Sunday, April 25, 2010

A son's advancement and being real

Happiness is when your 19 year old son contacts you and informs you that the store across the hall from where he works has offered him a co-manager, full time position, full salary and benefits. It is over twice the salary that he is presently making.

Why is this good? Aside from the obvious security and sense of achievement, my son, when initially approached about this, stepped back, breathed and remained present. He appreciated the offer but was also being realistic. Buddhism teaches us to do exactly that...step back, pause, access....BE PRESENT.

Am I a proud father? You bet. Griffin accomplished in six months what I could never dream possible even for myself. But, how he handled the situation made me respect him more and fill my heart with joyous love.

Wisdom teaches me that I am nothing. Love teaches me that I am everything. My life is a balance between the two.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pain and breathing

There was a time when it seemed everything bothered me...It was very easy to let traffic or a stray comment or look from someone that I perceived as negative get to me. When I was hurt, I was REALLY hurt. Pain in and of itself exists and it is up to me how I process it. What do we do with pain as it comes into our lives in so many ways? We can let it dictate what we do and who we are or we can step back and breathe. Stepping back really looking at my part in a painful situation and evaluating the true basis of the pain helps immeasurably.

As somebody once said, "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." Pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is a physical sensation; suffering is how we choose to experience it. Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote,

"The Buddha compares being afflicted with bodily pain to being struck by an arrow. Adding mental pain (aversion, displeasure, depression, or self-pity) to physical pain is like being hit by a second arrow. The wise person stops with the first arrow."

So you see, you don't have to run any painful situation over and over in your head. What does that do? It leads to more suffering. It makes sense to try and assess the true nature of the painful situation, see my part in it and evaluate what I can do about it.

I really do think the people of Alcoholics Anonymous have it right when they ask for:

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Breathing, stepping back, making a conscious effort to process pain and not add to your suffering can really make a difference. Of course that doesn't mean we are not allowed to feel pain. It's just what do we do with the pain once it is present in our lives. And believe you me the cold hard truth is pain will always be present in our lives so it is a good thing to learn to deal with it.

Wildmind Buddhist Mediation has some very good tips on dealing with pain the Buddhist way:

Tips to help you deal with pain

The tips that follow are aimed at helping you to accept your primary suffering and reduce your secondary suffering.

  • See if you can stay in the present moment as much as you can. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered off into the future or the past, gently bring it back. This doesn’t mean you can’t think about the past or future, but try not to get too caught up with these thoughts.
  • Investigate the process you call ‘pain’. You will notice it is in fact a mass of sensations, not a thing. Get to know it as actual, felt experience, rather than getting too caught up with thoughts about it. Notice how it is always changing from one sensation to another, no matter how dense and solid it may feel.
  • Move towards the pain. See if you can soften around any resistance you may feel towards it. This is counter-intuitive but if you try to ignore it or push it away, it will just scream louder. Use the breath to help with this (see meditation that follows).
  • Kindness and gentleness are crucial. Treat pain as you’d treat an injured loved one. See if you can find a tender attitude of heart.
  • Once you have gently acknowledged the pain you can then broaden out your field of awareness to look for any pleasure that is also going on in the moment. Notice experiences such as sun on the skin, being with a loved one, noticing flowers by the bed etc. There will always be something pleasurable in your experience, no matter how subtle. Let the pain be just one of several things you are aware of in the moment.
  • With this honest, tender attitude to all the shades of physical, emotional and mental experiences in the present moment you can then choose how you respond to things. This is the point of creativity – how we respond/act in this moment sets up conditions for the next moment. You can always insert a moment of choice no matter how far down the line you’ve gone into distress and anguish.
  • Any moment can be an opportunity for learning if we come back to the actual sensations of the present moment rather than getting lost in thoughts and reactions. See if you can let both pain and pleasure be held within this broad perspective: neither contracting tightly against pain nor clinging tightly to pleasure. Allow all sensations to come into being and pass away moment by moment.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

After the Awakening

The Buddha investigates the laws of cause-and-effect

I have heard that on one occasion, when the Blessed One was newly Awakened — staying at Uruvela by the banks of the NeraƱjara River in the shade of the Bodhi tree, the tree of Awakening — he sat in the shade of the Bodhi tree for seven days in one session, sensitive to the bliss of release. At the end of seven days, after emerging from that concentration, in the third watch of the night, he gave close attention to dependent co-arising in forward and reverse order, thus:

When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
In other words:

From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form. From name-and-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress and suffering.

Now from the remainderless fading and cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-and-form. From the cessation of name-and-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress and suffering.

Then, on realizing the significance of that, the Blessed One on that occasion exclaimed:

As phenomena grow clear
to the brahman — ardent, absorbed —
he stands, routing the troops of Mara,
like the sun that illumines
the sky.
— Ud 1.3

Buddhism 107-What is Zen?

This excellent article was written by Glenn Borken for the Fort Lauderdale Examiner


Let's continue our "Examination" of Buddhism and its relationship to the New Age. We began with Buddhism 101-who was the Buddha?, and explored the divergence of the Religion founded Siddhartha Gautama into two main branches, the Northern (Mahayana or "Higher Vehicle") and the Southern (Theravada or "Teachings of the Elders"). We discussed Kuan Yin, whose worship emerged from the Northern School. This article will discuss Zen Buddhism, a popular variant of the Mahayana School, especially in China and Japan.
The word Zen (abbreviation for “Zazen” in Japanese) or Chan (in Chinese) is a translation of the Sanskrit word Dhyana (meditation) It all began with a flower, or more specifically, the "Flower Sermon. According to Legend, Zen Buddhism began with the Flower Sermon, given silently by Siddhartha Gautauma, the Buddha, to the Arahants. Wordlessly, he lifted up a single flower and waited for an answer. Moments passed,but none responded save one. This was Mahakashyapa, who you may remember, later succeeded the Buddha as leader of the Sangha, after the Buddha passed into Paranirvana. The response was simple; he smiled. It is taught, that, through this simple interraction between the Buddha and Mahakashyapa, a special insight was shared.
Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan/Zen, a student of the lineage of Mahakashyapa, was a Bhikkhu (monk) from south India, who travelled to China around the fith century C.E.. He came to China to preach a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not rely upon words". Huike, a disciple of Bodhidharma, became his successor and the first Chinese patriarch of Zen in China. Huike was followed by Sengcan, Dao Xin, Hongren and Huineng.
Over the next thousand years, Zen grew to be the largest Buddhist Sect in China. Zen was introduced into Japan in the seventh century C.E., and was being taught throughout Japan by the eighth and ninth centuries C.E., Zen had to overcome many social hurdles in Japan since it was considered a "foreign religion". However, it began to prosper during the early Kamakura period (1185-1333 C,E,), because it had found its path to the Japanese nobility.
Meanwhile, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 C.E.) in China, the Koan (anecdote) technique had been devised. Koans, a technique exclusive originally to Zen, are a type of baffling riddle, a teaching tool used to break down the barriers to enlightenment, in order to train the mind to achieve Satori(sudden awareness).
Koans and Satori are the central aspects of Zen, which also embraces the practice of Zazen, a type of mediation that involves sitting cross-legged in deep contemplation. Koan literarily means "A public document". It refers to a statement made by a Zen Master or a discussion between master and Student, the purpose of which is to open the mind and perception to the truth. These are questions or riddles used by the Zen Master to aid in finding the truth behind the everyday images of reality. These are not rational questions with linear conclusions.
“When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?"
“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
A monk asked, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the west?". Master Joshu answered, "The cypress tree in the courtyard".
Many American Teachers, who do not consider themself Buddhists, have made use of the Koan Technique to aid others to reach Enlightenment, whether you call it Nirvana, Satori, orthe Kingdom of Heaven within you.
We New Agers welcome any technique which may unite one with the Higher Self, which we call, simply, "Spirit", so Zen Koans, with their potential as a Metaphysical Technique, not to mention their sense of humor, hold a special place in our hearts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nothing is as real as a dream

Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The love in another human being

Yesterday I went to dinner with some wonderful friends. I was overcome with gratitude when Big Jack, a new friend, paid for the entire, expensive, meal. He was so happy to do it. I realize, when I meditate on these things, that part of giving is being able to humbly accept the gifts of others. Recognizing the gift of a kind gesture or a sincere smile is a good way to begin the path towards a healthy balance of giving and accepting (I hesitate using the word "taking").

What really moved me beyond words is when I stuck around and watched my friend play a little bar poker. That is when you put money in this video contraption and use a touch screen to make a bet. I know nothing of this stuff but people seem to really LOVE the game or HATE it...or both! As she was playing I sat next to man who told me his name was John and that he was 72 years old. He could not believe I was 49. That stroked my ego and made me smile. The thing is, I was conscious of cherishing and holding dear my new friend. As he spoke I could literally feel the love in him. We were connected. We laughed, he told me about his girlfriend. He spoke of moving to Niagara Falls, New York from Rochester, New York because his girlfriend lived in NF. He also found out I am Buddhist and sincerely was excited to talk about it...He spoke of his upbringing and what he viewed as deep thought with regard to meditation.

What is amazing is that there was a time when I would have possibly joked about this man or turned away. Instead, I told him he was of value and truly felt it. I enjoyed listening to him and seeing the sparkle in his eye as he eagerly told me about his relationship and views on various subjects. this is the gist of what I am writing about:

Acting out of loving kindness and putting others before myself paradoxically makes me feel wonderful inside. That is not why I do it but the side effects are long lasting and amazing.

I also came upon this advice today:

Advice from AtishaŹ¹s Heart

When Venerable Atisha came to Tibet, he first went to Ngari, where he remained for two years giving many teachings to the dis‐ciples of fangchub O. After two years had passed, he decided to return to India, and fangchub O requested him to give one last teaching before he left. Atisha replied that he had already given them all the advice they needed, but Jangchub O persisted in his request and so Atisha accepted and gave the following advice:

How wonderful!

Friends, since you already have great knowledge and clear understanding, whereas I am of no importance and have little wisdom, it is not suitable for you to request advice from me. However because you dear friends, whom I cherish from my heart, have requested me, I shall give you this essential advice from my inferior and childish mind:

Until you attain enlightenment the Spiritual Teacher is indispensable,
therefore rely upon the holy Spiritual Guide.

See all living beings as your father or mother, and love them as if you were their

Always keep a smiling face and a loving mind, and speak truthfully without malice.

If you talk too much with little meaning, you will make mistakes, therefore speak in
moderation, only when necessary.

If you engage in many meaningless activities, your virtuous activities will
degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.

It is completely meaningless to put effort into activities that have no essence.

If the things you desire do not come, it is due to karma created long ago, therefore
keep a happy and relaxed mind.

Beware, offending a holy being is worse than dying, therefore be honest and

Since all the happiness and suffering of this life arise from previous actions, do not
blame others.

All happiness comes from the blessings of your Spiritual Guide, therefore always
repay his kindness.

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by
taming your own mind.

Since you will definitely have to depart without the wealth you have accumulated, do
not accumulate negativity for the sake of wealth.

Distracting enjoyments have no essence, therefore sincerely practise giving.

Always keep pure moral discipline for it leads to beauty in this life and happiness

Since hatred is rife in these impure times, don the armour of patience, free from

You remain in samsara through the power of laziness, therefore ignite the fire of the
effort of application.

Since this human life is wasted by indulging in distractions, now is the time to
practise concentration.

Being under the influence of wrong views, you do not realize the ultimate nature of
things, therefore investigate correct meanings.

There is no happiness in this swamp of samsara, so move to the firm ground
of liberation.

Meditate according to the advice of your Spiritual Guide and dry up the river of
samsaric suffering.

You should consider this well because it is not just words from the mouth, but sincere
advice from the heart.

If you practise like this you will bring happiness to yourself and others.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Preschoolers practice meditation

Take a breath. Pay attention as the air goes in…and out. There, you’ve just had a moment of mindfulness.

In the 1970s, a young scientist named Jon Kabat-Zinn began introducing mindfulness meditation to people who suffered from chronic pain. He found that bringing awareness to the pain helped them cope with it. The techniques were rooted in Eastern practices taught by the Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha. And they caught on in the medical world.

Over the decades, mindfulness has become integrated into treatments for physical pain, anxiety and depression. It’s put into practice at esteemed medical centers such as UCSF. And recently, its reach has expanded into some schools. Supporters say it may be just the trick to lower stress in anxious teachers and students. But there’s still a lot to figure out — what to teach children, at what age, and what mindfulness and meditation can actually do.

KALW’s Judy Silber visited a pre-school in Marin County, where children are learning mindfulness during the earliest stages of their education.

* * *


My mind is a clear, blue sky, my mind is a clear blue sky.

And I breathe in, and I breathe out.

And my mind is a clear, blue sky.

My mind is a clear, blue sky. And the feelings come, and the feelings go.

And my mind is a clear, blue sky. My mind is a clear, blue sky.

To meditate, you have to sit still. Stillness and preschoolers ? two words that usually don’t go together. But they do for Lesley Grant, the director of the Marin Mindfulness Cooperative in San Anselmo. Through pictures and stories, she guides kids between the ages of two-and-a-half and five in following their breath.

LESLEY GRANT: And now the moon has set. And the night is gone. And the sun is about to come up. So you are a flower and you are going to breathe in the sunlight, and open your petals?

The kids are hardly perfect meditators. A few have their eyes open. One little boy lies on his stomach. Still, Grant says the deliberate breathing calms them. And it’s teaching them how to be mindful, to be present and aware of their experiences.

GRANT: ?can you ring the bell, Ezra, and let’s see if we can be mindful of the sound. Ring the bell. (bell rings) And let’s listen until the sound stops. Raise your hand when you can’t hear it.

Grant’s meditation practice began 35 years ago, when she was 17. A certified early childhood educator, in 2000 she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sikkim, India.

GRANT: I stayed in a monastery where there were a lot of little monks, and I watched them a lot because I had already worked with children. I watched the freedom and the joy in their play…

I met some little nuns, too. And I saw that they were very free and alive and vital in their play. And then when they were in the gompa, the meditation hall, meditating, they could be very still and peaceful.

When she returned to the U.S. in 2002, Grant began a preschool cooperative. She included meditation and mindfulness training for the parents. And then, she decided to pass it on to the kids as well.

EILEEN BROWN: I was kind of surprised, and I was really kind of skeptical. I couldn’t imagine how Lesley was getting these kids to do all of this.

Three years ago, Eileen Brown enrolled her four-year-old daughter in Grant’s co-op.

BROWN: Then when I came in to do my co-oping shift, I was just really amazed at how the kids really meditated, and how they really could. And then, what my daughter was bringing home, like she could just plop down and get in full lotus and meditate, and she’s talking about Buddhist philosophy, and different Buddhas, and that’s Shakyamuni, and that’s Green Tara, and I didn’t know any of that, so she, sort of, started teaching me.

It’s really kind of an experiment because meditation isn’t usually taught to children. The practices are geared toward adults, and that’s where the research has focused, at least until now.

PHILIPPE GOLDIN: There’s an explosion of interest right now from many different areas in society.

That’s Philippe Goldin, a clinical scientist at Stanford University. He runs a research group looking at how various meditations, mindfulness and psychotherapy affect the brain. Goldin says specific forms of meditation can increase attention and emotional awareness ? actually change the psychology of a person. But almost all those studies were on adults. Goldin says, when it comes to mindfulness and children, we know …

GOLDIN: …very little. There are many people who are trying to implement and weave in mindfulness practices into, either the home, or school, perhaps even daycare centers. There are very, very few research studies where people have tried to measure the effects.

So far, the results for children are encouraging, though not stunning. One study out of UCLA showed that mindfulness improves a quality called “executive function,” which is the ability to stay focused and on task. Over a period of eight weeks, second and third graders who started with low scores improved a lot. However, those who started with high scores didn’t change much.

Goldin’s group conducted a study in which families sat in silence for a few minutes each day, together, for eight weeks, connecting with what Goldin calls, “the still quiet place within.” The researchers tested the subjects before and after each trial. The kids, aged 8 to 12, showed improvement in their attention. And the parents?

GOLDIN: The parents additionally benefited on multiple measures of emotion regulation, decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, increased self-efficacy, or belief in the parents’ ability to work effectively with their kids. So there are many, many benefits to the parents. The one thing we found in the kids that really was reliable was this increased ability to focus and use their attention.

The Centers for Disease Control says attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affects three to seven percent of school-age children in the U.S.Researchers say they are curious as to whether mindfulness can offer a non-pharmaceutical treatment. For adults, there’s a small, but growing body of evidence that says it might. For kids, it’s still an open question, with a lot to sort out, including whether it’s better to train children, their parents, or both.

Back at the Marin Mindfulness Cooperative, Lesley Grant is creating exercises for her students.

GRANT: We might have children open their mind like the ocean. And that’s giving them an image that helps them to bring a sense of spaciousness to their mind. Then we might ask what’s in their ocean, and they might, we might play with it like a game.

GRANT [demonstrating example]: Yes, Tobias, did you have something in your ocean?

TOBIAS: um, kitty cats.

GRANT: You had kitty cats at the edge of your ocean. What are they doing?

TOBIAS: They’re playing in the sand.

GRANT: Can you show us how kitty cat moves? And how does kitty cat feel?


GRANT: It’s a mad kitty cat. So let’s all move. Tobias will show us how the mad kitty cat moves?

[Example ends]

GRANT: And the child gets to determine when they’re done moving, and everybody is going to sit down and we see if we let in stillness — when we’re sitting still, can let a feeling move through us.

[Example continues]

GRANT: Okay, Tobias. And when you’re ready, ring the bell, and we’ll all sit and see if we can let that kitty cat run through us.

The scientific proof may be lacking, as yet, but Grant has great anecdotal evidence: children who meditated in the back seat of a car in response to a stressed-out parent; a 5-year old girl who used to act out by hitting, and can now catch the impulse of one fist with the other hand.

Then there was a 4-year old with impulse control issues. One day, about a year after he had been at the cooperative, he and a three-year old were making a puppet show. The younger child started knocking things down. Grant was right there.

GRANT: And the older boy who was four, said, “I want to hit him, I shouldn’t hit him.” And I said, yes, that’s right. And the boy said, “My anger fish is here.” And I said, Oh, what’s it like? And he said, “Anger fish wants to drink up all the water.” Which, to me, was a child having an insight about what anger does in the mind. I mean, isn’t it like that? It really is. When we’re angry, the anger wants to take up all the clarity of our mind, and this is how the child was saying that in a child’s way, in a way of saying it as a picture.

And I said, yes, but can he drink up the whole ocean? And the child said, “No, I’m bigger than the anger fish.” And suddenly, he had this experience that his mind, that his awareness, was bigger than his anger — which was the joy, and the sense of empowerment in him, in that moment — was just amazing.

This kind of emotional awareness is rare, even among adults. So it may take a long time to gather the statistics to support this kind of approach in schools. Young children, especially, are hard to test. But if Grants’ stories are an indicator, teaching mindfulness to preschoolers may have some very practical applications.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Connected to family and all life

Being with family on any day, let alone a holiday, is a wonderful time for me. I am reminded of what bonds us together as family. It is the same with all beings. We are connected with everyone and everything. That is why it is easy to practice Metta....loving kindness. We are all related. The physically dead, children, trees, the amazing is that?