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Real peace will arise spontaneously
When your mind becomes free
Of attachments,
When you know that the objects of the world
Can never give you what you really want.
-Theragatha
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Feb. 22nd, 2008 @ 10:59 am One of Pema Chodron's stories
A big, burly Samurai comes to a Zen master and says, "tell me the nature of heaven and hell." The Zen master looks at him in the face and says, "why should I tell a scruffy, disgusting, miserable, slob like you? A worm like you? Do you think I should tell you anything?" Consumed by rage, the Samurai draws his sword and raises it to cut off the master's head. The Zen master says "that's hell." Instantly the Samurai understands. He has just created his own hell, black and hot, filled with hatred, self-protection, anger, and resentment. He sees that he was so deep in hell, that he was ready to kill someone. Tears fill his eyes. As he puts his palms together to bow in gratitude for this insight, the Zen master says "that's heaven."

-Pema Chodron
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Feb. 21st, 2008 @ 11:02 am Suzuki quote
"The cause of conflict is some fixed idea, or one-sided idea. When everyone knows the value of pure practice, we will have little conflict in our world. This is the secret of our practice and Dogen Zenji's way. Dogen repeats this point in his book Shobogenzo, the Treasury of the True Dharma. If you understand the cause of conflict as some fixed or one-sided idea, you can find meaning in various practices without being caught by any of them. If you do not realize this point, you will be easily caught by some particular way, and you will say, "This is enlightenment. This is perfect practice. This is our way. The rest of the ways are not perfect! This is the best way." This is a big mistake. There is no particular way in true practice. You should find your own way, and you should know what kind of practice you have right now."

-Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
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Feb. 11th, 2008 @ 05:15 pm I can't die! Ha ha!
I've realized that I cannot die! :-) I can't die because I do not exist.

Ok, I'm sure that sounds existential at best, maybe disturbing, or even cultish at worst... unless you already understand what I'm saying from a Buddhist perspective.

The self is illusory. "I" is an illusion. Whatever I think I am, I am not. Same goes for you. I used to be sure that the essence of "me" was my thoughts, my ideas, and my ability to think. Many identify their minds as themselves in this way. Others though, identify their feelings or memories as the "essence" of what they are. Some even identify their beautiful bodies as the core of what they are. This is the most tragically sad perspective of course, because they very soon suffer greatly from inevitable aging. Still others identify themselves with what they own -- status symbols, fancy cars or clothes. Their constant pursuit of these things is a desperate pursuit to define what they are to themselves. Some, especially the young -- myself formerly included -- define what they are by the music they like to listen to. That seems in some way, the most unfounded...

But none of these things are what we are. It is in fact very difficult to know what we are. Deeds exist but no do-er can be found. All the things listed above and whatever else we may think we are, are just stories we tell ourselves in an attempt to define ourselves. Just stories. Nothing more, nothing more substantive than that. We are empty.

Further, whatever we may think we are, we definitely are not, because this is just what we think -- just a mind object, nothing more than an idea in our heads. We aren't what we think, precisely because a thought is what that is. Lets call a spade a spade. If we're going to think what we are is a thought, or some collection of thoughts, why not instead conclude what we are is some other random thought? Think of a feather -- is that you? No, our thinking it does not make it so. Er, at least not any more than it ever does... Everything in the dream is the dreamer... With our thoughts we make the world after all. ...Yeah, I'm just going to leave that apparent contradiction for those who know it isn't a contradiction at all. Thoughts exist, but they are not the thinker. And yet they are.

Each of the things listed a few paragraphs back raise the question of what you are without them, or without the things that make them possible. If you think your essence is thoughts, feelings, or memories, would "you" still exist without a brain? This is where many say "yes" and point to a belief in a "soul". But I don't think any thoughts, feelings, or memories can exist without a body and brain to make them possible. I mentioned before people who think their beauty is what they "really" are -- and how they grasp after it as it inexorably slips away with age. Those that define themselves by status, wealth, or power -- what happens when they lose it? "Nervous breakdown" is the euphamism we use for the sudden revelation that this is not what they are. Oh yes, and music. If you cling rigidly to the music you defined yourself with, probably during high school or college, soon you're living in the past. Are you still cool then?

I too used to think thoughts could continue sans a brain, when I was younger. It's just hard to imagine that whatever you've decided your essence is, could end. Because that would mean really dying! The only way I know of is the indirect route I'm pointing out here -- that there are many different things that many people fervently believe are their essence, and they can't all be right...

So on one level what we "are", is simply one small part of the endless becoming of the universe. The universe just keeps happening, and we are part of it.

So, no "I" exists, so "I" cannot die. That which does not exist cannot have an end, or a beginning for that matter. Of course the stories we tell ourselves begin and end, but these are just stories.

All that said, of course I will still die. This body is aging and will die. But now I'm thinking that moment may not really be much different from any other -- just more of the continuing change of the universe. My heart will stop, my brain will stop, my cells will stop. My living body will change to a dead body. But it doesn't end there. My body will decompose and perhaps be "food for worms". In the fullness of time all the molecules and atoms in my body will become other things.

But "I" cannot die, because there is no "I".

But what is it then that experiences? ;-)
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Dec. 29th, 2007 @ 01:49 am Not going to be a monk
I've realized i'm not going to be a monk, at least not in this lifetime. I don't have the mind-set of a renounciant. In other words, yeah, I do like samsara. All things considered, in the end, I do like life, even in spite of all the suffering that comes with it.

Lately in my sangha, a Buddhist Meetup group where I'm pretty sure all the regulars but me have definitely chosen the Tibetan path, it's been said a few times, "you can't really renounce samsara if you don't believe in reincarnation". I bristled at this because it was starting to sound like we were making 'belief in reincarnation' into a litmus test for being a Buddhist. And I don't "believe in" reincarnation. Or the Christian afterlife either. Personally, what I really believe is that as wondrous and incredible as this mind is, it is none the less produced by the correct biological functioning of the brain and body, and when they die so does the mind. That this life is it, that we have just one shot at all this, and then it's over. But that is still a belief, not fact. No real good evidence for any of these ideas. So to speak in the realm of fact, instead of belief, I have to say that I do not know what happens after death, whether it's 'nothing' or 'something' and if so, what. Further, no one knows. Most have beliefs and opinions.

more...Collapse )

So if not release from the wheel of rebirth, what then is my interest in Buddhism? Simple. The wisdom of the Dharma has helped me immeasurably to deal with suffering in this life. I mean, just knowing I create all the suffering I feel... Whatever happens next happens, and I hope to have at least 40 more years before I find out what that is. But yeah, I could die tomorrow. Or tonight. That's another reality the Dharma has helped me make some peace with. So I still think of myself as a Buddhist, but label me what you will, it's all just a flapping door. Either way, I'll keep meditating and studying the Dharma.


* * *

Where I am with trying to understand reincarnationCollapse )

P.S.Collapse )
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Oct. 2nd, 2007 @ 05:56 pm New Metta Phrases
Listening to Jack Kornfield teachings, he suggested directing the loving kindness (Metta) practice he was teaching toward anyone anywhere. Waiting in line at the grocery store, on the bus, or -- and I really liked this -- in slow traffic. What he was teaching at that moment (which must have been in the 80s, from references to the Soviet Union as a going concern) was a simple loving kindness practice, basically the wish "may your heart be filled with loving kindness". Concise and to the point.

But I'm partial to my own Metta phrases (it's a preference, I know). I want to direct all four of them at other drivers, and not just in slow traffic, but speeding down the highway too! But trying this I found that they're a bit cumbersome and numerous to remember and get out quickly enough. I also thought more about the traditional Metta phrases, having long since taken Sharon Salzberg's suggestion for taking what's most meaningful to me and crafting my own personal Metta phrases. But the traditional phrases (from Pali) are pretty darn good too -- that's probably why they're traditional.

So I want to combine my Metta phrases with the traditional Metta phrases, and also put them together in such a way as to make them easy to think at you as I speed past. :-)

The traditional Metta phrases:
May you be free from danger. (safe)
May you have mental happiness. (happy)
May you have physical happiness. (healthy, it seems to me)
May you have ease of well-being.

My Metta phrases:
May you be happy.
May you be peaceful.
May you be wise and understanding.

Combined:
May you be happy.
May you be peaceful and healthy.
May you have safety and ease of well-being.
May you be wise and understanding.

So I'm going to try to remember those seven things in those four phrases. I also found that while driving by, and unable to get either set out completely, that to me, just the wish "may you be happy" seems to sum it up and say it all. So I guess it's ok if that's all I manage to get out, but I've taped these to my steering wheel! :-)

May you be happy.
May you be peaceful and healthy.
May you have safety and ease of well-being.
May you be wise and understanding. :-)
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Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 05:47 pm Using attachment to establish a regular practice
I have been challenged over the years, in trying to establish a regular meditation practice. Establishing it and getting into the habit of it, so that I can just sit, daily, just because I do. Now I'm actually using attachment to try to establish a regular practice.

I thought of the signs you may see in factories that say "x days without an injury", and that it's a running count that will start over at zero as soon as someone is injured. It's a motivation to practice safety, to keep the count going up. I wrote a similar sign on a post-it in my meditation space: "x days since I have not meditated". So, I am deliberately attaching to that number and using it as further motivation to get into the habit of a regular sitting practice.

So far so good! The sign says "17" as of today. I noticed though that when I really just don't feel like meditating, when it's really hard to go sit anyway, that I also don't care much about the number either. But that's only happened once, at about 4 or 5 I think, and the count did prove just enough to tip the scales -- I meditated that time.

I figure if this works, and I can establish a regular practice this way, I'll deal with attachment to a number then.
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Aug. 30th, 2007 @ 10:55 am Who can say what is good and what is bad?
Current Mood: Accepting
Here's a Zen story you may have heard, but it bears repeating, at least to myself.

One day in ancient China a farmer's best horse ran off. His neighbor came over to console him saying, "Your best horse -- this is terrible."

The farmer just said, "Who can say what is good and what is bad?"

The next day the horse came back, with a herd of wild horses following her. The neighbor came over again saying, "This is great! Wonderful! You have so many horses now!"

The wise farmer just said, "Who can say what is good and what is bad?"

The day after that the farmer's son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses. The foolish neighbor came again saying what terrible, bad fortune it was.

The wise farmer just said, "Who can say what is good and what is bad?"

The next day the Emperor's army came through drafting conscripts for a war. The farmer's son was not drafted due to his broken leg. "Wow, that was lucky!" said the neighbor to the farmer.

Again the wise farmer just said, "Who can say what is good and what is bad?"

The story continues on like that (though that's as much as I've ever heard!).

Indeed, who can say what is good and what is bad? I need to keep this in mind. This is the attitude I should have had with my last post.
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Jun. 1st, 2007 @ 04:45 pm Is
What is

is the way it must be.

It cannot be any other way.

If bad things will happen in the future due to the present change...

Well it's inevitable that bad things would at some point happen either way, isn't it?

And it simply cannot be any other way than how it is.

The change had to happen.

Things cannot be the way they were before.

The way things are is the only way they can be.


* * *


My realization here makes it sound too dramatic. "The change" is a trivially minor one. It just exposed some grasping issues I did not realize ran so deep. Bummer.

They're moving me into another group at work. One I agree, in my head, is a better fit for me. But it feels like a step down, even though it is not. That is a point I've argued myself several times in the past. It feels like a statement that what I do is not as important to the company any more, even though that is almost certainly not the case either.

Well, maybe I can stop suffering now.

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Mar. 14th, 2007 @ 09:12 pm Not much I can do
There is very, very little I can do to help the world. Which makes it all the more important to actually do what little I can. This idea of Kishitigarbha, Jizo, the idea of a patron of lost causes... Has completely changed my outlook on things. Better to see clearly the near total futility and be resolved to actually do what pathetic little I can, than to get caught up in idealistic notions, which are illusions, and after they burst to be paralyzed to complete inaction by cynicism and disillusionment.

So what can I do?

  • I can dedicate the merit of my meditations to those who may need it. Even though this is really nothing at all, at least to the overwhelming majority of those I dedicate them to, intentions matter.
  • I can not be a jerk. It's always hard not to be a jerk.
  • I can be kind. Remember that everyone has problems they're working through. And if they're not dealing with any major problems now, they may have had great trials in the past. And if they have not, they may in the future. And if they never have had big stuff to deal with and never will, then they can't see the little problems for what they are, and may mistake many of them for big problems. That's a problem too.
  • I can send money to charities.
  • I can make lunch for that homeless guy with the cardboard sign.


I'd like to find a way to make the time to actually volunteer for charity.

There is very, very little I can do to help make my government better. Which makes it all the more important to actually cast my one tiny pathetic vote.
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Mar. 10th, 2007 @ 09:54 pm Governments
Governments... I have some thoughts on governments. All our most lofty, seemingly untouchable, seemingly greater than us institutions -- governments, empires, religions, are all just constructs created by people. Just built up by people. In a way they're all more or less arbitrary because of that.

I was watching "China from the Inside", a series that was on PBS last month. They covered a village election. A democratic election for who the leaders of the village would be. There were 5 or 6 candidates, all but one of which were Communist party members. There was a stage and rows of chairs set up in the mud. Each candidate spoke about what they'd do if elected and then the people voted, paper ballots into boxes. One was elected mayor and a few of the others were elected as some kind of council, including the non-party member.

At first I was struck by the fact that the only thing any of the candidates were talking about doing if elected, were economic things. moreCollapse )

So I'm not denying that government of China has committed many great and horrible atrocities. I'm just saying maybe we shouldn't be throwing stones.
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