May 30, 2003

What is the theme of this blog?

I've been trying to figure out what I should be blogging about lately. If I have a theme to the blog, then the content will become obvious, or so it seems to me. My friend Josh, who has his own blog about life in China, suggested that I write about my life and my experiences. For some reason I'm resisting doing this, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps I don't feel comfortable expressing my innermost thoughts in such a potentially public space. Or maybe it's because it would be obvious to everyone how boring my life really is. The truth is probably a combination of reasons, some known to me and some unknown.

After mulling it over for a while, I've decided that I should blog, and any potential theme to the blog will appear from the posts. Perhaps it will even change over time. Just write about whatever I feel called to write about on a given day, and over time I'll figure out what I like to write about, and maybe even figure out what "works" and "doesn't work".

Posted by BuddhaBoy at 06:18 PM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2003

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

I thought I'd share a few thoughts about the Zen saying "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." I will start by saying that any thinking about a Zen saying is a big mistake! But how can we understand what these sayings mean if we can't think about them? This paradox is what is known in Zen as a koan. A koan cannot be solved using the logical, conceptual mind; it must be solved by accessing some other wisdom that we all possess. So let me be clear about this - I'm not trying to "solve" this saying, just sharing some thoughts about it.

One way of interpreting this saying, is to align form with duality - that everything is separate and has its own existence. And to align emptiness with non-duality, that everything is interconnected, and nothing is absolutely separate. Depeding on one's perspective, either of these views can be correct. So a butterfly in China can change the weather, and hence the mood of a person in the US. In that way everything is interconnected, and I am not isolated from anything else in the universe. Yet, from a conventional point of view, we are all separate individuals, and we deal with many discrete items in our lives, and if we did not operate from this point of view, we couldn't live our day to day lives. One way to look at the saying "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" is that it reminds us that both points of view are true, and that if we are attached to one or the other, that we are missing something important. Yes, we are separate individuals, but if we live as if our actions take place in a vacuum without affecting those around us, we are deluded. And we are all connected, but we still need to take responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts, and actions. So there is a paradox here, but only by embracing the paradox, by recognizing both sides of it (and maybe there are more than 2 sides to this paradox), can we begin to recognize the truth of any situation.

Posted by BuddhaBoy at 11:54 AM | Comments (1)

May 08, 2003

Walking for Peace (Part II)

Yesterday I talked about how I got involved with the peace walk. I thought I'd add to that post with some reflections about my experiences on the walk.

The folks from the peace pagoda chant and drum while they walk. They say their walk is a prayer for peace. As a buddhist, prayer isn't something I normally relate to, but I do understand chanting and walking meditation. Zen teaches that any activity can be meditation, it really depends on the quality of mind while performing the activity. So I had no problem with joining in with the chanting, once I figured out the rythm and the words of the chant. And when I did so, the walk shifted for me. I understood that my walking and chanting was a prayer for peace. Not that I was praying to anybody. But that this prayer was a way for me to keep my heart open while on the walk. Every evening we would gather together along with anyone who was interested in joining us from the community. There was a lot of suffering that became apparent to me that week. My concern for the innocent Iraqis that would become collatoral damage during a war. Family and friends of US military concerned about their loved ones during a war. People who's hearts were so full of anger that they would honk, yell or swear at people walking and praying for peace. For me, the chanting, drumming and walking, ie. the praying, allowed me to keep my heart more open that it would have otherwise been, so that I was able to keep my equinimity even in the face of this suffering. I was able to see the suffering around me, and respond without attacking others, but by trying to connect to them, no matter what their views were.

In Zen, part of the practice is to let go of our opinions. When asked why our Zen Center wasn't protesting the war, one of the teachers said that the correct view about the war is to have no view. Whenever we are for or against the war, that means we're taking sides. And once we take sides, we've created us and them. That is the cause of war. So the true way to peace is to let go of our opinions. It's a difficult teaching to absorb intellectually, but it was one I had a taste of during the walk. Only Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo. Keeping the chant in my mind didn't allow me to take sides, and helped me keep open to the views and feelings of those around me. For me, this was one of the wonderful gifts of joining the walk.

Posted by BuddhaBoy at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2003

Walking for Peace (Part I)

We all want peace, but how do we find it? The longer I search for peace, the more I realize that peace will find me when I give up looking for it. But this giving up has to be a positive step of acceptance, not one of resignation. In any case, I wanted to share a recent experience of walking for peace along with monastics from the Nipponzan Myohoji Sangha. This is a Buddhist order who's spiritual practice is building peace pagodas and walking for peace.

I had my first contact with this group a few years ago when they were doing a walk to bring attention to the suffering that takes place in prisons in Massachusetts. I met sister Clare, who led the walk. One of the things that impressed me about her, was what she said when I invited her to visit one of my Buddhist prison groups. She replied "I have nothing to teach, I only know how to chant." Which, of course, was quite a wonderful teaching!

I met this years walk on a Monday evening in Foxboro, where the walkers were staying for the night. That night president Bush made a speech giving Iraq a 48 hour ultimatum. The next day I decided to join the walk for the day, and walked with them during the afternoon. I enjoyed the experience, and finally decided to join the walk into Boston over the next 3 days. I was unsure about whether or not this was the right thing to do, but as soon as I made the decision, everything fell into place. I told Brother Kato, the walk's leader, about my decision, and asked him what I needed to know or do in order to join the walk. He explained that the walk was for peace, so it was important that I was committed to non-violence in any situation that might occur while walking. Also, I was to leave any intoxicants and weapons behind while I was part of the walk. Being a bit of a smart-ass, I replied that while I didn't have a gun, I did have a more dangerous weapon than a gun that I'd be bringing along... my mind. Brother Kato replied immediately, that as long as I chanted while walking, my mind would be no problem. Very wise words indeed from the walk leader - at that point I knew I had made the right decision. The same evening I heard a wonderful story from a local woman who had joined us for dinner, about reading Zen and the Art of Archery and an adventure she subsequently had when she let go of her normal way of functioning and got into the flow. And all of my logistical concerns about where to leave my car during the walk faded away when I invited some of the walkers to stay at my house for the night, as one of them drove me to the start of the walk the next day. I was on my way.

Posted by BuddhaBoy at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2003

The biggest addiction

I've been reading various blogs about the Bill Bennett scandal: it turns out he's big on gambling while also being big on moralizing. Some people use this to slam him, some defend him. I googled a bit to find out what kind of moralizer Bill Bennett has been, and I didn't want to spend enough time to find out. But in any case, we all have our addictions, don't we? In fact, for some people, the addiction is moralizing! Telling other people how to live their lives is one way that people take their attention from their own lives. And sure, gambling is another way to cover up unpleasant feelings in our lives. Personally, I understand this quite well, as I've spent a lot of time trying to understand the stock market for a few years, and for me there is an aspect to it, that if I understand the markets, I will become rich, and that will take care of all my problems. Of course, I realize that it's not that easy, but I try anyways. So everyone has different strategies to try to avoid or cover up unpleasantness in our lives or in the world we live in.

So what's the biggest addiction? It's the addiction to ego, which is the addiction to pleasant feelings. That's why I think both Bill Bennett and those who point out his hypocrisy have got it wrong. Both of them are trying to point out the problems with others, as if that will make their own life better (okay, I admit that I do the same thing). We think that if we understand why other people are wrong, that it will make us right, and that gives us a pleasant feeling. Everybody wants to be right.

Now there's nothing wrong with pleasant feelings. But if we spend our lives chasing after them, and avoiding unpleasant feelings, then we often create problems for ourselves and those around us. That is the nature of addictions. By avoiding unpleasant feelings, we can create more unpleasantness than we are trying to avoid. And avoidance often doesn't work well as a strategy, many times it's just a delaying tactic. When we chase after pleasant feelings, we often find the feeling isn't as fulfilling as we expected. Once we experience it, it's gone, and then we're left with the same empty feeling we were trying to avoid. So we repeat the cycle.

So how can we avoid this trap, without falling into moralizing against it? What is the right relationship to have to our pleasant and unpleasant feelings? Well, great spiritual teachers have taught to accept everything as a gift, both the good and the bad. Just experience it for what it is. This too shall pass. It doesn't mean we should seek out suffering to build character, but if it comes our way, and is unavoidable, then just experience it for what it is. By not trying to avoid it, we might learn something about ourselves.

Okay, I've gotten a ways away from Bill Bennett and gambling, so let me try to tie this back together. Often, what we call sin, is the chasing after pleasant sensations and/or avoiding unpleasant ones. Sex, drugs, gambling, even shopping, TV, blogging and religion can all fulfill this function. What makes them "sinful" is our attitude about them, not the activity itself. Prohibiting the activity doesn't stop our attitude of chasing after pleasure and avoiding pain. Instead, if we bring attention and mindfulness to our activities, and really understand why we do things, as well as their consequences, then we'll be able to develop wisdom, and harmful activities and attitudes will naturally fall away. So instead of proscribing these types of activities, I think it's more skillfull to allow them to take place, while encouraging people to do them mindfully, and bring awareness of their effects to those that do these activities.

Posted by BuddhaBoy at 06:14 PM | Comments (1)