Saturday, November 29, 2008

Awkward Buddhist

Thanksgiving could have gone better, but all things considering, it wasn't bad.
The worse of it was when my step-father-in-law (take a moment to figure that one out). gave me a bunch of magazines on creationism.
That kinda irked me.
See, here in lies the problem: I'm Buddhist, and I love science. I'm not good at it, especially at chemistry. I prefer physiology, pathology, and genetics. And I will never believe that science disproves/proves God. Science really isn't about God, its about the world around us. There are good arguements saying that this was all an event of chaos, and there are good arguements saying there is force behind it all.
There is no good evidence, however, which says that the earth is 6,000 years old, and was created in 7 days. And it irks me when I see people twist statistics and use dirty methods and claim it as "science." Not just creationists do this, mind you, but thousands of other studies on hundreds of other subjects. It confuses the truth, and misleads people into doing harmful things (like Fen-Phen).

But what really killed me the most is that I couldn't say anything to him about it. My family (except my mother and father), think I'm still Christian, mostly because my mom would have a heart attack if I told them I was Buddhist.
I hate this for two reasons:
- I feel like I'm lying to them by not telling them and playing along. I have to play along, or else I'll worry them, or they'll try to reconvert me, which would be rather awkward, even though they have nothing but the best intentions.
- And I feel rather oppressed. Here is a sweet old man giving me Creationist material, which kind of offends me as student of science, and I can't tell him I don't believe in this and politely turn him away. While they walk around the house praising God and Jesus, I cannot even utter so much as a simple mantra, or talk of Buddah's wisdom, or Quan Yin's compassion. Come this December, they will celebrate not a secular Christmas, but a very religious one, and I will have to be there, uncomfortable and half-drugged to avoid anxiety. (Yet on Bodhi Day, I will be alone.) I like a lot of what Christ had to say, but the lack of a Middle Way among his some of his followers is dangerous and makes me uncomfortable.
I doubt that this would be a problem if they weren't so fervently religious. I'm comfortable as a Buddhist around my parents, because they are sure in their faith, but they keep it private. I don't feel judged if I sit down for a few moments of zazen.

So, in celebration of my personal beliefs, I share with you Buddhist-related humor, via Sinfest.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Buddhism and The Butterfly Effect

I like how the Buddhist chick sets off the effect of happiness :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Buddhist Heaven and Hell

The Buddhist Concept of Heaven and Hell

The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.

The Buddhist concept of heaven and hell is entirely different from that in other religions. Buddhists do not accept that these places are eternal. It is unreasonable to condemn a man to eternal hell for his human weakness but quite reasonable to give him every chance to develop himself. From the Buddhist point of view, those who go to hell can work themselves upward by making use of the merit that they had acquired previously. There are no locks on the gates of hell. Hell is a temporary place and there is no reason for those beings to suffer there forever.

The Buddha's Teaching shows us that there are heavens and hells not only beyond this world, but in this very world itself. Thus the Buddhist conception of heaven and hell is very reasonable. For instance, the Buddha once said, 'When the average ignorant person makes an assertion to the effect that there is a Hell (patala) under the ocean he is making a statement which is false and without basis. The word 'Hell' is a term for painful sensations. 'The idea of one particular ready-made place or a place created by god as heaven and hell is not acceptable to the Buddhist concept.

The fire of hell in this world is hotter than that of the hell in the world-beyond. There is no fire equal to anger, lust or greed and ignorance. According to the Buddha, we are burning from eleven kinds of physical pain and mental agony: lust, hatred, illusion sickness, decay, death, worry, lamentation, pain(physical and mental), melancholy and grief. People can burn the entire world with some of these fires of mental discord. From a Buddhist point of view, the easiest way to define hell and heaven is that where ever there is more suffering, either in this world or any other plane, that place is a hell to those who suffer. And where there is more pleasure or happiness, either in this world or any other worldly existence, that place is a heaven to those who enjoy their worldly life in that particular place. However, as the human realm is a mixture of both pain and happiness, human beings experience both pain and happiness and will be able to realize the real nature of life. But in many other planes of existence inhabitants have less chance for this realization. In certain places there is more suffering than pleasure while in some other places there is more pleasure than suffering.

Buddhists believe that after death rebirth can take place in any one of a number of possible existences. This future existence is conditioned by the last thought-moment a person experiences at the point of death. This last thought which determines the next existence results from the past actions of a man either in this life or before that. Hence, if the predominant thought reflects meritorious action, then he will find his future existence in a happy state. But that state is temporary and when it is exhausted a new life must begin all over again, determined by another dominating 'kammic' energy. This repetitious process goes on endlessly unless one arrives at 'Right View' and makes a firm resolve to follow the Noble Path which produces the ultimate happiness of Nibbana.

Heaven is a temporary place where those who have done good deeds experience more sensual pleasures for a longer period. Hell is another temporary place where those evil doers experience more physical and mental suffering. It is not justifiable to believe that such places are permanent. There is no god behind the scene of heaven and hell. Each and every person experiences according to his good and bad kamma. Buddhist never try to introduce Buddhism by frightening people through hell-fire or enticing people by pointing to paradise. Their main idea is character building and mental training. Buddhists can practise their religion without aiming at heaven or without developing fear of hell.

found at

I am thankful for

I thought this was pretty appropriate for Thanksgiving week:

I Am Thankful For...

For the teenager who is not doing dishes but is watching TV, because that means he is at home and not on the streets.

For the taxes I pay, because it means that I am employed.

For the mess to clean after a party, because it means that I have been surrounded by friends.

For the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means I have enough to eat.

For my shadow that watches me work, because it means I am out in the sunshine.

For a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, and gutters that need fixing, because it means I have a home.

For all the complaining I hear about the government, because it means that we have freedom of speech.

For the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means I am capable of walking, and that I have been blessed with transportation.

For my huge heating bill, because it means I am warm.

For the lady behind me in my place of worship when she sings off key, because it means that I can hear.

For the pile of laundry and ironing, because it means I have clothes to wear.

For weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means I have been capable of working hard.

For the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means that I am alive.

found on

Friday, November 21, 2008

False Securities

As I look around me, it seems that everyone is searching for something.
We dedicate our lives to this search, looking for it in God, religion, music, relationships, sex, drugs, art, science.
Do we even know what we are looking for? I don't. I wondered for the longest time what it is, exactly, we search so diligently for, what it is that we fail to find, and end up waandering lost through life.
At frist I thought we were searching for the meaning of life. After all, it is the age old question, the one people have debated and died for throughout history. It seemed like a good enough answer, but somehow, when applied to the reality of those around me, it didn't quite fit. If it did, we would be nothing more then walking existential crisises.
And we're not.
So, while it sound nice and profound, the meaning of life is not what were are searching for. Not truely. Its merely a sideshow along the way, but not the actual journey.

You are born.
Some are born into luckier circumstances then others. You go to school, get the best education the government can buy (God help us all on that on). You graduate. You go to work, or you may go to college, which will inevidably lead you to work as well. There is nothing wrong with work. It creates discipline and molds character. We go to work to get money, because we live in a society founded on money.

Yet we keep searching. And whatever answer we find, we find in different places. Often times, even after we've thought we found the answer, a little while later, we are searching again.

I realized today, while drive home, what it is people are seeking, striving for, what they want.

We do not want to know the meaning of life. Sure, it's fun to think about and debate, but in the end, we don't want to know. If someone was to tell us "This is your purpose in life," we would probably, in our human folly, reject it.

We want security.
Ever since we huddled together in caves, cringing at distant howls of the untamed wilderness, we've wanted security.
We go to school, to get and education, to get a job, to get money, because in this capitolistic culture or ours, money buy security.
You have the perfect house, the perfect wife, the perfect kids, the perfect neighborhood, because perfection is a sign of security. Anything imperfect cannot be secure, so the logic goes.
When the towers came crashing down, we signed away our rights, because we want security. People with too much freedom will pursue dangerous activties, threatening the perfect security we've built for ourselves.

We are constantly seeking it, and when we've found it, we dedicate our lives to maintaining it. We create levels of status, which we strive to ascend not for riches or respect(though they are nice), but for security. We create our identity based on the things that give us the comfort of security.

Security in our jobs.
Security in our relationships.
Security in our future.
Security in our afterlife.

We do this because the future is unknown, and we don't like the unknown. We fear it. We hold it in contempt and disdain. We hate unexpected surprises.
We do this because if we spend all of our lives focusing on attaining and maintaining security, we won't have to face the ugly insecurities that lie within us. They will be left alone in the dark corners of our soul, forgotten and ignored, never dying, but simply waiting, paitently, for the day our securities come tumbling down.

There is a cruel bit of irony in all of this, when you step back and look at the bigger picture, because in all reality, there really is no security.
It is simply an illusion.
The education, the job, the marriage, the house, the family; There is no security in any of these. A degree can be rendered useless by new scientific advancements, a job can disappear in a wave of recession, a marriage is never guaranteed, a home can burn, and a family can be torn apart in a thousand horrific ways.

And whats ironic is that we know this. We know, honestly, that there is no true security in any of these things, in anything life has to offer. We know it is all an elaborate illusion we've create for ourselves, a false reality we've built so that we don't have to face the actual reality. But we keep coming back to these things, reveling in the ficitional securities they provide. We say we care for these things, and maybe we do, but we care more for the secruity they provide us with. In truth, that may be why we care for them in the first place. These things offer us the illusion of security, and we love them for it.

Security is the ultimate form of power, because it is proof we have power over ourselves and our future. We have conquered that dispised unknown.

And to all that, I say simple this:
Fuck it.

To me, from where I'm standing, its not worth it.
I go to college not for a piece of paper and 5 to 6 figures a year, but because I enjoy the experience, and I enjoy learning. Education has long been a favorite past time.
I grew up in an environment that could be very unstable at times, and I learned early on how little security there is in families. I won't deny myself mine, but I don't depend on them for security either.
I go into Medical Technology not for the money or job security, but because it is something that interests me, and something that is desperately needed. I love the medical field, but if I were to try to become a doctor, I would probably lose my mind. I prefer medical technology, thank you very much.
In our mindless scramble to secure ourselves, we forget about the conditions of the less fortunate, leaving them to fend for themselves. I refuse to do that. The homeless, the junkies, the innocent, the addicts, the diseased, the guilty, the weak, they are all merely human in the end, and I will help them the best I can, all of them.

Love. Love is the most dangerous of all. Nothing threats security more then love, and we deny ourselves the true extent of it, usually for petty reasons. Perhaps we've been hurt before. So? Let it go, and move on. Love the next one openly and without hesitation, without the baggage of the previous relationship. Maybe he really is working late at the office. Nothing in this world offers true security, especially relationships, despite the fact we look to relationships more then anything for security.

Let go of this meaningless pursuit of perfection. The security it promises is but an illusion, and the reality around us, while at times less pleasent, is much more fulfilling. Let go of what you think you want, what you think you need in order to become a better person. Don't waste your time trying to perserve what you have when you should be enjoying it.

Appriciate what you have now.
Tomorrow it may not be there.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Class

This scene took place on a British Airways flight between Johannesburg, South Africa & London.

A white woman, about 50 years old, was seated next to a black man.

Very disturbed by this, she called the air hostess. “You obviously do not see it then?” she asked. “You placed
me next to a black man. I did not agree to sit next to someone from such a repugnant
group. Give me an alternative seat.” “Be calm please,” the hostess replied.
“Almost all the places on this flight are taken. I will go to see if another place is available.”

The hostess went away & then came back a few minutes later.
“Madam, just as I thought, there are no other available seats in Economy Class.

I spoke to the captain & he informed me that there is also no seat in Business Class.
All the same, we still have one place in First Class.”

Before the woman could say anything, the hostess continued. “It is unusual for our company
to permit someone from Economy Class to sit in First Class. However, given the circumstances, the
captain feels that it would be scandalous to make someone sit next to someone so disgusting.”

She turned to the black guy & said, “Therefore, Sir, if you would like to, please collect your hand luggage, a seat awaits you in First Class.”

At that moment, the other passengers, who’d been shocked by what they had just witnessed,
stood up & applauded.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Desire of Happiness

I found this article on the Buddhist Channel (,7349,0,0,1,0), no doubt some of you have read it. It's pretty basic Buddhism, which is the kind I like best. You can never go wrong with going back to the basics, as it is where Buddhists of all traditions are most likely to agree, thus strengthening our foundation and identity as a global sangha.

I found it to be pretty good, I hope you enjoy it :)

An Open Heart's Desire For Happiness
OneIndia, Nov 5, 2008

New Delhi, India -- The purpose of spiritual practice is to fulfill our desire for happiness. We are all equal in wishing to be happy and to overcome our suffering, and I believe that we all share the right to fulfill this aspiration.

When we look at the happiness we seek and the suffering we wish to avoid, most evident are the pleasant and unpleasant feelings we have as a result of our sensory experience of the tastes, smells, textures, sounds, and forms that we perceive around us. There is, however, another level of experience. True happiness must be pursued on the mental level as well.

If we compare the mental and physical levels of happiness, we find that the experiences of pain and pleasure that take place mentally are actually more powerful. For example, though we may find ourselves in a very pleasant environment,if we are mentally depressed or if something is causing us profound concern, we will hardly notice our surroundings. On the other hand, if we have inner, mental happiness, we find it easier to face our challenges or other adversity. This suggests that our experiences of pain and pleasure at the level of our thoughts and emotions are more powerful than those felt on a physical level.

As we analyze our mental experiences, we recognize that the powerful emotions we possess (such as desire, hatred, and anger) tend not to bring us very profound or long-lasting happiness. Fulfilled desire may provide a sense of temporary satisfaction; however, the pleasure we experience upon acquiring a new car or home, for example, is usually short-lived.

When we indulge our desires, they tend to increase in intensity and multiply in number. We become more demanding and less content, finding it more difficult to satisfy our needs. In the Buddhist view, hatred, anger, and desire are afflictive emotions, which simply means they tend to cause us discomfort. The discomfort arises from the mental unease that follows the expression of these emotions. A constant state of mental unsettledness can even cause us physical harm.

Where do these emotions come from? According to the Buddhist world view, they have their roots in habits cultivated in the past. They are said to have accompanied us into this life from past lives, when we experienced and indulged in similar emotions. If we continue to accommodate them, they will grow stronger, exerting greater and greater influence over us. Spiritual practice, then, is a process of taming these emotions and diminishing their force. For ultimate happiness to be attained, they must be removed totally.

We also possess a web of mental response patterns that have been cultivated deliberately, established by means of reason or as a result of cultural conditioning. Ethics, laws, and religious beliefs are all examples of how our behavior can be channeled by external strictures. Initially, the positive emotions derived from cultivating our higher natures may be weak, but we can enhance them through constant familiarity, making our experience of happiness and inner contentment far more powerful than a life abandoned to purely impulsive emotions.

From the chapter, The Desire for Happiness: An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by The Dalai Lama, Nicholas Vreeland . text credit.

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others.

Siddhartha Guatama Buddha (563 - 483 BC), Indian mystic, founder of Buddhism. Happiness, which is sought after by every soul, has its secret in the knowledge of the self. Man seeks for happiness, not because happiness is his sustenance, but because happiness is his own being. Therefore, in seeking for happiness, man is seeking for himself. What gives man inclination to seek for happiness is the feeling of having lost something which he had always owned, which belonged to him, which was his own self.

The absence of happiness, which a soul has experienced from the day it has come on earth and which has increased every day more and more, makes man forget that his own being is happiness. He thinks happiness is something, which is acquired. As man thinks that happiness is something which is acquired, he continually strives in every direction to attain to it. In the end, after all his striving, he finds that the real happiness does not lie in what he calls pleasures. Pleasures may be a shadow of happiness. There is an illusion of happiness, because all the illusion which stands beside reality is more interesting for the average man than reality itself.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Cost of Food

This really makes you think.

I guess this affects me as an Alaskan because food can get extremely expensive, especially out in the villages. This summer in the villages, a pound of potatos cost over $14 due to the high gas prices.

Speak Up.

"First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Social Democrats,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew,
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me."

- Pastor Martin Niemoller


We are all connected, even when we have nothing in common.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Taxi Cab Compassion

A Cab Ride I'll Never Forget

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living. One night I took a fare at 2:30 AM, when I arrived to collect, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window. Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once.

But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself.

So I walked to the door and knocked. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened.

A small woman in her 80's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knick-knacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

"Would you carry my bag out to the car?" she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. "It's nothing", I told her. "I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated."

"Oh, you're such a good man," she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, and then asked, "Could you drive through downtown?"

"It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.

"Oh, I don't mind," she said "I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice."

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. "I don't have any family left," she continued. "The doctor says I don't have very long." I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

"What route would you like me to take?" I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, "I'm tired. Let's go now."

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

"How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse. "Nothing," I said.

"You have to make a living," she answered. "Oh, there are other passengers," I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. Our hug ended with her remark, "You gave an old woman a little moment of joy." After a slight pause, she added, "Thank you."

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.

[ Original Story by Kent Nerburn ]

posted at

Compassion was one of the Buddha's greatest lessons, and the beauty of compassion is that everyone is capable of it, no matter what the siuaation is. A taxi cab driver's compassion is more personal and profound then a charity dinner. Don't get me wrong, those charity dinners do raise tens of thousands of dollars for good causes, but compared to this story, it just seems so impersonal. I guess I would rather be a poor taxi cab driver giving direct compassion then a millionaire throwing money at charities.
Everyone has their own way of expressing compassion, and there are a thousand different ways to do it. How nifty is that? :)

What's your favorite story of compassion?