midwestbuddha: (Default)
If you had been studying Buddhism with well-known meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, just a few years ago, you would've traveled to a small island of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. Once there, you would've been treated to a wondrous sight by the monks of the island: two fifty-foot tall statues of Jesus and Buddha, smiling, with their arms around each others' shoulders. Jack describes it this way, "While helicopter gunships flew by overhead and the war raged around us, Buddha and Jesus stood there like brothers, expressing compassion and healing for all who would follow their way."

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) and Jesus Christ don't seem to have had much in common at first glance: Siddhartha was the son of a rich man and Jesus was the son of a poor carpenter. Siddhartha was born into luxury and an ideal childhood, where all unpleasant things were kept from his path. Jesus was born in a poor manger with farm animals looking on… Siddhartha inhabited an Iron Age world and Jesus lived during the height of the Roman Empire. Siddhartha tried more than one spiritual path before becoming a teacher. Jesus knew one path and taught others from an early age. Some sects of Siddhartha's faith embrace many deities, while Jesus' embraces one true God.

So what in the world could these two faiths-Buddhism and Christianity-have in common?

The first and most important answer is, of course, compassion-that quality with which we love, understand and accept others exactly as they are, regardless of their actions. Also, Jesus and Buddha were both able to teach through parables (short, religious stories), the Buddha instructing fellow beings on the nature of the mind, and Jesus on the nature of the soul.

Marcus Borg, who refers to himself as "a Jesus scholar and a devoted but non-exclusivist Christian", has edited a book entitled Jesus and Buddha, The Parallel Sayings. In it, Borg explores some eerie similarities in the texts of the Bible and many of the Buddhist scriptures. However, he tends to downplay the idea that some have espoused that Jesus may have been exposed to Buddhist teachings at some time in his life, and thus carried them forward into Christianity. Instead, he believes that the wisdom teaching of both Jesus and Buddha sprang from similar formative experiences of the sacred.

In comparing the births of these two revered figures, Borg's book sites these two passages:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." --Mathew 2:1-2

For what reasons are these signs revealed? Is it that a god of great merit has been born? Or is it that a buddha has emerged in the world? Never before have we seen such signs! We must trace them together, across a myriad of lands, seeking the glow and investigating it together. --Sadharmarmapundarika Sutra 7

On the subjects of materialism & vegetarianism, The Parallel Sayings had this to say:

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on." --Luke 21.1-4

"Giving is the noble expression of the benevolence of the mighty. Even dust, given in childish innocence, is a good gift. No gift that is given in good faith to a worthy recipient can be called small; its effect is so great." --Jatakamala 3.23

"There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." --Mark, 7.15

"Stealing, deceiving, adultery, this is defilement. Not the eating of meat." --Sutta Nipata 242

To be continued next week... In the meantime, I'd love to read your comments.
midwestbuddha: (tree)
How much do you really know about your neighbor? Your friend? Your child? What faiths do they practice? If you discovered, for instance, that your neighbor was a Muslim, Your friend a Hindu, your child a Pagan…what would be your gut reaction?

Most probably, in today’s environment, you’d feel fear… Fear, born of ignorance.

Out of curiosity the other day, I opened my dictionary. Below is how it defines this word. Notice also the definitions of words on the same page. Interesting, don’t you think?

Ignorance—lack of knowledge

Ignoramus—ignorant person

Ignore—to intentionally disregard


Ignominious—shameful, humiliating

Ignoble—of low birth, position or reputation

Most of us are familiar with the definition of the first word (although it’s often incorrectly used as a synonym for stupidity). Few of us would care to embrace the image of ourselves as an ignoramus, although, in truth we are, yours truly included. I’m sure no one reading this wants to ignore our neighbor, child or friend, nor would we wish upon them ignominy or other ignominious incident. To do so would, doubtless, reflect our own ignoble origins. Let’s examine what these two classic authors had to say on the subject:

"Only ignorance! Only ignorance! How can you talk about only ignorance? Don't you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? And which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, `Oh! I did not know, I did not mean any harm,' they think it is all right."

–Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

`Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.' exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

`Spirit, are they yours?' Scrooge could say no more.

`They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. `And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it,' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. `Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.'

--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Did you get chills as I did reading that last passage? Well, before you imagine that ignorance truly is the second greatest evil as Sewell suggests, consider these definitions, found a few pages further in my trusty dictionary. I submit to you that these go hand in hand with the former iniquity…

Torpor—a torpid condition

Torpid—sluggish, inactive, apathetic

It is said that the only thing evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing. What then, I hear you ask, can I do to combat ignorance and apathy?

READ. LEARN. FEEL. It’s just that simple.

And, lest you think I am more learned than yourself, think again. For I too am an ignoramus, just as you—but be reassured: admitting it gets you halfway to recovery. The other half of the journey is up to us both…

I wish you Metta.
midwestbuddha: (life is not serious or permanent)
"The meeting of religions is the single greatest hope for humanity. If the religions can meet in peace, joy and mutual reverence, every act of human aggression and intolerance can be stripped of the justification it claims from its own interpretation of religion. The joyful laughter of the Spirit must eventually then bring it to its senses." ~~ Laurence Freeman

I’ve been thinking the last couple of weeks about what folks need me to write for this article…and it seems evident to me that what we all most need to do now is laugh. Why? Well, other than it being an effective form of birth control, if properly applied, it’s also one of the actions that links us all as human beings—no matter what faith, what culture, what role in society. Everyone laughs! Isn’t it nice to be all one world in more than sorrow?

What is humorous to one, of course, isn’t always funny to someone else. Personally, I tend to be drawn to real life situations that are funny in the moment, such as the day I was sorting the mail at the office and came across a copy of Field and Stream with the featured article, “Twenty Ways to Fool Trout”. My immediate response was trying to think of twenty. Couldn’t do it. And then I imagined who might be standing at their mailbox, transfixed by a copy of this magazine in their hands, thinking, “All right! Just what I was waiting for!” Need I say more?

Statistics tell us the average adult laughs about seventeen times a day, and the Encyclopedia Britannica says laughter is a rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary action. Well, so it sounds like several sneezes right in a row, so what?

In researching the links below, what I discovered is that religious humor sites, no matter the faith, would much rather make fun of themselves than others. So let me give you a brief rundown of these links and what I liked best about them…

First and foremost, A Lighter Side of Buddhism, web hosted by my friend Meng, who claims he is named after a famous ape in Singapore.

For Christians, first check out The Joke Closet. Or maybe your spirit’s a little hungrier lately. How about the Church of the Covered Dish? Or, if you seem to be barking at everyone lately, why not try the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua?

But what if you’re Jewish and need some cheer? Why, go to the Mishmash Jewish Humor page! Hey, those jokes are good, but believe it or not, even better are the cartoons at Chopped Liver. Then, type on over to the Jewish Humor Site.

Finally, if you are Pagan, and desire some earthly humor, make a stop at Beth's Pagan Humor Page, the Pagan Joke Page, or even The Blessed Bee for a chuckle.

Above all, remember that no one can take away your ability to choose how you respond to a given situation. We sometimes forget that even though bombs, armies, chemicals, germs, evil and hatred are formidable forces, love is the greatest force in the universe! It is only bodies and buildings that can be destroyed. Our spirits live on, forever!
midwestbuddha: (Default)
It’s been said that when you experience one of the five hindrances to enlightenment (anger, greed, restlessness, torpor or doubt) that the others soon follow. And most of us have experienced this process. But one of the most difficult hindrances to really pinpoint, for me, is restlessness.

It begins with a general feeling of vague dissatisfaction—my own expectations gain my attention more often and I end up with a solid feeling of real desperation to do something, go somewhere or even be someone different. When I attempt to pinpoint exactly what it is my troubled heart wants, its answers are childish, and often foolish as well.

In practicing mindfulness, I’ve learned to study my thoughts to understand that we often create entire worlds mentally—and make terrible choices for ourselves, based on nothing more than restless conjecture.

Still, when I am being assaulted by this particular hindrance, I am amazed at its power over a woman in her fifties who really ought to know better than some of the things she is considering!

And, oddly, therein lies the answer to combating this particular near/far enemy of metta…compassion toward ourselves.

It is tempting to think that age gives us some relief from the foolishness of youth—but more often it simply sets the stage for more and more restlessness. And, just as we must forgive ourselves for anger (a natural response to perceived injustice), we must also be gentle with ourselves when we feel restlessness (a natural response to stagnation in our lives.)

The next step, I believe, is that we must examine all of our alternatives to create movement in our lives—not simply the ones that are easiest or most familiar (or often, just bad habits to fall back on: overeating, drinking, drugs or sexual misconduct.)

We must, as the Dalai Lama has said, “remain unmoving, like a piece of wood”. Or, if that seems too much…then just a bump on a log.

In this sense, dealing with restlessness is no different than disciplining the mind to process any other hindrance. We must first thank ourselves for feeling this way, and then give honor to our emotions by sitting long enough to fully feel them.

There are times when I have shuddered with adrenalin while honoring my anger or fear (doubt), wept copiously while honoring my sadness (attachment/greed) and yet, as emotions always do, they passed over and through me. And I was left with a calm, profound understanding of the nature of insubstantial reality.

For all of that, some reading this may say, “I could never do that. I’m not that strong.” To them, I simply say this:

The disciplined strength of your mind is greater than you can possibly imagine. Exercising it--through insightful meditation—is how you will train it to right thought and, therefore, action.

And—when your discipline falters as it most surely will, for you are human—find a friend, perhaps someone in your sangha. Tell them about your restless thoughts, seek their wise counsel. For you are never truly alone on this earthly plane, no matter how stagnant and unrelenting life seems. Friends, devas and the Dharma are there to see us through…
midwestbuddha: (silence)
The historic death of Osama Bin Laden made me think of this article, which I wrote in September of 2001 for my column at the time, Living Mettamind. As you may know, there is a Buddhist precept against killing--anything, not just people. But I recently heard Pema Chodron say that even the Buddha had to make choices. There's a story about him killing a murderer in a previous life before the murderer could strike and kill hundreds of others. In this way, he saved the many and sacrificed the one. BUT he also protected the murderer's karma, which would have been horrendous if he had carried out his plans. It is my sincere hope that there is to be considerably less fear in the world today, with the death of Osama Bin Laden. With that, here is my original article:

Some years ago, science fiction writer Frank Herbert wrote: “Fear is the mind killer, fear is the little death”.

On September 11th, 2001, (now being called Black Tuesday) fear became horrendous death, in the shape of four hi-jacked commercial passenger jets, deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a verdant Pennsylvania field. In the face of such barbaric acts, such tremendous loss of human lives, how can I write the encouraging, peaceful article I had intended on fighting fear as a hindrance to enlightenment? In all conscience, I cannot.

So I shall write a passionate one instead!

The Dhammapada says, “Not by hate is hate defeated; hate is quenched by love. This is the eternal law.”

Are you feeling angry? Are you hoping for revenge for the deaths? Are you looking with suspicion at your co-workers, neighbors, even your friends who are also Americans? Are you concerned about their culture, their religious practices, and the color of their skin?

Do you understand that this is exactly how evil operates? It creates doubt, fear, and suspicion. These mind states cause prejudice, oppression and suffering.

Of course you are angry! Of course you are afraid! These mind states arise when the conditions are correct (oh, and they most certainly are) for them to arise. You are a human being and, one with a conscience.

Well, look around you. Your other American friends are angry, too—the Arabs, Egyptians, and all other persons of various colors, cultures and faiths that were born right here. The land of the free is where we all live, and the home of the brave is their home, too!

In Frank Metcalf’s book, “What Would Buddha Do?” he quotes the Jatakamala, 14.11: “Throw away your pitiful apathy and act boldly in this crisis! A wise person shows energy and resolve; success is in his power, no matter what.” Rest assured, the United States will overcome her enemies.

But, please, I implore you to check out Tolerance.org. Fight your prejudice as the enemy itself…

I read recently that worry can be defined as, “a series of negative thoughts and images that intrude into awareness in an uncontrolled manner.” A Buddhist parable compares our thoughts to many different animals all roped together, each one seeking its home and taking turns dragging the others this way and that, depending on which is strongest at a given moment. As I read it, the mere image of this chaotic cacophony was enough to get my attention! I, for one, do not relish the idea of being pulled about by my emotions in such a manner—do you? And certainly not by terrorists.

It is our minds they are trying to kill. Educate yours, while sitting with your sorrow, anger and fear. As so many things before it, this too shall pass.

I wish you Metta, my friends…and peace…
midwestbuddha: (tarot)
Over the years I have come to realize that almost any object can become a spiritual symbol. I once took a Tarot class online through Barnes and Noble University, and in the midst of the required course reading, realized how often I unconsciously relate to symbols of many world religions and belief systems.

You might be surprised to know, for instance, that according to Joan Bunning, author of Learning the Tarot, much of a reading is based on sensing imbalances among symbols on the cards, and enlightening the querent on how to regain spiritual balance.

My, doesn’t this sound surprisingly close to the Buddhist middle path?

Another similarity between the basic teachings of the Buddha and Bunning’s philosophy of Tarot is that the focus in most readings should be on the responsibility of each person for their own actions, instead of those of the Other.

Just as there are many devotional statues of the Buddha, the Madonna, Shiva and Guadalupe, so there are many different types of decks. I personally own the Moon Garden, Aquarian and Ancient Paths decks—and, when I began my course I also purchased a used Universal Waite Tarot deck.

What’s the difference, you ask?

The Rider-Waite deck is considered the prototype for all the other decks. The symbol on each Tarot card is a significant part of each reader’s interpretation, and in some of the more elaborate, modern versions, it has been changed to accommodate the overall deck design. Since novices always need to learn basics first, a Waite deck is the place to start.

As I read, I found myself also noticing similarities between the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot and Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path:

The Major Arcana cards (from 0, The Fool to 21, The World) offer symbols depicting long or even lifetime themes, just as the Four Noble Truths show us the larger picture of the Buddhist philosophy. And the Minor Arcana (Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles) direct the reader’s attention to everyday affairs that show us how to live for our best benefit, much the same as the Eightfold Noble Path.

It then occurred to me that Tarot cards might make a wonderful meditation object for those like myself that are very visually oriented. One would select a card at random each day (indeed, as Bunning’s book suggests), focus on the symbols on the card’s face, and meditate for awhile on the meaning of the idea conveyed as applied in life.

For, you see, Tarot is not (as many believe) a system of fortune telling, but instead an aid to enlightenment. Each person chooses their own interpretation of the symbols they observe—and their own way of responding to them. For instance, here is a Five of Swords card.


Here was my initial reaction to its symbols:

I see the man smiling as he looks over his shoulder at the others in the background. They, in turn, appear to be moving away, and one looks as though he is weeping. Perhaps the man in the foreground has won the swords, maybe even using trickery. His expression seems one of arrogance and greed.

Here is the traditional interpretation of the same card:

Self interest, discord, open dishonor. Sometimes can mean you or someone else is forgetting what we do to the world we do to ourselves. Going ahead in isolation will cause your actions to come back to haunt you. Other times, (depending on its placement in a reading and other influencing cards) it may indicate a need for self interest. It can also represent hostility—from a cross word to warfare.

Did you see something completely different? Wonderful! You’re right, too.

According to Bunning, how I saw the card is based on which of its symbols struck a cord in my personal psyche. And it’s the same for you…

So, the next time you see someone spiritually transported at the sight of a crucifix, the spire of a mosque or a pentagram, don’t just shrug it off—ask them what they see…

You might be surprised at what you learn!
midwestbuddha: (meditation)
The best way out is through. Ever hear that? Well, I’m living proof that it’s true.

For years, I suppressed my anger and was possessed by a powerful feeling that the world was fundamentally unfair. Here’s what I learned:

This cycle, suppressing and expressing anger, is so prevalent today that it is often labeled by others as psychotic. No wonder so many people are being diagnosed as manic depressive. What’s even more frightening, society seems to respond to this with the idea that the person in question should simply take a pill. Have you seen the Prozac commercials? They actually suggest that life returns when you’re taking this drug. Basically, that you’re dead until you take it! Now, don’t get me wrong—there are people who should be on medication. But even for these individuals, a mood altering drug is often only a temporary fix.

So what is the answer?

Why…it’s faith.

When I first began meditation, I realized my best time was spent simply being present with the emotion of the moment. Emotions are never negative (or positive, for that matter). It’s only our reactions to emotions that are skillful or unskillful. It’s amazing how simply giving myself permission to feel has relaxed me, at times. Many of us, in fact, believe that this emotion in particular is somehow “bad”.

We must stop beating ourselves up for experiencing emotions.

Anger arises when injustice is perceived. But—how does one prevent the unskillful acts which may result from anger?

Simple. Pay attention.

I try to pause and thank myself for feeling this response to injustice. Then, I try to get away to a quiet place, even for a few moments, in order to have time to fully experience the anger. Without this time, I’ve noticed I become distracted or even feel physically ill. After all, anger can be a powerful emotion to try to control…

A technique I read about and tried is to remind yourself that this anger is improperly being viewed as your anger. You are taking possession of it. That’s what Buddhists refer to as “wrong view.”

Right view is instead to see strong emotions of any kind as one views the weather. After all, you don’t say, “I’m so snowy about that!”, do you? Of course not. The conditions for snow occur outside of your control or choice, and simply must be dealt with until they pass—or until you pass through their vicinity.

One day I read a suggestion in a Buddhist book to “observe” the anger and particularly notice what happened before I was angry.

I thought. What’s usually happening before I get angry is someone has been rude, cruel or neglectful of me. Someone is thoughtless or malicious.

But soon, I realized that I was concentrating on the incidents that made me angry instead of the process of getting angry.

And when I looked deeper, I realized I was afraid.

Each and every time, I was afraid first. It wasn’t the incidents themselves that made me angry. It was what I was afraid of when someone else was rude, thoughtless, malicious, neglectful or cruel—that my feelings, perhaps even my worth as another human being, were being discounted.

Further, I realized that these fears really pointed to some issues within me that needed to be resolved.

How often was I expecting habitually malicious people to treat me otherwise? How often was I not taking the responsibility to simply remove myself from their presence? How often was I blaming others’ rudeness and neglect on them, when in fact I was the one who wasn’t politely insisting on being treated well or stating the things I felt to be hurtful?

And…why was I covering fear with anger? Simple—it made me feel powerful, righteous, and stronger and more in control.

So…do I still get angry? Of course. And sometimes I still behave unskillfully as a result. But I don’t beat myself up any more. I make reparations, make note of what I’ve learned, soothe my underlying fears and move on.

And so can you.

The best way out is…through—through the anger. All the way through. What’s on the other side?

Why…it’s faith.
midwestbuddha: (monkey mind)
The article that follows is a FAQ List on insight meditation...

1.) “What is meditation and how does one practice?”

Most Buddhists learn first to focus on their breathing. This is always good for beginners. Remember that the purpose of meditation is to teach you how to quickly and thoroughly focus your mind into concentration and how to achieve discipline of thought. It is not—I repeat, not—to empty your mind. (No one could do that anyway!)

When you begin meditating, don’t be concerned if your mind quickly steps away from counting your breaths and jumps about from this to that. What you’re experiencing is called Monkey Mind, and is just common brain chatter. Instead of trying to control or stop the monkey, just gently remind yourself to come back to counting your breaths or the other object of meditation you have selected…

A Wiccan I know uses gazing into the flame of a candle as her meditation object. Some Buddhists (as well as those of other faiths) chant. I usually begin with the breath, then when I feel my mind beginning to drift, I begin internally reciting the Metta Sutta (the Buddha’s words on compassion), being careful to really consider each line and not simply race through the mental recitation.

If you are a Christian, you may want to choose a Biblical passage to ponder for your meditation time. Some passage with meaning for you—long enough to remain interesting, but short enough to memorize in order to repeat it mentally many times.

2.) What is walking meditation?

Frankly, this entire concept sounded pointless to me at first, but after a short time, I actually discovered that I concentrate better while walking than sitting. A walking meditation practice I read in a book and have had some success with involves sending metta to each being you pass as you are walking outside. Literally, you think at them, “May you be peaceful and free from fear” as you go by. This is a wonderful practice, as it effectively keeps your attention focused on thoughts of well being as others pass your sphere of influence, rather than the judgments we humans are so prone to make.

3.) How long should one sit in meditation?

Most meditation teachers recommend an hour in the morning and an hour at night (excluding retreats.) But, don’t panic! I started with fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen at night, and gradually worked up to longer sessions. At first, you will probably find even fifteen minutes difficult. I have those days too, but most of the time now the longer I sit, the more centered I feel.

4.) Should I meditate alone or in a group?

In the beginning, I felt I might never be able to sit meditation in a group, but after a few years, I found it not only possible but quite joyful. There is simply an entirely different feel about sitting in a circle with my sangha, knowing that nearby are others wrestling with difficult emotions, just as I am.

5.) Should I listen to music while meditating?

I rarely do (and some Buddhist sects believe music is only a distraction to enlightenment). My monkey mind does tend to chatter about the music, and I find my mental discipline falters. However, I do sometimes use a CD of Zen meditation music, which was written to have a gentle, but uneven tempo—so my mind doesn’t get caught in the rhythmic flow quite so easily…

Normally, distracting sounds (a door slamming, a bird call) are to be mentally noted. For instance, you would say to yourself, “Noting, noting, sound, sound.” But you are careful not to respond to the sound or give it any special meaning above other sounds. This allows you to stay focused on experiencing the disciplining of your mind, instead of allowing what you think to direct you into harmful thoughts or actions.

All of this is considered right and proper discipline in meditation. So, for those just getting started, there’s only one thing you need to remember…mind your monkey!
midwestbuddha: (tree)
I’ve always been interested in Feng Shui, but only when we moved into our new home could I truly appreciate its significance.

Feng Shui, translated from the Chinese, means “wind and water”, and is the practice of artful placement of objects and furnishings in a dwelling to bring about prosperity and good fortune. With proper placement, the flow of chi (the Life Force—yes, George Lucas really did have something there) is improved and the home becomes all the things we most desire:

Chinese Astrology is one of the main factors used in Feng Shui practice. Unlike the Western Zodiac, where birth sign is determined by month and day, Chinese astrology uses the year. Once you know what animal-element-color is representative of you, adjustments (often referred to as cures) can be made in the home environment to bring about harmony.

These adjustments might include: clearing away clutter, which impedes the flow of chi, hanging mirrors or crystals in strategic spots to reflect away sha chi (negative energy), selecting plants with rounded leaves and flowers to promote growth, or augmenting certain guas (sections of rooms) with colored objects that amplify or multiply good chi. In certain cases, chi can even be affected by your television or stereo!

In our last home, there were frequent family squabbles, (which I later learned were symptoms of bad chi from the previous occupants). Mind you, I would have declared this the purest hocus-pocus while living there—but after we moved (to a new home where we were the very first owners), the strife turned off like a faucet. I mean to say, it was a pronounced reduction. Quite impressive!

Only recently have I learned how important Chinese astrology can be when drawing up a bagua (map of placement) of the home. It is essential that one discover the animal for the year they were born. My research soon led me to the information that my husband was born in the
year of the Purple Fire Monkey, and my son the Red Fire Tiger. Excitedly, I read on—only to discover that I was born in the year of the Golden Earth Boar…

Okay, brain, screech to a halt on that. Did you say Boar? As in pig?

Oh, come on…

Yes, pig. Great. Just great…

You know, I was probably the only person in Cincinnati (aka Porkopolis) that hated the decision to have flying pigs as our city symbol, and detested the Big Pig Gig, which featured statuary of oinkers strewn on every street corner one summer.

Yuck. Pigs.

So…I did what I always do when confronted with knowledge I’m having an aversion to—I researched it. And here’s what I found out about pigs:

According to Astrology.Com:

“…the Pig of Chinese Astrology may be the most generous and honorable Sign… Pigs are nice to a fault and possess impeccable manners and taste… This Sign believes in the best qualities of mankind and certainly doesn’t consider itself to be superior… Pigs are highly intelligent creatures, forever studying, playing and probing in their quest for greater knowledge… Pigs tend to make wonderful life partners due to their hearts of gold and their love of family…”

All right! I thought. Maybe being a pig isn’t so bad, after all. Soon, I found another site, All pigs, which told me even more about the delightful creatures. Then, at the Pig Latin Home Page, I learned we even have our own language!

But, lest you think I’m acting piggish, here are some links others might use to find their own Chinese astrological sign: Shelly Wu’s Chinese Astrology and Sabrina Liao’s Chinese Astrology.

For those wishing to learn more about Feng Shui, try the American Feng Shui Institute. And for Feng Shui supplies or cures, go to the Feng Shui Emporium or Dragon Gate.

In the meantime, here’s wishing you and yours Good Chi (From the Golden Earth Boar!)
midwestbuddha: (silence)
Negative emotional states cannot be directly transformed from negative to positive. They must be transformed to a neutral state first. Calm yourself…
--The Dalai Lama

Like me, have you ever wondered how it is that even after some unhappy, stressful situations have passed, you still get upset about them? And yet, with others it seems you can let them go much more easily. What’s the difference?

Sometimes I think we have the impression that feelings just dissipate, like smoke—that it’s simply a matter of letting enough time go by before we no longer are upset by the past. But, in fact, our feelings take work on our part to be returned to a calm state and kept there. Certainly the passing of time and gathering of wisdom in the interim helps—but wouldn’t it be better if we could cause this to happen when we needed to, instead of letting our feelings control us?

Astrologer Eric Francis says:

“Imagine yourself breaking down boundaries inside your mind, then burning them as fuel. The feeling is akin to opening up space inside yourself, and turning the devices once used to hold back energy into energy. Do that once or twice and you’ll see just how much mojo you’re working with.”

If you can follow the logic that our feelings begin with our thoughts, perhaps a visualization I’ve been using for a few years may help. To see how this works, ask yourself if you can recall a time when you were feeling happy with the world, and then saw or heard something that triggered a negative memory of the past or worry about the future. Suddenly you were plunged into an unhappy state—when just a short time ago you were blissful.

Imagine your thoughts as cars on a train. When you come to a railway crossing you have two choices—you can watch and wait until the train passes…or you can jump onto the train. This is what happens when we allow our feelings to be led by our thoughts. But, as all trains pass, so do bad memories and worries. All we must do is employ prajna (clear-seeing) to notice the train…and then decide to allow it to pass instead of getting aboard!

Have you ever had the experience of someone apologizing to you or praising you after a long period of strife with them…and then realized that by the time this momentous, longed-for thing occurred it just didn’t matter? This is evidence that our natural state of being is love and forgiveness. And it also signals that we have let the train pass.

Too often, we rush ahead and try to force ourselves to feel positive. But what would happen if you tried to cross the railroad track with the train still on it? I don’t know about you, but one of the most difficult challenges I face is waiting for things.

Still, could it be that in this one act there is more powerful mojo than meets the eye? There’s only one way to know.

midwestbuddha: (mind of the beholder)
Sathya (Truth)
I’m often amazed that humans find so many ways to separate from each other--skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation--instead of using these things to rejoice in our diversity. We often focus on our ideology and not our natural love and compassion for one another.

Dharma (Righteousness)
In an interview with OUT Magazine, the Dalai Lama explained, "If someone comes to me and asks whether homosexuality is okay or not, I will ask 'What is your companion's opinion?'. If you both agree, then I think I would say 'if two males or two females voluntarily agree to have mutual satisfaction without further implication of harming others, then it is okay'.” Being a politic spiritual leader, he has also contradicted himself on this subject. Since I personally am rather fond of the man, and he openly admits his shortcomings, I’m inclined to forgive the circumstances and go with his statement above as representative of greater Western Buddhist philosophy.

The Heart Sutra states: Form is empty, emptiness is form… Likewise, sensation, discrimination, conditioning, and awareness are empty. …they are not defiled, they are not undefiled. Buddhists understand this as a caution against becoming attached to how anything physical seems—since attachment leads to suffering.

I attended a science fiction convention recently which had an event called “Geek 12 Step Program”. Actually, what it turned out to be was a group of people on a panel sharing amusing stories about times they’d been smarter than someone else. I marveled at how the role of the geek has changed from just a few years ago—the time of the smart guy with short pants, broken, taped glasses and a slide rule has gone the way of the dodo. Geeks rule! In fact, they have now chosen to look at this as a way of separating themselves. Who could have foreseen that instead of being relieved they are now looked upon by others as smart enough to be asked how to handle computers, reverse engineer tasks, or even how to spell, that they’d be resentful—even annoyed? I think it’s very possible that there will come a time when we’ll also see Gays rule! I only hope that they will show more compassion to heteros than we have shown them.

Prema (Love)
At that same convention was Gay Haldeman, Joe Haldeman’s wife. Haldeman is famous for his science fiction book Forever War. This is part of an interview on the book:

DM: Gay characters in books don't raise eyebrows nowadays, but you wrote such characters in the seventies. Why?

JH: It wasn't about homosexuality. It was about being isolated. I had my character being the only straight in a universe of gays just to show what's "queer" is being different from everybody.

Did you know GLBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers? It’s reassuring to know there are organizations such as The Trevor Project, which are displaying love for all.

Shanti (Peace)
For adults, issues surrounding marriage still pervade the GLBT community: everything from the rights so taken for granted by heterosexuals—such as, if one person has an accident, the other may not be allowed into the hospital room, to the fact that Insurance often doesn’t cover same sex dependents, nor do all mortgage lenders recognize a same sex partner as being co-owner of a home in the event of the death of the other partner.

A friend resides in the United Kingdom. Civil partnerships there give same sex partners the same benefits and associated legal rights of marriage--tax exemptions, joint property rights, next-of-kin status and shared parenting. However, her wife lives in North Carolina, parts of which do not recognize same-sex marriages. Although there is no constitutional amendment implanted at this time, an anti-same-sex marriage bill is currently pending there. Can you imagine the difficulties they face?

What can bring all this conflict to peace? I offer this from the Dhammapada:

Not by hate is hate defeated; hate is quenched by love. This is the eternal law.

Please, GLBT friends, keep loving us. We’re ignorant and we know NOT what we do.
midwestbuddha: (symbol)
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.
-- The Buddha

We often forget that justice and honesty are natural to us from birth. Young children display these qualities in abundance—it’s only through conditioning that we develop wrong attitudes.

Your inner child—or, as it’s referred to by some, your basic self--is the unconscious gut instinct you were born with. It’s also the place where creativity arises and memory resides. It’s what signals through your body that something emotional needs to be addressed in your life. Do you have regular headaches or other body pain? Are you often sick or excessively tired? Do you feel withdrawn or as though you sabotage your own efforts? What is your inner child telling you about how you’re not being honest or fair to yourself? Or where is it alerting you that others are treating you unfairly and you’re not doing anything about it?

Of course, there are situations in life that—temporarily—we are helpless to do anything about: a sick relative that needs a major part of time we hardly have to give, the process of a bad divorce that must be gone through to become safe and whole again. What should one do in those instances?

Think of your conscious mind—the part of you that practices logic to get through your day—as a parent to your inner child. How would you comfort a child that is crying because it’s angry or sad or afraid or hurt? You wouldn’t ignore or suppress it! Can you visualize holding that child and speaking softly and lovingly to them in your mind? This might be especially needed if you were hardly treated this way yourself in childhood.

The practice of meditation is a one way to give attention to this often neglected part of ourselves. I discovered a wonderful meditation on this subject written by Dr. Rob Kiltz:

You can start by finding a photo of yourself as a child that you can look at for a few moments. School photos often work well to help you connect with this part of you. Sit in a relaxed position, close your eyes, and start taking deep breaths. Set the intention that you are going to connect with your inner child. Wait for an image of yourself as a child to appear in your mind’s eye. See your grown-up self hugging your inner child. Listen to what your inner child has to say. Perhaps your inner child wants to give you the answer to a question that you’ve been mulling over. After all, you never needed to look outside yourself when you were a child to know how you felt or what was true for you. You always knew the answers. There also may be an ache from a childhood wound that you can now heal by talking to your inner child and offering them the wisdom and perspective that comes with maturity. Or maybe you’ve merely forgotten how to see the world with childlike wonder and hope, and your inner child would like you to remember how. Tell your inner child that you love them and will keep them safe. Embrace your inner child and tell them that you are always there for them. Allow your inner child to always be there for you.

Other methods to address emotional issues that are difficult to find and release include hypnosis, subconscious programming in the form of recordings played while you sleep. Or it might be as simple as just allowing yourself time to play or perform other activities you enjoyed when young—such as reading, playing with color, or being out in nature. Think of what activities a child between the ages of four and seven would enjoy.

The rewards of attending to and caring for your inner child include greater strength, confidence, joy, playfulness, emotional safety and understanding—both of yourself and for others. You’ll also be amazed at how creative and pain free you can feel!

I’d love to hear how this and other methods work for you—comment here or e-mail me at joyjones@zoomtown.com.
midwestbuddha: (interdependant)
It's so easy, isn't it, to get caught up in our own small worlds, the drama, the rush and flow of life? In fact, it seems as if some people are constantly in crisis. But once in awhile a little piece of someone else's life comes to our attention (as this video did to mine), that gives us that feeling of 'I'm so glad that didn't happen to me'...

As it happens, Amy Purdy used her illness to expand her world, not to make it smaller. She used it to see and touch and help others in similar situations. Most of us, though, won't have such a dramatic opportunity to be shaken out of our selfishness. We need to find ways to remind ourselves that our world is bigger than just what's happening with us.

I've found that it helps to spend some time in meditation sending metta in larger and larger circles beginning with yourself, something like this:

May I be well, happy and peaceful. May I be safe. May I be free from difficulty and have patience, courage and understanding.

Choose someone you admire (for me, this is the Dalai Lama), and send metta to them in this way:

May they be well, happy and peaceful. May they be safe. May they be free from difficulty and have patience, courage and understanding.

Choose a friend, and send metta to them in this way:

May they be well, happy and peaceful. May they be safe. May they be free from difficulty and have patience, courage and understanding.

Choose a neutral person (someone you have no particular feeling about one way or another), and send metta to them in this way:

May they be well, happy and peaceful. May they be safe. May they be free from difficulty and have patience, courage and understanding.

Choose someone who is difficult or an enemy and send metta to them in this way:

May they be well, happy and peaceful. May they be safe. May they be free from difficulty and have patience, courage and understanding.

You can then expand your awareness by sending metta in the same way to the people on your street, in your town, in your state, your country, other countries and then the rest of the world.

Often, I find that after this meditation my personal situation is better in perspective--I see how small it is in the scheme of things. It's so tempting to get caught up in our own little world and imagine that's all there is. When we can see how small things really are, just with us, we can let go of troubling matters and not let them control us.

The other side of that coin is that when we move out of our own tiny, inner worlds we find that there are people out there that need us--our compassion, our wisdom, our actual, physical help. We may not all consider ourselves as courageous and heroic as Amy Purdy, but to someone who needs us--we are.
midwestbuddha: (meditating cat)
When I began writing this article, its theme was diversity. But, in practicing mindfulness, I realized it’s really about the Buddhist concept of non-separateness (the idea that all things are intimately connected and anything else is illusion.)

How extraordinary! I know you’re thinking. How could the idea metamorphose in the space of only a few days into one seemingly so far from its original aim?

Well…here’s how:

I began by spending part of my lunch hour at the office listing all the types of beans I could think of: wax, kidney, Great Northern, black, refried, pole, shelly, green, jumping, jelly, string, navy, red, coffee, butter and cocoa. My intention was to draw humorous similes between beans and humans. So, as promised, here they are:

What kind of “human bean” are you? Personally, I’m a refried bean—I’ve been cooked and cooked by life. And, can you ever tell when a refried bean is overcooked? Nope. They generally look the same all the time…
Perhaps you’re in the armed forces, so you’re a Navy bean. Or maybe you’re very thin, so you’re a string bean. Are you very active, literally hopping from place to place? Why, you’re a jumping bean! Or perhaps you’re a sweetie, so you’re a jelly bean…

When I arrived back at my desk after lunch, I was in such a quirky mood from the experiment (my co-workers are used to this, by now), that I had to tell my friends what I was doing. At first, they all just responded as they usually do—by shaking their heads and chuckling at me. But, slowly, they got excited about the game, too and began thinking of beans I hadn’t. A couple of them even dug out their dictionaries to find: baked, chili, garbanzo, pinto, legume, lentil, lima, magic, soy, vanilla, castor, bean curd and bean sprouts.

Suddenly, I declared a cease fire. Calmly, I pointed out that some of these might not technically be considered real beans. After all, were bean sprouts really beans…yet? Weren’t baked and chili beans only different because of the particular spices they were cooked with? Weren’t shelly beans just green and kidney beans mixed together? I was pretty darned sure lentil and legumes were peas and not really beans. And, hey—magic beans weren’t even real! Sadly, but firmly, I also crossed off the list bean curd and refried beans as simply bean by-products.

A cloud descended over my corner of the office. My friends began drifting away one by one, occupied once again with the various tasks of their day. I went back to work too, some part of my mind slowly digesting the information it had gleaned.

And then…it started.

One of my co-workers walked back in and stood near my desk. Thoughtfully, she said: “I really think you’re being unfair taking chili bean off the list. Chili beans are spicy. They’re fun…and I like them!” I looked at her. She was serious.

Overhearing this, the others came back and started to chime in, too.

“Legumes can be beans,” someone else said. “I looked it up.”

“Bean sprouts are still beans,” another added.

“If you take off lentils, you have to take off garbanzos,” yet another chimed in. “They’re really chick peas. That doesn’t seem fair either.”

And, as all this was going on around me, I suddenly became mindful of what was occurring. I had fallen into that old trap in Western thinking, of “us” and “them”—even with something as small as…well, beans. And my friends were instinctively practicing what they do every day, with every “human bean” they meet. They were finding ways to see their world as larger, not smaller. They were looking for elements of commonality.

Then, I began recalling a conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler, from their book together, The Art of Happiness. In it, the Dalai Lama is asked something like, “If it is the natural state of the human heart to be inclined toward goodwill to all beings, why do humans create such unhappiness for themselves and others?”

The Dalai Lama’s response was to think for a moment and then chuckle and shake his head. “I don’t know,” he finally said. (Apparently, it just didn’t make sense to him.)

So I added all the beans we’d talked about to the list once again. And everyone was as happy as if these were red, black, navy and green people. As if the bean sprouts were human children. As if it was they themselves that had been included again.

As happy as if it was the natural state of their hearts to think acceptingly.

Huh…imagine that.

PS: In case you’re now into the bean craze, have a jelly bean and check out The Epicurious Food Dictionary


midwestbuddha: (Default)

June 2012

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