Friday, April 30, 2010

Impermanence

(Pāli: अनिच्चा anicca; Sanskrit: अनित्य anitya; Tibetan: མི་​རྟག་​པ་ mi rtag pa; Chinese: 無常 wúcháng; Japanese: 無常 mujō; Thai: อนิจจัง anitchang, from Pali "aniccaŋ")
Except those who believe in a "soul" (most of the world), nobody denies impermanence as a rational concept. But even those who rationally see trees being chopped down and made into firewood know in their hearts that something didn't change. And impermanence says they are wrong.

My longtime friend said to "me" that other day... I know you're still stuck on "me." When you've known someone for 40+ years, you don't go denying their observations. You just know, like in this case, that more work needs to be done.

In NYC, years ago, a doctor weighed people before and after death. He could not account for 3/4 of an ounce. Was this the soul that had exited the body? Why did dogs (who have, according to some, "buddha-nature") have no weight loss at the moment of death?

Buddhists try to recognize that everything is changing. I suspect even the most seasoned veterans have to remind them "selves" continually that they too are changing. Always, continually, completely.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Race (not?)

After engaging in an online discussion on race and ethnicity, and entertaining the possibility of evil on my blog, my friend tried to explain why she won't even talk about race. I begged her to write about it, but she declined and said "do it yourself." She does write continually, but only on topics of her choosing. And actually writing about how we construct distinctions between people is one of her topics.

First off, some say that the only race is the human race, given that chimpanzees living in a remote area of Africa are more varied genetically than all humans... and penguins come in 15-20 species.

My friend is completely uninterested in this argument, saying that anyone who has any brains knows that race is just around to substantiate (or not) superiorities of one race over another, and that in truth there are no races anyway.

But then she talked of how we construct various groupings (my word) of peoples with the intent of stereotyping groups as having specific characteristics. What was most interesting to me is that, like evil and suffering and many other concepts, groupings have very real consequences once they are constructed. They may be artificial, but as long as we act on our preconceptions the result will be real. For example, I believe men less than 5'10" cannot be trusted (a construction with probably no basis of truth). Then I act on this construction, being careful not to associate with any "shorties" (including myself). What had no validity now becomes very important, especially to the "shorties" and actually to all. Society is cheated from dealing with a fine and honorable group.

Therefore denying race, in my friend's opinion, gives people a false sense that they've solved a problem, where really the problem, though constructed, is still here and there and everywhere.

P.S. I sent this to my friend, hoping that I represented her correctly (it was a very very noisy restaurant for someone who doesn't hear well). She said that I did, and added, "I don't think that "race" is only around to substantiate superiorities, though. There's this great show on now called Treme, a show about New Orleans post-Katrina. It's about race...for example, cultural movements of Jazz and neighborhood solidarity, structural racism (bad levees, looting, prison mishaps), within-"race" conflicts between middle class and working class/poor black people, etc. But it complicates it all-layers these different racial issues, and shows the interpersonal, structural, and societal impacts of race and racism on New Orleans. I think that race is one of the fundamental ways our society is organized, historically, and most societal issues are intertwined with race in some way."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mythology and Truth

My walking neighbor (we walk together in the mornings) clarified for me the role of mythology in religion. He talked about mythology as a means to convey the truth. And, he said, those who take the mythology literally are stuck in a "logical quandry."

Like Aesop's fables, the events may not have actually happened (not many of us have heard animals "talk"), but they describe a truth about life through their stories. What is it then that we "believe"? It is the wisdom of the stories, because that wisdom aligns with our experience. Job, for example, lost everything except for his faith. By retaining his faith, his luck turned around. Was there really a man Job who was a pawn in a contest between God and the Devil (as portrayed in J.B. by Archibald Macleish)? No, probably not. And yet have them been men and woman who have been down on their luck and who still retained their faith? Absolutely. And did their lives turn around in time? Of course. Was it the faith that caused his life to turn around? We'll have to wait and see the metadata from a number of double-blind studies... or else...

Car[l] Jerome, in his comment yesterday, gave the following references:

 Kalama Sutta

 Simile of the Snake Sutta

"It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them." (Buddha, from the Kalama Sutta).

Lotus

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More on creating evil

She wrote: Since you don't buy into the Christian mythology about good and evil, and you DO buy into the Buddhist mythology, that there isn't a good and evil, does it all boil down to just whose mythology that YOU DO buy into? Is everyone not entitled to believe in the mythology that suits them the best? Is saying the Buddhist way of thinking is the best and only truth, NO different than the Christian saying that his way is the ONLY WAY? By believing that your way is the best, are you not guilty of doing the same thing? Might each and every WAY be right in it's own way, for different people? Because YOU don't buy into it for yourself, does it make it so? And, are you qualified to say what is and what is not? If not, can you tell me beyond a doubt who is? Is everything not just speculation in the end, because until you actually die, you can't really be sure? Can you tell a Mother whose child was slaughtered, that such an act was not evil? If that act is not evil, can you tell me what it is?"
I don't think most people consider their beliefs to be mythology, but I think she is right about there exists a belief system to support any belief... from Nazism to Christianity.

Buddha asked that people trust his "way" because they experience what he describes, rather than just because he says it. He might have not liked the idea that his "way" to end suffering became a religion. He probably had enough of his childhood religion by then, and he wanted to pay more (actually all) of his attention to the here and now.

In the quote above, she talks about the mother calling (or not calling) the slaughter of her child "evil." This is an interesting assertion that I was not thinking about—that an "act" can be evil. What if the slaughtering was done by gust of wind hurling knives through the air? Would that be evil as well? Or do we need a doer with an "evil" intent. So who is evil, the act or the person?

Thinking about this riding on a plane from Philadelphia to Austin (stopping in Orlando) gave me more clarity about the precept "creating evil." I'm not sure this will satisfy the commenter above, but here it is. The precept is saying don't create evil, which we do when we label certain events (or people) evil. It is not the Buddhist way. The precept is asking us to be without judgment, acting equanimously.  So, yes, evil exists, as does suffering, but it is in our heads. Is it productive to create evil? Probably not.

Pompeii

So I guess the lava that destroyed Pompeii was not evil, lacking any
intention to do harm. But what about the serial killer who can't find
any victims?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Axis of evil?

Certainly some human actions are terrible. I visited a torture museum in Italy where I saw depictions of horror upon horror (makes Dexter seem like Santa Claus). Worst was a picture of a community picnic, where on one side people were playing, and then, for entertainment, people on the other side were being tortured. Is this evil? It certainly was about sadistic pleasure. Is it worse than the dog fights in Texas? Is it worse than what goes on in the slaughter houses. Is it worse than the conditions many live in throughout the world today? Sometimes we do create evil through our actions. We are all somewhat destructive, I suppose, in subtle, or not so subtle, ways. Evil? That connotes to me that there is a connection to the devil. And since I don't buy into that mythology, I guess I don't quite buy into evil. Is it enough to say that some of our actions are mean and terrible, and leave it at that?

I'm going to take the precept about not creating evil as not doing things that are mean and terrible. And before we give each other gold stars, I need to look at all my interactions, with other humans, animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Have I treated them with care and respect? Perhaps only then am I following this precept.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not creating evil


The first of the three pure precepts is "not creating evil."

My mind wonders about this. If I got up in the morning with that intention... what would I do? Not rob a bank? It would all be about restraint.

My heart understands it. As I make decisions, I try to choose that which walks carefully and not the choice that hurts.

Words are cheap. And evil is pretty extreme. I think I need more time with this one.

Josh's show and tell

Shingon Buddhist Altar (Japan)

Sakyamuni Buddha

Manjusri, bodhisttva of wisdom

Avalokitesvara, bodhisattva of compassion

Rosetta Stone

Hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek texts provided the key towards
translating hieroglyphics in 1822.

Calcite, 2500 B.C.E., Iraq

17th Century Iran

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I take refuge in the sangha

The third precept, and the last of the treasure or jewel precepts, is taking refuge in the sangha. While taking refuge in the dharma precept is honorable for its purity, the sangha precept is honorable for its harmony. "Honorable" means to me "known for" or even "graced by."

Sangha initially meant a group of monks who practiced together. Now it is all those who attend a temple. But I like the idea of "ALL those."

In 1986 we held hands across the world, defining a larger sangha than those of a temple in Austin Texas. But it is really the still even larger sangha in which I wish to take refuge. How large? Imagine ALL. It is the sangha of harmony that includes ALL of that and a little breathing room (actually lots!).

Refuge is a troublesome word for some. One does take refuge from a storm. What is the storm that one takes refuge from (or to) in the precepts? Is it the relative world filled with greed, hate, and delusion? Is it suffering?

I read (I believe it was in a book by the controversial Alan Watts) that when practitioners assemble for a long practice period, they are like oarsman on a ship. They all support each other,  and if any of them fail, the journey will be in trouble.

Stay tuned for tomorrow... emptiness and cubism... got to sleep on it first.

Josh's Sushi

On floor @ Phili Museum of Art

Bruce Nauman, 1967

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How has Buddhism affected your art work?

J. asked this a few days ago. I didn't think, at first, that it had affected my art. Then a list came:

1) I have less need and desire to be perfect. Suzuki's statement that "you are perfect just as you are" suggested that maybe my lines don't have to be manhandled forever. So I'm drawing quickly like the Chinese calligraphy that I've been admiring.

2) I used to give my figures penises, vaginas, breasts, etc. Now I don't feel the need to do that. The characters of the figures is more subdued. I have a friend who'll never forgive me for eliminating the appendages.

3) My drawings are less apt to be reflecting sizzling electrodes. I feel calmer my art seems more passive and less chaotic (at least in its construction).

4) The drawings are more apt to show mind states rather than action states. i.e. being rather than doing.

I'm not sure if any of this is obvious to anyone else, but it is to me.

On another subject, I brought two books to read on the plane: Radical Honesty and Zen Training. So first I read an old New Yorker, then the Southwest Air flight magazine, and then Radical Honesty, thinking I've had enough of Zen recently. Lo and behold, it is (so far) really about Zen. Even mentions meditation, enlightenment, conceiving of the unity of the universe, etc. So much for that plan.

I decided that I was going to reject the idea of Radical Honesty before reading it because it is impossible to tell the truth because we don't know it. So I asked my three and one-half year old grandson to tell me a lie and he said, "I'm friends with Beta." Since Beta doesn't exist, we all agreed it was a lie. Then I asked him to tell me the truth and he said, "I'm friends with Annie." So back to the drawing board on my rejection of the book on these grounds.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is there more to zen than sitting?

The word zen means sitting. But what is sitting? Paying attention. As one pays attention they see suffering, among themselves and others... and they feel compassion for those suffering, so they have to deal with that. If one sat once a day and thought that was all there was to it, then they'd be missing the big part... the part of sitting while they are doing the rest of their life. Being present when one is with others. Being present when one is with oneself.

Zen people like to answer questions yes and no. Since "the past no longer is" and "the future has not yet come" all we have is the present. And when we sit we are there, in the present. And we learn from that laboratory to be present in more stimulated environments (though actually nothing is more stimulating than quiet because we can hear a pin drop and feel a fleeting thought touch our heart.

I'm sure I could write the rest of my life about this, without lifting my fingers from the keyboard... and I don't think I really know anything about it. I guess my best answer for now, since I have to still make a drawing and pack bags for a trip tomorrow is this: yes, there is more... and the more is everything else... and no, sitting is really, in the broadest sense, everything that we do and are. When we are awake, we are sitting... in the sense that sitting means awake, noticing, feeling, touching, accepting.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Meditation

My cousin writes, "Although I've thought at times about studying meditation, I'm not sure it's the right path for me. I tried transcendental meditation in my twenties, but didn't find it fit me at that time. But I have wondered how and why it's become such an integral and important aspect of your life -- what it means to you, how you feel it's changed you."

Though the expression "Zen meditation" is used, meditation in zen is often referred to as "sitting" or even "just sitting." It is what we do when we aren't doing something else, but in a sense, we try to be present no matter what... so sitting is really all one can do.

I did try for awhile "dynamic meditation" which was done at a Thai Buddhist temple near our house. In it, your arms are moving in a complex pattern during the entire time, so unless you are Einstein, all you can focus on is having your arms do the right thing. I felt like I was building pathways in my brain that would live on to haunt me like when I spent a few very long days in college saying the same phrase over and over again trying to sell newspapers to cover my tuition ($350, not the current $52,000).

Sitting is not something one studies. What is studied when sitting is oneself. It is looking in the mirror, but rather than doing it with one sense, you are doing it with six senses (the mind is included as a sense). Though you focus on your breath, often other thoughts come and go. I feel when I sit down that I'm a stream and someone threw in a pebble. As I sit, I calm down. It seems to take less and less time to settle down as I sit more and more. I'm fortunate to have another "meter" to see how my sitting is going. My ears ring. When I am sitting (really sitting), they quiet down... sometimes so I can't hear any ringing even if I try.

Initially I was anxious for the time to be over...esp. since my legs would hurt, or my face would itch, or my back would hurt. Now I realize that when the hurts appear they will go away. And I thank them (the pains and itchings) for visiting and then say goodbye to them.  Tonight my nose itched. My first thought was that I should scratch it because it could be an alien trying to take over my consciousness. But I waited. And either it went away, or the alien did his thing and I am him/her. I used to get tired and fall asleep. Now I'm not so tired. Maybe I'm breathing more deeply.

I'm not sure that sitting is a path, but rather a tool like clothes that one wears when taking a journey. Rather than keeping you warm, sitting keeps you quiet so you can feel the ground.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Dream

I was sitting with a group of people. Someone asked me what have I learned. I said, "I've learned that you don't exist." They looked at me puzzled and asked how I knew that. "Because it is true," I said. I was very surprised in the dream that my argument was not more convincing.

Later. I went to a Zen picnic, billed as being "purposeless." It seemed pretty much like any other picnic. I learned to play bocce. I didn't do much better than when I go bowling. I understand how guys can play this until they keel over.

I asked at the picnic why should we waste time like this when Buddhists take the bodhisattva vow to put others before oneself and to work wholeheartedly for their benefit. The answers were ok for the moment but I forget what they were. But the interesting thing was that it seemed pretty much like any other picnic as I said in the last paragraph. So what can we do?

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.
We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late.
(Buddha)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Playing House

So maybe I'm playing house, I thought, after reading about Cintitta, a former priest here who has taken his practice many steps further than most others I know. It was the feeling I had, in Rome, looking up at the Sistine Chapel and wondering how I can compete with that energy (I wasn't so excited about it as a work of art). The article on Cintitta talked about one who was "walking the talk." I look forward towards spending some time with him in a couple of weeks.

And then, on the other hand, we hear that one can "practice" anywhere, anytime. John Cage wrote music in Grand Central Station.

In the meantime, I'm trying to move away from anger and judgment. I'm tired of both. Very tired. The priest today made a neat statement today, "As simple and impossible as it sounds, meet everything that arises with an open and curious mind, and a loving and forgiving heart." Following this, anger is impossible. As I sat this morning, thinking of this quote, the holocaust came up. I thought, how can one feel anything but rage and anger about what the Nazis did? And then I remembered that, upon their release at the end of the war, some of the concentration camp survivors gave shoes to their captors. They opened their hearts to those soldiers who were, in many ways, victims themselves.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Anger

After reading something one of my teachers wrote about anger, I've been thinking about it today. He said that the opposite of anger is patience. That feels right, though if someone robs or shoots me, I probably would be angry... (but impatient?) What I have noticed is that I often (esp. today) don't act very appropriately. Seems like I'm facing some situations that aren't what I want them to be... and I'm mirroring the situations. I'm not feeling too well (tired and achey), so I acted that way. And it was a gloomy day, so I acted that way. Did I help change anything? NO!

Tomorrow will be another day (as the expression goes).

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I take refuge in the teachings.

My St. Louis teacher (who lives in Chicago) wrote to me this am: "What a joy to have the support of the precepts with us. Being our intention sets our attention and our attention tells us what to do, how wonderful to have the precepts handy to keep our intentions in line."

When I first read his comment, I was surprised by the shift that occurs when I think of the precepts supporting me (instead of me following them). It is almost to say that they are a being, and I am being held by them. But there is more. Us could be read to refer to our buddha nature, so that what the precepts do is allow one to be who they really are.

Though the precepts are by no means all the teachings of the Buddha, any one of them encapsulates most of what he said. It would be enough, I think, to follow just one of the precepts, broadly interpreted. Some make the point that though the teachings came from the Buddha, he did not invent them, but rather discovered them. They are laden with wisdom because he saw how supportive they are.

Refuge suggests "back to the source." As an artist takes refuge in design, a Buddhist takes refuge in basic truths that come when one slows down and listens. Buddha could have said, "just listen—not to me, but to your experience."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Back to Square One: I take refuge in the Buddha


I finished writing about the precepts, but am and will be a beginner forever. Since I did the first six precepts in groups of three (what was I thinking?) I'm going back and doing them one at a time. Even then, I will not be doing them justice.

Finished my taxes today. They will be sent to my uncle (Sam) in Washington  tomorrow. With a nice little electronic check (if those things have size). And the attic is ready for the insulators. Yea! That was a nasty job. I lost 1.5 lbs this am raising some decking and moving some stuff around.

Then went to a class tonight about time... a totally confusing subject. Maybe not any more confusing than anything else, but still enough to bewilder anyone. Anyone, that is, except those lucky creatures who have no time to consider time.

So what does it mean to take refuge in the Buddha? Who is/was the Buddha? If we believe the story, he was driven to figure things out. And his discovery was that his authority was his experience that he both trusted and disavowed as only an illusion. The Buddha is the part of us that is real. If one were not to take refuge in the Buddha, we'd have to take refuge in delusions. Taking refuge, for me, is attempting to brush aside the dust and see what is really there.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Experience the intimacy of things; Do not defile the three treasures

What I like about Robert Frost is that I learn about his life when I read his poems. I know what he did when he wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

I have two deadlines: finish taxes by tomorrow at 4:45 pm to go to my new accountant, and finish preparing the attic for insulation by 10 am on Friday. In the meantime, the work on our yard continues, day after day, week after week, month after month. Maybe tomorrow it will be done if no more irrigation values explode. Sometimes I'd make art about all these grand life struggles, but no, I'm still at it trying to live with these Buddhist Precepts.

"Experience the intimacy of things" confused me. Did he really mean "intimacy?" I asked one of my teachers and she said that Buddhists associate intimacy with enlightenment. This actually confused me further, because it didn't seem to fit the second part of precept "do not defile..." Then I found this wonderful article about Buddhist intimacy. I loved this line, "This is true intimacy, handling all beings as if they were ourselves." And, of course, in Buddhism, all beings includes everything.

So while eating dinner (a great dinner expect I wondered if the chickens were well treated who generously gave me their eggs) I read the article (a Buddhist no-no) and then decided I would do the dishes while my wife was watching TV. And I would treat the dishes as if they were my eyeballs (which Dogen said is the way you should treat every grain of rice). Anyway, other than a few gently moves, like quietly setting the frying pan in the sink to wash it, I don't think I passed the test.

I take it that "do not defile the three treasures (buddha, teachings, sangha)" is kind of like "do not use the lord's name in vain." And we do that when we treat things with less than the respect that we'd treat our eyeballs, or, as the Zen teacher Reb Anderson would say, "...as if it is your mother's face."

One more thing. Even though I've now gone through the sixteen precepts, I don't pretend to understand them. The first six I did three at a time. My plan for the next six days is to do one of the first six at a time.  After that, maybe I'll give it all up for lent.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Actualize Harmony; Do not be angry

What is interesting is the apparent duality of harmony. Harmony is between two or more things, isn't it? So this precept make us responsible for harmony. Does it mean we have to fix us to harmonize with the other? And yet, we are one. Does that make harmony impossible?

Saturday the priest talked about how zazen (sitting) was both good for nothing and everything. It sure helps me to keep from being angry. I probably should be angry because we have a situation with a contractor at our house that has been going on too long and beyond budget. But I'm not angry. Maybe a little at myself for various mistakes I made. But we are getting close to this chapter in our life being over... I think. Maybe tomorrow. And then I can work on actualizing harmony.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Give Generously, Do not be Withholding

Open ur heart and ur pockets.
Some give at the office, but not at home. Some give for merit. Some give their money but not their heart. Some can't give, even to themselves. Some can give to others, but not themselves.

What did the ancient monks give? Their bowl would dry up if they didn't teach, so I'm not sure we can call their teaching a gift. And the peasants who'd share their food with the monks did so for teachings. Was that generosity?

Some give because people will think less of them if they don't.

One time, in college, I wanted something to happen, so I took five dollars and put it into a donation box in the church. Then the good thing happened... so I went back and got my five dollars. How many years of damnation will that earn me?

Another time, in Mexico City, I saw a begging woman with a little child. The child, like so many poor kids in Mexico, had an older face but a very small (malnutrition) body. What did the mother do after she accepted a gift from a passerby? She went into the nearby church and gave the money to the offering box.

My parents were very generous with their hearts and time. They would work hard to help people in need. But they weren't very generous giving money away. I suppose I'm pretty much the same.

The part of the precept that is particularly challenging is "do not be withholding." It merges with compassion, doesn't it? How do I open my heart to others?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Realize self and other as one: Do not elevate the self and blame others

This is a tough one. I certainly feel one with everyone when we are getting along... when the seas are smooth. But when I want this and you want that... that makes it tougher. And so I try sometimes to fix you (one way of elevating self) and we separate further. Yes, a tough one.

In my quest for the quick fix, I heard a few days about about "radical honesty" and then read about it again tonight. So I asked my wife if we could be honest, and she said it is not very nurturing and just an excuse to be mean.

The part I don't understand is the assumption of the honesty folks that they know the truth. What they are being honest about is their perceived perceptions, which is many steps away from how things are. The most honest statement to my ears is "I don't know."

Blanton (got his Ph.D from UT in Austin) says that you'll acquire intimacy from the honesty. Buddhists talk of three conditions for skillful communication: right time, truth, and said in the right way. That is not radical honesty. It is carefully crafting what you say in a compassionate (helpful) way.

Once one realizes that we aren't separate, then our words need to change when we try to communicate. For example, "I hate you" implies that I hate myself. If we are interconnected, then, if anything, we'd want to elevate the other... so that we can ride on one another's shoulders.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What would Buddha do?

My sister Gail sent me a WWBD hat as a congradulations for my jukai ceremony.

Which led me to think about WWBD rather than do taxes (I did a little more today) or write about a precept.

According to Wikopedia, WWJD (what would Jesus do) came first from the 1890s, and then reappeared in the 1990s. Now, many are asking, what would Milton Friedman do (or say) about the seemingly "proof" that the free market will not work and that more regulation would have saved the country from the recent collapse.

I'm fascinated how we take heros ((Buddha or Jesus (or Friedman)) and try to anticipate how they'd react to current events. These were all very independent men who went against much that was "assumed and dismissed" in their day. They sacrificed greatly to leave their religion (for Friedman, the economic status quo) and strike out into new territory (for Friedman, it actually was old 19th century territory).
In any case, these were fresh thinkers who took nothing for granted. Buddha told people not to believe him because he said it, but rather they should believe his teaching because they found it to be true.

When I go to the office at the zen center and hear talk about strategic planning, development, multiple levels of membership, etc. I wonder whether the Buddha would have had any part of this. Or did he do all that in his own way?

In college I read  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius who wrote that we should live each moment as if it represented our whole life (my words after 43 years) and we could be judged by that moment. Perhaps the Buddha lived that life? I think I know one thing that the Buddha would do... like Aurelius, he wouldn't diminish any moment as being trivial. He would treat everything with utmost respect. And he wouldn't honk his horn when the car in front of him was driving a little slow.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Buddhist non-Politics

Kate made some observations about Buddhists being reluctant to be political. Most of the ones I know were pretty gung ho for Obama, but some of the more seasoned ones were more equanimous than that.

I remember the renzai priest a few weeks ago telling me that equanimity + discernment=action. I had mentioned this in an earlier blog. Buddhists don't want to leap to one side of the fence or another. Their goal is not to be right, but rather to save all sentient beings—and they will act when given that opportunity.

I remember a story that my St. Louis teacher told me about his teacher. They were driving on a country road, and came upon a fruit and vegetable outdoor market. His teacher was crazy about peaches so he looked at the peaches that two different guys were selling. It was odd to my teacher that they were similar peaches but priced differently. His teacher (probably as close to a holy man as you'll find in America) bought some peaches from each salesman. They got back in the car and my teacher finally blurted out, "why did you buy the more expensive peaches when you could have bought more of the cheaper ones?" The priest answered, "both have to make a living." Some would say that the higher price salesman were ripping us off, and the lower price salesmen was undercutting the competition (and consequently causing hardship to the farmer). Framing is such an interesting endeavor. To the priest, these salesman were more than his brothers. They were part of the whole as he was.

Tomorrow... back to the precepts... and the taxes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Apparition

I should be working on my taxes, but thinking about good and bad is more fun.

I was thinking today more about good and bad, especially since my friend was sending me email questions every few minutes. I started thinking how, before humans were on Earth, there was no good and bad. If such things exist today, they are apparitions, lodged in our head with hate, love, desire, and miscellaneous emotions. Do they exist? Does anything exist? Can you find them in a Neiman Marcus catalog... or even an old Sears catalog?

I asked one of the residents at the zen center what he thought. He said that he likes to use the terms "skillful means" and "unskillful means" because then there is no judgement (his words, not mine) and we can differentiate (my word) by determining if the action led to the reduction of suffering in the world (or not).  He then pointed out that we were all part of the same thing, so our actions are really done onto ourselves.

Is this all just a semantic game? Is there really any difference between the people who follows the ten commandments and those that follow the sixteen precepts?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Being Bad


A friend wrote, “In my mind I can not understand why a person would have to promise to be good in a public ceremony.  A person is either good or isn't.  I can't understand how saying it public would make a difference.  Is it because you are making a promise to yourself, or a promise to the universe, or to the people around you?  Is it making a promise to the Buddah, who is long gone?  Does it give you a leg up on all the people who do not see the need for it?  Does it even matter in the big picture?  Sorry, these are things I do not understand.  The ceremony was quite like the Catholic ceremony, so that is why I am asking.”

My wife and my friend were both confused by the ceremony. I suspect others were confused as well. Was I promising to be good? Granted that it sure sounded like it when I said repeatedly “yes I well!” If not, what was I saying?

Instead of going to the next precept tonight, I thought I'd say something about being “good.” I certainly don't want to be good... especially if it's someone else's concept of good. I think it was one of the reasons I quit the boyscouts... I didn't like the "morally straight" bit. What is the “good” was a question that plagued Socrates.

Am I just publicly saying I'll follow the Buddhist equivalent of the ten commandments? I hope not.

From Wikopedia: “In the Abhisandha Sutta (AN 8.39), the Buddha said that undertaking the precepts is a gift to oneself and others:
... In [undertaking the five precepts], he gives freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings. In giving freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, freedom from oppression to limitless numbers of beings, he gains a share in limitless freedom from danger, freedom from animosity, and freedom from oppression. This is the ... gift, the ... great gift — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that is not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and is unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests. This is the ... reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing; to welfare & to happiness.”[7]

So undertaking the precepts saves all sentient beings. We don't do it to be seen as "good" people; rather, we do it because it makes a healthy and happier world with less suffering. And from the Pali Canon, “Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given.” So you choose to renounce certain behaviors because you become aware of the consequences should you not renounce that behavior. It is not to be a good boyscout. It is because you see what happens when you don't. The boyscout behaves in a certain way because he is told to... or because he promised. Taking the precepts suggests to me that one will look at the consequences of their actions and do only what produces beneficial results. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

See the perfection; Do not speak of others errors and faults


"And why beholdest thou the mote (splinter) that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (Matthew 7:3)

(We r not sinners. Hey Bro, we r both Buddhas—right?)

This precept approaches the same issue as Matthew does, but from a different view point.

Imagine this perspective: that both you and your brother are Buddha nature. Neither of you have a beam in your eye. In fact, both of you are as good as they come. And the "errors and faults"—that is the stuff that makes each of us real.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Proceed clearly; Do not cloud the mind

Some interpret this to mean "do not drink intoxicating substances." I think about all the things that cloud my mind. Sometimes it is "getting and spending, we lay waste our powers... little we see in nature that is ours" (Wordsworth). So the problem isn't just drinking, but continually how I divert myself from the moment.

Once we attach ourselves to a position (i.e. Republican or Democrat) we cloud the mind. We argue for or against this or that. We can not see clearly for we have to reject what doesn't support our view and accept what does.

My father said, "you can never move too slowly." Perhaps he was saying something similar. I'm noticing that I have less of a desire to move quickly since I've been sitting. My son was surprised that I could wait for him for hours sitting in a car while he was photographing. I just would stare out the window and watch the light change.

It is hard enough to proceed clearly. Do we need substances that make it even harder?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Manifest truth; do not lie

We went to Mothers for dinner. Ok... first... today was the jukai event. I received my Japanese name: Kenshin Gyozan, which means Sword-of-Truth Looking-at-The-Mountain. It was a beautiful ceremony... and we were given our lineage from the Buddha. It is obviously a lineage of teachers, rather than DNA. Back to the restaurant. My wife asked me if I felt differently and I lied, and evaded the question by telling about one of my teachers who was told that she would feel different... and didn't. What would have been wrong with telling my wife the truth. And I did realize that I wasn't quite telling the truth (as soon as the words came out of my mouth). Maybe it is a male thing... oh... nothing can touch my heart. I don't know.

I realized that I had walked out of the restaurant with their copy of the credit card receipt. I was already miles away when I discovered it, so I called them. They didn't seem to be bothered by my taking the receipt.

Telling the truth. So maybe we don't outwardly lie. But do we tell the truth? Do we do so in a way that is compassionate and helpful? I don't know.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Do not misuse sexuality

The frog in our yard it at the height of his mating. He'll probably keep us up most of the night. Then in the morning I go to sit. After a couple periods of that I go through the jukai ceremony, given that no airplanes (or other catastrophe) hit the zen center.

The third grave precept is "Honor the body; do not misuse sexuality." I heard that a therapist for teenagers says that most of her discussions with teenage girls is about whether or not (feeling a lot of peer pressure) they should have oral sex with boys on the school bus. I suppose, for many, that would be an example of people not honoring their bodies... but who am I to judge?

The real point with this and the other precepts is that they would suggest to us to think more about our actions. Are we consciously respecting ourselves, or are we defiling our body (and/or mind)? That is the question.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Be giving; do not steal

Taking what isn't yours is a little goofy for if we aren't separate, then what is really ours? I'm intrigued to see giving and stealing in the same precept, almost as if these are opposites. Stealing is taking what is not yours, as is receiving. In one case the giver is compliant, in the other she is not.

Maybe giving is like a rush of water. If one is busy giving they won't have time to steal, where the water reverses it course. I don't know.