Friday, March 31, 2006

Can You Bend Spoons? Do You Care?

Apparently, spoon-bending is becoming all the rage again. Impressive, if there's indeed no doctoring going on. But the procedure for "finding a bendable spoon" is a little too John Edwards-ish for my taste.

What's the point of all this? Apparently, it's about unlocking our innate human potential.
Slender and soft-spoken, Houck believes that once a person learns how to use mind over matter to bend spoons, then achieving other goals and doing important things in life become much easier.

"It's not about me being high-powered," he explains. "It's about me teaching people how to do this. The more exciting we make this event, the better it works. When I ask you to shout and jump up and down and scream, I mean it."

Spoon bending as personal improvement? This kind of thing seems to feed into Western egotism, which is the last thing humanity needs.

Why do you need theatrics to show how powerful the mind is? As Ven. Lama Pema Wangdak noted in a recent talk, Westerners have nearly perfected the science of caring for the body - but if someone says the wrong thing to us, it can ruin our day or our week. Some of us still obsess over the way people mistreated us (or even supposedly mistreated us) 10, 20, or 30 years ago. We let our happiness and clarity be torn asunder by the ebb and flow of our minds every waking minute of every day; the haunting even extends into our dreams. We continually fall under the delusion that there is a single, unified thing called the "self", and that the world of conceptualization is the world as it truly exists.

Isn't it more important for people to understand this power of the mind than to waste their time attempting to twist metal?


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Worry About Number 1

Focus, not on the rudenesses of others,
not on what they've done or left undone,
but on what you have & haven't done yourself.
- The Dhammapada, Verse 50 (tr. Thanissaro Bikkhu)

The Eternal Dance of Coffee and Water

Confession time: Before I took refuge, I hit Google to see whether being a Buddhist was congruent with drinking coffee. I mean, not that I'm addicted to coffee or anything. I could give it up tomorrow (give or take seven days of detox). It's more that I prefer to keep coffee in my life. Um, yeah, that's the ticket.

Besides, I live in Seattle. If I forsake coffee, Starbucks could have me deported. (Remember when someone tried to tax lattes? We came this close to blood in the streets, folks.)

Which leaves me in a conundrum. I like coffee, and in many ways, it helps me engage in a spiritual life filled with a full-time job and four kids. But caffeine is also a diuretic. If I suck down cup after cup and ignore filling my body with important things - like, say, water - I end up hobbling through the final hours of the day like a beached whale.

So I've set a bargain with myself: for every one cup of coffee, I must drink at least three cups of water. I tried this yesterday, and it worked well. It staggered my coffee drinking, and left me feeling far more refreshed by the time 5pm rolled around.

Here's hoping this continues to work. If not, I'll have to give up java...and look for a house in Spokane.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Seattle Tragedy Claims Budding Bodhisattva

The shootings in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood are a tragedy all around. But it's even mor heart-rending to read about 15-year-old Suzanne Thorne, and to contemplate what could have been.

Nancie Thorne says she must focus on the peace and love that surrounded her daughter, Suzanne, not the violent moments inside the Capitol Hill house where the 15-year-old died.

"Her role model was Gandhi," Thorne said. "When things got tough, Suzanne would ask, 'What would Gandhi do?'."

Suzanne was a girl of inquisitiveness and dreams — a teen who loved studying about eco-systems, nature, animals and insects. She was moved by the writings of the Dalai Lama, and she was a pacifist who hoped to start a non-violent movement to end terrorism, Thorne said.

"And stop terrorists, like the one who killed her," Thorne said. "We have to take responsibility and bring peace to this world. There is too much anger for our small world."

If you believe in rebirth (and there are days I have my doubts), you can console yourself with the knowledge that Suzanne's light will eventually return to the world. I hope so. Earth is a darker shade of gray this week its absence.

Antidotes to Puffery

There are times when I feel like patting myself on the back for the great job I've done at something. Resisting this temptation is very, very hard for me. I love having my ego stroked. And if no one's stroking me? Well, I conclude, I have two hands and can stroke myself, thankyouverymuch.

Being silently proud that you've done good is, according to Deshung Rinpoche, a good thing, as it reinforces good habits within yourself. But there's a distinction between pride and puffery. For me, that line is so faded, it's as if no one had ever drawn it. For me, pride becomes puffery when I want other people to know what I've done. Too often, it doesn't feel like enough to know that I stuck to my ethical principles. I want to advertise just how ethical I am to anyone within earshot! I do and show things to people just for the express purpose of getting positive feedback. That's the unhealthful habit I'm attempting to break.

When I find myself engaging in puffery, I remind myself of the following:
Do you battle puffery in your life? How do you defeat it?

Monday, March 27, 2006

"There is One Less Bodhisattva on the Earth Tonight"

Per Sujatin, please pay your respects for Amrita, a Chaplain of the Order of Amida who has died in Zambia.

May she have a most fortunate rebirth and continue the Bodhisattva mission until all beings are free.

The Blogosphere as Teacher

I came close to not starting this blog. After starting it, I came close several times to shutting it down.

I've blogged heavily before. I used to have my own blog that I operated for close to two years, posting anywhere from once to five times daily. I was also paid a healthy sum to contribute anywhere up to 10x/day for another blog. I know what it's like to get into the "flow" of blogging.

I also know what it's like for blogging to become a dangerous obsession. My full time job - the one that supports my family of kajillion, the one that provides our no-copay, 100% health insurance coverage - suffered badly at the height of my fever. I occasionally blogged for a good cause, but mostly to exercise my ego and show others how brilliant I was. While I met many wonderful people while blogging, I also met a couple who triggered my insecurity, my need to be stroked and loved. My involvement with them nearly destroyed my marriage and my life. (And it didn't do them any favors, either).

And yet...here I am. Again. Why?

I almost shut down all blogging out of concern of falling into the entire cycle again. But beyond that, it seemed...I don't know, impudent to discuss my thoughts on spirituality at my current
developmental state. While my spiritual learning is decent, my spiritual experience still feels shallow and immature.

And yet...here I am. Again.

Why?

The reason is a bit of intuitive irrationality that has haunted me for years. I met a wise woman shortly after we moved out to the Seattle area. During a Tarot reading, she said that she saw a new wave of great spiritual teachers arriving into our midsts in the very near future. And she saw me as one of those teachers.

Now, for all I know, she was saying this to everybody who shelled out 15 bucks. (Say hello to my "inner skeptic".) Still, what she said struck a chord in me. I've sensed intuitively for many years that I have something to offer in the spiritual realm. Even after carving through and setting aside the myriad forms of spiritual materialism that can foster such a delusion, I still feel this drive to communicate what I know - however little that may be - to the world.

We can all teach according to our capacity, just as we all learn according to our capacity. I have great capacities for learning and communication. It would be silly to keep these to myself. There is no need for myself or anyone else, after all, to be the "perfect" teacher, to be "The One" a la Neo. This wise woman's insight isn't a license to delude myself with visions of delivering blazing sermons in the summer rain to 100,000 head-shaven bhikkus. If I write just one sentence that ends up turning just one person's life around, leading them to a deeper purpose and meaning to their existence, then all my efforts to walk the bodhisattva's path will be justified.

And I believe blogging is the perfect medium for teaching in this manner. Blogging can be ego-driven and single-minded, sure. But as shown by the blog roundups at Blogmandu, it can also create a rich dialectic of insight. The one dissolves into the many. One person's insights aren't as important as the network of insights. In other words, we can all be teachers - from the most enlightened among us down to the rankest spiritual amateur. This is the social dimension of spirituality taken to a new, exhilarating level.

Perhaps that's what Coolmel - er, C4 is feeling in his recent "rush" of blogging. Let's hope for all of our sakes that it is. (And let's hope he manages to do something about the pits. There's nothing worse than a sweaty Bodhisattva.)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Introduction to Integral Theory and Practice

The Integral movement seeks to unify all of human knowledge under a single theoretical model, providing a map that enables people to reach their full potential on all levels and lines of human development. From a spiritual standpoint, the Integral movement sees itself as supplementing a person's spiritual growth by focusing on knowledge areas and human technologies not found within his chosen tradition. In other words, Integral works with your native spiritual beliefs, not against them.

The Integral Institute has produced a document outlining the basics of the theory and how it's implemented in the real world. What I find most useful about this theory is the way it distinguishes between states and stages of consciousness. States can take the form of peak experiences: an insight during meditation, a glimpse of truth while walking through nature, the ecstatic union attained through spiritual dance or blissful orgasm during sex. But states are temporary: after you have a peak experience, it fades. It's only when you move to a new stage of consciousness that a higher mode of operation in daily experience becomes possible. It's the difference, in Buddhist lingo, between having a moment of heartbreak over the plight of all sentient beings, and establishing that constant heartache as the ground from which all your other actions stem.

But here's the kicker: repeated states of higher consciousness can open the door to achieving a higher stage. Money quote:
However, with repeated practice of contacting higher states, your own stages of
development will tend to unfold in a much faster and easier way. There is, in fact, considerable experimental evidence demonstrating exactly that. The more you are plunged into authentic higher states of consciousness—such as meditative states—then the faster you will grow and develop through any of the stages of consciousness. It is as if higher-states training acts as a lubricant on the spiral of development, helping you to disidentify with a lower stage so that the
next higher stage can emerge, until you can stably remain at higher levels of awareness on an ongoing basis, whereupon a passing state has become a permanent trait. These types of higher states training, such as meditation, are a part of any integral approach to transformation.
This is an accurate description of the role of Tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism. With practices such as Chenrezi and White Tara, you generate the image of yourself as the Deity - in effect, you become the Deity. This eliminates obscurations, and brings you more rapidly to an understanding of the nature of your ever-existing, clear-natured mind.

What does an Integral framework add to Vajrayana? First, it integrates all other fields of human knowledge and experience into the same model, without sacrificing or ignoring the great contributions that the West and other cultures have made to human knowledge. As the Integral paper points out, we have unprecedented access in our day and age to all of the cultures of the world. What a shame if any of the immense knowledge from all of these wonderful traditions is wasted!

Integral attempts to do more than just lump all of these theories together. In the paper's own words, it aims "to spot the patterns that actually connect all the pieces". Integral accomplishes this with the four quadrants approach, which unites all possible asppects of the self into a single model: I (personal experience), It (objective science), We (cultural development), and Its (social organization). Integral emphasizes always looking at every event from every perspective, so as not to get lost in one or the other.

Integral also adds a greater respect for a wide variety of state experiences, particularly as regards sex. The Tibetans are ultra-conservative about sex; HH The Dalai Lama has gone so far as to declare oral and anal sex as faux pas for Buddhists. Needless to say, these opinions don't set well with most Westerners, particularly those of us who are gay or bisexual. There are sexual Tantric practices, but most committed Vajrayana practitioners will recommend you stay the hell away from them. Integral theorists and practitioners like David Deida take a more open view. They recognize the variety of sexual experience, and the benefit of converting what many people regard as a mere physical activity into an ecstatic union of body, speech and mind.

Certainly it's a danger to become attached to physical pleasure, and forget one's spiritual goals. I've fallen into that trap throughout most of my adult life, and am very cautious about getting snared again. But it's a waste to discard the spiritual potential in sex and similar state experiences, simply because they don't square with the medieval mores of your religion's source culture.

The Integral model also explains why some cultures can develop wonderfully in some areas, but show limited development in others. Tibet had a wonderful spiritual system for personal growth and realization; in other words, it ruled the First Quadrant, the I. But it fell on its face in the Second, Third, and Fourth Quadrants, lagging behind the West in scientific, cultural, and socio-political development.

There's much more to Integral theory than this. I hope to explore more within these pages in the coming weeks.

Abdul Rahman: Still in Danger from The Taliban Mentality

Reports are that Abdul Rahman will be released soon as prosecutors "gather more evidence" against him. Since the man is clearly Christian, it's obviously a ploy by the Afghan government to get him out of jail and either:
  1. Release him in Afghanistan - which would be as good as carrying out the death sentence; or
  2. Exile him from his country.
Bush administration officials are labeling Afghanistan a "fledging democracy". Sorry, but no. This is the behavior of a dictatorship. Afghanistan is proving itself no better as a country than the regime that came before it.

This is why forcefully deposing a government - even one as detrimental to human health and happiness as the Taliban - doesn't work. You can take the Taliban out of power, but you can't remove the Taliban mentality from the hearts and minds of Afghanis. That's a spiritual change that must happen within the country itself. And no amount of firepower will affect it.

The Seattle Shootings

As it turns out, we know the young woman who put on the rave, "Better Off Undead", that was held the night before the shootings here in Seattle. Thankfully, she and her husband are safe. Sadly, six members of the rave community are not so fortunate. From NWTekno.org by way of The Stranger:
RIP
Deacon
Sushi
Nameless *dude ith the long hair always at the spot* aka patches
Jeremy Chickenhed
Jesus
and another 15 year old girl confirmed dead. im assuming its the girl that was with sushi
Young souls taken too soon. May they all rest in peace, and experience nothing but peace and bliss.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

But What About OUR Plans??

I read this story this morning about a tragic shooting at a Seattle home, which has left six dead. The neighborhood, Capitol Hill, sports a popular eating and shopping strip; my wife and I were planning to chill there today while my mom watched the kids.

My first thought on reading this? "Well, that sure fucks up our plans."

It didn't occur to me until a few minutes later that the six unfortunate folks in that house weren't having a blockbuster day themselves.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Me, Minus the Bullshit

I've had a tendency when embarking on a given spiritual path to put on an act - to "act spiritual", as it were. Talk kindly to everybody. Smile all of the time. Avoid all the fucking swearing. Have sex, sure - but for God sakes, don't enjoy it!

I've seen this enough in other people to know it's not my own personal foible. I fall into this trap for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I have a tendency to want other people to accept me as a "good person". I engage in what Trungpa Rinpoche labeled "spiritual materialism", and what Ken Wilber calls "Boomeritis". I embrace spirituality for what it will win me in the material world, not as an end in itself.

I check this tendency nowadays using two techniques. First, I meditate on impermanence, particularly the fleeting nature of fame and fortune. As Shintideva says in the Bodhicaryavatara, only your state of mind will help you when you die; the number of "followers" you've accrued, the number of books you've published and sold - none of this worldly success will mean anything when Mara comes a-knockin'.

That doesn't mean that doing well in the world and contributing to civilization isn't important, on one level. And it certainly doesn't mean that the love of friends and family aren't important! I love my wife and children to death. But you can't take it with you. Engagement of the world shouldn't obscure the fact that our tenure of this earth doesn't even amount to a fraction of beginningless time.

My second technique is to avoid the temptation to obtain "instant spirituality" by rewriting my personality. Emulating the virtues of the Buddha and the great Bodhisattvas doesn't mean putting on a show, and being other than who I am. The teachings are water; the mind is a vessel. Vessels can be of many different shapes, sizes, and colors - but all can hold liquid, so long as they aren't punctured or overturned. That's why the Buddha disseminated 84,000 discourses of Dharma.

Rather than act, I'm trying simply to be me - but better. No...not "better". This isn't a race or any other kind of striving. I guess what I'm doing is practicing just being, free of the clouds of confusion. I watch my anger. I don't snap when someone interrupts me when I'm doing something "important". I don't evolve self-important stories about how the world is mistreating me when someone's behavior rubs me raw. Me, minus the bullshit.

Hey, it's a start.

Secular Spirituality

The Buddhist Blog has the low-down on an ABC interview with The Dalai Lama, in which His Holiness talked more of his idea about "secular spirituality". In short, he takes the techniques and technology of Buddhism and advocating that anyone adopt them, regardless of their religion.

I love this approach. I don't think it's much different than what the brains behind the Integral Institute are attempting to do: bring together people of a myriad of spiritual faiths, and supplement their spiritual work with growth programs in other areas. The idea is to produce fully rounded, complete individuals - i.e., fulfill the full human potential. Both are great attempts to integrate Buddhist technology into the West. Let's hope they flourish.

(Oh, and the photo on that post is hee-LARIOUS.)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What Faith Is

"The only faith in Buddhism is to practice and to see if it is true."

- Sam Bercholz, speaking at an Integral Naked shindig (subscription required)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Patrul Rinpoche: Advice from Me to Myself

This is priceless. My favorite part:
Listening to the teachings—you've already heard hundreds of teachings,
But when you haven't grasped the meaning of even one teaching,
What's the point of more listening?
And:
When those yogic positions and gazes keep your mind stable
Only by keeping mind tethered—
Forget about them!

Giving high-sounding lectures
Doesn't do your mind-stream any good.
The path of analytical reasoning is precise and acute—
But it's just more delusion, good for nothing goat-shit.
The oral instructions are very profound
But not if you don't put them into practice.

I wonder how much of an influence this man's work was on Trungpa Rinpoche, who had a similar knack for cutting through all the ways the mind can delude itself into believe that it's advancing.

There's also a passage which confirms what I suspect Dharma teachers must tell themselves about their students. I imagine for teachers in the West, where we tend to "Dharma-shop" like there was a blue-light special on Enlightenment, this has to be something of a mantra:
Those elegant dharma disciples—
Forget about them!

This year, he really cares about you,
Next year, it's not like that.
At first, he seems modest,
Then he grows exalted and pompous.
The more you nurture and cherish him,
The more distant he grows.

Tolerance Watch: Afghanistan Set to Execute Man for Being a Christian

One step forward, ten steps back:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the days of the Taliban, those promoting Christianity in Afghanistan could be arrested and those converting from Islam could be tortured and publicly executed.

That was supposed to change after U.S.-led forces ousted the oppressive, fundamentalist regime, but the case of 41-year-old Abdul Rahman has many Western nations wondering if Afghanistan is regressing.

Rahman, a father of two, was arrested and is on trial for rejecting Islam. The Afghan constitution, which is based on Sharia, or Islamic law, says that apostates can receive the death penalty. [Emphasis mine]

"They want to sentence me to death, and I accept it," Rahman told reporters last week, "but I am not a deserter and not an infidel."

He had been arrested after telling local police, whom he approached on an unrelated matter, that he had converted to Christianity. Reports say he was carrying a Bible at the time.

The Afghani government's compromise plan? Have him declared "mentally unfit", so that the case can be tossed. This would spare Afghanistan from being even more reviled than the Talbian was when they shelled the Buddhas of Bamiyan. It would also, effectively, declare Christianity a mental illness in Afghanistan.

I used to grind a handful of axes against certain denominations of Christians, particularly evangelicals and the religious right. And, in so far as someone attempts to use their religion to suppress the religious sentiments of others, I'll oppose that. But I have a deep and abiding respect for most Christians, both in this country and abroad. I know some Christians who use their faith as a veil for hate, sure - but that happens in every religion, and Buddhism is no exception. Most Christians I know are peaceful, moral people, suffused with the love of Christ.

Currently, outside of the United States, Christianity is one of the world's most oppressed faiths, particularly in Islamic countries. This is more sad evidence of that. That Abdul Rahman would be put to death in this day and age merely for his beliefs is shameful.

The Bamiyan Buddhas, while holy relics, were mere statues. This is a sentient being who has committed no crime. The Buddha does not live in a statue; he lives in this man. Please email the Aghanistan Embassy and speak your mind in a peaceful manner.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Humor Break

Sick of ahimsa? Maybe you should be a ninja. That's where the real ultimate power lies.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Dharma Marathon

A couple of weeks ago, I launched into Ngondro, a.k.a. the Preliminary Practices. I'm studying within the Sakya lineage, so I'm using the book compiled by HE Deshung Rinpoche and edited by my root guru, HH Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche. After several months of work, I've managed to work about 1 to 2 hours of practice in every day, so I can make decent progress over time; I also plan to take several retreats throughout the year, of several days at a stretch, in order to get in some intensive practice.

The folks at my monastery have been wonderful assistance in my practice, up to and including Rinpoche. Rinpoche advised it was best to memorize the practices, so I've been working on memorizing the individual practices, as well as the lovely Dedication of Merit in the book that is a complete litany of the various stages of the path according to the Sakya tradition.

For me, the largest stumbling block so far has been shedding the view that this is some kind of race, like I'm running the Dharma marathon. When I began doing the refuge prayer, for example, I would rattle it off like an Arhat on X ("Wetakerefugeinthevenerableholygurustakerefugeinthe..."). I would also find myself speeding up the count as I reached the guru knot of my mala, like a runner who caught the finish line in his sites. I've been working to slow this down by telling myself that I am in the presence of the Guru and many other holy beings when I perform the ritual.

Just as I wouldn't ask my lama to "speed it up a bit", I shouldn't rush through any element of Ngondro just in order to finish it. The point of Ngondro is not to reach 100,000 executions of each exercise per se, but to develop single-pointedness of mind, and strengthen the resolve for liberation.

At least I have something to keep me busy for the next several years. It sure beats the hell out of how I was spending my time before now.

I bow down before my root guru, who is my most excellent ally in my struggle to liberate all sentient beings!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Let Others Find Their Path

For a long time, I considered myself a practicing Pagan with a bent toward enlightenment. I studied Hindu philosophy and mysticism, but reworked them into a Goddess-centric context. I had studied Buddhism on and off, and stole from it as I thought warranted. I had attended my monastery years ago, but never made a commitment to attending regularly. For me, Buddhism was stuffy, restrictive. It was too harsh on samsara. Not all of the world, I thought, was impure; you could indulge in the good, sensual things that this life had to offer and still be a spiritual person. After all, didn't the Goddess say that "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals"?

Last year, my life took a dark turn. My pursuit of pleasure , fueled by psychological baggage from my past, spun out of control. I had forsaken my religious practice and abandoned myself to drinking, taking drugs, and engaging in sexual misconduct. After one particularly shameful act, I went on a 48-hour Ecstasy binge, using the uninhibited high of MDMA to stay up for three days straight cruising the dark holes of the Internet.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, everything blew up in my face. My marriage was nearly destroyed.
Blessedly, my wife and I recognized that there was something greater going on in our lives. There were issues and problems within both of us that we both had refused to address. Ignoring those issues were what led to our mutual meltdown. It was at that point that I remembered the monastery, and remembered everything I had read about Buddhism. It was like a thousand karmic seeds ripening simultaneously. I found myself thinking, with a certainty beyond words, "I have to go to the monastery. I have to take up a Buddhist practice. Buddhism is what I need in my life right now."

My path to Buddhism was long, arduous, and highly specific to my own soul's journey. Where I am now feels like where I needed to be; I had to exhaust my fascination with samsara, however, before I was willing to accept that. Everybody else has a similar spiritual journey that is very unique to their own lives and mindstreams.

I've been very dogmatic in my beliefs up until the present day. I've bought into thought systems that believed they were the One True Path, and that it was my duty to spread the Word. I realize now that this was nothing but my own ego, clamoring to be right. It's not my place to say what someone should believe, as that's intimately connected to their journey. All I can do is lend a helping hand or some soothing words of advice when someone else is in pain, and asks for my help.

This is my goal as a bodhisattva: not to make others into what I want them to be, but to be what others need.
As long as diseases afflict living beings
May I be the doctor, the medicine
And also the nurse
Who restores them to health.

May I fall as rain to increase
The harvests that must feed living beings
And in ages of dire famine
May I myself serve as food and drink.

May I be an unending treasury
For those desperate and forlorn.
May I manifest as what they require
And wish to have near them. (Shantideva, Bodhicaryavatara, Chapter 3)
May we all come to enlightenment here and now!

Support the Anti-Islamist Manifesto

Andrew Sullivan has information on how you can support people who are taking a stand against violence in favor of religious tolerance.

These people face a credible threat to their lives for standing up in the name of freedom. Please let them know that we stand behind them. And let those making the threats know that, while we love them, we implore them to abandon intolerance and embrace peace.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Story of Deshung Rinpoche

This is a great article about how one family has raised its children in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. More than that, however, it is a tender remembrance of the Sakya master Deshung Rinpoche, who served as guru to James and Michal Sarzotti.
It was a hot, humid day in New York, and the many windows were open to let the occasional breeze waft through. But rather than letting in a cool breeze, the open windows invited in a multitude of insects. One particularly obnoxious fly landed on our donuts and dive-bombed our eyes. I could not help thinking mean thoughts about this pesky being. After numerous attempts to brush it away from our breakfast, I looked up to see this bug walking along the rim of Rinpoche’s teacup, and before I knew it, he had fallen in and drowned. I was horrified that Rinpoche’s tea had been ruined. Rinpoche was horrified, too, but not for the same reason. He scooped up that fly from his hot tea and held him in the palm of his hand. He held that fly as if it were his most precious child. He leaned over the fly’s wet little body and said prayers. He smoothed the rumpled little wings and whispered to him. That nameless bug then became for me a tiny being receiving his bardo instructions and all of Rinpoche’s overwhelming love and compassion. I have never seen anyone treat even another person with such tenderness.
I'm still digesting Deshung Rinpoche's The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception, which is an astounding work. It not only captures Tibetan Buddhist principles to a T, but it is eminently practical and thorough. Nearly every chapter contains meditation instructions. When I do daily Ngondro practice, I use a book authored by Deshung Rinpoche and edited by my own beloved lama, HH Jigdal Dagchen Sakya. I can only image what a privilege it must have been to study with Deshung Rinpoche, and learn from him in such close quarters.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Selflessness at the Olympics (No, Seriously)

When Canadian skier Sara Renner's pole broke during a medal competition, she found an unlikely savior:

Some observers have taken to referring to the Turin Games as the Me Olympics, and it’s hard to argue.

An American snowboarder lost a gold medal because she felt the need to showboat at the end.

An U.S. speedskater declined to congratulate a teammate for finishing first.

After one of Bode Miller’s many failures in the mountains, he said, "At least now I don’t have to go all the way to Turin" for the medals ceremony. Yeah, that would have been a pain.

Into this occasional mess stepped Bjoernar Hakensmoen, 36. He is Renner’s mystery man and the unsung hero of these games.

"I saw a girl in trouble," he said.

So he handed her a pole. Perfectly natural, the human thing to do. Except, there’s this: Hakensmoen is the coach of the Norwegian team.

Norwegians are crazy about cross-country skiing. It’s their national sport, and Norway had a team in the race.

The Canadians went on to win the silver medal. The Norwegians finished fourth, nine seconds out of third place.
The best part: Norwegians aren't pissed, and Canadians are compassion-bombing the Embassy with thank-yous. Money quote from the coach:
"If you win, but don’t help somebody when you should have, what kind of win is that?" he said.
Good question: what, indeed? What do all of the medals in the world amount to if you're still driven by desire, the wonderful clarity of your mind eclipsed by self-absorption?

Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Hakensmoen.

(Thanks to infinisri of the KenWilber list for the pointer)


Friday, March 10, 2006

More on Tom Fox

From Christian Peacemaker.
We renew our plea for the safe release of Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney and Norman Kember. Each of our teammates has responded to Jesus’ prophetic call to live out a nonviolent alternative to the cycle of violence and revenge.

In response to Tom’s passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done. In Tom’s own words: "We reject violence to punish anyone. We ask that there be no retaliation on relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”

This message is as essential to Christianity as it is to Buddhism.
You have heard that is was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:43-44)

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will. (Metta Sutra)
35. People hurt themselves with thorns and the like out of negligence, with fasting and so on out of anger, and by desiring to obtain inaccessible women and so forth.

36. Some kill themselves by hanging, by jumping from cliffs, by eating poison or unwholesome substances, and by non-virtuous conduct.

37. When under the influence of mental afflictions, they kill even their own dear selves in this way; then how could they have restraint toward the bodies of others?

38. If you do not even have compassion toward those who, intoxicated by mental afflictions, commit suicide, then why does anger arise?

39. If inflicting harm on others is the nature of the foolish, then my anger toward them is as inappropriate as it would be toward fire, which has the nature of burning. (Shantideva, Bodhicaryavatara, Chapter 6)

I pray that all sentient beings find the courage and fortitude to live by those words!

In Honor of Tom Fox

American Christian peace activist Tom Fox, kidnapped last year in Iraq, has been found dead. He leaves behind a legacy that should bring everybody to tears.
Christian Peacemaker co-directors Doug Pritchard and Carol Rose said in a statement, "In response to Tom's passing, we ask that everyone set aside inclinations to vilify or demonize others, no matter what they have done."

"This guy was not after martyrdom by any means," said Paul Slattery of McLean, Va., who was a member of Fox's U.S.-based support team. "He actually believed in his heart that he would better them by his conviction and his beliefs and his skills, and I think largely succeeded.

"What he leaves behind is a tremendous challenge for the rest of us and a guiding force."

May we all emulate Tom Fox's supreme example. May he and all sentient beings find peace and ultimate joy.

Firefighting

There are days when it feels like practicing Buddhism and adhering to the precepts is like learning to write with my left hand after 32 years of using my right. My mind is so entrenched in selfish habits. I find self-cherishing thoughts and fantasies cropping up at every turn.

In the software world, when you spend all day on your job addressing minor and major emergencies, it's called "firefighting". Ever since I started Ngondro practice this week (coincidence???), I've felt let I've been putting out blazes in my mind at every turn.

I try and tell myself that this is only because I'm getting better at noticing my selfishness, and am becoming less tolerant of indulging in behavior that doesn't benefit others.

That gets me through the day.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Kisagotami's Grief

A tale of how the Buddha taught a grieving mother to handle her loss.

Urgency

To my most excellent root guru and the precious Triple Gems, I offer homage and prayers. Bless me that my mind turns toward the Dharma. Bless me to accept the excellent Dharma as my path. Bless me that confusion on the path be calmed. Bless me that perfect meditative concentration arise. Bless me that non-religious thoughts cease. Bless me that love and compassion arise. Bless me to perfect both aspects of bodhichitta. Bless me to quickly attain omniscience.

The latest issue of Shambhala Sun had an article by Sakyang Miphan Rinpoche in which he referred to a Buddhist nun who alternated between laughing and crying. She laughed because enlightenment was so close to our understanding. She cried because, for so many people, it was so far away.

I feel like crying sometimes. I can sense that the truth - the true way of seeing - is skimming just below the surface of my regular vision. And yet I still get stuck. This crying isn't self-pity or self-loathing. It's an urgent, burning desire that the veil be lifted and the true nature of existence be revealed.

May I and all sentient beings find ultimate, unshakeable happiness in the unborn, unceasing clarity of mind.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Compassion and Rhetoric

Both his weapon and my body are causes of suffering. He has obtained a weapon, and I have obtained a body. With what should I be angry? (Bodhicaryavatara, 6.43)
Drop in on any discussion list or online forum related to Buddhism, and you're bound to see a LOT of bickering. Someone says something that sets someone else off, and immediately the accusations fly that said person is a "bad Buddhist", "lacks compassion", etc. Then the debate spirals from something substantive down into a meta-discussion about who's the "best Buddhist".

Doesn't this all miss the point by a mile? Someone who "attacks" me may think they're using skillful means. I may disagree, and feel that he's being an asshole. But the moment I respond to that person with accusations about their character or their lack of respect for Buddhist principles, I'm perpetuating the cycle of anger and discord. I'm bringing discord to the sangha as much as he is.

"He started it!" is not a valid defense for abandoning my own detachment and equanimity. It not only traps me in samsara, it encourages the other person to continue waltzing down that road. It's a curious affair: when we lambaste someone for not being sufficiently compassionate, we're not being compassionate towards them!

If someone else is angry with me, it is not their fault; it is because they, like me, are deluded, and afflicted by passions that are dependent on other causes. As Shantideva said:
If inflicting harm on others is the nature of the foolish, then my anger toward them is as inappropriate as it would be toward fire, which has the nature of burning. (Bodhicaryavatara, 6.39)
Our anger, our hurt feelings - these are not "us". There is no independently existing "I". How swiftly we all forget this the moment someone finds one of our buttons and presses it as hard as he can!

I pray that illusory existences arise as the ultimately real. May we all come to realize that ALL sentient beings are our teachers on the path.

Especially the ones who piss us off.

(More Shantideva here)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Samsara

That life refuses to live up to my expectations is not samsara.

My expectations ARE samsara.

Zhine in Action

One major area of improvement for me is attentiveness outside of meditative sessions. In terms of zhine (shamatha) meditation, I seem to be at the second of the nine mental abidings identified by the Lord Maitreya, in which you are able to lengthen your meditation on the object of observation. I seem to be teetering on the third, as I can usually bring my mind back to the object of observation. In other words, after my mind has wandered, a "jolt" of awareness tells me that I've lost the object, and I'm able to bring my mind back to my breath.

I feel like I fair much worse off of the cushion, however. I tend to drop tasks right in the middle of them, and then only realize minutes later that I left something unfinished. I can be making coffee, get distracted by email - then only realize a minute later that there are no aromas of caffeinated goodness filling the air.

Needless to say, this has a huge practical downside. I've always struggled with focus problems in my work. I tend to bounce like a ping-pong ball stuffed with jumping beans from one task to the next, leaving a string of unfinished projects in my wake. I have a better handle on this now than I have for the past 10 years of my career, but I can't lie to myself and say I'm anywhere close to perfect yet.

How do I end this suffering? The only way I can see is to give my daily life the same attentiveness and hard work I give to zhine.

And given that I just left this post for 10 minutes to go dick around in another Firefox tab, I do mean HARD work.

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