Saturday, July 31, 2010


It seems to me that when we are faced with a decision that takes some time to make, when we finally make it we come up with 1,001 reasons why not to go ahead and do it! When I was 19 I went to a Catholic high school and truly felt "called" to be a Franciscan priest. I struggled and agonized. When I made my decision I questioned everything about it. You see, I has decided to do be a friar in order to give my life to my fellow man. A short time later I got in my head and ran scenarios through my brain. Was I making the right choice? Why was I doing it? Am I just showboat? Are my motives right? For the longest time I thought it was just youthful folly. Confusion that every late teen experiences when trying to decide what they want to do with their life. Years later (and many lessons learned and experienced) I grew to realize that we ALL question our least when they are rather large, life altering decisions. Decisions that will effect our immediate future and, in many cases, our long term existence. It's natural and healthy to do so. We all want to minimize our risk in any situation. But let's face is a constant gamble isn't it?

Robert Bennett said, “Your life is the sum result of all the choices you make, both consciously and unconsciously. If you can control the process of choosing, you can take control of all aspects of your life. You can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of yourself.”

Take control of the PROCESS of choosing. It's not a matter of just acting on instinct and, for the most part, fear and uncertainty, but actually controlling the process of your choice and decision making. In Buddhism we learn that we have complete control. We have the ability to reach complete Buddhahood, enlightenment. Within us is the power to control our choice process.

Buddhist teacher Sakyong Mipham wrote this great article that applies Buddhist thought to decision making:

"As a Buddhist teacher, I seem to attract people who cannot decide what to do. They are sometimes so desperate that they come to me in hopes that I'll make a decision for them. The odd thing is that after I give them advice, they often can't decide whether or not to take my direction. The problem is not that they don't know what to do with their life. It's that they don't know how to make a decision.

Decision-making is hard, not so much because of the options we face, but because we have to deal with our own mind. We're confused by indecision. That agitation comes from opposing thoughts. We are uncertain about what to do, and we are thrown off balance. Which thought should we follow? Which line of reasoning is best? We haven't developed a clear motivation for our life, or a standard for sorting through the options.

In order to make a decision, we must know what we are seeking. Most of us want long-term happiness, but we can't decide how we would bring that happiness about. It may feel as though life is moving so quickly that we are not really deciding, we are just reacting. We are constantly being swayed by short-term pleasure.

One of the great texts on rulership recommends that the king or queen carefully contemplate every decision based on how it will create benefit for others. This is a shortcut to the path of virtue. In the Tibetan tradition, "virtue" doesn't have a heavily moralistic or religious overtone. It is a process of developing the wisdom to see clearly how the world works, and the compassion to always hold the welfare of others in mind.

The path of virtue is not a meaningless form of etiquette. The Buddha didn't become enlightened by being polite. He saw how life works and respected the guiding principles of the universe. He learned how to use the law of karma to everyone's advantage by deciding to engage in virtue.

The word "karma" means action. Every decision we make creates action, and every action creates a reaction. Whatever we decide to do will have some kind of effect. The outcome is sometimes obvious and immediate—we knock over a glass of water and the floor gets wet. Other effects may take longer—we gossip about somebody and later, people gossip about us. With other actions, it isn't clear when the result will come about.

Karma works in two basic ways. If we act virtuously, the effect is happiness. If we act unvirtuously, suffering results. If we're at the cosmic bank and we give a couple of nonvirtues to the teller, what they give us back is based on the currency of pain. If we are self-obsessed and angry, the currency is suffering. If we give the teller virtue, what we get in return is in the currency of happiness. The happiness we get in exchange for virtue could happen on the spot or in the future.

When we're making a decision without a clear motivation, we get confused. We don't know what kind of karma we're creating. Contemplation teaches us through experience and technique how not to be swayed off the path of virtue. It is a way to sharpen our ability to self-reflect. Looking at our options with the question, "How does this benefit others?" widens our perspective and gives us a barometer to discern what we should cultivate and what we should discard. In Tibet, this ability to discern is called payu.

Payu is the beginning stage of wisdom. It is a moment of reflecting on the results of what we do before we do it. "Will this action take me in the direction that I want to go?" That moment is the first step in taking charge of our life. With payu, we become like a tiger who moves through the grass in a confident, disciplined, and careful way. When the tiger places his paws, there's an element of respect. What is it that the tiger is respecting? The law of karma.

With payu, we begin to develop inner wisdom, prajna. Prajna is a Sanskrit word that means "the best knowledge." What is the best thing to know? Ultimately, the best thing to know is how reality works. Knowing that life operates according to the principles of cause and effect, we don't have the luxury of being cavalier. We can't blindly engage in negative activity, expecting it to turn out well. We need to now short-circuit this process and do the right thing.

Sometimes we know what to do, but we lack the strength to do it. The small-minded perspective of "me" is holding us back. What takes us beyond ignorance, self-centeredness, and anger? Payu reveals to us what to cultivate and what to discard. When we see the best thing to do, we get some perspective and let go of our small-mindedness. We can make a clear choice. Having made our decision, we move forward without doubt.

The text on rulership tells us to sit with our options and contemplate them, and certainty will begin to arise. Having made a decision, stick with it; don't look back. Changing our decision sets up a bad habit. It reinforces decision-making as an expression of bewilderment and ignorance, instead of wisdom and freedom. Lack of certainty then thickens our consciousness, and decision-making becomes even harder.

Our decisions have karmic power. With payu and prajna, we can learn from our mistakes. We see that when we make decisions based on cultivating excitement or desire, things don't work out so well. When we decide to solve our problems by getting angry or greedy, we become trapped by those actions. Our decision results in an ongoing argument or crippling attachment. On the other hand, when we make decisions with others in mind, we are cultivating compassion, patience, generosity, or forgiveness. Peace and harmony result.

The more we practice decision-making according to these meditative principles, the more we understand how they move us forward. We see that deciding to expand our minds, put others before ourselves, and engage in life with compassion and wisdom is a powerful way to live. Following virtue causes happiness for us as well as others.

I once heard His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, one of the great meditation masters of our time, advise his monks and nuns that it is important to have big plans. If we do not think big about how we can help others, then we will not be able to accomplish very much. Even if we aren't able to accomplish what we decide to do, if we're thinking of others instead of ourselves, we will have cultivated our enlightened qualities in making that decision.

A person who has decided to put others before themselves is known as a buddha, which means "awake." We have awakened to the best thing to do with our lives—use compassion and wisdom to move forward on the path of virtue. Once we are in tune with life in this way, making decisions isn't so difficult. Our concern becomes how to express what we're sure of—that we can accomplish our own happiness by choosing activities that will bring about happiness for others."

So you see, we do have the ability to take control of our thought and therefore, our decision making process. Being mindful and breathing, stepping back and focusing, enables us to make a healthy choice and be confident in our decision.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friendship & Music

Yesterday was an amazing time. As a professional musician I am blessed to get paid to play music and bring the listener to a different world....and get paid for it. My friends and I got together and I set up my PA and equipment. This was not a paid show. It was a time to let loose and enjoy the present moment. I had a dear friend drive hundreds of miles and others brought food and smiles. Anyone could jump up and sing or play. It was fantastic. As a Buddhist I have a path I feel I must walk to get closer to being a bodhisattva and reach enlightenment. Putting others before me is a wonderful goal. How easy it is to think of others first when people are amazing and full of love!

My friends smiled and sang...prepared food and tapped their feet. I looked out over the crowd and watched adults and their children enjoy a sweet summer day. I love my fellow man but I also appreciate a good moment where life just flows over easily like a lazy dog sleeping under the porch. The point is to appreciate EVERY moment, positive and negative. Being present and clearly understanding the moment for what it is is part of the Eightfold Path. Understanding, follow through.

Friendship and music are two aspects of my life that are extremely positive and enjoyable. Positive is also seeing the lesson in every moment, everything we do. I live. I learn. I play music with friends. Pretty darn good.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Technology. When to say when

Today the Italian Buddhist got an iPad. Now I have an iPod Touch, an iPhone 4, an iPad and a Dual Core iMac. I guess you can call me iBhodi. Technology is amazing! The things we can do today boggle the mind. When I was a child in order to do any research I had to dust off the old encyclopedia and get to I can instantly tap into the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian. I guess that is good BUT...Buddhism teaches us to let go of possessions and not frantically hold on to such things to the point that it determines our happiness. So, I am fortunate to have such things as an iPad but I must look at things in the proper light...I don't really need all these things but it certainly makes life a bit easier from a work standpoint. Also, the "fun" factor isn't too bad either. There is nothing wrong with enjoying what you have. The challenge is to not rule your life by all the gadgets and goodies life has to offer.

I temper my usage with quiet times where I just meditate or read. Technology also gives me the opportunity to further my meditation practice. I can download Dharma talks, communicate with my mentor and read pertinent texts. So you see, one can make use of these things but not get weighed down with constantly wanting more things. Right thinking and right acting certainly includes right actions. Right actions with regard to technology means I must look at my desires at the root and question how I feel and what my motives are in wanting more or collecting more stuff. It is simple but not easy. We are surrounded with advertising and media that promotes getting more "stuff."

So go ahead and use your iPhone or Blackberry but don't be a slave to all the things you have acquired. Think, breathe...give. Enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Independence Day Sermon

Recently I reconnected with a brilliant friend after almost 30 years. She gave a sermon at Westminster Presbyterian Church on July 5 and it was so successful she posted it online. Here it is in its entirety. Gwen Ito is a Yale educated marketing professional and freelance writer. To quote Gwen "Crackerjack editing skills; versatile writing ability; an eye for detail and a heart for risk-taking; a passion for great creative work, along with a respect for sound strategy. I consider myself an increasingly wise (as opposed to old) dog who isn't afraid to learn new tricks. Whether you need help editing your serial commas, or advice about using Twitter effectively, I can help." Gwen is not a minister but is a gentle spirit with an amazing brain. Here is her post:

Sermon preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church
July 5, 2009

Yesterday we celebrated our two-hundred-thirty-third year of independence. Today, at the end of the service, we will sing a hymn that could easily be mistaken for our national anthem. The words are an unabashed expression of love for a country characterized by “spacious skies,” “purple mountain majesties” and “alabaster cities.” Quite frankly – and with no offense to Francis Scott Key – I prefer it to “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Having traveled and lived abroad for a few years, I hope I’ve developed a relatively mature appreciation of everything our country has to offer, both politically and culturally. And judging from recent world events, we have many reasons to feel proud of, and grateful for, our democratic tradition.

But to tell you the truth, July Fourth has never been one of my favorite holidays. It’s not the holiday itself – yesterday, in fact, I read the Declaration of Independence and listened to Ray Charles’ rendition of “America, the Beautiful.” No, it’s the pomp and circumstance with which we tend to celebrate our birthday. I’ve just never been one for marching bands, boisterous crowds and loud fireworks. My paternal grandfather, on the other hand, loved Independence Day. He delighted in the grand parade that each sultry July would work its way down Temple Avenue in Ocean Park, Maine. A former chaplain from World War II, he sometimes wept at the sight of the American flag, especially when a miniature version was being waved about by his exuberant grandson. Gramps was a lifelong Republican and member of the Kiwanis Club; he had served as a town councilman after his retirement. The summer before he died, he was invited by the town leaders to ride on the fire engine in the annual parade. I’ll never forget how happy he looked that day; his body may have been weakened by a heart attack, but his spirit soared.

I do respect how my grandfather chose to honor July Fourth. I am just less comfortable with very public displays of patriotism, especially if they inspire an unwavering belief that we are somehow the best, and the only, nation that God has blessed. For me, the challenge is to feel grateful and respectful, while maintaining humility and a sense of connection with something larger than our national identity. So during a weekend when we celebrate both our independence as a country and our individualism as Americans, I would also like to affirm our interdependence as human beings.

We each have our own journey in this life, but none of us is truly alone. You and I have each other – when we allow ourselves to be brave enough to give, and vulnerable enough to receive.

When I volunteered to be a lay preacher several months ago, I did so out of a sense of stewardship, excitement, and to be honest, with a degree of hubris. I felt sure of my ability to ascend the pulpit, stand here in front of all of you and fill the sanctuary with elegant, upbeat pronouncements of my faith. After all, I had survived a year of teaching antsy teenagers in confirmation class. How hard could it be to talk to a group of reasonable adults for a few minutes?

But then something happened. On May 28, I became one of the many people contributing to the current 9.5% U.S. unemployment rate. One day, I was the cool copywriter at a local ad agency; the next day, I was just another laid-off American. One day, a confident wage-earner for my family; the next day, just another middle-aged white-collar worker in need of a job.

Now of course, I was still in much better shape than many folks. But an impoverished spirit can cut across socio-economic lines.

So when it came time to begin thinking about this sermon, instead of feeling the words flow right onto my computer screen, I suffered some of the worst writer’s block I can remember. Not quite as bad as my college days, when I had procrastinating down to an art form, but pretty darn close.

You see, it’s hard to feel God’s presence when you’ve been stripped of your familiar routine, are unsure of the next opportunity and anxious about financial responsibilities.

It’s hard to experience such a huge loss of control. It’s scary, shocking and disorienting. It’s a real ego killer, all right. Not since my divorce more than a decade ago did I feel so exposed and helpless. I told one friend I felt like I was in the midst of a career free fall.

It’s just a tough time in this global economy, especially when we, children of the middle class, have become accustomed to planning for a secure and predictable future.

Yet even as my pride was adjusting to the surreal nature of having nowhere to go each morning, I was moved by something more powerful than my own self-consciousness and fear: the compassion and empathy of so many people. Some of these folks – a few of them are here right now – know me quite well and others, not well at all. They inundated me with advice, offers of help and words of comfort. I am still overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit.

There I was, experiencing anew something I had taken great pains to explain to a few dubious kids in the confirmation class: the force and beauty of God’s love, as manifested in the actions of others.

Friends, the Holy Spirit is not just inside us, but around us. Indeed, God’s infinite, immeasurable love works through each of us – and between us. It’s a force so real and expansive, I believe it can flourish between Christian and Christian, Christian and Jew, Jew and Muslim, “believer” and “nonbeliever.” You and me. God’s power and love are felt in our relationships with each other.

So out of this crisis has come clarity. A renewed sense of what really matters, and how much we matter to each other. William Sloane Coffin writes: “Many of us overvalue autonomy, the strength to stand alone, the capacity to act independently. Far too few of us pay attention to the virtues of dependence and interdependence, and especially to the capacity to be vulnerable.”

Today’s New Testament reading is an excerpt from one of Paul’s letters to the church leaders in Corinth. It’s not the familiar passage about faith, hope and love that we all know from 1 Corinthians, but rather, a more abstruse passage from the apostle’s second letter. I had to read it several times to plumb its depths. It’s one of those scriptures that remind me just how much I don’t know, how much I still need to learn.

Let me try to summarize. Paul has been writing to the early Christian leaders, who have called him out for not demonstrating powers suitable for an apostle. Referring to himself in the third person, Paul uses the rhetoric of a “fool’s speech” to highlight just the opposite of what the Corinthians are stressing. His glimpse of paradise represents the most sublime of personal experiences; his mention of the persistent thorn in his flesh denotes the cruelest. Paul gives us a very dramatic description of the highs and lows of our human condition, reassuring us that through God’s grace we find strength.

Now it’s important to consider what boasting of weakness does not mean. By admitting our weakness, we are not abdicating our responsibility to keep trying and to do our best. In fact, it would be all too easy to wallow in our imperfect state, never trying to improve ourselves or change destructive patterns. The trick, I think, is to acknowledge our limitations without losing perspective and succumbing to despair. We can never let the status quo crush the potential for hope, and positive, healthy change. In fact, to do so would be to indulge in spiritual passivity or even laziness.

Remember what Paul is telling the Corinthians: “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” The language may be melodramatic, but his message is clear: his suffering is ultimately what saves him.

One Christian scholar puts it this way:

2 Corinthians fills much the same place in the New Testament as does the book of Job in the Old. It is a letter written by one whose heart has been broken by the many intolerable burdens heaped on him… If in Romans and Galatians we see the apostle [Paul] ‘proclaiming’ the cross with might and main, in 2 Corinthians we see him ‘bearing’ the cross, and bearing it triumphantly.

Have you noticed that this sanctuary has no American flag? I think that’s a good thing. The purest symbol for us, as Christians in worship, is the cross. There can be no other. God is not a Buffalonian or a New Yorker. God is not an American. God does not belong to us. We, as children of the world, belong to God. And it was through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, his son and our Lord and Savior, that God’s promise of love and salvation was fully revealed.

So there is the cross – the perfect symbol of strength in weakness, the ultimate symbol of God’s love. And in a few moments, we will share in the Lord’s Supper, another poignant reminder of God’s grace.

Are we attentive enough to recognize it? Mature enough to receive it? Humble enough to accept it? Strong enough to live it, each and every day?

I know I don’t always feel so strong. On more days than I care to admit, I falter – especially these days, when I don’t know where I’m going, let alone how I’ll get there. But I do know this: I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone.

We have each other, and we have Jesus. And even when we try to keep God at arm’s length or shut God out completely, God has us.

So during this time of fireworks and barbecues, celebration and reflection, fear and hope, I would like to reaffirm not just our dependence on each other, but also our ultimate dependence on God.

I am reminded of a childhood friend who died five years ago. Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at thirty-three, he ended up living several months past his doctor’s expectations. He spent much of that time enjoying his family and reconnecting with friends. In the last email message I got from him before he went to hospice, my friend wrote: “One great thing to come of all this. I’m drawing closer to God and realizing that, in the end, that’s all that really matters.”

In a time of uncertainty, it’s natural to feel lost, angry, sad, out of control, terrified. But even life’s most unsettling free fall can become a gift that brings us closer to God.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” the apostle writes.

What better way to find our faith than to lay ourselves bare, embracing our humanity while allowing God’s grace to flow in and through us?

We will stumble and we will fall in this life. Often. And sometimes the drop will feel endless and almost unbearable. But not impossible. For when we find ourselves in a truly vulnerable position, I think the best way to fall – perhaps the only way – is up.


Based on the New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

No need to worry about my employment status, as my current path is leading me slowly, but surely, in a direction that feels right. It's pretty exciting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Change...what's the big whoop tee do?

Leo Babauta has written a really fine piece on change. He hits the nail right on the head...I hope you like it.


The elements of change

‘Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transience, we suffer.’
~Shunryu Suzuki

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Change can be a difficult thing. Most people want to change their lives, in some way, but find it difficult to either get started or to sustain the change for very long.

I’m happy to report that after years of studying it, I’ve become fairly good at it (though happily failing all the time). I actually relish change, not because I feel I need to improve my life, but because in change, I learn new things. Constantly.

What have I learned from my changes? I could write a book on this (and probably will someday), but the essence can be found in the space between the inevitable fact of change, and in the incredible resistance to change inside ourselves and in the people around us. We want to change, and yet we don’t. How do we resolve this tension?

It can be incredibly difficult, or it can be wonderfully joyous. I’m here to show you the elements of the joyous path to change. The difficult path … I think we can each easily find that on our own.

My Recent Changes

I’ve made dozens of changes over the last few years (read My Story for a partial list), but here’s a short list of a few I’ve made just this year:

Lost over 40 lbs since last year. I’ve not cared as much about losing weight — it’s just a number — but more about losing some fat and getting fit. The weight loss has really been a side effect of that focus. I’ve tried a lot of different methods, but I’ve found that only two things matter, and they’re ridiculously obvious: cut back on calories and increase the calories you burn through activity. Finding ways to do those two things has been the fun part.

Gave up our car and walk, bike or use public transit everywhere. I’ve slowly been reducing how much I use a car, and increasing biking and walking. Then we drastically made the change just a few weeks ago when we sold our van, moved to San Francisco, and have been car-free ever since.
Began walking more. Obviously this goes with being car-free, but even when we had our van I would walk for an hour or three on many days, just for the simple pleasure of it.

Eat foods with no or little packaging. From bulk bins or farmer’s market, with reusable containers, if possible. I strive for fresh fruits and a variety of veggies, plus beans and nuts and whole grains and seeds. None of this needs packaging, all of it is great for you.

Gave up almost all of my possessions. I was slowly whittling away at my possessions, then took a huge leap when we sold or gave away almost everything and moved to San Francisco. We’ve bought some furniture (mostly used) but haven’t come anywhere near the (modest) amount of possessions we had before.

Started working less. A task needs to meet a high threshold of importance for me to consider doing it these days. This means I work fewer hours but am more effective during those hours.

Drastically reduced the time I spend online. I love online reading, and connecting with others, but it can really eat up your life if you let it.

Focused more on being in the moment.

Stopped setting goals and planning so much. I used to be a rigid planner and goal setter, just a couple years ago. I’ve dropped that habit, mostly.

Instead, embraced going with the flow.

Again, this is a short list — there are others that are less noteworthy, and probably a few I’m forgetting.

The Elements of Change

So what’s the joyous path to making these changes and others? I’ve broken it down into six elements, many of which overlap and have very blurred lines. They’re useful, though, in considering how to make potential changes in your life.

1. Beating inertia. We all have inertia — that resistance to change, especially major change that disrupts our living patterns or way of thinking. Sometimes it’s not difficult to overcome — we can get excited to make a big change and want to overhaul a certain part of our lives. The joyous path, though, is in the middle ground between no change and drastic change. It’s in small changes — as small as possible. Small changes mean it’s not hard to get started, but also that the change is sustainable. If you make a drastic change, there is a great likelihood that it won’t stick very long.

If you’re feeling that inertia, set out to make as tiny a change as you can — just get out and walk for 5 minutes, or start writing or painting or playing your violin for 5 minutes. You can do anything for 5 minutes — it should seem ridiculously easy, but that’s the point.

2. Beating the resistance of others. This resistance can be even tougher to beat than your own inertia — very often people in our lives do not want change. They’ll be negative, or even actively try to stop us from changing. There are various strategies for beating this: ask for their help and get them on your side, or negotiate a way for you to make change without disrupting their lives too much, or if necessary, cut them out of your life for a little bit. Read more.

3. Finding the joy. Here is the key to it all. Forget the rest of these steps if you need to, but never forget this one. Doing something you hate is possible, for a little while, but you’ll never sustain it. If you hate running, you’ll never keep up the habit for long. You need to find the joy in doing the activity, and when you do, you’re golden. So either choose an activity that you love, or find something to love in the activity, and grab on to that.

4. Keeping the joy alive. Joy can be fleeting, and to keep it going, you need to nurture it. This is an art form, and I can’t give you step-by-step instructions here. If I could, I’d be a billionaire, as it would change the world. But some advice: be grateful for your joy, every day. Be in the moment with that activity, instead of having your mind drift elsewhere. Refresh your joy often, by starting over or approaching things from a new angle or doing something a bit differently. Find new people to share this joy with, people who love it as much as you.

5. Celebrating the little victories. We often get discouraged because we’re not as far along as we’d like: we don’t have those six-pack abs yet (after a month of exercise!) or we’re not a full-time blogger yet (after three months of blogging!). But we forget how far we’ve come. Every step along the path is a victory, not because we’ve accomplished a goal but simply because we made the step. Celebrate those steps — jump up and down in joy, scream Halelujah, brag about it on Facebook, post a victorious message in bold marker on your fridge. You rock.

6. Making it a part of your life. Whether a change stays with you forever or not, making a change has value, in the momentary joy you get from doing it, and in what you learn from it. But making a change stick can be a great thing. To integrate change into your life, it must become a part of your daily routine. If you want to meditate, you need to do it at a regular time: right after having your coffee and before showering for work, for example. Having the coffee becomes your trigger for this new habit, and as the coffee is already integrated into your life, it becomes an anchor upon which this new habit will be grounded. The more times you do the new habit after this trigger, and the more regularly you do it, the more firmly it will stick.

And lastly...

One last note, to anyone making changes: you will fail. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to release you from the fear of failure … because if you already know it will happen, then there’s no pressure to avoid it. Failure is an inevitable part of change, and in fact it should be celebrated — without failure, we’d learn nothing. Fail, fail often, and learn. Then you’ll be better equipped for the next attempt. Find joy in every attempt, in every victory, in every failure, and the change will be a reward in itself.

‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ ~Samuel Beckett

Monday, July 12, 2010

Is there room for "self" in religion?

I found this article to be quite interesting and wanted to share it with the "Italian Buddhist" community. Write in and tell me what you think of Parchelo's article.

Is there room for the 'self' in religion?

By Rev. Ray Innen Parchelo, The Ottawa Citizen July 4, 2010

Ottawa, Canada -- This is a defining question for Buddhism, one that has lead to many misunderstandings. Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, taught that our lives are stained by three characteristics -- a pervasive lack of satisfaction, an impermanence to all phenomena and the absence of any permanent self.

There is no undying self or soul that transcends earthly life, nor are we eternal spirits trapped in mortal bodies.

Further, he identified our clinging to such a permanent self as the prime cause for human suffering, and outlined a way -- the Buddha-dharma -- for its relief. Buddhism accepts self with a twist by referring to this apparent self as "non-self," a way to remind us of its transient nature. We need a light touch when we speak of I-me-mine.

The first common misunderstanding of non-self is the accusation that Buddhism is "life-denying" or nihilistic because, the argument goes, it sees this self and this life as illusions.

Buddhism does not deny the validity of our day-to-day experience, including our sense of that as personal experience. There is no illusion. Our self, while real in a conventional sense, lacks the permanence we attribute to it. Self is no different from any other experience in that it arises and passes away.

We are encouraged to employ whatever wholesome means we have to drink deeply from our personal experience. Four aspects of self, body, breath, speech and mind, are often referred to as the Four Foundations of mindfulness of life. An acceptance and awareness of life's flow is a positive affirmation of the beauty of life and our experience of it.

Secondly, many people mis-attribute some teaching of reincarnation to Buddhism.

Clearly, since there is no permanent self, there is no entity to travel from life to life. The Buddha taught the flow of causes and consequences.

Whatever we intend and enact, be that physically or mentally, has its results.

Like the movement of a wave in the ocean, the momentum of what we think and do propels and shapes what arises in the future, but not as a personalized self.

Rev. RAY INNEN PARCHELO is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Learning from mistakes

Recently I saw myself react to certain situations in quite a negative way. By negative I mean that I was very concerned with getting my way. When I ask an individual to do something specifically because I don't like it or that is not how I would do it I go against the principals of Buddhism.

It makes plain sense to do the right thing. Putting others before myself and listening are key. We as human beings do not have the right to demand that people act a certain way or do what we want. It's okay to help others but we must let them follow their own path.

Suffering increases for all involved when motives are self centered. ALWAYS ask yourself why you are saying something to another. Is it to help? Is it to educate or illuminate a subject? Or is it self centered, tearing down an individual or speaking without absolute certainty? Many times when we are hurt by someone we will tell anyone who will listen how the other person hurt us instead of focusing on ourselves. Trying to get a person to be on our side doesn't support right acting. "Do you know how that person hurt me?" is not a phrase that is the slightest bit helpful. Conveying how a person slighted me or "made" me feel isn't productive. It doesn't educate or help a person and it continues to perpetuate swimming in a sea of samsara. I must remain vigilant. What is my motivation in any situation.

No use punishing yourself though if you are practicing mindfulness. We all stumble. The trick is to remain grateful and aware of the present moment. We all strive for the same thing. By acting positive everyone benefits.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Two Types of Dharma

There are two types of Dharma, outer and inner. Inner Dharma means Buddhadharma; outer Dharma refers to the non-Buddhist religions, the religions followed by non-Buddhists. Of these, there are five divisions.1 By practicing outer Dharma, you can receive only temporary, samsaric pleasures but you cannot receive enlightenment. To become enlightened, you have to practice inner Dharma,Buddhadharma.