Thursday, October 16, 2014

Autumn Haiku (sort of….)

There is a fly on the inside of one of our windows, it’s been there for days - it seems to choose to stay there, it won’t leave - this morning it seemed to be looking outside at a spider spinning a web…..I had this thought:

"The fly inside curses the window that keeps it from the freedom of the spider's web outside.”

It reminded me of something I’d read before:
"For so much of our lives, what we want, who we’d like to be, what we’d like to accomplish, is oftentimes right on the other side of that window. We can see it ever so clearly. However, because our focus is locked onto the goal, we blindly attempt to get there by the only means we know how. That may be what we deem as the easiest path, but many times there are alternatives that we’ll fail to notice in our blind desire to simply get there. Sometimes those alternatives will require us to work harder or smarter, and we shy away from them, because it’s safer to stick to what we know, to simply stay where we are comfortable. The unfamiliar street or dark alley scares us. Other times we don’t know any better, and refuse to consider there may be a better way. 

The path of which could very well be the one of least resistance”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Prisoner of the Mind

This morning's twenty minute meditation was one of those experiences that I quite often have when I'm attempting to "calm" the mind; I call it "concentrated worrying." When everything that I don't want to think about becomes the primary focus of my mind!

It seems to be evidence that I am definitely not my mind. The strangest observation that I make while meditating in this way is that while my mind is attempting to draw all my attention to distracting thoughts,  I appear to be on the "outside" of my mind, somewhere - watching this happen and bringing my thoughts back to my mantra, over and over again, like I'm training a puppy....t t

When I hear others speak about their experiences with meditation I am led to believe that either they are exaggerating about the calmness and alert focus that they say it gives them - or that I am doing it wrong.

How many of the personal testimonies about the experience of TM are a kind of "Emperor's New Clothes" tale?

If I'm completely honest - meditation seems to do nothing more for me than expose the reality that I am a prisoner of my mind and emotions.

Last night I read Dan Harris' book about his discovery of meditation called "10% Happier."  I think this book has made me realize that my expectations of the results of meditative practice are irrational. Perhaps a 10% increase in happiness is the right amount for me right now.

My mind is a constant buzz and I am totally aware of this fact. If I did not practice meditation I may have never been aware of this as being different from the desired experience. I have clung too long to the idea that meditation brings blissful enlightenment - but I am beginning to see, thanks to the teachings of New Kadampa Buddhism, that it is the mind's exposure to virtue, the acquisition of virtuous mind patterns, that really brings about the acceptance and patience that is true happiness.

I am a prisoner of my mind - but because I keep meditating and studying the Dharma principles, I will eventually experience freedom - right now I can only see glimpses of the sky that make me aware that I am a prisoner, but there is hope of release because of the wisdom of the Buddha.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The High Price of Enlightenment

"David Wants To Fly,” is an independent film that was released in 2010 as a personal investigation of Transcendental Meditation and the organization that supports its spread throughout the world.

I had first heard of Transcendental Meditation back in 1967 when the Beatles adopted the practice and became ardent supporters of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although I’d always been interested in Meditation of various kinds I’d never been formally trained or “initiated” into the TM practice until two years ago when I shelled out $1500 to learn it.

I have struggled with the practice of TM - with limited success. Not really experiencing the “bliss,” or “transcendence” that its advocates and endorsers promise.

Just recently though I took up the practice again in earnest. Reciting my silent mantra - trying to control my “monkey mind” - for 20 minutes twice a day.

The technique of Transcendental Meditation works - but the film exposes the questionable side of the movement, and the dubious motives of its founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The film project began as an honest investigation into the influence of TM on the movie director David Lynch, the idol of David Sieveking, the director and main character of the film, but soon, due to Sieveking’s investigations and curiosity, turns into a fairly detailed expose of the nature of the TM organization and the David Lynch Foundation, a charity supporting the spread of TM in schools for the benefit of underprivileged and troubled children.

After watching the film today - I felt a little despondent that something that has such a promise of good, could in fact be a tool for extorting money from innocent and well-intentioned people.

What I’m seeing in all of this is that perhaps every religion and spiritual practice has cultish undertones - serious and devoted followers seeking to share and expand the experience that they have had along to others - become obsessed with achieving their goals at the expense of integrity, and fall prey to the lucrative benefits of spreading “good feelings."

I’m going to a group refresher and “checking” session next week. I’m going to continue to practice TM - but the buck stops here…..

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Loosely Abiding

So much has happened in my life since my last post.

My Father passed away on August 22nd, at the age of 89 - very quietly in a hospital bed in England. The last thing he did - according to my brother - was wave goodbye and put two thumbs up!!!

I had thought that I would not mourn my Father's death as we'd been estranged for quite some time. But the news hit me hard. I felt very sad and disoriented for several weeks. I flew to England on September 3rd and attended my Father's Cremation on September 5th.

When there is a loss of a close family member to death - it makes one very aware of the brevity of life. It seems to pass so quickly. Death makes me more aware of my own precious human life and how I shouldn't be wasting it on pointless activities.

Immediately after my Father's death - my Buddhist practice served as a wonderful comfort - I quietly performed the POWA ceremony a few weeks ago, and it was quite meaningful to me. I think my Father, as a Jehovah's Witness, would have been outraged that I'd performed a Vajrayana ritual for his benefit, but I know that there was immense value in it for both of us.

Since my return from England my Buddhist practice has become less intense. By this I mean that I am less fanatical and more loosely holding to the practices and rituals. I am none the less committed to Buddhism, but I must admit that I'm more mellowed about it than at first. I see this as a good thing - because of the examples I'm seeing in other Kadampa and Tibetan Buddhist practitioners. To cling to Buddhism is as bad as any other attachment when taken to extremes.

I chant or recite Buddhist prayers and I meditate daily - usually 15 to 20 minutes. Twice a day if I can - but mostly once a day, in the morning. I have returned to meditating in the Transcendental Meditation format, using a Mantra rather than the breath. I found the breath meditation caused me to become too sleepy. I lose concentration too quickly and fall into a doze.

Periodically, usually a couple of times a month, I practice the Yoga of Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara because I feel drawn to that particular embodiment of Buddha and sense a transforming power in the practise.

Buddhism is a gentle way to live - not a frenetic grasping at beliefs in order to gain favor from some invisible father figure - but rather a simple awareness of the connectedness of all of life and a practice of focusing thought on virtuous intention for the benefit of all.

I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha not as an escape from reality but so that I can engage with it more fully and more compassionately. Seeking to put more into life than I take from it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Bodhisattva Obsession

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
One day I may have to stand up in front of a gathering and introduce myself: “Hello, I’m Marty, and I’m a Buddhaholic!!!”

Hopefully, I won’t be alone….

After several sessions of Lamrim meditation at a drop-in retreat at the local Kadampa Buddhist center over the past week, I have found myself to be totally absorbed in this modern version of ancient Buddhism.

My daily practice of prayer and meditation has become very calming and fills me with a passion to ripen as a human being, develop a good heart, and generally do things with a more mindful intention of benefiting others. I’m not anywhere near consistent with the expression of this intention yet - but, as I’ve noticed in much of the Mahayana teachings - there is no particular rush or pressure to be perfect - the emphasis is on purifying the intention so that the causes and results are natural and not pretentious.

The writings of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche are very pure expressions of Buddha’s dharma teaching and reading any of his books is a life enriching experience. He takes a particular point of dharma and through almost melodic language and poetic imagery, makes it alive and fresh.

Here’s a selection from one of my favorite books by Geshe-la: “Transform Your Life.”

"All living beings have the same basic wish to be happy and avoid suffering, but very few people understand the real causes of happiness and suffering. 
We generally believe that external conditions such as food, friends, cars, and money are the real causes of happiness, and as a result we devote nearly all our time and energy to acquiring these. Superficially it seems that these things can make us happy, but if we look more deeply we shall see that they also bring us a lot of suffering and problems. 
Happiness and suffering are opposites, so if something is a real cause of happiness it cannot give rise to suffering. If food, money, and so forth really are causes of happiness, they can never be causes of suffering; yet we know from our own experience that they often do cause suffering. For example, one of our main interests is food, but the food we eat is also the principal cause of most of our ill health and sickness. 
In the process of producing the things we feel will make us happy, we have polluted our environment to such an extent that the very air we breathe and the water we drink now threaten our health and well-being. We love the freedom and independence a car can give us, but the cost in accidents and environmental destruction is enormous. 
We feel that money is essential for us to enjoy life, but the pursuit of money also causes immense problems and anxiety. Even our family and friends, with whom we enjoy so many happy moments, can also bring us a lot of worry and heartache. 
In recent years our understanding and control of the external world have increased considerably, and as a result we have witnessed remarkable material progress; but there has not been a corresponding increase in human happiness. 
There is no less suffering in the world today, and there are no fewer problems. Indeed, it could be said that there are now more problems and greater unhappiness than ever before. This shows that the solution to our problems, and to those of society as a whole, does not lie in knowledge or control of the external world. 
Why is this? Happiness and suffering are states of mind, and so their main causes cannot be found outside the mind. The real source of happiness is inner peace. If our mind is peaceful, we shall be happy all the time, regardless of external conditions, but if it is disturbed or troubled in any way, we shall never be happy, no matter how good our external conditions may be. 
External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. We can understand this through our own experience. For instance, even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace. 
We can see from this that if we want true, lasting happiness we need to develop and maintain a special experience of inner peace. The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual practice – gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states. 
Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we shall experience permanent inner peace, or ‘nirvana’. Once we have attained nirvana we shall be happy throughout our life, and in life after life. We shall have solved all our problems and accomplished the true meaning of our human life".

Geshe-la, speaking of Buddha’s dharma teachings, says that as human beings living in Samsara, we are captive to delusions about our self-existence; we are addicted to self-cherishing, and all of our problems come from desiring ourselves to be happy above all others. We are addicted to the fulfillment of our own desires founded on the delusion that we have a separate and distinct existence from everything else in the universe.

You might say that as a Kadampa Buddhist the goal of life is to change the source of our addiction from self-cherishing to cherishing others. 

Inner peace can ONLY come from within when we let go of the habitual narrow perspective of our deceived minds. Through the use of our imagination and visualization - our minds associate with the mind of compassion and wisdom that is the Buddha’s mind and acquire this perspective.

The path to enlightenment has already been traveled by Shakyamuni Buddha and other enlightened beings - through deep faith (or pure entrusting) in the attainments of the Buddha as our supreme companion and guide - we are transformed into awareness of what is already the case, revealing our Buddha nature hidden behind a wall of delusion that we ourselves have built.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Power of Imagination

Buddhadharma is so much deeper than I had ever imagined...

I have heard that Buddha spoke of 84,000 Dharma "Doors," or approaches to enlightenment, but I had always considered this a gross exaggeration. What I'm finding in my study of Mahayana  is drawing me closer to appreciating the tremendous scope and diversity of the teachings.

My previous experiences with Buddhism were focused on the "flavors" of Japanese and ancient Chinese Buddhism - Nichiren, Shin, and Zen (Chan in Chinese.) The approach to the Dharma of these various schools is what I'd describe as "Protestant." Although they do have their various chants, iconic representations i.e. Gohonzons and Scrolls, they, for the most part focus on the more stark aspects of Buddha's teachings, stripped of many of the rituals and practices found in other schools.


The Nichiren Buddhist approach is focused on drawing out the inherent Buddha nature that is within all living beings through focusing the mind on the meaning of the Lotus Sutra and the practice of venerating its teachings. 

The Shin Buddhist approach focuses on the futility of using our own deluded mind to realize our Buddha nature - perceiving correctly perhaps that we cannot solve our human problems with the mind that creates them. So the focus of Shin Buddhism is not on a particular sutra or scripture, but rather on the source of the sutra - the personification of the source of Buddha's compassion - in the form of Amida Buddha.

Zen, on the other hand, focuses less on the character of Buddha and the Sutra practices - and emphasizes the direct experience of Buddha through self-directed discipline and diminishing of the ego and focuses on transcending the duality of consciousness. It is the iconoclastic approach to Buddhism. It could be said that Zen is to Buddhism what Quakerism is to Christianity.


My latest passion in Buddhist teachings is from New Kadampa Buddhism, which although rooted in Vajrayana - is actually an independent school within Mahayana, based on the teachings of Buddha interpreted by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso - who I think maybe the closest thing to a modern day Buddha - at least an emanation of Buddha. 

What draws me to the New Kadampa approach is the emphasis on using the imagination to change the "wiring" in our thinking - to visualize the mind that we want to obtain - the mind of Bodhichitta (the mind of enlightenment.)

The New Kadampa movement is the more Catholic version of Buddhism in that it engages the mind together with the body in a devotional approach to Buddha and his legacy of teachers and masters - all the senses are engaged in practicing the Dharma. It uses prayers to open the heart, mantras to focus the mind, and contemplation to deepen the awareness of the state of the mind. 

I have always found it difficult to meditate on the breath or on a mantra - but adding the visualization of an alternate reality with the imagined emotional states that result - helps to bring about a change in consciousness. 

The path of the Kadampas is a comprehensive approach that uses all of the tools of the mind to bring about the experiences of emptiness, or potentiality of the true nature of reality. It isn't an easy path by any means - actually it is probably not correct to call it a path - because it is really a means to realizing the present reality of Buddhahood that is our true being.

I feel at home with this form of Buddhism. It fits me very comfortably. It offers the perfect balance of inner peace and outward altruism - fueling my good intention of becoming a Buddha for the benefit of all.
"May everyone be happy,
May everyone be free from misery,
May no one ever be separated from their happiness,
May everyone have equanimity, free from hatred and attachment."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Only A Child

"I thought I met a man who said
He knew a man who knew what was going on…..
I was mistaken, only another stranger that I knew 
And I thought that I'd found the light
To guide me through my nights and all this darkness…...
I was mistaken, only reflections of a shadow that I saw 
And I thought I've seen someone
Who seemed at last to know the truth…..
I was mistaken, only a child laughing in the sun, in the sun
- “Laughing,” by David Crosby

Babies are bubbles of love popping up all over the universe