Monday, November 24, 2014

The Noble Eightfold Path as Interpreted by Ch'onsa Kim

This is one of the best interpretations of the Noble Eightfold Path I have ever read. It is simple and to the point. Quite wonderful!

The Eight Fold Path

Buddhism does not aim to explain God, creation or eternal concepts. Such truths can only be found within the heart of a person. Whatever one holds within the heart is what is. What Buddhism does aim to do is help us overcome the chaos of this world and point us to a path that leads us to our own spirituality. We are all searching for the same things- freedom from our pain and realizing who we truly are, deep within. The Buddha Siddharthe Guatama, in his contemplation, realized the truth about suffering and the path to liberation from it. This Eight-Fold Path and Four Noble Truths make up the foundation of Buddhism.

Right View

The Four Noble Truths:
1. The truth about suffering is that it exists. Life is suffering. Birth, aging and dying is suffering.

2. Our reaching into the world of dreams, our desire to fulfill what cannot be fulfilled is what brings us our suffering.

3. Only when we have broken the mirrors of illusion can we end our suffering, and

4. the Eight-Fold Path can help us to break our habits of suffering.
When we are able to recognize suffering as it enters our lives, see that our own desires have brought us this pain, and understand that letting go of this desire can bring us peace we have attained Right View.

Right Thought

Reality grows in the garden of the mind. Our world is the fruit of our thoughts that sprout from the seeds of ideas. We must therefore be discerning gardeners, looking carefully at what ideas we allow to take root within the mind. We must be able to recognize which ideas and thoughts are born of desire and which carry the seeds of desire that causes our suffering.
The seeds of suffering that take root within the mind are those of greed, ill-will, hostility, denigration, dominance, envy, jealousy, hypocrisy, fraud, obstinacy, presumption, conceit, arrogance, vanity and negligence. In Buddhism, these are known as the 15 defilements, and the Buddha realized 6 methods for removing such defilements from the mind:

1. Restraining:
Restrain from what pleases the senses but bears poison.

2. Using:
Use all that we are, all that we have, all there is to cultivate peace.

3. Tolerating:
Tolerate all adversity, and never abandon our gardens to the wild.

4. Avoiding:
Avoid all that is impure and spoils the soil of the mind. Tend only to what is pure and that which nurtures the pure.

5. Destroying:
Remove the defilements by destroying them from the root.

6. Developing:
Never cease to develop our skills of peacefulness.

Right Speech

We are often judged by our words. Long after we leave this world, our words shall remain. Words can often be sharper than the blade of the sword, bringing harm to the spirit of a person which can cause wounds that are deeper and last longer than that of a dagger. Therefore, we must choose our words carefully. The Buddha realized 4 methods of speech that bring peace to our lives and the lives of those who surround us.

1. Words of Honesty:

Speaking without truth can be a means to our end and to the end of others. Therefore, honesty is always the best policy.

2. Words of Kindness:

Speaking words of kindness, we will never be the cause that divides hearts or puts brother against brother. We become peacemakers. Our words are cherished and valued and shall bring peacefulness to ourselves and to those surrounding us.

3. Words that are Nurturing:

Words that comfort rather than harm the heart, shall travel to the heart, and bring long lasting peace.

4. Words that are Worthy:

Speaking only what is worthy and valuable for the moment, our words will always be found sweet to the ears of others and shall always be considered in a peaceful manner. Words of gossip, untruth, and selfishness do not return to us with peace. The worth of our words is measured by how much they improve the silence.

Right Action

All of our lives we have been instructed to do the right thing. Often we are perplexed with what is the right thing. Ultimately, we must decide for ourselves what is right- but often our judgment is clouded by the defilements of the mind. While upon the Eight-Fold path, we must remember that our aim is to end our suffering. All we do, comes back to us in one way or another, eventually. What may be the right thing for the moment may not be the right thing for the next. Although this moment is the only one that exists, we must not fail to realize that within this moment- the past, present and future are contained. The truly right does not change from moment to moment. Look deep within your own heart, and you will know what is right.

The Golden Rule in Buddhism is: Do no harm.

The Buddha practiced the following code of conduct in his own life:

1. Respect life
2. Earn all that you have
3. Control your desire, rather than allow desire to control you.

Right Livelihood

Often when one begins practicing the ways of Peace, a time comes when lifestyle must be evaluated. In this life, we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the cycle of suffering and find peace. We also have the opportunity to help others break free. Does one's way of life support or hinder the ways of Peace? Only the heart knows.

Right Effort

The path is not an easy one. Our habits of suffering are strong, and deeply imprinted in our way of life. It is difficult to maneuver peacefully in a world of chaos. Many of the things that we know we must let go of are things that we have held dearly for we have fought fiercely to obtain them. Our very own self- identity may have been formed with great personal sacrifice. Discipline and diligence is key to persevering on the path. Therefore, our decision to take up the path to liberation must be firm, and executed with right effort. When we have realized the truth of suffering, and are willing to seek liberation with the same tenacity as a drowning man struggles for a breath, then right effort has been attained.

Right Mindfulness

Being mindful of the heart of matters can help us to overcome suffering with understanding. When sitting, laying or moving, being mindful of the following four frames of references are said by the Buddha to help us achieve great understanding, and can even help us unlock the secrets that are within our hearts.

1. The Body:

Paying attention to our physical being can help us direct the mind away from the distractions of the world. Focusing on our breath, our movements, our actions, our components, and on the sheer miracle of our physical existence we can arrive at calmness and clarity.

2. Feelings:

Paying attention to our external and internal feelings, observing their rise and fall, can help us realize their origination, development and decline. Understanding the nature of our feelings can help us let go and break our habits of clinging.

3. Mind:

Turning the mind upon itself, observing our thoughts, can help us realize the origination and aim of our thoughts. With this understanding, we can understand the nature of the mind and overcome our thought habits of suffering.

4. Mental Qualities:

Paying attention to our mental state of mind can help us recognize the five hindrances of our mentality (sensual desire, ill-will, laziness, anxiety and doubt). Observing their origination, development and decline, can help us realize how we can overcome them. By observing the origination, the components, the development, and the decline of things in regard to these frames of reference, we can find a deep understanding in the nature of ourselves, and to know our own hearts is to know the hearts of others.

Right Concentration

As we sail through life, the winds of desire push us toward the Ocean of Suffering. But the skillful stand firm in virtue at the helm, directing the rudder of the mind toward peace. Single-minded concentration on the path to Peace (the Eight-Fold path) is right concentration. It is picking yourself up when you stumble and continuing onward. It is recognizing why you have fallen astray. It is recognizing when you are about to fall. It is continuing upon the path without hesitation or doubt. It is never ceasing to develop our skill in the way.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Notes to Myself (or Things to Do Before Watching TV)

Notes to Myself: 

1) Think before you speak. Sometimes what you deem is “profound” may actually hurt the other person.

2) Look at your motives ….for everything.

3) When you do something that you feel is “bad” try to remember you are not as horrible as you think you are.

4) When you lean in to tell someone a secret make sure it isn’t gossip or something you do not know to be 100% true.

5) I know it’s hard, but when you’re in an argument envision the other person as Jesus or Buddha or someone you love deeply…I guarantee you’ll act differently.

6) Just because you gave up a specific habit doesn’t mean others that still do it should stop too.

7) Try not to force people to walk in your shoes. Your beautiful path may be another’s treacherous road.

8) If you feel forgiven for past transgressions remember that others may not have forgiven you. You may still have amends to make.

9) Get off your butt and go against what you’ve always done. There’s a whole world out there that can help you solve your problems!

10) Give, give, give….and don’t keep score.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams's death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

Robin Williams's death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish by Dean Burnett

News of Robin Williams’s death due to apparent suicide, said to be a result of suffering severe depression, is terribly sad. But to say taking your own life because of such an illness is a ‘selfish’ act does nothing but insult the deceased, potentially cause more harm and reveal a staggering ignorance of mental health problems

Many words can be used to describe Robin Williams. ‘Selfish’ should not be one of them.
News broke today that Robin Williams had passed away, due to apparent suicide following severe depression. As the vast majority of people will likely have already said, this was terribly heart-breaking news. Such an iconic, talented and beloved figure will have no shortage of tributes paid to him and his incredible legacy. It’s also worth noting that Robin Williams was open about his mental health issues.

However, despite the tremendous amount of love and admiration for Williams being expressed pretty much everywhere right now, there are still those who can’t seem to resist the opportunity to criticise, as they do these days whenever a celebrated or successful person commits suicide. You may have come across this yourself; people who refer to the suicide as “selfish”. People will utter/post phrases such as “to do that to your family is just selfish”, or “to commit suicide when you’ve got so much going for you is pure selfishness”, or variations thereof.

If you are such a person who has expressed these views or similar for whatever reason, here’s why you’re wrong, or at the very least misinformed, and could be doing more harm in the long run.

Depression IS an illness

Depression, the clinical condition, could really use a different name. At present, the word “depressed” can be applied to both people who are a bit miserable and those with a genuine debilitating mood disorder. Ergo, it seems people are often very quick to dismiss depression as a minor, trivial concern. After all, everyone gets depressed now and again, don’t they? Don’t know why these people are complaining so much.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; dismissing the concerns of a genuine depression sufferer on the grounds that you’ve been miserable and got over it is like dismissing the issues faced by someone who’s had to have their arm amputated because you once had a paper cut and it didn’t bother you. Depression is a genuine debilitating condition, and being in “a bit of a funk” isn’t. The fact that mental illness doesn’t receive the same sympathy/acknowledgement as physical illness is often referenced, and it’s a valid point. If you haven’t had it, you don’t have the right to dismiss those who have/do. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative, but there are decades’ worth of evidence saying you’re wrong.

Depression doesn’t discriminate

How, many seem to wonder, could someone with so much going for them, possibly feel depressed to the point of suicide? With all the money/fame/family/success they have, to be depressed makes no sense?

Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of logic to this. But, and this is important, depression (like all mental illnesses) typically doesn’t take personal factors into account. Mental illness can affect anyone. We’ve all heard of the “madness” of King George III; if mental illness won’t spare someone who, at the time, was one of the most powerful well-bred humans alive, why would it spare someone just because they have a film career?

Granted, those with worse lives are probably going to be exposed to the greater number of risk factors for depression, but that doesn’t mean those with reduced likelihood of exposure to hardships or tragic events are immune. Smoking may be a major cause of lung cancer, but non-smokers can end up with it. And a person’s lifestyle doesn’t automatically reduce their suffering. Depression doesn’t work like that. And even if it did, where’s the cut-off point? Who would we consider “too successful” to be ill?

Depression is not ‘logical’

If we’re being optimistic, it could be said that most of those describing suicide from depression as selfish are doing so from a position of ignorance. Perhaps they think that those with depression make some sort of table or chart with the pros and cons of suicide and, despite the pros being far more numerous, selfishly opt for suicide anyway?

This is, of course, nonsensical. One of the main problems with mental illness is that is prevents you from behaving or thinking “normally” (although what that means is a discussion for another time). A depression sufferer is not thinking like a non-sufferer in the same way that someone who’s drowning is not “breathing air” like a person on land is. The situation is different. From the sufferers perspective, their self-worth may be so low, their outlook so bleak, that their families/friends/fans would be a lot better off without them in the world, ergo their suicide is actually intended as an act of generosity? Some might find such a conclusion an offensive assumption, but it is no more so than accusations of selfishness.

The “selfish” accusation also often implies that there are other options the sufferer has, but has chosen suicide. Or that it’s the “easy way out”. There are many ways to describe the sort of suffering that overrides a survival instinct that has evolved over millions of years, but “easy” isn’t an obvious one to go for. Perhaps none of it makes sense from a logical perspective, but insisting on logical thinking from someone in the grips of a mental illness is like insisting that someone with a broken leg walks normally; logically, you shouldn’t do that.

Stephen Fry, in his interview on Richard Herring’s podcast, had a brilliant explanation about how depression doesn’t make you think logically, or automatically confide in friends and family. I won’t spoil it by revealing it here, but I will say it involves genital warts.

Accusations of selfishness are themselves selfish?

Say you don’t agree with any of the above, that you still maintain that for someone with a successful career and family to commit suicide is selfish. Fine. Your opinion, you’re entitled to have it, however much we may disagree.

But why would you want to publicly declare that the recently deceased is selfish? Especially when the news has only just broken, and people are clearly sad about the whole thing? Why is getting in to criticise the deceased when they’ve only just passed so important to you? What service are you providing by doing so, that makes you so justified in throwing accusations of selfishness around?

Do you think that depression is “fashionable?” And by criticising the sufferers you can deter others from “joining in”? Granted, we hear more about depression than we used to these days, but then we know what it is now. We see a lot more photos from Mars these days, because we have the means of doing so now, not because it’s suddenly trendy.

Perhaps you are trying to deter anyone else who might read your views from considering suicide themselves? Given that statistics suggest that one in four people suffer some sort of mental health problem, this isn’t that unlikely an occurrence. But if someone is genuinely depressed and feels their life is worthless, seeing that others consider their feeling selfish can surely only emphasise their own self-loathing and bleakness? It suggests that people will hate them even in death.

Maybe you know some people who have “attempted” suicide purely for attention? Fair enough; a debatable conclusion, but even if you’re right, so what? Surely someone who succeeds at committing suicide is a genuine sufferer who deserves our sympathy?

Perhaps you feel that those expressing sorrow and sadness are wrong and you need to show them that you know better, no matter how upsetting they may find it? And this is unselfish behaviour how, exactly?

A brilliant but tortured individual has taken his own life, and this is a tragedy. But levelling ignorant accusations of selfishness certainly won’t prevent this from happening again. People should never be made to feel worse for suffering from something beyond their control.

If you feel you are dealing with depression, the charity MIND has many helpful sources, but there are many other avenues you can pursue

Dean Burnett is on Twitter, @garwboy

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Buddha’s Advice on the Four Immeasurables

The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula (from "Old path white clouds" by Thich Nhat Hahn):

"Rahula, practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return.

Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return.

Practice sympathetic joy to overcome hatred. Sympathetic joy arises when one rejoices over the happiness of others and wishes others well-being and success.

Practice non-attachment to overcome prejudice. Non-attachment is the way of looking at all things openly and equally. This is because that is. Myself and others are not separate.

Do not reject one thing only to chase after another. I call these the four immeasurables. Practice them and you will become a refreshing source of vitality and happiness for others."

Friday, February 28, 2014

Refraining from the Ten Non Virtuous Actions

I try to go by this and I recite it every time before I meditate:

I vow to refrain from the Ten Non Virtuous Actions

Three of the Body:

1. I vow to refrain from Killing.
2. I vow to refrain from Stealing
3. I vow to refrain from Sexual Misconduct

Four of the Speech
4. I vow to refrain from Divisive Speech
5. I vow to refrain from Harsh Words
6. I vow to refrain from Idle Chatter
7. I vow to refrain from Lying

Three of the Mind
8. I vow to refrain from Envy
9. I vow to refrain from Hatred and Malice
10. I vow to refrain from Wrong Views

Unlike commandments that invoke guilt or sin if you don’t keep them, “vowing” to refrain from these actions shows that you are putting forth effort and you do not want these things in your heart.
It is not meant to be like “If you don’t do these then you will be punished!” We punish ourselves enough when we do the Ten Non Virtuous Actions.

Simply, my heart and soul doesn’t feel good when I hate or gossip or lie and so on so I make an effort in prayer and mediation to put my heart, soul and mind into these simple vows. We have Endless Spirit, True Nature, the All Knowing, our Buddha Nature
deep within in each and every one of us to give us the strength and grace to accomplish these. Taking a vow is more personal action. YOU want to take the action. Doing something because you are commanded to is doing it because someone else demands that you do it. More times than not we fail at that and feel guilty for not accomplishing what we were told to do. When I make a vow with virtuous intent I know I have all the strength I need from within. Within me. Within you!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Believe or How Not to Trust What our Noggins Tell Us

The mind is a wondrous and crafty thing. It takes us a millisecond to go from thought to emotional suffering. One split second to process a glance, a word, a gesture into anger, resentment or pain. We have been doing this so long that it is easier to respond that way to a perceived situation than it is to respond in a balanced, healthy way. We are actually more comfortable with our minds causing unending suffering then doing what we should do in order to be more at peace. It is possible to learn or “re-teach” ourselves how to truthfully perceive the moment, how to look at life with eyes that see truth and not lies. I have found no stronger method to do this than silence. Quiet. Meditation. Prayer. Listening. Sometimes one has to literally force themselves to break away from the alluring, juicy habit of assessing a situation and lying to ourselves about it, making that moment not anywhere near what that minuscule instant truly was. The key is to remember that a second becomes “was” and not “is” immediately. As soon as it passes, our minds go to work on it. Our minds tell us all sorts of stories about the moment that just passed and the sad part is most of the stories are not true. We have to learn to train our minds. “Mind training” is not a secret to many religions. We can start by letting go and being alright with ourselves in silence. That is where our True Nature is. In that moment false stories and lies don’t exist. Only truth. Only our Buddha Nature. Only God. We learn to heal and not believe the false pain that the egoic mind dishes out. After a while we come to know that what our minds are telling us is just a perception. It is far easier to deal with the reality that a perception is just thin air…nothing. We learn not to make the moment something it is not. That is a lovely way to be.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Improbable Journey by Shawn Coady

I was asked to write a little something about my spiritual beliefs. I think the best way to accomplish that is to take a look back at how I got to the place I am in, the spiritual journey that is my life and then attempt to roughly define it.

I was raised in a primarily Irish Catholic neighborhood.  I really didn’t understand that there were any other religions other than Catholicism.  We were not permitted to spend time with “Protestants” and were cautioned about contact with others who didn’t participate in the one true religion.  I was in high school before I really found out that “Protestants” were fun and didn’t seem to have horns and a tail.

I went to Catholic Elementary school and can still recite many of the questions presented by the Baltimore Catechism.  Who Is God?  God is the Supreme Being who made all things.  What is our life’s purpose?  To know, love and serve God in this world and to be with Him in the next.  Who are the Twelve Apostles?  Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the Lesser, Simon, Jude and Judas.  I pulled those answers readily from my mind, like I learned them yesterday.  In the words of the German Philosopher Niche, “ teach their minds  hate until they are seven years old and somewhere deep in their hearts they will always be Nazis”. A Catholic education does primarily the same thing.  I deviated from parochial education for one semester in High School where the social demands became a problem as I was too shy to mingle and too angry to put up with corporal punishment.  So I became engaged in an altercation with a teacher and was sent back to my comfort (?) zone, Father Baker’s where an angry, impressionable young man could learn valuable lessons like assault, burglary, bullying and reverence for the almighty Franciscans who could beat a young man into seeming surrender until he got out of school and took his rightful place as a curse on society.

I floundered for years with, little or no respect for law and authority.  Circumstance, and an angry judge, convinced me to at least try to look like a respectable citizen in my 27th year, having been arrested more than 30 times for violent behavior and just being a nuisance. After a short period of time I began to really try to be a good citizen.  I couldn’t stand being good, but hated the consequences of bad behavior. I sought counseling from a priest that helped me see that my biggest problem was a dislike of God, whom I perceived had failed me.  I then began a journey of discovery in my 32nd year.

I returned to the religion of my youth, becoming a daily communicant with the buttons on his shirt so strained from self righteousness that I feared they would pop.  It was in church on Easter Sunday that I really discovered that I did not believe in the core concepts of that religion and began to seek a new experience.  I tried it all.  I’ve been dunked for salvation so many times that I have an anti-dunking campaign I am heading up.  I have studied Mysticism, Metaphysics, A Course In Miracles, Christian Science, Universalism, Yoism, Judaism and so many others and found all of them lacking.  I had the opportunity to go to college late in life and found my God amongst the many scientists, philosophers and theologians I had the privilege of learning from.

It began with a need for a philosophy course to meet the minimum electives.  I studied the Bible from a strictly historical perspective, not on whether it was right or wrong. My world was rocked by the discovery that all those things I held as the word of God were historically inaccurate and basically motivated by influence of men to limit or encourage certain behaviors. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did NOT write the documents ascribed to them. They were dead hundreds of years before those accounts were written, most likely by followers of their teachings. The “historical” reports were strongly influenced by events in and around the Holy Lands. Who was warring with whom, who had the greatest presence in Jerusalem at the time; these were the context in which those accounts were written.  I was truly lost but the professor, a “Protestant”,  told me I was having a wonderful restructuring of my foundational beliefs and that I should just enjoy it and let the new foundation settle. I next began reading Emmett Fox regularly and the scientific approach appealed to me. Physics proved to me the undeniable truth that there is life after death. The first law of thermonuclear dynamics is that “Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, it can only be altered.”  Tell me then just what happens to the energy that drives this living luggage I call a body when the energy (spirit) leaves. If it can only be altered, where then does it go?  I believe into the ethers that surround us all the time. I studied the Big Bang Theory in astronomy under a passionate and respected astronomer. The beauty of the science of this kind of creation certainly must have a Cause. She proposed that if there was a big bang then something had to initiate the power that resulted in the ever-expanding universe.  She asked “Who then lit the fuse?” In the words of Albert Einstein, “I want to know God’s thoughts…..the rest are just details.”

The closest philosophy to my personal “Religion” is Christian Science. Emmett Fox’s interpretation of the “Lord’s Prayer” from the Sermon on the Mount is the basis of my belief.  The first two words of the prayer, “Our Father”, tells me everything I need to know about my relationship with God and my relationship with all peoples in the world.

In my personal opinion, to accurately describe God in words is a futile effort at best. To practice the presence of God is a more worthy expression. To love another more than yourself, to behold the beauty of a sunset or a starlit night, to watch young parents doting over their newborn, to see older lovers still holding hands, to witness giving without expectation of reward,  to weep at injustice and brutality, to greet an enemy with kindness and compassion are the things that are truly expressions of God. Not much doctrine in my religion, just a desire to be the best person I can possibly be is my heartfelt desire.

Shawn Coady is a social commentator and writer with a focus on spirituality. He resides in Buffalo, New York with his cat Top Cat.