Thursday, May 27, 2010

When do I practice mindfulness meditation? How about now?

Over the course of my life I see how I have come up with little schedules that occupy my mind, my time, my life. What does that mean? It means simply that we as human beings in the western world find little time to truly pause. Even if we have free time...completely unattached from any schedule, we will find something in our head to fill the space...A friend of mine said years ago that he never had guilt free time. When he had a quiet moment he always felt like he NEEDED to be doing something else. Do you ever feel that way? I know I have many times.

In my practice I see how mindfulness meditation helps me focus. It is by truly practicing the art of "doing nothing" that I get to the root of my spirit, the root of all my suffering and the knowledge that I am peacefully on the right path for me. I am part of the Rochester Zen Center and after leaving my morning meditation and chanting at the Center, I rushed off to breakfast with a friend and got involved in about a thousand things, including my 19 year old son's moving into his first apartment. Why do I bring that up? Because it is our nature to always find a reason to be busy. We have been taught since birth that we MUST be occupied or, at least, doing something positive or constructive. "Idle hands make idle minds." Here's a secret....THAT IS NOT TRUE! Let your hands be as idle as they want! True happiness comes from actually knowing that I am on the right path. Maintaining a healthy mediation practice is the right path for me but that doesn't mean that I have to constantly be chanting, meditating, reading, walking, praying or anything else that ends in "ing."

Sometimes all that is needed for me to live a healthy, productive, mindful life is to do.....nothing. That's right, nothing. I don't even have to think "Okay, I'm doing nothing now" because that is actually doing something. It becomes second nature but it takes practice. We have to re-wire as my friend MaryAnn puts it. And, because we have to re-wire what took years to create negative habits, we might be tempted to give up or feel that we are not moving along the path quick enough. Nonsense! We are moving exactly at the right speed!

You see, there will always be a son's first moving day or a death in the family or a friend who has problems with alcohol or a celebrity who gets arrested or a daughter that gets married or a piece of music you want to listen to...If I can "re-wire" and go along the mindful path, trying as much as possible to remain present, then I won't create schedules for myself of things that I HAVE to do. This doesn't meant that I must shirk my responsibility. Not at all. What it means is that I can lead a life void of subconsciously creating a busy agenda because that is what I have been trained to do.

A friend once told me "I you pray why worry? If you worry why pray?" That holds true here...Not so much prayer as it is faith. Faith in knowing that being present and acting out of loving kindness is essentially what I need to do to survive.

"If I meditate and act out of love in all that I do why worry?"

Monday, May 24, 2010

Matthieu Ricard on the habits of happiness

A very interesting video by an amazing, slightly off center, individual, Matthieu Ricard. His talk on the habits of happiness is pretty darned good!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Man buried alive saved by air trapped in his hat - Times Online

This is fantastic!

Man buried alive saved by air trapped in his hat - Times Online

The power of positive thinking and Buddhist meditation techniques saved the life of a Chinese construction worker.

It was a cool early spring day in the eastern coastal port of Ningbo. Wang Jianxin was working at a construction site in the booming city.

The job that day for the 52-year-old worker was to dig a five-metre ditch. There was nothing to distinguish Mr Wang from the tens of thousands of men

across China labouring in one of the biggest building booms that the world has seen.

Without warning, a wall of the ditch collapsed, burying Mr Wang under a huge pile of earth. Like most construction workers in China, he had little in the way of protective

equipment except for his tough plastic safety helmet. It was to be enough to save his life.

The rim of his helmet had, by chance, trapped a tiny pocket of air around his face. Mr Wang knew that if he panicked and his breathing accelerated he might

use up that little amount of oxygen before rescuers could reach him. He forced himself to be calm.

“I had my back to the wall and didn’t know it was falling until it was on top of me. It was suddenly dark and I realised what had happened

and found that there was a small air pocket in front of me,” Mr Wang said.

That was when the Buddhist turned to meditation to control his intake of oxygen. “I knew it would not last, so I made myself

relax and concentrated on slowing down my breathing by meditation.”

Above ground, workers were scrabbling through the earth to try to bring Mr Wang to the surface alive. Construction workers and a uniformed

rescue team clawed away the earth with their hands until they found Mr Wang’s helmet.

It took two hours but finally they pulled out Mr Wang alive from the earth that could have been his muddy grave.

Doctors were astounded, saying that a person could normally not live longer than five minutes in a similar sealed space.

One local doctor said: “It’s a miracle that he’s alive after being buried for two hours.”

Meditation has a history dating back thousands of years in China. However, it is a technique more usually

associated with Buddhist monks and doctors of traditional Chinese medicine

than construction workers. Mr Wang was one of the lucky ones on China’s building sites.

The country has a woeful record of safety in the workplace with 101,480 people killed last year in work-related or road accidents, down by about 10 per cent from 2006.

But a glance at any urban building site highlights the sporadic nature of safety measures used by many Chinese companies.

Most workers are given helmets, but in many cases that is the most that employers are willing to provide.

Many of these men are rural migrants who have left their remote patch of farmland in search of better-paying city jobs.

With almost no education and scant notion of safety regulations, they eagerly seize the opportunity of a

job and are usually too afraid or too ignorant to demand better equipment from their boss.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“Practice: You Can’t Do It Wrong,” by Barry Magid

This is a tremendous article written by founder of Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York, Barry Magid. It is really well done and quite informative. Enjoy!

I bow to the divine in you,


“Practice: You Can’t Do It Wrong,” by Barry Magid

(From the “Going It Alone: Making It Work as an Unaffiliated Buddhist” section of the Spring 2010 issue of Buddhadharma.)

Zen master Dogen (1200–1253) said that zazen was not a meditation technique but was instead the dharma gate of enjoyment and ease. Yet how often we stray from that reminder, especially when we are sitting alone.

A technique is something we can do right or wrong, well or badly. True practice is about being grounded in a place free from these dichotomies. So we need to frame our practice in such a way that we do not get lost in dualisms of right or wrong, progress or the lack of it.

I have found that a good way of maintaining this perspective is to liken sitting to looking in a mirror. When you sit down on your cushion, the state of your mind and body automatically appears to you, the way your face instantly appears in a mirror. The mirror does all the work. You can’t do it right or wrong. Approach your sitting in the same way. You can’t do it wrong. It’s not a technique to master or something you can fail at. It’s just being yourself, being your experience of this moment, over and over. It’s simple, but if we’re honest, not always easy.

Why? Because we don’t always like what we see in the mirror. We are tempted to either turn away or try to touch up our image. We want our sitting to make us what we are not; we want to be calm, clear, or enlightened. We’d like to be able to call that rejection of our self just as we are “aspiration,” but all too often it’s just another word for self-hate. Sitting, first and foremost, is sitting with who we are—what we see in the mirror. Our practice is to sit and look and say to ourselves, over and over, “That’s me.”

Cherish your questions, but do not chase after answers. Sit still amid your doubt, restlessness, loneliness, and anxiety. They are not obstacles to your practice—they are your practice.

Practice will expose the roots of our emotional distress. The Buddha taught, and our practice will reaffirm, that our underlying fear of change and our unavoidable physical vulnerability leads us in the futile attempt to hold onto something permanent, to imagine—against all the evidence—that our “self” can somehow be made invulnerable. Though we may start out with the fantasy that practice will be the road to that invulnerability, it turns out to be just the opposite. Practice teaches us to sit with the vulnerability we all try to avoid, and to gradually learn to abide within the ongoing flux of our ever-changing consciousness and ever-shifting physical sensations.

When we first look into a mirror, we naturally focus on our own face and how we think we look to ourselves and others. But if we look longer, and gradually become less preoccupied with how we look, we may start to notice that the rest of the room behind us is also reflected in the mirror. Maybe there is even a window in the room, and the world outside is also glimpsed in our mirror. The room, the window, the outside world—all that is also part of the “me” we see in the mirror. The more we look, the more we see in the mirror, the more we include, and the harder it is to draw a boundary between “me” and everything else in the mirror. It’s all “me.” So although you think you are sitting alone, you may gradually become aware that you are sitting in the midst of the whole world.

If you’re reading this, you’re not practicing alone. You are connected to a community of fellow readers and practitioners who are all trying to find their way on the path. Let us enjoy our practice together.

Barry Magid is a Zen teacher and founder of the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York. He is also a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and the author of Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide.

Previous “Going It Alone” material:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Engaged Buddhism

Engaged Buddhism is a contemporary movement that concentrates on developing Buddhist solutions to social political and ecological problems. The term “engaged Buddhism was coined in 1963 by a Vietnamese monk named Thich Nhat Hanh when his country was in the middle of war. He wanted to find a solution to all the unnecessary violence by applying Buddhist teaching in a practical manner. Engaged Buddhism seeks to apply the traditional practice of meditation and the teaching of dharma to solve situations of injustice and remove suffering whether they be political, social economic or environmental in nature.

Buddhism teaches that all suffering comes from the mind. It strongly encourages people to take responsibility for their own suffering however severe. This way internal peace and contentment can be retained and the middle path can be practiced in all situations. Engaged Buddhism goes one level deeper. It says that when suffering arises, one must calm down, introspect and then respond to the outside situation in order to help those who are on need. The reaction to the situation will be much wiser if one is calm and at peace with oneself. While maintaining the Buddhist emphasis on inward spiritual growth, Engaged Buddhism aims to reduce suffering and oppression through social and political reform.

Nhat Hanh, the monk who first coined the term engaged Buddhism is still a leading protagonist of this movement. He had founded the “order of inter being” to promote worthy social causes. He has written a book tilted “Interbeing” in which he has laid down 14 precepts of engaged Buddhism. Some of his precepts are paraphrased below.

Do not be idolatrous. Be broad minded enough to receive others viewpoints. Use compassionate dialogue not force to help others renounce fanaticism and narrow mindedness. Share yourself with those who are suffering by personal contact and visits. Live simply and share material resources with those who are in need. Do not keep anger or hatred within you. Practice mindful breathing so that you do not get lost in your surroundings. Do not create discord. Have the courage to speak the truth even if it means a threat to your own safety. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain. Practice a vocation that helps you be compassionate. Do whatever you can to protect life and prevent war. Respect the property of others. Respect your own body. These are just a few among those preached by the monk.

Engaged Buddhism does not restrict itself to the monks alone. Neither is it confined to a particular sect or denomination. Lay people from all parts of the world play an active role in practicing and propagating it. Engaged Buddhism has broken all boundaries and covers the entire spectrum of east and west. Today, Engaged Buddhism is gaining more and more popularity in the west among people who love peace and want to make a change to the world they live in. You will just need to observe what happens to learn a few things pertaining to this new concept!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Smoking a Cigar and Being Buddhist

Recently I had a very nice cigar with a dear friend of mine on a visit to her home in Bishopville, Maryland. It got me to thinking...Can I follow a healthy Buddhist path and still smoke cigars? I do not drink, use drugs and I am a strict vegetarian. I follow the Five Precepts. The Precepts provide a wholesome foundation for personal, social and spiritual growth. They are not "Commandments." They are strong suggestions. The fifth precept is:

"Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami: I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness."

Abstaining from intoxicants is only part of the precept. Treating my body in a physically and spiritually healthy way is the crux of the precept. Partaking in anything that can cause me to suffer and stray off path (too much TV, pornography, workoholic, overeating...) is part of delving into things that "cloud the mind and cause carelessness."

So...Smoking cigars on a regular basis and enjoying a hot cup of coffee or tea or perhaps a cold beverage with it...Does that make me a bad Buddhist? Tell me what you think about this....In the meantime, here is a post written by a fellow Buddhist blogger and an amazing individual, James Ure from his blog I think it sums up perfectly what I am talking about:

The Dharma Police

There is a post over at my friend Kyle's new blog about the precepts. I posted a comment, which I wanted to turn into a post of my own here about the subject because it is one that interests me a lot. I firmly believe that one can still drink a beer now and then and still be a very good, kind and serious Buddhist. As well as still take the precepts seriously. I aspire to lose weight but I still eat a cookie now and then. Does that mean all my efforts to eat healthy the rest of the time a waste and insincere? Of course not. Not everyone is able to commit to the precepts completely. So is it fair to say people who don't steal, kill, misuse sex or lie but do drink or smoke a cigar or even a joint from time to time aren't serious Buddhist practitioners??? They may not be eligible for monk hood but how many of us can say that anyway?

If someone isn't ready to give up alcohol completely then leave them be. Wouldn't it be better to encourage their Buddhist practice in other ways where the are making progress? Rather than say it's black and white and since you still drink or smoke you're not a sincere Buddhist? To do so isn't realistic, compassionate and in fact it's hypocritical. How about not eating meat? I keep all the precepts quite well except for the occasional drink, cigar or joint. Yet someone else might keep them all except still eat meat, which in my view isn't in keeping with the first precept of not killing. However, I would never call someone who does eat meat an "insincere" or "bad Buddhist." I have no moral ground to stand on to make such an accusation nor do many in the Buddhist community.

Personally, I dislike eating meat, however, I don't jump into someone else's underwear to chastise them for eating meat. It's none of my business and I know I don't like people being the "Dharma Police" with me. So if we're going to play Dharma Police then pray tell me, which of the two people is a "better Buddhist?" The non-meat eater of the non-intoxicant taker? Neither. We
all have struggles with at least one of the precepts. Except maybe the Dalai Lama but even many monks I'm sure can't keep them all. We need to remember that none of us are living how we should because if we were we won't be here in samsara right now. I do think the precepts are good and helpful but they are not commandments except perhaps for monks. Rather they are recommendations on how best to live so that we reduce suffering as much as possible.

The foundation of the fifth precept is about intoxication and not everyone who has a beer or two after work get intoxicated. Not everyone drinks to the point of acting like a fool and in a headless manner. Yes, it's true that it has that potential but there is such a thing as moderation and the majority of people who drink, smoke a cigar or joint do so responsibly. The other issue at hand here is that not everyone's body is the same. Some people can't ingest these substances without doing it to excess, however, many can handle them without acting stupidly. For example, I am able to drink or smoke a joint without going crazy. However, I know that caffeine is one substance that I can't ingest much because the caffeine can increase my bouts of mania or actually trigger one to where I get anxious to the point of real suffering.

So, I stay away from caffeine for the most part but do I condemn the thousands of monks and millions of practitioners who drink tea or coffee? Of course not--It's not my business nor do I believe responsible use of such substances is always bad or a hindrance to our practice. Caffeine is very much an intoxicant and addictive if misused yet traditionally Buddhists not only don't add it to the intoxicant list; It's encouraged to stay alert and awake for meditation. Drugs are drugs so if we're going to condemn people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana then we need to say the same for caffeine drinkers. If you have a problem with a substance then don't ingest it and get help if you need it. However, not everyone who ingests these things is doing them irresponsibly or dangerously.

And what about people who over-eat, which is damaging their body to the point of risking heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, which can all be deadly. Food can be an intoxicant because chocolate for example is stimulant with all the sugar in it. Excessive sugar intake can cause diabetes, which is another serious and harmful disease, which like heart disease, etc. causes people a lot of suffering. Yet who amongst us would frown upon obese people from attentinding sangha or trying to practice the Dharma to the best of their abilities? Wouldn't it be better to see people find relief in the Dharma even if it's not total relief than compeltely alienate them by comdeming them and calling them insincere, irresponsible or immoral Buddhists???

It's not realistic or our place to say people don't take the precepts seriously if they can't keep all of them 100% of the time but have a weakness with one or two of them. Even if you think it's a "sin" I would remind you of what Jesus said to the crowd quick to stone a woman who, "sinned" "He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone." If we are following them as best we can but still falling short like most of us then how can we not be sincere Buddhists? Who can say that they honestly keep them all at every moment of every day? None of us. I'm not encouraging killing by any means but even murderers aren't turned away from the Dharma while they serve their sentence for their crime. There are prison sanghas who embrace these folks. Yet who would call their interest in the Dharma "insincere?" Who wants to cast the first stone? I bet we could look into your life and find some stuff that you're not proud of or that would be objectionable to someone.

If you're not keeping each one of those precepts all the time then you don't have a leg to stand on when being so harsh toward others. Why not spend our time bolstering each other's practice and finding where we can come together and inspire each other rather than going around and keeping track of who's "sincere" and who isn't based on how they live their life? If the precepts were to be followed by the letter of the law then they'd be commandments. We all have to be careful not to think we're squeaky clean when it comes to our behavior. Even
IF you keep all the precepts all the time I can assure you that you're doing something else that isn't "Buddha-like." Or will do something like that at some point between now and when you die. If you were doing everything, "right" then you'd be enlightened on the edge of never being reborn. I doubt many of us are in THAT boat. At least those who might not be perfect in your eyes have found the Dharma in the first place, which while they might realize enlightenment in this life at least they are trying their best to better themselves.

We all do what we can and it's not our job to question the sincerity of others unless we're enlightened like Buddha. At the same time I think it's admirable that many keep the alcohol and intoxicant precept. Just don't get too holier-than-thou about it all or I might rescind my admiration. Ha!! The reason that I think that the precepts are recommendations is in part because Buddha knew that not everyone could keep them but he didn't want to turn people away from his teachings that would bring them relief from suffering regardless. Perhaps keeping the precepts 100% and 100% of the time is the ideal and something we should all aspire to. However, moderation is a key in Buddhism too. Buddhism doesn't require us to be perfect nor does it say the asceticism of completely giving up worldly pleasures is skillful either. Buddha taught moderation and those of us who do still enjoy some worldly pleasures should at least get some credit for doing it in moderation rather than condemned as "faux Buddhists" or whatever else nonsense might be said about us. Let's just try and be more kind and compassionate toward each other. We're all doing our best.
~Peace to all beings~

Sunday, May 9, 2010

What Are Thoughts?

Here are some good beginner words from an old Tibetan teacher - A Dzogchen guy:

Dilgo Khyentse, from Shambala Sun

The obscuring emotions of anger, jealousy, pride, ignorance and desire are nothing but thoughts. But what are thoughts? When you watch a thought, look to see if it has any substance or solidity. Does it have a color or shape? Can you find the place where the thought has arisen? Can you find a place where it dwells? Can you find where it has gone when it disappears from your mind?

When a negative thought like anger arises, look to see whether the thought itself and the ground from which it arises are the same or different. Generally speaking, when you have many thoughts running through your mind, this is called “movement”. It is the moving aspect of mind. Occasionally there are fewer thoughts and the mind is quieter. This is called “quiescence”, the still aspect of the mind. When you are conscious of having either many thoughts or few thoughts, this is called “awareness”. You should try to practice always being cognizant of whether your thoughts are moving or still, and so on. Try to observe your mind in this way. Then continuing with the investigation, look to see whether the known and the knower - the object of the investigation and that which is investigating it, are two distinct things or the same.

Meditate on the nature of your mind.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Seeing Clearer

Today I found that I responded differently to a situation that I would have normally let ruin my day, all because of conscious effort to do the contrary. Life is truly amazing. When I react out of calmness and mindful thinking I see that clearer.

"Pain pushes you until vision pulls you." Michael Beckwith

Thursday, May 6, 2010

James Ure: Spring Rain Meditation

I thought this was a fantastic posting. I don't think James would mind if I posted it again for him. It's worth the read. Enjoy!



Spring Rain Meditation and Haiku.
crackling night sky
illuminating soaked leaves
man silently sits

-By James R. Ure

James: The clouds have been crashing up against each other since last night. Swollen with water they are showering a budding expanse of green. The entrancing sound of the methodical rain quiets the noise of the bustling city and centers the mind upon the present moment. It is a beautiful call to slow down, breath deeply, open awareness and absorb the moment. Opening the window to hear the rush of water falling from the heavens is the original call to meditation. It is nature's Dharma bell gently bringing our attention in line with the rhythm of nature, which is nothing short of Buddha Nature. Meditating while it rains is a very special experience, which relaxes tense muscles and frayed nerves. It is a soothing balm to the heated mind of suffering.

So, I stepped out onto the drenched patio to silently watch the rainfall and focused my attention on one tiny area of the porch edge where water was dripping from the roof. As I took in the surroundings with my senses the rich, relaxing smell of damp Earth filled my lungs and eased my tense body. As my attention grew I noticed that in the middle of the constant rushing of water cascading off my roof there was one spot that dripped off rhythm from the other spots. So, I timed it and discovered to my joy it splattered every five seconds. A smile exploded across my face as I meditated for a few moments on the order of all things. It made me feel small in a good way--It reminded me that I'm apart of a bigger plan unfolding exactly as it should whether I'm aware of it or not.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

One way to truly enjoy life

While sitting in the sun with new friends I stop to pause...I find a big way to truly enjoy a period in my life is to be present and take whatever is handed to me. With no expectations anything that comes my way is a beautiful surprise. I try to remain present. I look at those around me and bow to the Divine in them. In this resort town called Wildwood Crest, New Jersey people smile and are gracious. I just do what I am SUPPOSED to do. What am I supposed to do? The Five Precepts. Not commandments, just sensible suggestions. Pause, right thinking and actions, loving kindness and being present. Whatever happens happens. positive and negative things that happen to me are the result of karma. It's all good. Don't you think?