Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Practical Buddhism (by Tom Lacey)

Have been thinking lately about the deeper questions of life and how Buddhism relates to them in a practical way. Here are a few ideas.

Past Lives: We are the product of evolution and have all previous forms of life within our genes. Some genes can be accentuated and others de-emphasized. For example we are both carnivore and herbivore. By eating meat, particularly near raw meat, sch as a rare steak, one becomes more carnivorous in consciousness. By eating only vegetables, one becomes more herbivore in nature, which is more peaceful. This is can affect our whole body and conCheck Spellingsciousness.  We also have the ability to tune into different natural environments, as opposed to artificial ones, and this will also bring out the peaceful harmonious genes in us. The color green in peaceful to us because it represents the safety of the canopy. You can also climb a tree to feel this evolutionary consciousness from the past lives. I used to spend hours way up in the tree tops when I was little. It is where I felt most peaceful and safe. I was a virtual monkey climbing trees.

Romance: Nothing bothers people more than worrying about romance.  If one does not have to worry abort romance, one can be much happier, more balanced. It is an imperative in youth as a way of getting connected, forming a family etc. Some are preoccupied with it their whole lives and are so unhappy their whole lives.  I think the basic part of the Middle Way philosophy is not to be obsessed with anything, including romance and sex. Anything can be come an addiction and block our fuller appreciation of others, and other kinds of love. 

Love: There are many kinds of love and we can create new kinds of love. Love is just a bond of some kind. There can be good love and bad love, largely relating to unselfish and selfish love. Clinging and attachment is all about selfish love. This is "bu hao," not good. We basically need to free ourselves from all feelings of possession, jealousy, and attachment, control. This is why I do not like to have a dog, as such often brings out the master in me. It does not need to be this way of course. There should be a course in nonathoritarian pet ownership. The same can be true about having employees or children, or a partner. In most cases, people get into some form of authoritarian relationship, or submission. This is also true of social relations mediated by money. People can become very demanding and unreasonable when they are spending money for a service, expecting the worker to be their slave and even take verbal abuse. Think of this next time you pay for a service of any kind.

Celibacy: this is something that could also become a preoccupation and become a negative influence.  I think it is better not to worry about sex, or romance, and to concentrate on human relations and improving them, to have a real human connection with people, particularly those you are already bonded with in some way.  There can be benefits from celibacy, such as on a temporary basis, but more like understanding love that is not based on sex and romance. It is not really a restriction imposed on us so much as something that is a natural consequence of understanding. For example, if one has a real human connection with people, then there is not so much sexual desire or need for romance.  Such comes largely from emotional imbalance. So you see many people who have an emotional or mental imbalance preoccupied with either sex, or even its absence. The Middle Way is better here as well, so one can live perfectly well with or without it. Sex then becomes unimportant in a natural way.  Of course, this will also vary over the life cycle and the romantic cycle, for those who have multiple or sequential partners in their lives. It is good for young people to try to practice celibacy because there are many unwanted emotional consequences to sexual relations, not to mention the social and biological consequences.

Spirituality: This should be open. There are many kinds of spirituality. One can and should appreciate the spirituality of others. This means not being dogmatic and transcending particular codes to get at the deeper meaning, it universal content. People always want to be spiritual in some way. It is a universal need. Particular customs or traditions should just be seen as aides for a deeper spirituality, the purpose of which is to connect people, to form spiritual bonds, which are also a kind of higher form of love

Suffering: suffering is not nice, but it can be tolerated or transcended There is always some form of suffering, either now or in the future. Physical suffering is not as bad as mental suffering. The mind can transcend physical suffering, but if the mind itself is afflicted, it does not know how to escape from this - is caught up in suffering and maybe inflicting pain on the self and others. When you see people who are physically suffering, often there is a mental imbalance at the core of such suffering. This is why the mind is the key place to start the remedy to all suffering. This is why contemplation is necessary, and walking in nature, climbing a tree perhaps even, or meditating under a tree -- note the tree connection! 

Nirvana: and what would you be doing there? You would be at peace, or helping people, feeling the joy of compassion and universal human love, creating symbolic meaning perhaps to communicate your feelings and ideas, like writing or painting etc.  Go for it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rick does Four Noble Truths at Vendanta Center in St. Petersburg

[post by tom lacey]
Today was Mother's Day and a Vesak talk at the Vendanta Center of St. Petersburg and or noble leader, Rick Ferris gave a talk on the life and times of Gautama the Buddha and his four truths, which are also noble, meaning that they are ennobling if you understand them and practice the eight-fold path.

I wasn't going to go as it was mother's day and i was painting the house for my wife, but as God's will would have it she was invited to a Cantonese Mother's Day lunch and I had already painted three hours in the morning...so I took a quick shower and headed off with my G1 to find the little chapel downtown. Rick had sent me this background info: 

"Vedanta is a sort of reform Hinduism. It was founded by Vivekananda around 1900. He was the main Hindu delegate to the 1893 Chicago World’s Parliament of Religions -- the first time both Hinduism and Buddhism were formally introduced to America. (Two of the main Buddhist delegates were Anagarika Dharmapala [Vivekananda's friend from Sri Lanka who introduced Theravada to America], and Zen teacher Soyen Shaku [who sent his star student D.T. Suzuki to the West as a missionary]).

Many Hindus also revere Buddha (often as an avatar of Vishnu); and some forms of Hinduism are almost Zen-like. Vivekananda thought there is an essential bond between Hinduism and Buddhism (tho he was maybe a little eccentric -- see Buddhism, The fulfillment of Hinduism -- from my reading, Buddhism didn't evolve from Hinduism; it's better to say they share a common ancestor).

Alan Watts has called the original Buddhism "Hinduism stripped for export" (-- the basic philosophy without all that Indian cultural weirdness).

I got involved with the Vedantas through Jim Cameron -- he used to be in Vedanta, and recommended me to them when they were looking for a Buddhist representative at an interfaith meeting at USF-St Pete a while back.

I'm going to try for a 'Buddhism without Beliefs' sort of approach, stressing the historical/religious environment that Buddha lived in (lots of it from one of my favorite books, Trevor Ling's The Buddha: Buddhist Civilization in India and Ceylon), and the core teachings shared by the religions.

The local Vedanta priest, Swami Ishtananda, seems knowledgeable and ecumenical." [Rick]

I [Tom] arrived just on time and the little chapel was very spartan except for the flowers and three pictures in the front. Little four page prayer books sat on the pews with a very humanist and inspiring message.  Rick delivered an excellent prepared speech, with many sweeping hand gestures--one cold tell he was a former professor--and always very interesting to listen to.

Swami Ishtananda added that Hindus worshiped the Buddha as a reincarnation of Vishnu and that the Buddha was interested in two major reforms of Hinduism, getting rid of the concept of caste and also animal sacrifice, which was practiced by all major religions at the time.

Rick's talk was followed by a meditation and offering and as we walked out slowly, everyone shook the Swami's hand and said a few words, so there was a line to exit the chapel. I stopped by the closet size bookstore to purchase two books, "The Bhagavad Gita" and "Relief of Tension, Depression & Anxiety through Spiritual Living" by Swami Tathagatannanda.

It is a very peaceful little chapel and everyone was very nice. Another member of our group Leo Olson, also came and I chatted with him afterwards.  After the service we all headed to the rectory next door for dessert and discussion, followed by a full course Indian vegetarian lunch and dessert, pie topped with ice cream, which made me exclaim that it was the best Vesak so far this month of May! We had more conversations and I learned more about the activities and classes of the center, which are listed on their website.

I suggested to Rick and he agreed that we should list the center on our website since it is every bit as much in the spirit of Buddhism as any other group, even though technically it is a Hindu group.  I also listed two of their classes on our commnityedproject.org website. Am thinking of visiting the yoga class. I talked to one member who said it was very basic Hatha Yoga and stressed the spirituality of the practice, as an aid to meditation.

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