harms the killer's experience of happiness because, regardless of the worldly feelings of exhilaration that the killer may experience, penetrating insight always discovers the ultimate suffering to one's self that killing causes1. The second precept is "Do not lie." If a person needs to know the truth about something, a lie prevents them from knowing that truth and, hence, they suffer (albeit potentially unknowingly). Lies also harm the liar because he can begin to become entangled in his web of lies, and hence he suffers. The third precept is "Do not steal." Stealing inflicts suffering on another due to their loss. It increases suffering for the thief as well because it enhances the growth of the seed of greed in the thief's mind. The fourth precept is "Do not engage in sexual misconduct." The emotional damage of adultery and other such liaisons is well documented. The fifth precept is "Do not take intoxicants, or engage in their production, nor in the productions of weapons and poisons." One might not be able to stop the production of weapons in the world, but one need not exert one's own effort in their production, whose use ultimately harms many beings. Taking intoxicants is more of a preventative measure in that such use can increase the likelihood of acting unethically.

Therefore, it seems clear that the definition provided by the Dalai Lama provides an effective measure of ethical action in these "ideal" instances. However, life is much more complex than these idealized circumstances. Hence, one must ask how one can determine whether an act will harm another's happiness. Buddhism answers this question through the development of skillful means. The Dalai Lama writes,
We find that in practice, if we are not able to connect with others to some extent, if we cannot at least imagine the potential impact of our actions on others, then we have no means to discriminate between right and wrong, between what is appropriate and what is not, between harming and non-harming. It follows, therefore, that the more we could enhance our sensitivity toward others' suffering, the less we could tolerate seeing others' pain and the more we would be concerned to ensure that no action of ours caused harm to others. [7]

Therefore, it is through the development of compassion that genuine ethical conduct arises. Compassion provides the motivation for ethical conduct, as one cannot bear to harm another. But to what degree can compassion be developed? Buddhism has taught for millenia, and countless examples are described, of people developing compassion to the utmost degree, where their every act is based on their love for others. The Buddha and Jesus are probably the two greatest examples in recorded history.

If compassion provides the motivation, from where, specifically, does the ability to discern harming from non-harming actions come? Every aspect of Buddhist training leads one toward the development of correct discernment. Buddhist meditation develops concentration, which is necessary to be able to penetrate through the illusory surface of experience to know its true nature. Without highly developed concentration skills, our mind gets distracted and, hence, never reaches the true nature of phenomena. Through concentration and mindfulness, wisdom arises. This critical faculty is the key component to determining ethical from unethical actions. Buddhism also focuses on the removal of afflictive emotions such as anger, greed, and laziness, because such emotions obscure one's critical faculties, thereby reducing one's ability to discern harming from non-harming acts. (Recall how clearly you were thinking the last time you were really angry. How many times have you hurt someone through your words when seized by anger?)

Therefore, we must constantly check all of our actions and employ our critical faculties, ensuring that our actions are motivated by compassion. As stated so eloquently by the Dalai Lama,
[Have we] asked ourselves whether we are being broad-minded or narrow minded? Have we taken into account the overall situation or are we considering only specifics? Is our view short-term or long-term? Are we being short-sighted or clear-eyed? Is our motive genuinely compassionate when considered in relation to the totality of all beings? Or is our compassion limited just to our families, our friends, and those we identify with closely? [8]

He continues by admitting that, given the complex nature of our world, all possible alternatives may appear to harm somebody. "Under such circumstances, we must use our intelligence to judge which course of action will be least harmful in the long run" to the greatest number of beings. [9]

He summarizes this train of thought as follows:
The moral value of a given act is to be judged in relation both to time, place, and circumstance and to the interests of the totality of all others in the future as well as now. But while it is conceivable that a given act is ethically sound under one particular set of circumstances, the same act at another time and place and under a different set of circumstances may not be. [10]

Therefore, returning to the question posed at the beginning of this essay, there is nothing I can consider to be intrinsically right or wrong. Because of the infinite variety of situations, causes, and conditions, it seems intractable to consider any act as having inherent value that is not determined, to some degree, by surrounding circumstances. Furthermore, as the ethical system as described herein is not based on decree from a godhead, there is no ground from which to state that any action is intrinsically right or wrong.

Transitioning to the final aspect of the question that began this essay, I refer to the following statement by the Dalai Lama:
It may be worth reviewing the grounds for defining ethical conduct in terms of non-harming. As we have seen, given the complex nature of reality, it is very difficult to say that a particular act or type of act is right or wrong in itself. Ethical conduct is thus not something we engage in because it is somehow right in itself. We do so because we recognize that just as I desire to be happy and to avoid suffering, so do all others. For this reason, a meaningful ethical system divorced from the question of our experience of suffering and happiness is hard to envisage. [11]

In this passage, the Dalai Lama appears to agree with my conclusion regarding the relative nature of ethical conduct. He also makes clear the impact morality has on our everyday lives. Each and every day we attempt to act in a way that increases our happiness and decreases our suffering. Little do we realize, however, that the worldly happiness we chase paradoxically INCREASES our suffering due to its transient nature and long-term effects. Therefore, the better we learn to discern harming from non-harming actions, the happier those around us become, and the happier we become. Buddhism teaches that such training in discernment and compassion comprises the basis for all our true happiness in the world. As such, they comprise practices that we endeavor to employ in every moment of our lives. For Buddhists, therefore, there is never a single moment in time in which morality does not impact our daily lives.

1This is a topic for another essay.

[1] Light on Yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar. 1979. Pg. 19.
[2] Ibid. Pg. 22.
[3] Ibid. Pg 19.
[4] Ethics for the New Millenium, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 1999. Pg. 55.
[5] Ibid. Pg. 56.
[6] Ibid. Pg. 49.
[7] Ibid. Pgs. 72-73.
[8] Ibid. Pgs. 149-150.
[9] Ibid. Pg. 152.
[10] Ibid. Pg. 153.
[11] Ibid. Pg. 147.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Poor Max!!

Because he hates getting brushed and won't let us trim him, our long-haired alpha cat Max went in for some much-needed grooming today to clear him of his accumulated matted hair. And as expected, he emerged looking pretty comical! :) Without further adieu, here's the new Max:

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Memories and the Present

"He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past." -Thoreau

I hold the Transcendentalists, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, in extremely high regard. Reading their essays, their poems, their journals, I think they have come as close to the true nature and purpose of living as our great spiritual leaders like the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and Jesus (among others).

In the quote above, Thoreau's point isn't the superficial interpretation that all memory is bad--he isn't part of a group labeled the Transcendentalists for nothing. :) Thoreau is blessing what Buddhists call non-attachment. It is not that we repress our memories in our practice of mindfulness in the present moment. Memories are necessary for learning, for growth: imagine trying to meditate when you can't (or won't) remember the instructions given to you by your teacher! Rather, Thoreau observed that people are obsessed with their memories. They replay painful experiences over and over in their minds, which resubmerges them in the flood of anxiety, anger, or jealousy they experienced. People are just as obsessed with pleasant memories--they relive their last vacation, a beautiful sunset, or their elation when they adopted their puppy.

The question arises, "What's wrong with this? Shouldn't I relive the painful experiences to learn from them and the pleasant ones to enjoy my life through reminiscing?" The answer to that question is yes, with reservations. Reliving painful experiences in search of growth is great, when you consciously choose to do so. Thoreau condemns the unconscious practice that we all fall into in which these memories flash across our mental screens, unrequested, and distract us from the wonder that is our present moment of life. It requires a brutally honest look into your mind to truly see the driver of these recollections.

Reliving pleasant memories is a wonderful pastime. However, if recalling that beautiful sunset of a year ago in Hawaii distracts you from mindfully experiencing the red sun descend below the horizon happening right now, today, then that memory has truly done you a disservice. Or if in thinking about when you adopted your fur-baby, and in the process you miss the adorable, inquisitive way she pokes and prods her favorite toy, you've just lost that moment.

With the manner in which he lived his life, Thoreau showed us that a truly mindful, present, experience of what is happening NOW is life's greatest gift. Choose your moments of recollection, and when you do, make them your present moment. But at all other times, don't grasp at these memories--let them go so that you can form wonderful new memories, untainted by your past.

1-Minute Contemplation: Identify a memory that is distracting you from living right now. It may be a hurtful experience you keep reliving, or a pleasant one that you now see distracts you from your real life, here and now. For 1 minute, analyze that memory. What part of it are you attached to such that it keeps arising? Find the reason inside you that will allow you to unattach yourself from this memory. Know that you can choose to return to it whenever you wish. Whenever YOU wish.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Scribe Jamboree: October 20, 2006

Welcome to the October 20th edition of Unknowing Mind's Scribe Jamboree! This is where I highlight some of my favorite posts from the past week from my fellow writers at The Daily Scribe.

Will at thinkBuddha gives us a taste of what he's teaching about The Meaning of the Meaning of Life over at Staffordshire University. Very interesting thought process here.

Dan at Yet Another Unitarian Universalist has two related posts I'd like to direct you toward. First he spoke personally about his lack of mindfulness while out on a nice walk in Autumn Watch. His issue is one many of us struggle with: how to let go of our attachment to our jobs, our responsibilities, when we're not directly working on them. He continues the discussion in Nature and City: a preliminary checklist, where he makes the observation that "City isn’t separate from Nature or divorced from Nature; rather, City is an ecosystem (or collection of ecosystems) that is a subset of wider Nature. (Corollary: humans are not separate from Nature, they are an integral part of Nature.)". He then presents us with a categorized list of reminders to help him maintain his awareness of his ecosystem. An insightful comment by Jean extends his list through focusing on sensation, our gateway to the surrounding world.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Oops! Make that Monday.

Ok, after some discussion, we're moving our posting of the Second Interfaith Blog Event to Monday, October 23, 2006. Please ignore my previous post. :)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Friday is the day!

This friday will be our second Interfaith Blog Event in which bloggers from three different religious traditions debate a single topic chosen by one of us. I represent a Mahayana Buddhist viewpoint, Jon represents a Protestant Christian perspective, and Sojourner represents a Pagan perspective. Tune in Friday for the excitement!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Is A Physical Expression of Spiritual Practice Necessary?

I've been thinking about this topic recently because I've begun to feel that something was missing in my practice. When I first started my Buddhist practice, I was concurrently training in Aikido, a Japanese martial art. While my meditation practice is stronger today than it was then, I'm finding that its effect on my life is reduced. One cause is undoubtedly a more complex life today than I had then. However, the more I examine the situation, the more I see that another primary cause is my lack of a physical expression of my practice.

In Aikido, training centers around control of one's self. Aikido is based on a sphere, with the practitioner at the center. As attackers enter that sphere, aikidoka must maintain their awareness such that they can touch, and thereby redirect--with the minimum possible force--the attacker around that sphere. When one watches high-level Aikido, it often appears as a sort of dance, with the practitioners feeling the attack and moving WITH said attack, never forcefully AGAINST it. Furthermore, Aikido trains you to feel what others are doing to you, and teaches you how to go with that flow to avoid personal injury. If you are about to be thrown, and there is no true way to avoid that, it is healthier to allow yourself to be thrown and focus on protecting yourself than to strain to avoid the throw.

The only way to succeed in such practice is to lose your ego. Ego causes you to think, "Resist! He's not going to get the better of me!" Then when you do, you sprain your wrist in the process. Without ego, you realize, "I've recognized this throw too late for a skillful counter; therefore, I must bend like the willow tree and absorb the throw, landing with minimal injury." Ego causes you to think, "Strike harder! He deserves to be hurt!" Without ego, you realize, "He is striking me out of his ego; there is no need to inflict major injury. Respond with the minimal force necessary." Beyond philosophy, however, you learn very quickly when training in Aikido that when you use muscular force, your moves are ineffective. So not only does Aikido philosophy teach these principles, the physical component provides proof. To be blunt, your Aikido will be completely ineffective and worthless if you respond to force with force, to attack with defiant resistance. In other words, Aikido acts as a physical expression of the value of egolessness, compassion, and wisdom.

Having not trained in Aikido for 5 years, I find that loss to have had an effect on my life. Such physical expression of one's practice helps to bring one's practice "out of the dojo" or "off the cushion" into everyday life. What good is meditation and Buddhist training if you leave your practice in the temple after service? The Buddha did not teach any particular physical expressions of the practice. Therefore, to me this indicates that such practices are not strictly necessary. However, in that they involve the physical body your mind inhabits in this life, I think they provide a skillful means by which to "practice in motion." Walking meditation is often touted as a great means to bring your meditation to physical activity. A lay person's life involves much motion, and if he cannot figure out how to bring a meditative mind to his actions in life, his practice will be worthless.

Therefore, I have begun studying Yoga at a highly respected studio here in Chicago, Yogaview. So far--and it's only been 2 weeks--I've already noticed an increase in my ability to carry the mental state of mindful awareness to my motion-filled life. So while I don't think such physical expression of training is required to achieve Awakening, I think if you are disposed to such practice, it can act as a skillful method to improve your practice dramatically.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Jesus Camp

The documentary itself was very well made, showing little bias towards either the Evangelical or liberal sectors. Therefore it is definitely worth watching. As to the content, it was very informative, and I came out of the theater feeling that these kids' parents do truly want the best for their children, and feel they are giving them that.

That being said, the brainwashing that is occurring in these children across America frightened me more than The Exorcist ever could. At one point, the leader of the camp stated to a Christian radio host that what children learn in their early years determines 90% (or some large percentage--I forget the exact figure) of their beliefs in adulthood, and she gave that as the reason why she focuses on children. The radio host retorted that he sees a clear distinction between learning and indoctrination, which is what she is doing to these children at their ages.

I do think that she truly cares for these children and is doing what she feels is best for them and for her vision of the world. But her actions, in my opinion, are borderline terrorism. Her fundamentalism differs from that of terrorists' only in that she does not place grenades in the hands of her legions of children; she places them in their minds.

A Different View of Spirituality

Strange that in our time there's so little interesting poetry of religious belief, especially since world events more and more are driven by belief (or the fanaticism of Eastern or Western Fundamentalism). Somebody asks me what I believe. I believe in the suspicion of transcendence, in the capacity of consciousness to imagine a transcendent order as an objective reality. I believe in my own unbelief.
(Poetry. W.S. Di Piero. October 2006.)

I just read an essay in my most recent issue of Poetry, from which the above excerpt was drawn, and found it to be a very creative approach to spirituality that I've never considered. Just some interesting food for thought, and some insight into another's view of life.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Scribe Jamboree: October 13, 2006

Welcome to another week of Unknowing Mind's Scribe Jamboree! This is where I highlight some of my favorite posts from the past week from my fellow writers at The Daily Scribe.

First from Angela-Eloise at Blogickal, a great post on the mythology of the Harvest Moon. The moon always instills awe and wonder in me, and this year's Harvest Moon was simply spectacular in Chicago. The Goddess truly is alive in such a wondrous sight.

Second, (by the way, these are in no particular order!), Tim at Pop Occulture Blog posted a vivid excerpt from a favorite author of mine, David Abram, on Alphabet Magic. Read the entire article by Abram if you can -- it's an amazing piece of living scholarship on the animistic relationship we have developed with words.

Tim gets third billing too with his post on The Ecology of the Self. This one's based on Abram's work as well, but Tim relates Abram's writings on the true purpose of magic--ecology--to our sense of self.

Fourth, we have a good post at Arbitrary Marks on Counting the Cost of Stories and Beliefs. It's an interesting application of cost-benefit analysis to religious beliefs. At fourth and a half, I'll mention an interesting conversation in which I've been involved regarding worship in a singular setting with pluralistic beliefs. Neat viewpoints being discussed herein.

Fifth, Sojourner from A Pagan Sojourn reminds us to Take Time to Pause. Life constantly throws work at us and it's easy to fall into the trap of rushing through doing things that need doing and forgetting to stop, breathe, and come back to yourself in the moment. I'm several weeks into my first class toward my Ph.D in electrical engineering, and I'm struggling with the same thing right now. Thanks for the timely reminder, Sojourner!

Finally, I want to point you to two amazingly detailed and information-filled posts on the history of the number thirteen and of Friday the Thirteenth in particular. Reb Chaim HaQoton posts on Friday the Thirteenth, as does Angela-Eloise. Thanks for your efforts on this fun topic, you two. I never realized how much history underlies this superstition.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Diana Mukpo on the Essence of Buddhist Teachings

In the November 2006 issue of Shambhala Sun, Diana Mukpo, the widow of Chogyam Trungpa, is quoted as saying in her new book, "Ultimately I think that this is the essence of Buddhist teachings: they are about how to live our lives, intimately, moment to moment."

This is what truly separates Buddhism from most other religions. It's also the reason why many people claim Buddhism is not a religion but a philosophy. We don't focus on the philosophical quagmire of gods, spiritual cosmology, and the "afterlife." We work with what we have at our disposal, our minds, with the goal of holding mindfulness at every point of our waking existence and acting out of complete, total, pure compassion. This isn't to say that Buddhism is without said philosophical claptrap. Great sages, including the Buddha himself, have coherently expressed these ideas to bring a "philosophical wholeness" to the religion. However, the Buddha himself taught that such musings were unfruitful. While they might be fun (I certainly enjoy a good philosophical discussion!) and educational, such intellectual exercise cannot bring us peace, bring us mindfulness, or lead us to compassionate action. Only training of the mind can bring out such skillful means.

As Diana Mukpo expressed, the essence of Buddhism is the observation that events will happen to us, some pleasant, some unpleasant, and the only thing of which we can be sure is our response in the present moment. The past has ended--while we can, and should, use it for educational purposes, it cannot help us in the immediate moment. The future is just our worried or egotistical projection of what might happen--again, while it can be used for educational purposes, it can do nothing for the "here and now." The Buddha, before his Awakening, had faith that he could achieve perfect peace, perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, through training his mind. And he did achieve perfect peace, perfect compassion, perfect wisdom, while resulted in the ultimate happiness. So that we could do the same thing he did, the Buddha taught us "how to live our lives, intimately, moment to moment."