Saturday, February 27, 2010

Dear Bill Maher

I have always liked your commentary on world events. I have always considered your perspective on politics and the affairs of mankind insightful and cutting. But now I have to ask whether you have suffered some type of traumatic cognitive disorder.

Your recent comments regarding Buddhism seem to be uncharacteristically pedestrian and sophomoric. And I mean literally sophomoric. It is as if, like a 15-year-old high school student, you were asked to write a report on “What is Buddhism” and you cited a single source. I’m sure you have a crack research staff, but in this particular instance, they have let you down. And the fact that you accepted their research unfortunately portrays you as a rather shallow person, less than informed and easily duped into accepting knee-jerk definitions in much the same way as a Pat Roberson or a James Dobson.

Yes, your comments about Buddhism are that pathetic.

“(Buddhism) really is outdated in some ways — the ‘Life sucks, and then you die’ philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.”

First of all, when you say that “when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it,” reveals your ignorance of Buddhism. The Buddha did, indeed, teach that life sucks; but he also taught that there is something we can do about it so that when we do die, we die happy. And iPhones and James Cameron movies have nothing to do with that.

“Tiger said, ‘Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves’) makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too…Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life — I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that’s inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.”

Oh you silly and deluded quasi-comedic political pundit. Since when is Tiger Woods, a golfer, a spokesman for Buddhists? Does that mean that Woody Harrelson is a legitimate spokesman for the First Amendment? Had your crack research team done some real research, instead of using Google to find everything the Dalai Lama has said (or Richard Gere), they might have stumbled upon the concept that defining our happiness on sources, events and phenomenon outside of ourselves is surely a disappointing proposition. Come on, be honest about this. You have fame and wealth. If you suddenly lost that, would you still be happy? If you would be, then you have found the true happiness that can only be found within yourself. But if you would be terribly bummed if suddenly you lost all your television and publishing contracts, were foreclosed upon and couldn’t afford any longer the entertainment diversions you are currently accustomed to, then I would say you are suffering from the same delusion as a crack addict.

“People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: ‘His poop is royal!’ Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, ‘That’s our leader’ doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.”

All I can say is wow. Again, you are so focused on Tibetan Buddhism, and not just Tibetan Buddhism, but a very small sect within the larger sphere of Tibetan Buddhism. Yes, there are some kooky practices among the various sects of Buddhism. But that is not Buddhism. The Buddha never taught that there would be a re-incarnated leader of any particular sect. In fact, the Buddha never taught there was re-incarnation. He taught about re-birth. And this simple discrepancy again points to your sorely lacking research assistants that you must surely have, as big a television personality as you are.

Bill, I hope that you will do a bit more re-search about Buddhism before you make such ignorant comments in the future. You know, you just might find that the Buddha taught that ignorance is at the root of all our trouble. And someday, you might be facing some personal troubles. There’s that thing we Buddhists pay attention to called kamma. You should look into that. And not from a New York Times article either.

I thank Kyle at The Reformed Buddhist for the quotes. I visited Maher's blog and read the entire "piece." Also, credit must go to Rod at The Worst Horse for being among the first (if not the first) to address Maher's comments.

Links to information on Chile earthquake and tsunami threat

It was supposed to be my day off, but when I woke and read that the strongest earthquake ever recorded had occurred in Chile, I knew I needed to start posting content on the Web sites my company manages.

There is huge interest in these events, and here are some resources if you want to check them out.

By the way, the image shows how the energy from the quake is dispersed across the Pacific Ocean. It’s from the NOAA.

John over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt has also put together some links and information about the events.

The first link above is to a story I am constantly updating regarding the earthquake. Here is a link to the story I’ve been updating about the tsunami threat to Hawaii.

This BBC page has a cool graphic that shows the expected times for when the tsunami reaches particular locations in the Pacific.

Here is the main page at the NOAA devoted to the tsunami. And here is what KITV in Honolulu is reporting.

Not necessarily about Buddhism. Nonetheless, I think of the Loving Kindness chant and the line, “May all beings be free from suffering.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Trying hard to care enough

Kamala (or Jaime) at the blog Meditate and Destroy shared a powerful experience from her past. It surprised me what it brought out of me, a memory still so vivid, but one I just want to forget.

Initially, I wrote about this experience and posted it. After sleeping on the matter, I have decided to remove the narrative. The question kept arising, why do I want to post this? And after examining this question, I concluded that the answer was not appropriate.

We have all had experiences in our lives that we want to forget; the reason why is unimportant. In our own little universe of our mind, our experiences are the most important things, events, in the world; but when viewed outside of this narrow realm of perception, they can become insignificant.

By saying this, I am not suggesting that Kamala’s life experiences are insignificant. What she writes about in her blog is profound. And while it evoked a memory out of me, while it sparked a recollection from my past, the fact that I have somewhat clumsily labeled them as “similar” is a fabrication of my own, a categorization created by mind.

So when I titled this post “Trying hard to care enough,” it was intended to reflect on my own struggle to care enough about myself, and by enough, I mean in the right way. As the concept of metta reveals, before we can truly be kind and friendly and helpful to others, we must genuinely be that way with ourselves first. If I cannot correctly understand my own suffering and delusions, how can I help others with theirs?

Another photo of Benny's, also from Peru. You can see more of his photos here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The present moment is more than Halcyon

Ah, the present moment, like a Moody Blues song as we contemplate breathing deep the gathering gloom, that which we turn into glimmering light of peace and ease, converting to tranquil contentment filled with joy and ecstasy, a moment when …

Hey, wait a minute! Is that really what being in the present moment is all about? Or is it really about paying attention?

On my way to work today, traffic was briefly held up by an earnest pedestrian who decided to run across Ellston at the Forest Glen Metra stop because he saw the train was there, but he was on the wrong side of the road. Not only that, he didn’t have the crosswalk light in his favor. But dab gummite! He didn’t want to miss that train even if he was late, so he just decided to step out into traffic and hope everyone would stop.

Lucky for him, traffic did stop.

This moment got me thinking about the present moment. This late pedestrian wasn’t living in the present moment. Whatever moment he was living in, it had no connection with what the present held for him.

The streets and highways are filled with folks who pay no attention to the present moment, not really, that is. Outside of their car, they may speak with beatific words about living in the moment, absorbing the essence of life, but when it comes right down to it, they have no clue as to what it really means to live within the present moment.

Living in the present moment isn’t this esoteric blissful state that many think it. It’s not an artificial halcyon existence, although if one does properly live in the present moment, ease and tranquility follow you like a shadow that never leaves.

But getting there is much more mundane than simply smoking a joint and saying, “chill out dude and enjoy the moment.”

Consider the solitary monk Thera. In the Theranama Sutta, the Buddha hears about this character, Thera, who extols the virtures of living alone. The Buddha doesn’t directly refute the way Thera lives alone, but the Buddha does add some context to what it really means to “be alone.”

“And how is living alone perfected in its details? There is the case where whatever is past is abandoned, whatever is future is relinquished, and any passion & desire with regard to states of being attained in the present is well subdued. That is how living alone is perfected in its details.”

Hmmm, forget the past, the future must be let go as well too, and controlling one’s actions and feeling in the present, well, that’s the only real action to be taken! Pay attention to what is happening now, that’s what the Buddha is saying, right?

Well, let’s get some confirmation. Let’s take a look at the Bhaddekaratta Sutta and see what it says.

“You shouldn’t chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past
is left behind.
The future
is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
right there.
Not taken in,
that’s how you develop the heart.
Ardently doing
what should be done today,
for — who knows? — tomorrow
There is no bargaining
with Mortality & his mighty horde.

Whoever lives thus ardently,
both day & night,
has truly had an auspicious day:
so says the Peaceful Sage.”

I’m beginning to see a pattern here. It’s as if the Buddha is saying, “Hey you! Pay attention to what is happening right now! Know what you are doing because where you are right now is the result of your past, and what you do right now is going to determine your future. So pay attention!”

So the next time you’re late for work and traffic is heavy and you’re stuck behind me, try to remember it’s not my fault you’re late. You are responsible for where you are right now, in this moment. You put yourself there. I didn’t, and no body else did. You did. You. It starts with you.

The image with this post comes from Benny Chan and was taken in Peru.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I am related to my kamma

This week in the world of news we had two extraordinary events that are connected in what appear to be an abstruse manner. But with both Tiger Woods and Joseph Stack, we have two examples of decidedly different ways to handle personal responsibility, and an opportunity to examine the element of kamma in each.

Today, Tiger Woods spoke publicly, and in my opinion, eloquently about his extramarital affairs, and in doing so, gave us a pretty clear picture of how he was going to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Just the day before, we had quite a different event with a desperate and deluded man opting to destroy his own life while attempting to destroy the lives of others. Joseph Stack felt trapped; but did he set his own trap and walk willingly into it?

After every sitting meditation session, I recite two things: the Loving Kindness chant and the Five Recollections. Within the Five Recollections is this line: I am the owner of my kamma, born of my kamma, related to my kamma, abide support in my kamma – whatever kamma I do, skillful or unskillful, to that I fall heir.

The key element to this particular verse for the purpose of this post is the phrase, “I am … related to my kamma …”

When I first heard this, I asked my teacher what it meant. He said it literally means that the people you are related to are part of your kamma. The parents I had was not an accident, nor was it “fate” or random that I have the siblings that I do. And all the people I’ve had other types of relations with – friendly, professional, intimate, antagonistic – are connected to my kamma. These people are in my life because of past actions, either in this present life or from a previous life. And how I manage these relationships determines whether I am abandoning kamma or creating more.

Holy shit, I thought. That is some heavy duty stuff. I was stunned with the concept. Because if these people are in my life because of past kammic action, then how I deal with them right now determines my future kamma and my future life!

Hold on to that thought for a moment.

Joseph Stack was a troubled man; that is not too difficult for anyone to see. His despair must have been profound. Yet, when you read his manifesto, it becomes very clear that he accepted no personal responsibility for his actions. He quite plainly took significant time to justify in his mind what he intended to do (remember, kamma is based on intent): “I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

What a desperate and deluded mind to reach such an ominous conclusion. And we learned that it wasn’t just the people in that building in Austin who were being targeted by his delusion. Prior to his fateful flight, the night before, he had a terrible argument with his wife, who fled with their daughter to spend the night elsewhere. Thank goodness for that. For the next day, Stack set fire to his home before he fled to attempt mass murder.

Now think about that phrase, “I am … related to my kamma …” Think of all the people Stack has pulled into his kammic universe. They will be back, whether he is reborn human or animal, these people will be back.

Now let us consider Tiger Woods. Did you watch his statement? I did, and while listening to him speak, even before he began talking about his Buddhist faith, I recalled the Buddha’s teaching to his son Rahula.

“Rahula, it’s like a royal elephant: immense, pedigreed, accustomed to battles, its tusks like chariot poles. Having gone into battle, it uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail, but keeps protecting its trunk. The elephant trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has not given up its life to the king.’ But when the royal elephant... having gone into battle, uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail & his trunk, the trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has given up its life to the king. There is nothing it will not do.’

“In the same way, Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, ‘I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.’”

While I listened to Woods speak, I saw a royal elephant. Granted, he completely messed things up with his wife and children, but you could tell he recognized that. He took complete and unequivocal responsibility for his own actions. He owned them. And he admitted that simply saying he was sorry wouldn’t change anything. He had to change. And by recognizing this, he has the opportunity in this life to diminish the kamma he has created.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oh you stupid monk

It must have really sucked for a monk during the Buddha’s time if you were a monk who didn’t get it. That is, a monk who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Buddha’s teaching. If you were such a monk, the Buddha apparently had little patience with you and you could expect a severe and public reprimand.

I ran across such a situation with the last sutta I read in the Majjhima Nikaya, the “Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta: The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving.” In this sutta, we are presented with the poor misguided monk Sati, who, we are repeatedly told, is “the son of a fisherman.” Sati had the misfortune of concluding that consciousness is what is carried forward through the round of rebirths, and he reached this conclusion, says he, because that is what the Buddha taught. Whoa Nelly! That set the rest of the monks into such a commotion, they were acting like a bunch of flabbergasted queens who had just been informed that Madonna really hadn’t sung “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” that it was really a voice-over by Jewel.

“Friend Sati, is it true that such a pernicious view has arisen in you?” the monks ask, all aghast.

Of course, this gets brought to the Buddha’s attention, who takes no time in publicly humiliating poor Sati.

“Misguided man, to whom have you ever known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, have I not stated in many ways consciousness to be dependently arisen, since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness? But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.”

Holy shit, it was as if the Buddha had just condemned Sati to a hell in the darkest and nastiest of gay S&M dungeons where leather-clad demons would stick long, hot needles through his tongue and his, er, well, you get the picture.

Poor Sati, he knew the shit that was in store for him: “When this was said, the bhikku Sati, son of a fisherman, sat silent, dismayed, with shoulders drooping and head down, glum, and without response.”

The Buddha then gives his instruction on dependent origination, about which there is an explanation at Ashin Sopāka’s blog. He also has a fabulous explanation of kamma and rebirth that you really should read: best explanation I’ve seen.

Public humiliation is a touchy item. Nobody likes public humiliation. It can lead to us making bad decisions later on. In the close-knit community of the Sangha, however, it’s part of the deal. Monks even have to publicly admit when they have a nocturnal transgression that was not entirely accidental, wink wink. But publicly reprimanding someone is a dicey prospect for most of us. The Buddha provided some pretty good guidelines on this under the realm of Right Speech. In particular, even if what you might speak is truth, if it leads to harm or no good for anyone, it’s better to not say anything at all.

The Buddha, however, never seemed to have been at a loss for words.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Dhamma of Social Distortion

On a recent drive to work, I was playing a compact disc that I hadn’t listened to in quite a while – “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” by Social Distortion. And while listening to one song in particular, I was struck by the thought, “This is Dhamma.”

The song is “Bad Luck.” And what I heard was a song about someone who has a reputation of everything going wrong for them. The singer proclaims that the same things that scare the crap out of the person with the bad luck don’t have the same effect on him. Particularly telling is this line:

“You gotta nasty disposition, no one really knows the reason why.”

When I heard that line, I started to pay attention to the song like I hadn’t before. The song has a very hard driving beat, a hardcore blues edge that I really like. I enjoy a wide variety of music, but my heart lies mostly with electric blues, and this Social Distortion CD delivers on this in spades.

While the singer comments that “no one really knows the reason why” this person has such bad luck, it is also clear that the unlucky fellow has no clue either. And that is the essence of ignorance. When things go wrong, our first inclination is to identify a reason outside of ourselves. We want to blame something or someone other than our self for our demise. And to a large degree, our society supports this perspective.

But the Buddha teaches us that we are responsible for our state of affairs, and once we realize that, we can do something about it.

“Thirteen’s my lucky number. To you it means stay inside. Black cat done crossed my path, no reason to run and hide.”

These common symbols of bad luck for the singer pose no threat. That’s because they are empty fabrications. But for our unlucky fellow, they are filled with a negative meaning projected by him; what is truly empty of meaning he gives meaning, and it’s scary meaning at that. This distorted view is eloquently revealed by the singer’s next line:

“You’re looking through a cracked mirror, no one really knows the reason why. Your enemies are getting nearer, gonna hang down your head and cry.”

That’s a curious line in that you don’t look “through” a mirror, but the metaphor works nonetheless. Our deluded minds distort what is real, often in a manner that allows us to avoid personal responsibility. A mirror, as the Buddha taught his son, Rahula, is for reflecting – reflecting on our actions and their consequences. This is so we can develop skillful actions. Sometimes that mirror is cracked, giving us a distorted image; but even if cracked and distorted, we can learn how to see what we need to, to see things as they really are. But our man with the bad luck isn’t using the mirror for reflection; he’s looking “through” it, refusing to see how he has distorted his own life.

Enjoy the video. It’s a kick ass tune.

Mongol hell

Ever been cold? I mean really cold. For example, my first winter living in West Yellowstone, Mont., there was a cold snap when temperatures were well-below zero for 10 days straight. Despite clear, sunny skies with no wind, daytime highs were -20 F. That’s right, the high temperature was 20 below zero on a sunny day. At night, the coldest it got was -58 F. It was so cold that any exposed skin would be frozen within seconds by a wind chill factor created merely by walking; there was no wind during this cold snap.

Ever been that cold? If you have, you still haven’t experienced what is happening now in Mongolia. This remote and seldom-heard about country is in the midst of something called a dzud. I first learned of this word from the blogger at Bitterroot Badger’s Bozeman Buddhist Blog. The Badger takes the situation over in Mongolia seriously because he’s spent time there and has personal connections with the country and its people. A dzud is a winter so cold and snowy that vast numbers of herd animals – the staple of rural Mongolian life – die of starvation because they cannot forage. The Mongols, according to the Badger, refer to the cold in terms of its effect on liquor: it gets so cold that twice-distilled vodka will freeze. This particular dzud is already being called the worst one in at least 30 years. More than 2 million animals have died.

Reports show that daily temperatures have been falling to as low as -40 C.

Many others have blogged about this as well, because raising awareness of this crisis in this remote and poor country is vital if aid is going to get there in time to help the rural population. With all eyes cast upon Haiti – as well they should be – it’s difficult to think about someplace as distant as Mongolia. It’s a country seldom heard about in the news.

Thankfully, the Badger has put together some links for relief organizations specifically focused on helping in Mongolia. Some of these organizations include CAMDA, the Cambridge Mongolia Development Appeal. The World Health Organization and the UN are also coordinating relief efforts.

There’s a sutta in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya that I think is relevant to this – the Kucchivikara-vatthu: The Monk with Dysentery. In this sutta, the Buddha encounters a monk sick with dysentery, who has fouled himself with excrement and urine. The Buddha asks the monk whether he has an attendant, to which the monk replies no. Why not, the Buddha asks? “I don't do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don't attend to me.” After hearing that, the Buddha immediately set to assisting the ill monk, directing others to assist him. He then asks the other monks why they haven’t attended to this monk’s illness, and they reply similarly: this monk doesn’t do anything for the other monks.

“Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.”

Perhaps you think that the people of Mongolia don’t do anything for you? Perhaps you ought to reconsider this attitude.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Speak with a calm, bright heart

Perhaps you are aware of recent news out of Singapore where a Christian evangelical group produced and published a video with an interview of a man who allegedly was a Buddhist monk and had converted to Christianity. I say allegedly because what the man says about his experiences as a monk is extremely suspicious. But I am not writing specifically about that. John over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt has a post that includes the video clips produced by the Lighthouse Christian group in Singapore, as well as news about the Pastor Rony Tan’s apology for the video’s content.

What I want to bring to everyone’s attention is a brilliant response written by the National University of Singapore Buddhist Society that was published in the Kent Ridge Common, the student publication at the NUS. It’s an excellent point-by-point retort to what was asserted by the Rev. Rony Tan; brilliant because it was made in the spirit of the Buddha’s teaching found in the Brahmajala Sutta. I strongly urge anyone to read the response, but I particularly suggest those who are new to Buddhism, or who are curious, to read it.

Religion is a touchy subject in Singapore (the photo is of a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore). The city-state is ethnically and religiously diverse, with a population made up of Chinese, Indian and Malay people, as well as a significant white European population. There are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Taoists. The city has a history of ethnocentric conflict that was successfully managed by its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party.

I follow a gay Buddhist discussion group on Yahoo! that is based in Singapore called Heartland where the issue of Christian evangelicals comes up occasionally. Christian proselytizing and efforts to convert others is very aggressively done in Singapore; I have read reports (unverified I admit) of evangelicals making the rounds in Singapore hospitals where they move in on a dying Buddhist and scare them into converting on their deathbed. If an individual’s family is present, some resistance may be mounted to the conversion effort, but if the sick and elderly patient is alone, he or she is reportedly often scared into conversion, renouncing their Buddhist faith.

Much of the discussion at Heartland has been about formulating a skillful response to these conversion efforts. So when the video from the Lighthouse organization in Singapore surfaced, it unsurprisingly annoyed many people, particularly Singaporean Buddhists and Taoists. Whether the Rev. Tan’s public apology is sincere is debatable, but it is worth pointing out that the apology was prompted by the Singaporean government demanding he make one. As I said, the peaceful coexistence of the various ethnic and religious groups in Singapore is a major concern of the government.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Accepting the disease to bring the cure?

After a lapse, I have resumed my reading of the Lotus Sutra. Actually, I think I am “reading” too many Buddhist texts and commentaries all at once, and that tends to interfere with the flow. But while reading Chapter 8 in the Lotus Sutra, the “Receipt of Prophecy by Five Hundred Disciples,” I found a passage that immediately got me thinking of the recent discussion about alcohol use in general by lay practitioners and by some monastics.

For example, Nathan at Dangerous Harvests has this post about a monk who has a bar where he pours drinks while dispensing Dhamma. The intention appears to be reaching a younger demographic and attract it to Buddhism, even if it means the temporary encouragement of breaking the precepts. And at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt, John has a post about alcohol consumption in general by the laity that also included a video of a rapping monk.

These methods could be reasonably explained as “expedient devices,” a phrase frequently mentioned in the Lotus Sutra. The idea, as I understand it, is that methods may be employed that on the surface may appear to be Wrong View, but which are justified by the end goal of presenting the Dhamma to as many people as possible and convert them to the “pure Dhamma;” a sort of Buddhist style of the ends justifying the means.

The relevant passage in the Lotus Sutra that got me thinking about this follows:

“Inwardly concealing their bodhisattva conduct and outwardly showing themselves to be voice hearers, though of slight desires and disgusted with birth-and-death, they are in fact, and of their own accord, purifying Buddha lands. Showing the multitude that they (themselves) have the three poisons (greed, hatred, delusion), and also displaying the signs of wrong views, my disciples, too, in the same way, by resort to expedient devices rescue the beings.”

This is a very interesting passage to me for a couple reasons. One is the simplicity of the idea that if you want to save beings from suffering, you must go to where they are suffering. This concept is not uniquely Buddhist. Jesus, for example, intentionally hung out with the poor, money lenders, prostitutes and lepers – all classes of people that were viewed with disdain and fear by the larger “pious” population. Jesus, as we recalled, allegedly changed water into wine so that a wedding party could carry on.

The other reason, however, is the danger inherent in such an “expedient device.” The Buddha mentions that these “future Buddhas” that he is talking about are “disgusted” with the cycle of birth and death despite the fact that they still possess “slight desires.” That, in my view, is a dangerous concept for a deluded mind to grasp onto. The key, it seems, to being a successful bodhisattva attempting anything like this is to have clearly cultivated a personal disgust with the cycle of birth and death, because without that sentiment but still possessing “slight desires,” venturing such a path of liberating others and bringing them to the true Dhamma would surely fail with one’s own demise.

Even those listening to the Buddha talk of this admit their own delusions at thinking they had already found liberation.

Now, of course, if this passage is the origin of such “expediencies” such as the monk with the bar, that would mean one needs to accept the validity of the Lotus Sutra, that what it states is indeed what the Buddha said.

I am interested in your thoughts about this. Is there a test for us to employ to see if such teachers are sincere and not just fellow schmucks spreading delusion? Or is the Lotus Sutra itself a form of expediency, solely written by authors who wanted some loopholes in the Dhamma to accommodate their own personal delusions, and not at all related to anything the Buddha taught?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Walking the Walk

I have always been intrigued by walking meditation. I’ve tried it a few times in the past, but always felt like I wasn’t doing it properly. There are publications that describe it, provide some guidance, but this is for me a situation that reading a book doesn’t get it for me. I need someone to show me.

That someone appeared this weekend when I made my second visit to a Thai temple here in Chicago, Wat Phrasriratanamahadhatu, a Theravada Buddhist temple on Magnolia Avenue just south of Lawrence (no pictures yet, but I will have some eventually). The Sunday activities are mostly social with some food offerings made to the monks for the alms round, as well as offerings of personal supplies. There’s a big feast as well, a Sunday buffet of homemade Thai food. But that’s another topic.

After I had finished helping clean up in the kitchen, one of the monks caught me and asked if I wanted to join some of them for meditation. Of course! So we went to another building (the temple has three buildings now) where they conduct classes and meditation. The monk explained that they start with walking meditation: have I ever done that?

Despite a few feeble attempts at the practice in the past, I said no. The monk gave me some personal instruction then to get me started, which I must say was extraordinarily helpful. My experience this time with the practice was unlike any previous. Here’s what he taught me.

Step one: Adopt a standing posture with hands held in front or behind the back (I held mine in front). Close the eyes while standing still and be aware of your posture while standing, running the mind’s gaze on the body from the top of the head down to the feet, then back up, back down, back up, and back down. I did this with each pass timed with my breathing, fixing my awareness on the “object” of “standing.” Not “I am standing.” Just “standing.”

Step two: Open the eyes and begin taking a step to initiate walking, focusing the mind on awareness of each step, realizing the various stages of pressure and lack of pressure on the feet as each step is made. At first, the stride of my steps was too long. I found that the walking was not only easier, but my mind sustained focus more effectively when I took smaller steps, each foot landing only just in front of the other. I keep my gaze downward but ahead of me, not at me feet or the floor directly in front of me.

Step three: Know you are walking. My awareness of each step was really quite extraordinary; I was focused and aware of how the floor felt on the sole of the left foot as it rocked with the shifting body weight, as well as aware of what the right foot was doing as it moved forward. There were moments of wavering balance, as I have arthritis in my right ankle, so when lifting the left foot, sometimes I wobbled as the body’s weight shifted entirely to the right foot. But taking small, very deliberate steps took care of this.

Step four: When the other side of the room is reached, stand still, close the eyes, and bring awareness back to “standing.” Just like I did at the start. It kept the mind from anticipating what was going to happen next, as I always had a task.

Step five: Open the eyes and focus on “turning,” slowly turning the body around by taking small steps to the right, rotating the body in four “points;” so if my starting position was north, I first turn to the northeast, then east, then southeast, then south; all quite slowly and deliberately keeping my attention focused on “turning.”

Step six: Close the eyes and go through the process of focusing the mind once again on “standing.” Then resume the procedure by walking back to the other side of the room, repeating the process for the duration.

It was a wonderful experience, probably due to being a beginner. My attention was so well-focused that I really felt settled when we were through. I don’t think I could do this effectively at home because my floor creaks so much when I walk I would be concerned about all the noise I would be making for my neighbors in the apartment below me. But this is something I will definitely do again each week when I return to the temple.

Have you tried walking meditation? What is your practice like? Has it given your overall practice a big charge like it has to mine?