Thursday, June 29, 2006

Five Facts to Contemplate Frequently

In the Upajjhatthana Sutra, the Buddha taught there there are five facts that one should reflect on frequently:
  1. I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.
  2. I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.
  3. I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.
  4. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
  5. I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.
Even just spending 2 or 3 minutes a day to contemplate these 5 factors will be immensely beneficial.

I am subject to aging and I am subject to illness; while I should strive to remain healthy, I will eventually get old and sick. There is no escaping these two facts, and contemplating them teaches me that I am changing, it is pointless to grasp for the past or for health because I have changed, and will continue to change. This illness I have now is impermanent and will end, just as the health that follows is impermanent and will end.

I am subject to death; this teaches me that I don't have forever. What is important to me? I better do that now because, who knows, I could die one minute from now!

I will grow different; just as I change, and will grow differently from others, others change and will grow differently from me. It's unavoidable. That also, of course, means that I can grow closer to others, as well as apart from them.

I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions; everything I think, everything I do, everything I say, will have an effect. Every effect that is a product of my thoughts, speech, and actions, will become a cause for future thoughts, speech, and actions, which will produce another effect, and so on.

1-Minute Contemplation: Contemplate these 5 factors for just 1 minute. That's 12 seconds each.

Homework: Next time you're standing in line, just waiting patiently, contemplate 1 or more of these factors, as many as you have time for. Even 1 second of focused contemplation will benefit your mind.

Two Guardians of the World

The Four Noble Truths mark the basis of Buddhism: 1. Life contains suffering; 2. Suffering has a cause; 3. Therefore, suffering can be ended; 4. The path that leads one to remove the causes of suffering is the Eightfold Path.

In Buddhist psychological thought, the grounds of suffering are the three unwholesome roots: Greed, Aversion, and Delusion. The thing I love about Buddhism is its completely optimistic, inspirational viewpoint: Noble Truth #3 says that suffering can be ended! Now it is solely up to us to devote ourselves to that task. We can end our suffering, but it takes great vigilance and practice. To help us in this task are the Two Guardians of the World: Moral Shame and Moral Dread.

Moral Shame and Moral Dread give us the means, and the strength, by which we can overcome the three poisons of greed, aversion, and delusion. To bring to an end the seeds of greed and hatred in our minds, we have to commit, to vow, to never engage in an action based in greed or hatred again. How do you know if you're thoroughly committed to this vow? When you fail in your vow, when you yell at your child or pet out of anger instead of compassion, when you become irritated at your co-worker, do you feel utter shame at your transgression? Do you completely dread the repercussions of such a failure? If the answer to either of these two questions is no, then you are not yet truly committed to your vow.

Moral Shame and Moral Dread are the thorough shame and fear that permeate your being at the thought of acting out of greed, anger, or delusion, and that renew your strength to continue fighting to keep your vow after you've violated it. We must work to develop these two guardians so that they keep vigilant watch over our thoughts, speech, and actions. They teach us the true peril to our very lives of delusion, greed, and anger.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Poem: Into the Dorms

Into the Dorms

Enveloped in darkness
The ceiling obscured.
Quiet sobs break the silence
Pillow damp from my tears.

In a labyrinth of hallways
Foreign walls closing in.
Strange faces surround me
I'm all alone here.

A new face at my door
"Can we help?" "Yes you can."
At least for a time, I'm not
So alone.

There's free lunch in the Quad
But my insides churn.
My childhood's fading
Don't go! Don't go!

Back in my room
Fingers gripping embrace.
Door closes behind them
I crumble and stare.

Enveloped in darkness
The ceiling obscured.
Quiet sobs break the silence
Pillow damp from my tears.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Seeing True Nature

From The State of Mind Called Beautiful (Sayadaw Pandita, 2006):
Only when one notes and observes the presently arising object will one see its true nature. There is no axiom more basic. Wisdom means clear-cut, distinct, discerning, direct knowledge. Dharma, the true nature of reality, can only be seen at this very moment—in the moment of actually seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, or thinking. When the abdomen is rising and falling due to the breathing process...when eating, when opening the eyes, this is when the true nature of the object can be captured by the attentive awareness.

In life, we are all too often caught up in thinking and worrying and planning and reminiscing. Why? How does that serve us? "I have to plan, so that I know how to best utilize my time, or know how to properly do something," you might answer. This is true. But are you planning when you choose to plan, or does your mind go on planning and testing and thinking when that is not your intention? There is a time for planning for the future and reminiscing about the past, but we often find our minds doing these things when that was not our intention, or doing them to excess. The antidote to this waste of mental cycles is mindfulness: noting and observing the most obvious presently arising object, be that your breath, a thought, an emotion, a sensation (painful/pleasant/neutral), etc. When you see it occur, name it with a simple name. (For the abdomen in breathing, "Rising...Falling," for a movie that starts to play in your head, "Seeing...Seeing")

1-Minute Practice: Watch and name the rising and falling of your abdomen as you breathe. If a thought intrudes, label it "Thinking." Don't follow the train of thought, just note it. If it dissipates, return to "Rising, Falling." If another thought arises, "Thinking."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

EVP Volleyball Tournament #1 2006

I just got done with my first EVP volleyball doubles tournament of the year. Was out on beautiful North Avenue beach in Chicago from 8:20 am through 2:00 pm, under cloudless 80 degree conditions. We ended up going 2-3 in our pool, and not advancing to the single-elimination brackets, but we had a blast, and played well overall. Needless to say, I'm pretty exhausted, but given the choice, I would do this for a living in a heartbeat! Next tournament: July 8th.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Characteristics of Loving Speech

Continuing yesterday's theme on loving speech, the Buddha taught that all speech should be motivated by loving-kindness. To break this down further, the Buddha explained that there are four characteristics of skillful speech. First, for speech to be skillful, it must be truthful. Second, it must be unifying. In other words, you might be honestly relating something out of kindness, but if you do so in a divisive manner which breaks people apart rather than bringing them together harmoniously, you are engaging in unskillful speech. Third, you must choose pleasant words, in a pleasant tone of voice. These last two characteristics affect not the intention but the result of your speech. People respond well to a kind, loving intention. They respond better when the intention is relayed in a unifying, pleasant manner. Flattery is a breach of this third principle—while the words themselves might be pleasant, flattery is a form of dishonesty and thus is not entirely truthful. Finally, the fourth characteristic of skillful speech is that it be essential. Do not waste another's time with gossip (unecessary information) or speech that drags on and on when you could have related the information in a more efficient manner (unnecessary verbiage).

As an example, gossip (in the common vernacular) violates every tenet of skillful speech. It is often untruthful, relating "I've heards" and "X from the supermarket told me that Y said..."; gossip is often embellished. Second, it is divisive; it isolates the object of the gossip from the gossipers. Third, it is not pleasant; it relays another's faults and thus flatters the gossipers that they are superior in some fashion. Fourth, it is not essential; the information is not necessary and is usually related very inefficiently.

1-Minute Contemplation: What kind of speech did you engage in today? In any of your interactions, did you violate any of these tenets of skillful speech? How could you have said what you said in a more skillful manner?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Loving-Kindness in Speech

From the Dhammapada:
Just like a blossom,
bright colored
but scentless:
a well-spoken word
is fruitless
when not carried out.

Just like a blossom,
bright colored
& full of scent:
a well-spoken word
is fruitful
when well carried out.

Metta, or loving-kindness, is a key component of Buddhist teachings. Related to compassion, it is the act of extending loving, kind actions, thoughts, and speech to every being. Think of your closest loved one. Loving-kindness almost wells up of its own accord, doesn't it? Now think of the last guy who cut you off in traffic, or who spilled something on you at a ball game. Loving-kindness is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, is it? :)

Sometimes it's easy to think we're doing well in our practice of metta. But the true test is whether you are radiating loving-kindness not only in your thoughts, but in your speech and actions. As the Buddha noted in the quote above, "a well-spoken word is fruitless when not carried out."

1-Minute Contemplation: This one is a little different than normal. Smile at two people you see today on the street, on the bus or train, in the store, or wherever it is you find yourself. Don't just give that little lips-pursed polite smile you give the person whose gaze you briefly meet when they get on your elevator. No, first spend a few seconds to mentally wish this person complete happiness, then truly smile at him or her with that wish in mind. Let us know how it goes!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Xia!

Today is Xia's 6th birthday!1 Of our 3 cats, Xia is the only girl and is extremely unique—for years we've said about her, "Nobody knows what a Xia is!" The reason? When we just had two cats (Xia and her older brother), Xia was the most un-catlike cat: she'd fall off things, try to be stealthy and just not be, couldn't fight for her life, etc. But after we got our third cat, she magically became the most graceful, best-leaping cat in the house! Go figure.

Happy Birthday Xia!

1Pronounced ZEE-a

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Seeing the Truth

The mind is like the ocean, a vast pool that reflects its surroundings. Just as wind blowing across the surface of the water obscures its reflections, our mind, when tainted by delusion, does not see clearly the True Nature of the formations it reflects. Rather, it perceives a version of those formations, unable to see their True Suchness. We can extend the analogy further in that the ripples and waves cause the surface to continuously reflect different objects, mirroring how our monkey mind leaps from idea to idea to idea, out of control.1 But if we learn to control the wind, we can still the ripples, and attend to a single object. The more we practice, the more still the surface becomes, and the longer we can be mindful of our chosen object.

What happens when we learn to still the wind entirely? We become capable of deep examination of the object of our mindfulness, uninterrupted, without taint. Suddenly, we are no longer seeing the object filtered through our relative biases, but unblemished, in its True Suchness.

This is how we see Truth.

1Analogy derived from Joseph Campbell's lecture entitled "Mysteries of India."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pause. Experience.

From today's Daily Om:
Most of us begin our days with a continuous list of things we need to do to keep our lives running smoothly, but we rarely take time to note all the things we don't need to do. For example, we don't need to figure out how to breathe. We don't need to find a way to make sure the earth continues to revolve around the sun. We don't need to concentrate to ensure that our heart beats and our cells regenerate. All of these things, and many more, take care of themselves without our having to think or do anything at all. This is the miracle of life on earth.

Beyond the wonder of the natural world, we have the wonder of human-created conditions such as indoor plumbing, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, telephones, and the Internet to name a few. Someone living just a hundred years ago would be overwhelmed by the ease with which we can communicate with people all over the world. Every day, millions of us jump on airplanes and fly to distant locations in a matter of hours. If we have access to a computer, we can read obscure information about any subject, free of charge, at any time of the day or night. And yet, it's only when one of these miraculous inventions fails that we notice it at all.

1-Minute Contemplation: Notice one thing that you were not aware of a minute ago. Maybe the floor pressing up against the soles of your feet, or the sound of the air conditioner, or a bird singing outside your window. Just breathe calmly and enjoy the experience you've noticed for 1 minute.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

On Complexity, by Dave Pollard

Dave Pollard has written up an excellent piece on how and why we, as people, seem to hate complexity and "solve" complex problems with simple solutions that are not really solutions at all. It is well worth the slightly long read.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Narcissus and Attachment

From Ovid's Metamorphoses (Gregory, Horace. "Book III: Echo and Narcissus," 1958.):
Again, again his arms embraced the silver
Elusive waters where his image shone;
And he burned for it while the gliding error
Betrayed his eyes. O foolish innocent!
Why try to grasp at shadows in their flight?
What he had tried to hold resided nowhere,
For had he turned away, it fell to nothing:
His love was cursed.
This excerpt comes from the well-known story of Narcissus, who was cursed by Nemesis to fall in love only with himself. Narcissus's love kept him pining away at the "pool, well-deep and silver-clear," lusting after his reflection, until his death, having wasted away, drained by his futile attachment.

How attached are we to something about ourselves? Narcissus lives within all our psyches, and not necessarily in the form of attachment to our physical appearance (although that's a common one!). Narcissus can seize anything you consider yourself to be better at than others. If you think yourself smart, this may become your curse. The test? If someone challenges your intelligence, how do you react? Are you angered by the comment? Do you repress the anger under the guise of not caring?

If your reaction is anything but unconditional compassion for the person who challenged your "trait," Narcissus has exerted his influence on you, attaching you to your trait. At this point, a (perceived) attack on your trait is a direct frontal assault on YOU!

The Buddha, in his unwaveringly optimistic way, taught us that, yes, suffering exists. But, he continued, it has a cause (many, actually), and if you remove the cause, the suffering will cease! Therefore, unlike Narcissus, we are not doomed to death consumed by our attachment. We can look deeply, discover the causes of our attachment, and remove them.

1-Minute Contemplation: What traits of yours are you attached to? What aspect of you, when challenged, seems to provoke an unnecessarily emotional response?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ovid and the Precepts

From Ovid's Metamorphoses (Gregory, Horace. "Book III: Actaeon," 1958.):
And these disasters
Were Fortune's errors and not his—for how can
Error without intention be called a crime?

What did the Buddha teach on this topic? The first precept, as stated in the Abhisanda Sutta1, says, "A disciple of the noble ones...abstains from taking life." What does this mean, exactly? The following five guidelines explain that, to violate this precept fully,
  1. A living being must have been killed;
  2. The person must have perceived that the being killed was a living being;
  3. The person must have had the intention to kill;
  4. The person must have exerted appropriate effort toward killing the being;
  5. The being must have died as a result of this effort.

The first thing to note is that these factors describe a complete violation of the precept. The precept may still be violated in a lesser manner. For instance, murder in the heat of passion is less egregious than premeditated murder, as the third factor was violated to a lesser degree. Therefore, it appears that the Buddha's teaching agrees, at least in part, with what Ovid stated in the Metamorphoses—intention plays a role.

Many modern temples, including mine, have extended this first precept to avoiding harming beings: "Do not harm, but cherish all life." How do the five factors above translate to this more global restatement of the precept? This is my personal opinion, but I think that simply by replacing the concept of "kill" with the concept of "harm," the guidelines are applicable. Again, however, note that partial violation is clearly possible. Maybe I intend to harm someone, but my actions ultimately help the person; I do not seem to have violated the 5th factor, but I've still violated this precept through my intent.

Furthermore, I argue that factor #3, intention, plays the primary role in the level of karmic effect of thoughts, speech, and actions (admittedly, I have no scriptural references at hand to back this up). This follows psychologically, as the deeper my intent on causing harm, the stronger is the seed in my unconscious that is enabling me to have this intention, overriding my "moral compass." Therefore, the result on my mind (karma) of this intent is stronger as well—anger begets anger, greed begets greed.

1-minute Contemplation: Have you harmed anyone today? Did you intend to do so? Even just a little bit? Could you have foreseen the harm if you had had just a little more wisdom?

1Access to Insight

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Poem: Fireflies


Fireflies float
Among ash elm and oak.
Beacons in darkness.

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Monday, June 12, 2006


I'm especially grateful tonight for a comment on my post on Memetics that showed me that I did not clearly convey my feelings in that post about the benefits of Christianity and all religions. Their memetic structure has nothing to do with their inherent benefit to their followers; it simply provides a means to analyze the manner in which a religion propogates throughout cultures. I have since posted two comments (and welcome much further discussion!) that hopefully clarify my high regard for the religion when it is consciously chosen as fitting a person's experience.

Compassion Exemplified

From May 2006 issue of Shambhala Sun, in an article entitled, "She Who Hears the Cries of the World," by Christina Feldman:
A few years ago, an elderly monk arrived in India after fleeing from prison in Tibet. Meeting with the Dalai Lama, he recounted the years he had been imprisoned, the hardship and beatings he had endured, the hunger and loneliness he had lived with, and the torture he had faced.

At one point, the Dalai Lama asked him, "Was there ever a time you felt your life was truly in danger?" The old monk answered, "In truth, the only time I truly felt at risk was when I felt in danger of losing compassion for my jailers."

If anyone were to doubt that Buddhas and Bodhisattvas live among us today, this story should eliminate that doubt. I bow to this monk for the beautiful teaching his life exemplifies.

Your Practice

One of our biggest challenges is truly making our practice our own, bringing our Buddhist practice off the cushion (or your Christian practice out of the Church) into daily life. As we continue in our practice, aspects of the path come out naturally, without conscious thought—we maintain one-pointed calm in the face of work deadlines, or compassionate, helpful action arises of its own accord when we see somebody who appears to be lost, or we see a butterfly and, without a second thought, take a minute to appreciate its beauty and splendor, before continuing on our way. However, this process is on-going, and we can only devote attention to a limited number of practices at a time.

In a Dharma talk this past Sunday, our resident priest asked us how we apply our practice in our everyday lives. The responses were wonderful! One woman focuses particularly on developing patience, waiting patiently, being patient with others, being patient with herself. Another focuses on kindness, on always remaining aware of whether her responses to others are kind, and in being mindful of situations in which kindness could be extended to others. A man conveyed his practice of attention and connection; he explained that when traveling on public transportation, he practices seeing each individual person present as an individual, connecting with each of them briefly with his attention. Another woman focuses on her breath, maintaining concentration as her practice.

This Dharma talk made me aware that I try to include too many things at one time in my practice, thus artificially limiting my development in any one. One of my personal challenges is that I tend to be more interested in things, ideas, and structures, than people. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, I am making connection my practice. "What can I do to connect with this person?" "What does this person need right now?"

1-Minute Contemplation:
What is your practice? How can you focus your practice for the greatest benefit to all beings? How can you improve your practice?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

On Mahayana Buddhism and The Lotus and the Cross

In 2001, Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a respected Christian scholar, published a book entitled The Lotus and the Cross, a small book with a creative premise—a conversation between Jesus and Buddha over the life of Priya, a dying woman in a spiritual quandary. To Dr. Zacharias's credit, he traveled to several Buddhist countries and interviewed monks to broaden his view of Buddhism as research for this book. Unfortunately, he published a book that was quite inaccurate from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective, reflecting a lack of understanding of Buddhist principles. It would be truly unfortunate if The Lotus and the Cross was a person's only exposure to Buddhism; examining the target audience of Dr. Zacharias's book, this is likely the case in many instances. Therefore, I wrote an essay entitled On Mahayana Buddhism and The Lotus and the Cross. It is my wish to make this essay available to every reader of The Lotus and the Cross, to make them aware of the strengths and limitations of that work, and to give them a more complete understanding of the Buddhist religion, written by a practicing Buddhist.

If you know anyone who has, or plans to, read The Lotus and the Cross, please direct them to this post or the essay.

Poem: Early Morning

Early Morning
I am awake.
Shadowed black conquers
Pure black—
Ear-sized triangle
Twitches atop the clock,
Green glow
Shines 3:06.
Still, like the
Silvered lake
At windless twilight
Reflects the Goddess
Waxing gibbous.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Spirit of the Great Buffalo

The Great Buffalo

The prairie shakes, relaxed greens
and driftwood browns part as they pass
or falter under hoof. Herd traces
pond's path, fragrant flame from many
strides upwind pulls their noses aft-
No fear- no hunt in the west wind.

Invocations rise up, carry me,
kin to man, like a king
on his Royal Stallion. Their
hearts pulse for me,
chants embrace me
dum da-dum-dum dum dum
The hunt is on.

But I remain silent.

We flee and we fight
fear pushing, pulling, but only in
body as Spirit is soothed through
devotional dance and earned respect
for our sinew and meat
our bladder and hide
our bones and our liver
our hair and our dung.

Seduced not but soothed, our spirit
still smiles though bison-bone spear
points pierce buffalo hide.

The prairie shakes, the bison die.

dum da-dum-dum dum dum
Their hearts embrace me
Chants pulse for me.


I'm especially grateful for the interesting dialogue in my post on War, Ethics, and Religion. Thanks to all who have responded.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

War, Ethics, and Religion

Vietnam War Memorial - The Three Soldiers or The Three Servicemen

I read an interesting article today entitled World Religions: War and Peace, which asserts that religions can take one of three views regarding war:
  • Pacifist: War (and violence) is wrong.
  • Just War: War can be justified under certain circumstances.
  • Holy War: War is justified if it is a Holy War, ordained by the god of the religion.

I'm impressed by the unbiased approach taken in the article. For instance, it correctly denotes that Buddhism is a pacifist religion, but does not shy away from noting that the Buddhist regime in Sri Lanka is seen as oppressing the Hindu minority.

The article got me thinking, where do I stand? I find myself in the pacifist camp, with a caveat. I, personally, feel it's ok to defend oneself if attacked. As Bodhisattvas, it is our responsibility to achieve awakening for the benefit of all beings and, in the process, imbue all of our thoughts, actions, and speech with generosity, ethical restraint, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom (Six Paramitas), for the benefit of others. But if we are attacked, it inhibits our ability to fulfill our Bodhisattva vows. Therefore, for the benefit of others, we are justified, I feel, in defending ourselves. However, there is a caveat to this, as well. We must NOT do so out of anger and hate. This would allow the unwholesome roots to rule our actions. We must defend ourselves out of compassion. In this way, we will do no harm beyond that which is necessary.

Buddhism is not dogmatic. Our precepts are not dictates—they are generalities based upon observation of actions-results and wisdom. "To do no harm" is our greatest precept, but, as in all things, the compassion that inhabits it must be tempered with wisdom. As a result, war is almost never black & white. Was our invasion of Iraq ethical? Pacifists would say no. The "Just War" camp might say yes, depending on their predilections. In my view, I lean toward no, because the information upon which we based our invasion was incorrect. We were truly in no danger from Iraq. Were the people of Iraq oppressed? Arguably, yes. Was invasion the best way to intervene? I don't think so.

1-Minute Contemplation: Is violence always wrong? If not, when is it justified?

About Sariputra

Just as a mountain of rock,
is unwavering, well-settled,
so the monk whose delusion is ended,
like a mountain, is undisturbed.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wake Up!

Utthana Sutta1

Get up!
Sit up!
What's your need for sleep?
And what sleep is there for the afflicted,
pierced by the arrow,

Get up!
Sit up!
Train firmly for the sake of peace,
Don't let the king of death,
— seeing you heedless —
deceive you,
bring you under his sway.

Cross over the attachment
to which human & heavenly beings,
remain desiring
Don't let the moment pass by.
Those for whom the moment is past
grieve, consigned to hell.

Heedless is
dust, dust
comes from heedlessness
has heedlessness
on its heels.
Through heedfulness & clear knowing
you'd remove
your own sorrow.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Memetics and The Parable of the Mustard Seed

Jesus asked, "How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed. Though this is one of the smallest of seeds, it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can come and find shelter." (Mark 4:30, NLT)

In this parable, Jesus seems to be reassuring his early followers that, despite their small numbers in the vast, Pagan Roman empire, God's kingdom will experience an explosion of growth, ultimately providing the umbrella under which all people can seek shelter. As we see today, his prediction of the spread of Christianity has proven correct. How has this religion achieved such dominance in the West?

Christianity, like all religions, has spread through employing effective memes. Arguably, the memeplex of Christianity has employed some of the most efficient replicators of any religion.1 Evangelism, common among many religions, is one meme employed ferociously by Christians. Christian missionaries travel the world, providing many needed functions to help the local people, and also spreading the word of God to all they help. There is no better means by which to spread your idea than by embedding in the idea itself the responsibility to witness to others.

As the number of Christians grew, another strategy meme naturally arose as a product of evangelism—repetition. The more Christians there were that were evangelizing, the more non-Christians heard the message. "[As] any advertising executive would tell you: repetition sells."2 Repetition is also prominent in the religion's rituals, as it is in most religions. Repetition of the core teachings implants the ideas more deeply into a practitioner's psyche.

Christianity employs a division of people into two categories: saved and unsaved. Believers in Christ have been saved, and non-believers can always be saved if they commit to Christ. This dichotomy utilizes three effective memes. Saved status provides the follower with both security and belonging. An eternity of separation from God is a frightful thought to people who have chosen to consider this belief structure, and committing to Christ immediately secures one from this fate. Second, it fulfills the same role as street gangs unfortunately do to many youths today; it gives the followers the feeling of belonging to something greater than themselves. Additionally, the meme of simplicity increases replication of the Christian memeplex—it is an easy process to become saved; there is no long list of steps that must be undertaken; one must simply succumb to Christ's divinity.

One final meme I'd like to discuss is the "window of opportunity" meme. Again, any salesperson will tell you that "limited time offers," "one day sales," and "store specials" increase the probability that a customer will purchase the product affected by the offer. Christianity teaches that we have a single life to live as humans, a single life in which to decide that Christ is our savior, or not. In essence, it's a limited time offer, and if we don't buy now, the offer expires.

Many more memes than the ones I've described here have all-but-ensured that Jesus's prediction would come true—Christianity has sprouted from a tiny mustard seed into a huge, wide-reaching plant. All religions that utilize fit memes have also experienced similar growth at certain times in history, including Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Paganism. Memes, being cultural units of transmission, are subject to changing culture and, hence, their levels of fitness will change as the cultural environment in which they spread changes. Catholicism, for instance, has experienced difficulty in recent times with its traditional views on such things as female priests. Modern culture is beginning to place greater emphasis on the reason meme, that rules should make sense, than on the tradition meme. As a result, Catholicism suffers, as one of its primary memes, tradition, becomes a poorer replicator in the primal soup of modern culture. As long as the culture is responsive to the memes employed by Christianity, it will continue to flourish as a successful religion. As the culture changes, as all cultures do, Christianity will be forced to adapt or decline.

1 The current rise of Islam raises some interesting questions as to what has changed in the culture to make Islam's memes replicate so much more effectively than in the past.

2 Brodie, Richard. Virus of the Mind. Integral Press. 1996

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Five Hindrances

[Image Source]

Here is a villanelle I wrote while taking a poetry class last year.
Five Hindrances
Of all life's obstacles, as a fence stand five.
Constrained by self, dreams choked from within.
Grab hold, scramble over! Go forth alive.

Tethered to your toys and your big-screen TV
Need more, need bigger! Mind diseased by this pattern.
Of all life's obstacles, as a fence stand five.

Singing, cruising, in the left lane BRAKE! Lowlife!
You scream at the driver unseen, rage at his innocent mom.
Grab hold, scramble over! Go forth alive.

You think, Why now? room blurs Too tired to strive
There's tomorrow, or the next. No need to push on.
Of all life's obstacles, as a fence stand five.

Helping Junior with math, while monkey mind leaps— Buy chives
Buick needs oil Who is that girl Call the dentist Did I leave the stove on—
Grab hold, scramble over! Go forth alive.

As clocks tick forward, so does your life—
Frozen by doubt— like a rock dying from erosion.
Of all life's obstacles, as a fence stand five.
Grab hold, scramble over! Go forth alive.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

DaVinci Code and Symbology

[Image Source]

I went to see the DaVinci Code last night (I read the book a few weeks back). My basic impression: not as good as the book—but what movie ever is? However, it was still worth watching, although there were some serious deviations from the book that they did not flesh out thoroughly. While the book & movie are labeled as fiction, they contained enough historical references and truths for people to mistake entirely fictional aspects as true. One of my best friends, an Evangelical Christian pastor (and history major in college) has told me that people from every class of life have already quoted to him as true several events as portrayed in the book that are patently false from a historical perspective.

I think Joseph Campbell said it best, as he so often did: "One of the great calamities of contemporary life is that the religions that we have inherited have insisted on the concrete historicity of their symbols." The value of this book is not that it is presenting to us an alternative history to Christianity. The value is in showing people that the historical truth of the stories of religions are of little importance compared to their symbolism.

Religions speak to us because they answer, in symbolic, poetic form, questions that we cannot logically answer any other way. Back in the time when Genesis was written, science was not capable of determining any truths about the beginning of the universe, so religion answered that question. Today, many aspects of nature that originally required religious explanation are now modeled by science--weather patterns, meteor showers, eclipses. Does this make the old religious stories about these events meaningless? Yes, from the standpoint of understanding the events as external natural occurrences. No, from the standpoint of gaining insight into the similarities of such events to aspects of our psyches. The story of Genesis, which science has easily disproved as a literally true explanation of the evolution of the planet, still has much value through its ability to instill in Christians a wonder and awe of God and his unconditional love. Religious stories still have value to our psyches, are still necessary aspects of our mental makeup, that should work in conjunction with science, not as directly opposed to it.

Our psyches, our mental consciousness, our emotions, are things that science has not been able to explain yet. Hence, these are the topics for which religion still holds the most value. We do not truly know how consciousness works, why (if there is a why!) we have it. Archetypes abound in our minds, reflecting in our actions and thinking, and we're almost always fully unconscious of that fact. Religion provides the symbols that help us explain, and work with, such subjective aspects of ourselves. The ancient Greeks, to name just one example, had a thorough mythology to represent the archetypal substance of our minds.

Back to the DaVinci Code, the value of the book is to show people that, for a religion to have meaning, the symbology of it must correspond to one's experiences, must instill awe in the practitioner for the world around him, and provide a satisfactory explanation of his experiences that he cannot find elsewhere. The problem is that people don't seek out and enact these symbols in their lives anymore—we have too much to worry about, to much to do. We cannot just be given symbols and have that have any real value to us; we must make the symbols our own, seek out the meaning of the symbols in our lives. The value of the DaVinci Code is that it shows people that the Sacred Feminine is an archetype within us, despite some people's denials, that requires an associated symbol in our religions. In the book, ***SPOILER WARNING***, they chose not to publicly release the historical truth that Jesus' bloodline still exists. They chose to allow people to discover for themselves the need for the Sacred Feminine in their own lives, in whatever symbols speak to them, as individuals.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Views as a Reflection of Self

"Views are often a reflection of self. If one sees that everything is ugly...their mind is ugly not the things... If one sees that everything is beautiful, their mind is beautiful."1

I came across this comment earlier today, and I thought, "This is 100% true." Additionally, it is also true when we see individual ugliness amidst beauty, which acts as a pointer right back at our own minds, to where we must focus our practice.

Take, for example, President Bush. Many people express a great deal of hatred for him. These same people, however, often see great beauty in nature--ancient redwood forests, hummingbirds, antelope, glaciers. Their hatred is born of delusion: President Bush & his actions may or may not be wise, but as Travis noted, what we see in others is a reflection of our own minds. President Bush's nature is the same perfect Buddha-nature that we all possess; and his actions are all grounded in his past actions and life experiences, just as ours are.

If we feel hatred for him, this reflects that the seed of hatred is still within us, that this poison can still obscure the view of the perfect Buddha-nature in every being. Seung Sahn said, "When there is no 'I' your mind is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like mirror; clear like mirror means a mind which just reflects: sky is blue, grass is green, water is flowing, sugar is sweet, salt is salty. The mirror-mind only reflects what's in front of it." When our mind is clear, when the poisons of hatred, greed, and delusion have been eliminated, viewing even the most evil-acting man, we will naturally, automatically, see his true nature, his perfection of being, and complete and total compassion will arise for him. Then we can see his actions for what they are--the result of causes and conditions--and see him for what he is: a Buddha-to-be.

1Travis Morgan, in the comments section of this poem.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Sable

Today, June 1st, is Sable's 9th birthday! Sable is the brown dog on the right. My parents got Sable when I was 21 and just finishing my undergraduate degree. We had been making weekly trips to the Anti-Cruelty Society looking for a dog, and on one trip, they had just received a litter of Chow-mix puppies. If you've ever adopted a dog, you know that the puppies go fast. We singled out two puppies and, after playing with them for a few minutes, chose Sable. When we brought her home, she wasn't tall enough to jump up from the grass in the backyard onto the 6-inch elevated wooden deck. Now, and this may not be obvious from the picture, she's 90 pounds, and quite capable of leaping up a 6-inch step. And as the picture shows, the Chow in her appears to be a recessive trait. The black spot on her tongue is the primary evidence of that lineage. The dog on the left is Onyx, an 80 pound part-Newfoundland. Sable, Onyx, and Sasha, my parents' third dog, can be seen enjoying themselves here, at the Bark in the Park, a fund-raising walk for ACS.

Happy Birthday Sable! You're the Best Dog!

New Template!

Ok, Unknowing Mind is back with a new template! Since I have no idea how long the site that was hosting my template is going to be down (it was hosted at - who would have thought Google, the owners of Blogger, would have allowed their own site that was hosting templates for to run out of bandwidth!), I decided to set up another one, and see how it works out. Thanks to Savatoons for the template! Now, time to work on some more real posts!

Please forgive the strange appearance...

The server hosting my stylesheet has gone down, so please forgive the plain, black-on-white, non-organized appearance of Unknowing Mind. Hopefully this will be resolved momentarily.