The Human Dharma

April 26, 2010

It turns out the Grand Poobah religious figure in the USA, Jesus, did some stuff that didn’t make a lot of sense.  The one that comes to mind is getting mad at the fig tree and cursing it to death because it didn’t have any figs and he was hungry.  Um… seriously, Jesus? The tree would have had figs if the conditions had been right.  Wouldn’t it have been better to curse the environment?  Or the fig tree’s health?  The Buddha said that attachments cause suffering.  Jesus experienced suffering because he craved a fig so much he couldn’t stand it.  But taking the story at face value, his craving caused suffering not only for himself, it also killed the tree, so there could be no more figs for anyone from that tree. 

Jesus also rejected his family and said that he had a new family in the form of his disciples.  Buddha did that, too.  In fact, he ditched his parents, wife and kid and didn’t see them for ages.  Later in his life his family became his followers, but he did ditch them and cause them suffering.  Among the things the Buddhist works on is his compassion.  Although he left them so he could figure out the source of suffering and the resolution of suffering, he also caused suffering.

The thing is, these guys were people.  They weren’t gods.  Buddha didn’t even claim to be.  He didn’t even assign anyone to carry on his work.  He said that people need to figure out the way the world works by practicing on their own.  Jesus did claim to be the son of God, as well as the Son of Man, but he was human.  He had faults.  Buddha had faults.  All us people got faults.

As a freshly minted Buddhist I have been thinking about how it used to irk me when Christians edited the Christian story to make it suit their experiences.  A lot of modern Christians actually redefine God to suit their perspectives.  Now I find myself doing the same thing with Buddhism.  I don’t buy the supernatural stuff in Buddhism any more than I buy it in Christianity. 

What I buy is the Four Noble Truths, and how practicing them leads you automatically to walking the Eightfold Path.  Nothing magical. Nothing that requires faith without evidence.  Just walk the walk.

The Four Noble Truths

  • There is suffering (dukkha).
  • There is a cause of suffering (craving).
  • There is the cessation of suffering (nirvana).
  • There is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering.
  • The Eightfold Path

    1. Right View
    2. Right Intention
    3. Right Speech
    4. Right Action
    5. Right Livelihood
    6. Right Effort
    7. Right Mindfulness
    8. Right Concentration

    The intersting thing is that nirvana doesn’t happen in the great hereafter.  It happens here and now when you practice.  Bits and pieces of nirvana start showing up.  The more you practice, the more you get.

    Dental Dharma

    April 12, 2010

    I have been getting some dental work done.  I needed a couple of crowns.  I hadn’t had anything like that done in years.  About 3 weeks ago the first tooth was shaved down, and I decided I would try to practice meditation while it was happening.  I had some moments of sort of knowing I was breathing, but mostly I tried to avoid choking.  Mindfulness can be hard, especially when you really want to be on a desert island or, heck, stuck in traffic, or anywhere but in that chair.

    This morning it was better.  I figured out how not to breathe through my mouth despite having my mouth wide open, and how to concentrate on my breath while the dentist drilled his heart out.  I also learned to keep my tongue away from any gunk he puts in there- it is going to taste bad, that’s just a fact.  It’s a lot easier to meditate when you can breathe and when the most bitter flavor in the world isn’t eating a hole through your tongue. 

    It was a good practice, though, both times.  Bringing yourself back to the present is challenging when you’re sitting on your zafu in a quiet room, but there is great benefit from learning to control the mind in tougher situations, too.  The fact that for seconds at a time I was able to stay with my breathe despite the drilling and nasty tastes in my mouth helped me understand that I have progressed.  I could never have done that just a short time ago. 

    When Moh Hardin was here in January, he lead us on an awareness meditation, that involved walking up to stuff and just checking it out.  Truly paying attention, letting go of self-consciousness.  It was something I did all the time as a little kid, but hadn’t done, not really, in forever.  It is good. 

    Now I find myself walking up to an iris and really looking it over, knowing that it will only be here a short time and then it will be gone, so now is the time to look and pay attention to it.  Now is the time to wake up.  Or else I take a really good look at the texture of the wall paper in some restaurant bathroom or the dimples and sharp textures of a brick in some wall.  Those things are going to be here for a while, but even they are fleeting. 

    It’s important to understand that I am fleeting, too.  I am awake and aware, but now and only now.  And sooner or later I won’t be awake and aware at all… I will die and become part of the dirt and the bugs and the flowers. 

    I hope someone will stop and look at the dirt I become in a bunch of years from now, and be awake and aware and alive in that one moment in time.  They will not see me or know I used to be made out of that dirt, but maybe they will have a little moment of presence when they will breathe in and find out they are glad they are alive.

    Disclaimer:  I am still a Meditator Tot, not a nun or a high fallutin’ Lama.  I am also a skeptic.  What I believe in is the results I’ve obtained from the practice of Buddhist mindfulness.  Cause and effect is key. 

    Feel free to skip through this for the parts you’re interested in. 

    Today I was asked the following:  I’ve been studying up on world religions lately (from a philosophical viewpoint), and I’m having some difficulty with Buddhism. There doesn’t seem to be a defining text like most religions have…and that’s making it a bit difficult for me to direct my studies. Can you suggest a place/book/website for me to start studying? It really would help me out, as I’m a bit lost in the wealth of information out there. Thank you!

    This is a great question and a common problem-at least it’s one I face daily as a fledgeling Buddhist. I’m going to give a little background I’ve gleaned and will recommend some books, one questioner to another.  I’ll list some books in the text and at the end. 

    BACK STORY as I’ve gathered it:

    Siddhartha Gautama lived some 500 years before Jesus.  His family was fairly successful, although his father was not a King as some writings claim. According to the Pali Canon he was probably more like a governor, and certainly did pretty well for himself and his family.  The name Siddhartha doesn’t show up until later writings, although the Gautama family name seems to be attached to the guy who would later become the Buddha from way back near the start. 

    Legend has it that his Mom had a seer read his fortune, and it was determined that he would be either a great political or religious leader.  In that place and time to be a religious leader meant an austere life of self-sacrifice, living with a begging bowl and wearing tattered robes, so his Dad much preferred him to be a political leader.  He tried to protect him from exposure to life’s troubles like that whole pesky sickness and dying situation, but he went out with a servant, saw reality, left his cushy life and became an aescetic.  He wandered around starving for a few years, realized that starving didn’t explain anything, and went for what is known as the Middle Way, which is still recommended today.  A life of moderation.  The thing is, the whole king story was probably not exactly right, although everyone tells it as if it was the gospel.  No, wait, wrong religion.   

    I found the following book very helpful in getting a grasp on what is probably as close to the Buddha story as we could possibly get:  Stephen Batchelor – Confession of a Buddhist Atheist.  He was a monk for many years as a young man, and then opted to leave for a life as a married lay Buddhist teacher.  He studied with many of the big names in Buddhism, and even had some time wtih the Dalai Lama. He writes about the Pali Canon and how he worked on sifting apart the fluff from what is likely to be authentic in those texts.  Like me, he questioned the Dalai’s tolerance of monks performing supernatural rituals and the treasuries of meaningful relics.  These seems to contradict a central tenet of Buddhist practice, that of letting go of attachments to things, to people, to outcomes in order to reduce suffering.

    THE MEANING OF LIFE… Or… THE TRUTH ABOUT BEING ALIVE

    The central Buddhist idea is known as the Four Noble Truths.  This is what the Buddha supposedly figured out while sitting under the Bodhi Tree, and it only took him eleven hours.  (Do you detect a hint of sarcasm? I suspect he figured it out, and he said anyone could do it.  Whether it happened under that tree in eleven hours is open for debate in my view. It’s a legend.)

    1.  There is suffering in life.  (There.  Someone finally said it.)

    2. The cause of suffering is attachments and cravings.  

    3.  There is a way to relieve suffering.

    4.  The way is to release attachments. 

    ATTACHMENTS

    Basically, we spend our lives running after things we want and running away from things we don’t want, applying expectations to things outside ourselves and being upset when they don’t come out the way we ever-so-deeply wanted them to.  These things we run toward or from are what Buddhists refer to as attachments.  We worry about the decisions our kids make even though they are adults; we worry about the amount of stuff we have, hoarding objects or throwing away money to get more stuff; we worry that our parents will die and our cars will get old and that we might miss our favorite TV show or forget to record it.  We attach to all kinds of worry.  We get mad when people cut us off in traffic because we are attached to moving along unimpeded.  Everything that we suffer over has to do with one sort of attachment or another.

    Getting your brain around that is a huge deal.  Because the next question is, inevitably, “Are you saying I should leave my spouse and kids, and spend my life meditating under a bridge?  Am I supposed to knock off all my plans and goals… like learning more or eating right and exercising or saving for retirement?”  The good news is, no, you don’t have to.  Some people do, but frankly, I’m not convinced that isn’t its own form of attachment to an identity.   

    What we do very little of is being present and awake in the moment.  Paying attention to the look and taste and shape and temperature and texture of each bite of food instead of eating while watching TV or reading or driving and not even appreciating it. (This is why MacDonald’s is popular. Americans do not pay attention to what they are eating, so we don’t notice if it tastes good or not, and we don’t feel satisfied when we eat so we eat more.)  Paying full attention to your job without thinking about something else.  To sit on the porch and be aware of the birdsong and the rustling leaves rather than dragging the boom box out there to drown it out. 

    PRACTICE

    So the central practice of Buddhism is meditation.  Formal meditation often takes place while sitting on a mat and pillow, or a chair or small bench.  It can also take place while walking.  But it also can take place in everyday life.  Meditation is not what it is surmised to be by the uninitated.  It is a practice to help you gain control of your mind and your life by being fully awake and aware in this moment here and now.  In my sangha (congregation) we perform sitting meditation for a while, then we walk for a while, then we sit again as the heart of each of our weekly gatherings.  The presentation that usually follows is brief and secondary to meditation.  We also have weekend retreats in which we participate in various arts or practice meditation, or both.     

    This formal meditation is like the scales Ray Charles said were the staple of his daily piano playing.  He loved playing scales, throughout his life, long after he was famous, and up until he couldn’t do it any more.  He said it wasn’t a good day if he couldn’t do his scales.  Formal meditation is the equivalent of the scales of a mindful life. A regular practice is considered more important than long periods of meditation.  Five minutes a day is better than an hour of sitting every now and then. 

    THE EIGHTFOLD PATH

    Buddhism is full of lists.  Some get a wee tad fussy for me, but the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are biggies.  The Eightfold path is similar to the Ten Commandments except that they aren’t commanded by anyone… and there are only eight.  🙂  They are practices that will become part of your life naturally as you become more aware that every path leads to here and now, so you almost don’t even need to hear them, although why not take help when you can get it?  (I could get into a whole thing here about reincarnation, but I don’t consider that important, any more than I consider heaven and hell important.  I consider here and now important.  If I am awake and present, I make good choices that reduce my suffering and that of those around me.  I think attachments to a reincarnated life and to heaven and hell (and indeed hell can be an attachment in the sense that people are attached to avoiding it) are, after all, cravings that cause suffering.  If I live with awareness and it turns out reincarnation or heaven are in store for me, they’ll come.  I just prefer not to be attached to those concepts, both because they are attachments and attachments cause suffering, but also because they don’t match my experience of cause and effect. 

    The Eightfold Path consists of ways to live a good life.  They are Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.  Here’s a link that explains them pretty nicely.  http://www.boloji.com/buddhism/00110.htm  . 

    THE SUPERNATURAL

    I don’t buy the supernatural in any religion, but I do think there are things we don’t understand and try to have an open mind in the here and now.  What drew me to Buddhism was the practice and the results I experience from practice.  There are Buddhists that are devoted to the supernatural.  From what I can tell at this stage in my study as a Buddhist they ignore the words of the original Buddha who said that if it doesn’t match your experience, don’t buy it, even if I (the Buddha himself) said it.  This convinces me that it is valid to be a Buddhist without all the beliefs in reincarnation, clairvoyance, and auspicious this and that. 

    Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.     Buddha     

    LINEAGES

    Like Christianity, Buddhism has a bunch of sects… even more than Christianity, probably.  After all, it’s had 500 more years to gear up.  Many of the sects claim a direct line to the Buddha, meaning that their teacher was taught by another teacher and another and another on back until one of the teachers was taught directly by the Buddha.  Just like the Church of Christ claims to be directly connected to the first century church Jesus started.  (At least they used to.)  I find this unlikely, but I’m okay with it in a philosophical sense, both for Christians and Buddhists. 

    There are some good books that give overviews of the main schools, so I’ll let them tell you.  One suprisingly good book for an overview is The Idiots Guide to Buddhism.  Believe it or not.  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, 3rd Edition By: Gary Gach.

    MY PATH

    I belong to the Tibetan lineage, American-style, called Shambhala.  There is a lot of information on the Shambhala website:    http://www.shambhala.org/.  As I’ve said, I remain a skeptic, but have been supported in my skepticism by my fellow Shambhala Buddhists, so if something there doesn’t add up for you, don’t feel oblidged to buy it.  The Buddha wouldn’t. 

    REFUGE VOWS

    I took my refuge vows earlier this year, and when I had my interview with our Archrya (he’s an advanced teacher in our lineage and who is only here one time a year), he said that this refuge sticks even if I switch to another lineage, if I want it to.  I was given the Tibetan name, Shiwa Nyi-Tso, which means Peaceful Sun-Lake.   

    It is not necessary to take refuge vows to practice the Buddhist ways, nor certainly to benefit from meditation and mindfulness.  Many members of Shambhala are not Buddhists at all.  They are Catholics and Jews and Atheists who have recognized the value of meditative practice and mindfulness.  When asked if one must give up their gods to become a Buddhist, Buddha replied, “You do not give up one good friend just because you have made another.”  Besides, the Buddha is not a god, and did not consider himself a god.  You might be surprised to hear that without digging deep because a lot of people really want him to be a god and make him into one. 

    Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sanga.  These are the Teacher, The teachings, and the Community of learners. 

    THE RITUALS AND THE STUFF

    For people raised in simple religions like the fundamentalist Christianity of my childhood, the iconography can be a bit much.  Even as a former Unitarian Universalist (who remains affiliated) I get a bit “attached” to avoiding the extravagant trappings.  (And it causes me suffering. Yikes!) The Zen lineage is actually probably more in alignment with my take on Buddhism than the Tibetan path, but I have found a family among my sangha. 

    WORSHIP

    We don’t exactly worship as Buddhists, certainly not in the Western sense.  When we bow to our archrya when we take our refuge vows, we are not worshipping him, we are honoring him.  When we bow to a shrine, we are not worshipping it or anything on it, we are focusing our mindfulness on it.  This is an alien concept to most Americans.  Americans figure if you bow you are worshipping.  But this is eastern bowing, and it’s a sign of respect.  Why have a statue of the buddha on the altar?  Just to center our minds.  In fact, at our sangha, the altar contains bowls of things that symbolize the 5 natural senses.  No Buddha there at all, instead we honor our own sight, hearing, touch, tastes and smells. 

    SOME READINGS

    There is so much to read that your head swims.  I find I’ve had to focus my reading, and if I pick up a book that is too nutty, I put it back down pretty quickly.  Maybe later it won’t seem nutty and I’ll try again, but I feel no obligation to buy it just because a Buddhist said it was so.  I bought this one book called A Buddha From Brooklyn.  WAY too nutty.  Do not get it. 

    An Accidental Buddhist by Dinty Moore.  This is an awesome book, a story of a guy who went out in search of Buddhism in America.  Not a deep intellectual read, but really worthwhile, I thought.

    Accidental Buddhist by Emily Dickinson.  I just ordered it.  No idea if it is good!

    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Buddhism, 3rd Edition [Kindle Edition] By: Gary Gach  Surprisingly good. 

    Confession of a Buddhist Atheist [Kindle Edition] By: Stephen Batchelor  Very worthwhile.  It tells the author’s story in an engaging way while giving a pretty in depth critique of some aspects of Buddhist practice. 

    Buddhism Plain and Simple [Kindle Edition] By: Steve Hagen  I love this book.  It is well written, clean, and gets to the point of Buddhist practice. 

    Meditation, Now or Never. For basic meditation instruction, this is a great book, also by Steve Hagen.  Instruction in meditation technique is very important and invaluable.  What most people think of as meditation, isn’t. 

    Sit Down and Shut Up [Kindle Edition] By: Brad Warner Great read by a former punk rocker and Buddhist priest.  A very down-to-earth look at life as a Buddhist in the modern world.

    Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma [Kindle Edition] By: Brad Warner  Another cool Brad Warner book.

    A lot of the books by the modern Buddhist leaders are kind of heady and … well … sometimes seem impractical.  Yet, once you’ve been practicing a while, even a little while like me, they start to make more sense.  Here are a list of books from the Shambhala lineage:

    http://shambhala.org/meditation/books.php 

    Some of the traditional texts… there are thousands of pages of traditional texts.

    Dammapada

    Pali Canon

    Tibetan Book of the Dead

    FINALLY

    Maybe that was more than you wanted to know, certainly it was just one woman’s view, and it was from a rank beginner, so take it all with a grain of your own intellectual salt. 

    Stay awake,

    Shiwa Nyi-Tso,

    Aka Aunt Kellie

    Auspicious Coincidences

    January 27, 2010

    A lot has happened since I last posted.  I’ve continued down the meditation path and had an auspicious coincidence or two. 

    I started attending the Dallas Shambhala Center about a month or so ago.  I had looked for a place for a while and nothing seemed right.  I was actually looking for a Zen Center, but ended up going to Shambhala, which is Tibetan, because… well… er… because it was held at a Unitarian Universalist church.  I was a UU for years and years, and figured if Shambhala was too weird I could always go across the atrium to choir practice.

    Well, Shambhala wasn’t too weird at all.  It was actually very nice.  Nice people of all ages, shapes sizes.  Some still practicing other faiths, some only Buddhists.  All willing to chat about what was up with their spiritual practice. 

    It also turned out that the regional teacher, Archya Moh Hardin, was coming to town to do a retreat and a refuge ceremony.  I decided to attend the retreat, held at a historic downtown building.  And I also decided that I wanted to take refuge. 

    Taking refuge just means becoming a Buddhist.  You take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.  But you’re really taking refuge in your own Buddha nature.  You don’t find it outside yourself, it’s already there.  But you do have to look for it, and the Buddha lead by an example of how to do that. 

    The retreat was a delightful opportunity to get to know members of the sangha.  My hips hurt like a bad boy by the end of it, but my heart felt light.  I showed my rugs at the reception where people were invited to share their art.  They were well received.  And then I went home and left them there, so they got to spend a couple nights with sweet Margo, one of the center directors.  I feel like they have been blessed. 

    I had already scheduled an interview with Moh.  When the time came, I asked him about it.  I told him about my recent journeys with grief, how I learned to deal with them by mindfulness meditation.  At first he said there wouldn’t be a problem with waiting… there was no reason to do it now.  But by the end of the conversation we both felt it was right for me to go ahead and go for it. In fact, he told me that he took his vows very early in his practice, too.  Toward the end, he said that perhaps it was an auspicious coincidence that he was in town at just the time I was ready to become a Buddhist.  As I stepped out of the room with him after the interview, I told him, “I feel peaceful.”  He said, “I feel good about this.” 

    The next night was the Refuge Vows.  Five of us were on the front row on our meditation cushions.  Some of them had been practicing for years, but I didn’t feel out of place.  We did our usual meditations with the sangha (congregation), which consist of 20 minutes or so of sitting meditation, 10 or so of walking meditation, and another 5ish of sitting.  Then Moh spoke about the meaning of taking refuge, and that we were being asked to project an open attitude, a changed “mark” (kind of an adjective that people would notice about you… like… when you see someone who is in love and you can tell, even if they don’t say anything), and the offering of kindness to everyone.  He said that when he snapped his fingers at the appropriate time, the transition would take place and we would feel our new lives. 

    I had my doubts at that point.  I was baptized twice in the Christian fundamentalist faith of my childhood, and didn’t feel anything different either time. 

    We were asked to take 3 half prostrations (kneel and touch the hands and forehead to the floor) to symbolize the practicality of trusting the Earth.  One to the Buddha, which means, to the way of Buddhism, one to the dharma, which means, the teachings of the Buddha, and one to the sangha, which is a word that means something like fellowship or congregation.   

    Then he talked about our lives on the path.  And he snapped his fingers.  And I felt it.  That was a really good set up!

    Then he presented our new names, written by him in calligraphy in English letters, and in Tibetan script.  He said that these are our real names, they’re ours, and that if we want that’s the name we can go by, but that most in Shambhala reserve it for Buddhist occasions. 

    The name I received was Shiwa Nyi-Tso.  It means Peaceful Sun-Lake.  So now, even though I remain a Meditator Tot, I have something else to put in my signature.  🙂

    When I arrived, Moh’s wife, and one of our regional teachers, commented on my earrings.  I had seen them that day while out and about, and bought them because they featured a sunburst in the center.  I said, “I wasn’t shopping for earrings, but these just appealed to me.”  Afterwards she said, “First you said after your interview with Moh that you felt peaceful.  Then you bought these sun earrings.  And your name.  What a set of auspicious coincidences!”  Indeed.  Of course, saying peaceful was before my name was selected.  And although I don’t believe in magical coincidences, it was still a sweet coincidence… an auspicious one, you might say. 

    Now I just need a lake and I’ll be all set!  In the meantime I have my little water garden which will get some fancying up this spring, that’s for sure! 

    I’ll be back, with more reports on the path.  It turns out that my path leads to right where I am.  And yours leads to where you are.  So I guess at the moment, our paths lead to our computer chairs, eh?

    I find so many parallels with training dogs. So many.  And the peaceful thrum thrum thrum of rug hooking is a mantra. 

    Peace be with you,

    Shiwa Nyi-Tso

    Peaceful Sun-Lake

    Also known as Kellie.  🙂  And Meditator Tot.

    If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I have been studying Buddhism.  There is much to love about this practice for a heathen scientist, but it is tarnished with myth and a willingness to fall for anything just like other religions are.  It’s not supposed to be a religion, yet it has adherants who worship the Buddha rather than following the teachings of Siddhartha the human buddha.  And the writings of the human Buddha are rife with the influence of the age and place in which he lived.  How could they not be?  We learn by interactions with our environments. 

    Mindfulness and meditation have made a huge difference in my life in the short time I’ve been practicing them.  I’ve been disillusioned by the beliefs of so many learned Buddhists that some guy was really and truly born out of a lotus flower, and that we can all become clairvoyant as we ascend to nirvana and other such nonsense. 

    What mindfulness can really offer is the ability to observe one’s life better and stop running away from reality– the exact opposite of most religious practices.  And that’s pure science. Instead of distracting ourselves with doing acts because we are told to by mythical or historical characters who threaten us with rebirth as a toad or with hellfire and damnation, we can do things because we observe and figure out what the antecedents and consequences are for our actions. Once we know that we can adjust them to improve our lives and that of those around us. That’s behavior analysis.  That’s real. Meditation and mindfulness help us get there.

    In my last post I wrote that I’m not really a Buddhist.  I am studying Buddhism, but I don’t want to be defined as a Buddhist any more than I want to be defined as a Christian. Both faiths are enmeshed with superstitions I choose not to embrace.  I embrace evidence.  When contradictory evidence comes along, I adjust my beliefs.  People aren’t born from Lotus flowers, nor are they born from virgins.  I know lots of folks who have edited their Christianity to exclude the silly stuff and include only the good stuff, like “turn the other cheek” and all that. But you’ve got to keep in mind, in the Christian scriptures, Jesus cursed a fig tree to death when it wouldn’t give him fruit, and God refused to save his only son when he was being crucified.  These aren’t stories that comfort me.  They make me nervous.  They make it okay to kill those who don’t serve you and to walk away from the one person they are supposed to love most.  If I had to worship a god, it would be one that whisked his kid off the cross, healed his wounds, and said, “Yo, People!  I’ll do the same for you!” 

    Which is why the Buddha was originally so appealing.  He was born wealthy, but when he saw how the rest of the world was, he gave up his wealth and tried to figure out what was up with all that.  He finally determined that The Middle Way is the best way.  Not extreme asceticism… which makes me confused about why Buddhist monks are supposed to support themselves by begging.  Not extreme wealth… which makes me confused about all the gold encrusted Buddha statues and offerings.   But the Middle Way.  Moderation in all things. I think the Buddha has been skewed just like the Christ has.  But I also think I’m going to have a hard time with a guru that existed in a time when fact-based science and equality were hazy at best.

    I found this article online and all the way through I was thinking, Yes!  Yes!  I’ve copied some quotes, but please go to the source, the Shambala Sun, to read the entire article:  http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=2903Itemid=247

    “Given the degree to which religion still inspires human conflict, and impedes genuine inquiry, I believe that merely being a self-described “Buddhist” is to be complicit in the world’s violence and ignorance to an unacceptable degree.”  Sam Harris, author of Tne End of Faith in the Shambala Sun.  [Harris was commenting on the general idea most people have of Buddhism as a religion.  Among the people who hold this idea are some practicing Buddhists.]

    Harris continues, “…there are ideas within Buddhism that are so incredible as to render the dogma of the virgin birth plausible by comparison…Among Western Buddhists, there are college-educated men and women who apparently believe that Guru Rinpoche was actually born from a lotus. This is not the spiritual breakthrough that civilization has been waiting for these many centuries.”  [Indeed.]

    Harris:  “For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence… In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science.”  [Wow.]

    Harris:  “…the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.”  [Yes!]

    “Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments.”  [Yes, yes!]

    “Religion is also the only area of our discourse in which people are systematically protected from the demand to give evidence in defense of their strongly held beliefs. And yet, these beliefs often determine what they live for, what they will die for, and—all too often—what they will kill for.”  [So true!]

    “…once we develop a scientific account of the contemplative path, it will utterly transcend its religious associations.” 

    A scientific account of the contempletive path.

    This makes me want to go back to school and conduct mindfulness research. 

    Good Karma,

    Meditator Tot

    Kindle: An Attachment

    November 15, 2009

    Kindle DX Wireless Reading Device (9.7" Display, U.S. Wireless, Latest Generation)Product Details

     

    Here’s my excuse:  Apparently Kindles need a break every now and then.  My Kindle has been returned to me.  (See yesterday’s entry.)  It is like a boomerang. Here’s the history of my Kindle.

    I received it sometime this summer, with great excitement and glee and it instantly became my dearest inanimate companion.  (You can read yesterday’s entry for more on that.)  I bought it a purple leather cover.  I made a shrine to it… okay, I didn’t, but I love it.  No more teetering stacks of books on my bedside table.  Just one sleek electronic device.

    In late June I took the Kindle to Sequim Washington where Jesus and I were doing a seminar on the Constructional Aggression Treatment.  I had to leave early because I received a call that my ailing father had taken a turn for the worse.  I and all my stuff were taken to the tiny airport where I would hitch a ride to Seattle and fly to Dallas, then drive to East Texas where my Dad was entering hospice care.

    I stepped off the teeny plane and walked across the tarmac dragging my suitcase and lugging a carry on and got all the way inside the airport before realizing I’d left the Kindle in the seat pocket.  I panicked and asked someone to help because the plane was ROLLING and I was afraid he was going to taxi off to the runway with my Kindle.  A very nice young man (probably in his 40s) went out and got it off the plane, and returned it to me wearing a bemused… nay… annoyed… expression.

    I went out front and got on a bus which would take me to the big airport.  I started chatting with the folks around me.  I hopped off the bus and went off toward the airport terminal, and realized I’d forgotten my Kindle in the seat pocket.  Note to self: DO NOT PUT KINDLE IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT SEAT POCKETS!!!!  I dashed back.  Dashing is something less than running, but still took my breath away.

    I got off the bus again and scurried (slower than dashing, faster than walking) through the very long airport to catch the next plane only to realize that I had my Kindle … but I didn’t have  MY SUITCASE!!!!  This wasn’t a normal lay over.  It was a wee-plane to big-plane switcheroo, and I had zoned out thinking about my Dad and forgot that it was do-it-yourself service from thither to yon.

    I ran back (literally ran… if you can imagine that) back to the other end of the airport only to see two men standing with my suitcase, scratching their heads.  Between gasps I called out, “That’s mine!”  They looked at me as I slowed to a dash and then a scurry and finally a stertorous stop. One of them said, “Well, did ya forget your luggage now?” I refrained from offering a clever retort only because I was out of breath. He said, “We were just deciding what to do about it and here you came running!” I replied something like, “Pant, pant, pant… Thank pant you pant pant… so pant pant… much pant pant pant.”

    “Are you alright then?  Anything else I can help you with?”  The other man was just grinning.  I wondered if they knew the guy who went to grab my Kindle off the wee plane.

    There have been nights when Kindle spent the night at one of my offices.  There have been days when my Kindle was at home and I wished it were with me, where ever I was.  But I got the DX… a bigger version of the Kindle… and it didn’t fit well into any of my purses so I was always leaving it elsewhere because I have so much stuff to tote at work.  That lead to me buying the nice purple tote I wrote about yesterday.  I’m hoping it will resolve my Kindle forgetting.  We’ll see.

    So, what have I learned from all this?  That I do indeed have an attachment to inanimate objects problem. I wonder what I would have felt if I had forever lost a couple dozen of my favorite hard copy books.  Would I have felt the sense of panic … and of dukkha … that I felt last night when my Kindle was missing?  I don’t think so.  I think it was the $500 bucks we doled out on the device and the $50 more on the cover that made it such a big deal.  It is actually a device I coveted but didn’t need, and certainly didn’t miss before I got it.  But I had an attachment to getting it.  I really wanted it. And when I found out I could get a purple cover for it… well… it was mine.

    Another lesson in dukkha.  What do you do about the attachment when something is lost then returns to you?  If I were a good Buddhist I might get rid of the Kindle.  Sell it on Ebay, donate the money to the SPCA?  But I would still have my attachment to books.  I would still have attachments to all sorts of things.  And I’ve learned much of what little I know about Buddhism on my Kindle.  So.  I don’t know what else to say about that except that I’m keeping my Kindle.  Unless I lose it for real sometime.  (I’m not really a Buddhist, I’m just saying…and I’m going to write separately on the Complete Buddhist… stay tuned.)

    And that brings to mind what I automatically did last night.  I quickly came to the conclusion that it had been stolen, possibly by one of the two women standing in the bag section looking at wallets.  I very quickly dismissed the notion that maybe I forgot it somewhere again. I did fleetingly think that if I had left it in my cart (which I had) someone had already swiped it.  But I had, they handn’t, and no one did any swiping.  It was just me being forgetful.  (Forgetfulness drives me crazy but I’m SOOO good at it!) And me learning that blaming people isn’t too helpful.

    Here’s what I did with my dukkha last night.  Whenever I would think about the Kindle and feel angry or sick, I would stop myself and say, “Okay, be with that feeling.”  And I would think about the knot in my stomach and just make myself stay there with that physical sensation.  And the sensation went away.  By the time I went to bed I was still disappointed, but I was okay. I had let go.  I was doing okay with the loss.  I still had work to do on it, but I was very nearly okay.

    This process seems to have desensitized me to the loss.  This morning when I first woke up and thought about it, I felt a lesser sense of loss, but went into it, just went to that dull feeling and stayed with it.  It diminished.

    So when I checked my voice mail and got a message saying the Kindle had been found in the shopping cart where I’d carelessly left it, I felt a little bewildered.  Really?  I was so sure it was gone for good.  I’d done my homework in letting go of the attachment.  I’d refrained from ordering another Kindle, not just because it was expensive but because I wasn’t sure I needed to have one.  (Okay, to be sure I did peek at the new Kindle model when I went online to cut off my Kindle service last night.  It’s smaller and will fit in more purses, AND it has global wireless, not just in the USA.  I don’t leave the country that often, but that would be cool… At cocktail parties I could say, “Oh, yes, I downloaded that book while vacationing in Belize.”  Of course I haven’t been to a cocktail party in 20 years. And I’ve never been to Belize. But the DX has a rotating display, and that does come in handy sometimes.  So, yeah, I would have ordered another Kindle.)

    Kindle is home now, and fortunately I did not return the purple Kindle Purse, although I have yet to find a bag for inside the Kindle purse.  Maybe Ziploc makes something suitable. (See yesterday’s post for more on that, too.)  I re-registered her immediately.  It was super easy to do… even a thief could have done it.  See?  There I go again.

    Good Karma to you,

    Meditator Tot

     

    I had a Kindle DX.  It was the object-love of my life.  Aside from my Element, my Kindle was my favorite inanimate object.  Well, except for my angled rug hook, my sock monkey slippers and my computer.  And my Merrell’s work shoes.  And our Tempurpedic bed.  In fact, the Kindle and the Tempurpedic … does anyone need anything else, really?  Really?

    I was having this problem with the kindle.  It didn’t fit in my main purse, and any other bags I had were too giant and irritating, so I went out looking for a bag for my Kindle.  It’s own pursey bag to be carried in.  I went to TJ Max.  (You can get the max for the minimum at TJ Max.)  Brought my Kindle.  Let it try on several purses.  Settled on a purple tote that somewhat matched my Kindle’s outfit, a purple Kindle Cover. I was happy, Kindle was happy.  I paid for the bag, and some hand lotion, and went to my car.  I drove home.  I started to get out of the car, and Kindle wasn’t there.  I panicked.  I said Burma.  I freaked out.  I searched the car and SPED back to TJ Max.  The manager was quite pleasant but hadn’t had one turned in.  I wanted to have an anxiety attack or something.  I was just sick.  I retraced my steps through the store, when it dawned on me that it had been stolen.

    The store was packed.  It looked like Christmas shopping going down in there.  I had pulled up next to a couple of women looking at clutches… I was hoping to find a small bag to fit inside my Kindle bag that could be pulled out when I wanted to go places Kindle didn’t need to go.  (Not many places, but I was in a very consumer mood.  A purse for my Kindle, a bag for my Kindle’s purse.  Made sense to me.)

    I realized that just before that was the last time I saw Kindle.  I called home and my hubby dearest got online and realized, no, there isn’t any insurance on it, and no, Amazon doesn’t really have any way to stop people from re-registering a device as stolen and preventing downloads … or at least no policy of doing that.  Apparently Kindles are big business in the Thieving and conniving business these days.  They could easily make a stolen Kindle worthless by never allowing it to be registered again without certain backflips, but no.  All I could do was “Deregister” the Kindle and feel like crying.  I didn’t actually cry but I really, really felt like it.  I LOVE MY KINDLE AND WANT IT BACK.  It had my business cards in the pocket with my work phone number, but my work cell hasn’t rung, and it’s not going to.  At least not with someone saying they have my Kindle and want me to have it back.

    So I drove back home, feeling just like crap, really.  I mean, really!  I was BUYING my KINDLE a PURSE and someone STOLE it!  Now I have a stupid purple tote that doesn’t have even one Kindle DX to its name.  I was driving and it was dark and people are SO STUPID when they drive at night.  They just cruise along like they have all the time in the world and don’t even CARE that someone MIGHT have had her KINDLE stolen, DAMN THEM TO HELL AND BACK!!!

    So, I’m driving in the dark and I happened to touch my neck and a tiny little pendant I got in the mail today.  It is a silver circle.  On one side is a Japanese character, and on the other, the meaning translated into English.  Zen.  Meditate.  Be here now.

    I didn’t want to be there, because there was very, very VERY very annoying and I wanted to be anywhere but there.  But I wasn’t somewhere else, I was there.  I was there, in my car on a dark Irving Texas road with someone else reading my Zen library… what is someone else going to do with 20 Zen Buddhism books?  Only I need them, do you hear me?

    But I touched the little silver sliver and I came back to here, now, and I thought, “This feels really bad.”  Then I’d think of what kind of stinking jerk would steal a Kindle, of all things, and I said, “Okay, but be HERE now.”  And I stayed for a while, but I didn’t really want to at all, so I wondered how mad my husband really was… Kindles aren’t cheap, you know… and I said, “Okay, but be HERE now.”  So I stayed there for maybe a few blocks.  I felt how bad I felt, and I felt the attachment to this thing, this electronic book, this object that had taken on a life of its own.  I thought about attachment and how it causes dukkha (suffering).  I thought about my Kindle.  I thought about dukkha.  I was having a bunch of dukkha.  I hate dukkha.  I think a Buddhist teacher would say I made my dukkha more powerful by staying mad at the person that stole my Kindle.  But I don’t have a zen teacher, so I might as well not get too attached to that whole idea or I’ll have more dukkha.

    I thought about the purple leather tote.  I got so mad.  How could I ever use that purse knowing I got it when my Kindle needed something to ride in and that now I don’t have a Kindle at all?  Damn, damn, DAMN!!  Damn, I miss my Kindle.

    So I thought, “Be here now.  HERE now.”  I thought, “Damn, I miss my Kindle.  Missing my Kindle hurts.  Now hurts.  I miss my damned Kindle.  I have to let go of my Kindle because it’s gone and I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to, damn it, damn it, damn it.  But that’s all there is to do. All I can do is miss my Kindle because it’s gone.  And most likely, no one is going to give it back.  It is gone.”  I breathed.  I felt the tightness loosen in my chest.  I didn’t feel like crying any more.  I didn’t feel like punishing myself for being so careless anymore.  I still felt sad, but that was valid.  I lost something I didn’t expect to lose.  I’m going to have an extinction burst since that form of reinforcement is no longer available.   There may be another Kindle in my future, but that one is gone.  Breathe.  Gone.  Breathe.  Gone.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Breathe.

    I am not quite through being here with the idea that someone has it, but I really have to accept that they have their own Karma.  They have to live out their own choices. They wanted my Kindle, and they didn’t think about what dukkha that would bring on them.  I have no idea if everyone feels dukkha for wrong-doing.  I think they do, but I’m not sure.  What I do know is that it doesn’t help me to create my own dukkha by attaching to my anger at whoever it was.

    I’ve lost so many people this year and last.  The Kindle was a little glimmer of happy in a sad couple of years. I could hide in my Kindle.  I felt so rich, knowing I was carrying not just one, but many, many books.  So much knowing in one little place.

    I got home, called the Police who very politely took my story over the phone, although I did think they were going a bit far to ask my WEIGHT, for crying out loud.

    I’m going to go watch a movie on TV with my husband.  I’m going to drink a glass of wine and I’m going to scratch my dogs where they love to be scratched and when I think about my Kindle I’m going to try to stay here now.  I’m just going to try.  That’s all I can do.

    Meditator Tot