Tag Archives: Buddhism

The Sunny Side of the Five Precepts

Leave it to me to be presumptuous enough to amend principles of a millenniums-old faith.

But that’s how I roll.

I always think it better to phrase things in the positive rather than the negative, if possible. It’s proven scientifically, as well as by common sense, that the brain understands things phrased positively much better than something negative. Compare: We deny the negation of the prohibition of the refusal to stop avoiding tantrums. Am I for tantrums or against them? Am I for good behavior or against it? And if you think I’m exaggerating, you obviously don’t read much news of higher court decisions or legislation. It sounds just like that.

Whereas if I am all for the promotion of the development of the increase in establishing protections of human rights, you know exactly my opinion, no matter how many positive things I string together.

Watch parents and kids at the park. A kid’s on the monkey bars, struggling. If the parent yells, “Don’t fall!” the kid has to understand falling, then abstractly negate it. Often, they fall. If the parent yells, “Hang on!” the kid knows instantly exactly what’s being directed, and often is able to hang on.

Humans do things. We don’t not do things.

The way to quit a bad habit is not to obsess over not doing it. You replace it with a better habit, and focus on that.

Water only the seeds you want to grow, and the rest dies naturally.

That’s a Buddhist principle, by the way.

So really, my audacity in changing the Five Precepts is merely my applying Buddhist thought to Buddhist thought, and see where it takes me. Buddhism encourages experimentation, after all.

Here are the Five Precepts as written in Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart:

  1. I undertake to refrain from killing and harming living beings.
  2. I undertake to refrain from stealing and taking that which is not mine.
  3. I undertake to refrain from causing harm through sexual misconduct.
  4. I undertake to refrain from false speech, harmful speech, gossip, and slander.
  5. I undertake to refrain from the misuse of intoxicants or substances such as alcohol or drugs that cause carelessness or loss of awareness.

I agree wholeheartedly with all of those. But I think if we phrase them positively, then read and meditate on them regularly, all the negative stuff will be contained therein, but we won’t have to have it in our faces all the time. I know very well that I should not stab my dog with a butcher knife, and I don’t need to bring that truth to mind constantly. If I focus instead on nurturing and nourishing my dog, the avoidance of butcher knives will naturally occur.

Here is my working list of Sunny Side Precepts:

  1. Cherish all life.
  2. Love shares joyfully.
  3. Cultivate healthy intimacy.
  4. Cultivate silence; if necessary, speak truth.
  5. Cultivate clear awareness.

The same alterations might appropriately be made to the ten commandments.

Breathing as Practice

Buddhist teachers recommend using one’s breath as a way be aware and mindful. I’ve been using this as a meditation for some time.

Yesterday I was reading about how freedom and happiness require that we neither cling to nor reject any aspect of reality, but only notice, embrace and let go.

It occurred to me that my breathing practice encompasses this idea. When I breathe in, I am not clinging to or clutching the air, simply pulling it in for a momentary embrace.

When I breathe out the air, I am not rejecting it or recoiling in distaste, I am simply letting it go away naturally.

My breath can now remind me of this lesson so that I will continue to learn from it.

Bowing as Greeting

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about cultivating the wholesome seeds within us, and not watering the unwholesome seeds. Within this discussion, he talks about the custom of bowing to someone and what it signifies.

The seed of Buddhahood, the capacity to wake up and understand things as they are, is also present in each of us. When we join our palms and bow to another person, we acknowledge the seed of Buddhahood in him or her. When we bow to a child this way, we help him or her grow up beautifully and with self-confidence.

Where I come from (West Coast), you’re lucky if you can get someone to even say hello to you. Where I live now (The South), I feel much more comfortable and safe in this culture of greeting people, looking them in the eye, calling them “Ma’am” and “Sir.”

But how different would it be to bow?

I always saw bowing as extremely submissive. But then, I always thought saying “Ma’am” and “Sir” was butt-kissing as well, until I began to live it. It’s respect, pure and simple. It’s either mutual, in which case no one is lower than the other, or it’s one-sided, in which case, the person saying “Ma’am” has the high ground, because they’ve done what they’re supposed to do.

So if I were to bow to someone as a show of respect, an acknowledgement of the seed of Buddhahood within them, it wouldn’t be that I was saying the person is better than me, but simply that they are capable of great wisdom and awareness.

I realize that someone bowing would be seen as somewhat of a weirdo, but it’s still a fun thought experiment, an interesting “what if?”

Thoughts?

Can’t Stand the Heat; Getting Out of the Kitchen

This photo was recently posted on my friend’s Facebook page:

Kind of a welcome message of sanity after the whole Christian vs. Bible-thumper vs. rational thinker circus that happened here in North Carolina during the Amendment One fiasco.

Here’s a comment that one of her friends posted:

I think you all miss the point and satan is winning by splitting the church. Why is it that agreeing WITH the Bible that clearly states marriage is between a man and a woman AND standing with God now all of a sudden Hate? I think you all need to look in the mirror, seek God to convict your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see and understand exactly what you are being manipulated into. Abortion is losing popularity and we can only pray that legalized murder cloaked as a womans right is stopped soon. Abortion is not birth control, if someone cannot control themself then put God’s child uo for adoption where a loving family can provide the love and care he or she deserves. I do not understand how compromising God’s Holy Word is denying rights there is NOTHING equal about a man and a man being married as there is to a man and a woman being married. Are we really trying to become a nation of Soddom and Gamora, really? We know where it got them… Please pray about this, Please.

To which one can only respond, “Heavens to Betsy!”

But after the opposing view had its say, this wise soul added a smidgen more (which I edited to eliminate personal details that might identify the original poster or the commenter) (also, I don’t actually expect you to read this whole slew of nonsense, just put it here to make my point):

There are several verses in the bible, and before I begin I am not trying to take a stand of hate, I pray for anyone that struggles with homosexual feelings just as I do for someone that struggles with alcohol, drugs, not knowing Christ as their personal savior, the first 3 are sins and the bible states if you are living in sin knowingly it is detestable to God, whether homosexuality, alcohol or drug addiction. Continuing to practice without a desire to turn from it or change is not accepting Christ so it is not just the homosexual that risks not going to heaven it is anyone that does not turn from their sin. Most of the verses in the bible do not refer to “homosexual” most of them refer to words such as Leviticus 18:22 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 20:13 “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable…” Romans 1:26-27 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” 1 Corinthians 6 “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” The point is that the bible states that many types of sins will be exclusion from Heaven, so many think that just asking Jesus into their heart is all that they have to do and that is not it, you must take up His cross and expect to be condemned as He was as written in Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Fathers glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” The verse in Matthew that goes with Luke 6:37, Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Meaning if you judge with hatred or without knowing all of the facts (jumping to conclusions) that is how others will judge you, if you judge harshly you will be judged harshly, I am not sure how this comes into play in this discussion, other than you feel that I am judging which I have stated to you in previous posts I am not doing that I pray for them as others, I know many who are and they respect my conviction on this and our relationship is fine and they know that I pray for them daily, without hate. The part that I do not understand is this has been on most state and most other nations laws for centuries, in fact before 1994 or somewhere there about the old Greek dynasty was the only culture to allow homosexuality and they fell as a nation. Currently there are only, I believe 19 of 268 nations worldwide that allow homosexuality (you can verify on Wikipedia, many nations still enact punishment by death as cited in the Old Testament – Thank God we are under a new covenant). The above post referring to Matthew 12:31 is not just taking the name in vain it is referring to giving glory to Satan for work that the Holy Spirit performed such as stating that when someone is healed saying that it is the works of the devil is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, ALL other sins are forgivable but not if you continually commit them, God will forgive you if you get drunk but will not forgive if you are a drunkard, God will forgive if you commit a homosexual act but will not forgive if you refuse to turn away from what God states is detestable, God does not changes and for the many that think that simply asking for forgiveness gives the license to continue will be sadly mistaken at judgment and the sadder part is that many individuals that practice homosexuality to not feel that they are committing a sin and will never ask for forgiveness, that is the saddest part, many believe that most or all will go to heaven and I believe that is a mistake, there is a church called the Emergent Church, one of its leaders Rob Bell (wrote a book called Velvet Elvis (and others) very popular on the Christian circuit) that states all will go to heaven and pretty much contradicts the Bible in complete errant disregard that God’s word does not change just because society does, Bible based teaching churches are trying to get the message out that it is incorrect teaching, I do want to go back to your comment regarding freedom of religion and can’t help think what it would be like if we allowed Sharia law and the way that they treat women and have a right to kill family members if they do not follow the law, please do not take this as an attack on Muslim as it is not, I pray for them as well and pray that our world can get along at some point but also believe that much of this is exactly according to God’s greater plan. I am sorry, I am not trying to make you angry nor challenge you I am simply stating my belief’s and not trying to challenge what you are stating, the post was on my page as well, (I am not asking you to defriend me as I am not wanting to defriend you) I pray that we can both have differing opinions and even be convicted with where we stand and not have it turn into a hate fest between friends. God Bless You and I hope that you know in your heart that I am not trying to attack you I am simply stating my views as well and do welcome your feedback and comments. Please disregard all of my grammatical errors, not that I even notice them but I know that they are there.

To which I can only say, I give up. I cannot imagine wholeheartedly adopting the Christian faith and have to listen to this on a regular basis. I cannot and will not ever take the Bible literally. I really do NOT see how limiting Spirit to words on a page is a constructive exercise. I see it as the act of a childish person too afraid to think for themselves.

I do believe in Jesus. I believe he is the Son of God. I believe he died on the cross to save humanity. I believe he worked miracles, and that he was resurrected.

But I cannot be associated with these people. I cannot say “I am a Christian” and risk people thinking I agree with even half of what these people say. I’d rather say “I’m a Buddhist” and have them simply be worried that I’m going to hell. (Because after all, isn’t that what a label is for? Presenting a certain face to the world, who is going to judge you based on the string of syllables coming out of your mouth? When no one can ever really give a name to their personal relationship with Spirit?)

There’s nothing in Buddhism that precludes me believing in Jesus or studying the Bible, or anything else for that matter. But there is plenty in “Christianity” that says, “OH NO! Don’t step/look/think/be over there! That’s oogey-boogey land! The cooties will surely send you to hell!”

Done. I need to be done with this struggle, and come to peace with the fact that I can’t, as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, return to my spiritual roots, which is Christianity in general, the Catholic faith specifically. Can’t do it. I can still learn from and interact with the people and the texts and ideas. I can still accept Jesus as The Way, but I can’t adopt “Christianity” as my foundation and my path. I’m done.

God is Love

My mother and I have been having regular Sunday afternoon phone conversations for years now, and in the last few months we have turned them into a book club of sorts, which is just heavenly and makes me miss her all the more (we are currently on opposite sides of the North American continent.)

We assign ourselves chapters of some book or other and then we chat about what we read for part of our conversation.

We ran out of book ideas for the time being, so we’ve started in on the Bible.

Anyone familiar with me knows that I struggle with labels. I am a believer, but I don’t feel comfortable adopting any religion in particular.

Watching the documentary Journey into Buddhism yesterday, in which they travel throughout Asia and give commentary on Buddhist thought, history and tradition as they go, I alternated between reactions: on the one hand, ‘YES! This is exactly what I believe” as the narrator was talking; and on the other hand, “No, not so much,” when I see the visuals, the ornate temples, the gigantic statues of Buddha, basically, the culture. Fascinating, but doesn’t resonate.

It feels false to take on ideas with none of the background that goes with it.

Then I’m reading our assignment, my mother’s and mine, for this week: the first letter of John. I read in Chapter 4, beginning with verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. ”

Yes! So simple! God = Love. A rock to stand on. A declaration that I have no problem declaring allegiance to.

Further, verse 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.”

Fear is something I struggle with moment by moment, and here is a way out! Rather than compounding the fear, as I’ve heard “Christians” do so often, the goal is to be free from fear, just as the Buddha says it is possible to be free from suffering. Life will still be difficult, there will still be pain, but we don’t have to suffer or be fearful.

“Put aside all doubt and meditate on the pure and holy nature of the regarder of the cries of the world.”

Perhaps my desperation for a label is my doubt that what I believe has no value or truth unless it has a pre-printed sticker on it, unless I can hide among a group of people or take refuge in their building.

For now I stand with my mother, who knows exactly the label she feels comfortable with, and who accepts me without one.

My Job is Great for a Buddhist

I just realized that everything about my job teaching these continuing education classes is great for the Buddhist path.

One class is over every 12 weeks, with no guarantee that I will get to teach another. The other is essentially week to week, without guarantee.

Talk about being unattached!

I have a lot of control over content. I can tailor it to meet the needs of the particular students I have that week or that semester. In this way I can follow the suggestion of Thich Nhat Hanh when he talks about “Right Speech:” “The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept… Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to.”

And so in my Spanish conversation class, I can tailor lessons to the needs of these particular students. In the budgeting class, I can focus on whichever topic my current students are struggling with, or spend more time filling gaps in certain areas of knowledge.

There are no tests or grades (unless we decide we want some!) so I don’t have to waste time passing impersonal judgments when I can very well hear and observe in which areas they need more help. My Spanish class in particular WANTS to be learning the subject matter, and so it is just a matter of being available to them and guiding their progress. No need for me to “objectively” evaluate (as though such a thing were possible) and then classify along the spectrum from genius to moron. They are each just a student walking their path, hanging out in class and engaging with the material for a while.

I also have the freedom to be the instructor I feel like being that day, whether I’m in more of an entertainer mood, bouncing around the room cracking jokes, or if I’d rather get more in depth, tie in relevant ideas that give the class a more serious tone and encourage students to reconsider fundamental assumptions that might be unhelpful to perpetuate.

In short, other than staying within the general subject matter, teaching these adult education classes seems to be inspiring a very unattached career. And with no benefits, no tenure, no job security, no 401K or health insurance or any other long term advantage, what better way to live in the now?

Okay, I’m being sarcastic with that last part, but definitely trying to look on the bright side with the rest.

Why is the Buddha Smiling?

Why, if there is so much suffering going on, is Buddha smiling?

Sculpture by Jen Brom

And how are we supposed to ever be truly happy and joyful when, as soon as we move beyond our own suffering, we are immediately assaulted with the huge amount of suffering going on in the world all around us?

My Son, Suffering Terribly from a Pitched Fit

In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching Thich Nhat Hanh discusses real love, one aspect of which is “karuna,” which means “the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows,” and could loosely be translated as “compassion,” but without the meaning of having to actually participate in the other’s feeling.

Hanh then explains how it is possible for the Buddha, and for us, to smile and be happy despite the suffering of others:

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calmness and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows how to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

My first impulse is to feel rotten if I happen to be happy when I become aware that others are in pain. It feels wrong, selfish and uncaring to even consider dwelling in joy when others dwell in misery.

But if it’s true that we can only help from a position of strength? And if that strength comes from being tapped into a good place where we understand joy, love and wisdom? Perhaps that is the only chance we have to help pull someone over to the other side. Perhaps our smile of contentment and calm is the thing that can reassure the other person that there is something else in this world besides their suffering, and that as we are sharing our smile with them, the world will also share its joy.

Pure Joy, Freely Shared

What do you think? It is selfish to be happy while others suffer (as long as you are working, as Hanh says, to “transform the situation” with them)? Or is the only way to be helpful to keep one’s head above the ocean of tears so we don’t drown and become useless?

Give the Gift of Your Attention

Although I think Buddhism has a lot of good advice to offer parents, sometimes there is an idea that simply jumps out as speaking directly to those whose job it is to nurture children, such as this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.

When we are interacting with our children, do we stop our hurried, multi-tasking activity and look them in the eye? Do we give them our undivided attention, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully? Have you noticed what happens when you do this, how the child lights up, tunes in, seems somehow relieved?

I think I manage this with a fair amount of frequency with my own children (although no one’s perfect, and I am daily guilty of glancing over, nodding and saying, “uh huh” just to let them know that I’m pretending to listen to this tenth identical announcement of what their imaginary friend likes to eat for dinner.)

But what I’ve noticed is really magic is when you do this with someone else’s child. The effect that it has not only on the child but on the relationship between that child and your child is astounding to me.

Some days, when my kids are playing with neighborhood kids, I might look out the window and see them playing too rough or doing something unkind, and I holler out the door, just to let everyone know I see them.

But other days I’ll go all the way outside and strike up a conversation, not even mentioning the undesirable behavior, but just some kind of engaging interaction where I let them tell me what they got for Christmas or their trip to grandma’s house or whatever. I stand there, really listening, with the same amount and quality of attention I’d give an adult friend.

When I leave to go back inside and the kids re-engage in their activity, they are energized, cooperative, and seem happier. They somehow magically find something that’s fun for BOTH of them instead of playing aggressor/victim in some fashion or other.

Not forever, of course. Conflict will reemerge at some point down the road, but there will be at least a good half hour, if not more.

Have you noticed any magical results of the gift of your attention, either with children or people of any age? In situations of conflict or any other circumstances?

Receive – Embrace – Transform

At times along the path of my spiritual study I come to a place where I feel like many of the truths I have encountered will coalesce into a gold nugget that I can carry around in my awareness.

The latest one: Receive (with aimlessness), Embrace (with emptiness), Transform (with signlessness).  I have to credit Thich Nhat Hanh with these terms, and most of the ideas as well.  I have read many of his books, and continue to reread The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching as an endless source of wisdom.

Based on my study of Taoism, I find that organizing things by 3’s helps me remember as well as process new information.  One might at times, for convenience sake, label these 3 categories as Body, Mind and Spirit.  Being connected, the categories are extremely fluid in my understanding, and I am constantly aware of the fact that I am trying to glue a nametag onto things that are beyond labels.  As always, I do not mean in any of my written meditations to pretend to have anything figured out.  I am simply swimming joyfully among the words as they harmonize.  I am always open to hearing someone else’s impressions of what I discuss.

To remain in mindfulness, as Hanh recommends, I am experimenting with a process triggered by reciting to myself the words receive – embrace – transform.

Receive begins with mind, to receive sensory perceptions, to be aware of thoughts, feelings, impressions.  Hanh adds “with aimlessness” because if we have a goal or objective in mind as we receive input from a variety of sources, then we will color this input and not see clearly.  We must be aimless in order to be open to seeing things as they truly are and not how we want/expect them to be.  Though the stimulus may originate in the body, heart or thoughts, I associate this step with mind because that seems to be the final processing area.

Embrace is the step of accepting what is.  This process happens in the spirit or heart, where we can become aware of the oneness that exists between our own self soul and whatever it is we have just received.  Even if it is something negative, to embrace does not help perpetuate, it simply acknowledges what is real, which is an essential step to move forward.  If you are being attacked by someone, it is not helpful to pretend it’s not happening.  To embrace what is in front of you simply means to acknowledge that it is there.  “With emptiness” gives room for reality to be as it is.  If I hold something by smashing it against the pavement, it will be contorted and I won’t get a good look at what it is.  I will be manipulating it and possibly causing conflict or suffering.  If I hold my hands in an empty cup, I can embrace without interfering too much with the form or movement of whatever I hold in my attention.

Transform is the step I associate with the body, although we can take the information of an input or the energy of a situation and simply perform a mental or emotional transformation.  However, the body, and by extension the earth and physical manifestations, seems to be the realm in which change is most easily observed, in which a metamorphosis stops being a fluid and ephemeral process and becomes a solid move forward in time.  Ideally we take this step with signlessness, in other words, without a preconceived notion of exactly what it’s going to look like, simply moving in the direction suggested by events, environment, further input, etc., because I believe an openness to possibilities leads to the best possible outcome.

So the idea is, if during the day I find myself scattered, lost and/or overwhelmed, reciting these three possibilities, to receive, embrace and transform, can pull me back to a place where I pay attention, I acknowledge what’s happening, and I participate in the wisest, most loving activity possible, given the circumstances.

That’s the plan, anyway!

How Big is Your Heart?

Lately I have been struggling with overwhelming feelings of being hurt by and resentful towards someone and I feel like it poisons not only my relationship with that person but, to a small, insidious degree, the rest of my life as well.

I tried the trick of opening a book randomly (this time I chose The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is sort of cheating because every page is brimming with wisdom) and hoping to find just the answer to my question.  Which I did:

If you take a handful of salt and pour it into a small bowl of water, the water in the bowl will be too salty to drink.  But if you pour the same amount of salt into a large river, people will still be able to drink the river’s water… Because of its immensity, the river has the capacity to receive and transform.  The river doesn’t suffer at all because of a handful of salt.  If your heart is small, one unjust word or act will make you suffer.  But if your heart is large, if you have the understanding and compassion, that word or deed will not have the power to make you suffer.  You will be able to receive, embrace and transform it in an instant.  What counts here is your capacity.  To transform your suffering, your heart has to be as big as the ocean.

The Pacific

This resonated as exactly the perspective I need.  When I feel hurt, it does feel like my heart, like the Grinch’s, is three sizes too small.  I feel very closed off and vulnerable, like a little critter hiding wounded under a log.

How to cultivate a heart as big as the ocean?  How to encompass the power, capacity, endurance, the inexhaustible ability to receive and transform without being poisoned in the exchange?  I accept that suffering will return again and again; my focus is not to avoid the hurt.  It is to avoid the carrying around of the hurt in my tiny jar of a heart, where the momentary conflict displaces all the fluid of my emotional self and results in my heart becoming a little cesspool of negativity that I pull from in my interactions with others.

I have no strategies yet, other than my new awareness of my feelings, and how I imagine I might someday, ideally, handle them better.  I visualize mentally and emotionally what an oceanic heart would feel like, and it feels wonderful. 

How big is your heart?  Do you find that the smallest drop of hurt fills your cup?  Do you receive the hurt, embrace it and transform it into something loving?  Do you have any advice to share from your experiences in expanding your capacity to love?