I thought that this year I would write a post about what I learned and experienced during 2012, as I did for 2011. Here goes-
You started out rough, but all in all, you were a pretty good year. I learned a lot from you, and have done a lot of soul-searching and introspection during your reign.
seen me experience the incredible stress, and shown me that despite what I may think at the time, those situations do eventually pass (sometimes expidited with the help of a stiff drink!).
shown me the insecurity that comes from living paycheck to paycheck (especially as a couple).
seen me disappointed and let down by my mentors.
made me question my abilities and goals, and seen me struggle with a cloud of depression.
taught me how quickly accidents can happen, and how the effects can last.
toned and hardened me against rejection.
shown me the lack of grace adversaries can have, even when they win.
allowed me to cut back on distractions and focus on what is really important in life.
blessed me with the opportunity to begin the 30th year of my life.
given me the opportunity to slowly return my life to normalcy, and to once again do things not out of obligation, but because I enjoy them.
made me rejoice that things I have written here are actually being read, and blessed me with great readers and blog friends!
shown me that the pomp and circumstance of ceremony can hold great triumph- and closure!
given me the privilege to say that I completed my graduate degree AND received my driver's license in the same year (it's just too bad I am not 16 anymore :)
witnessed the first steps of my great journey learning my husband's native tongue, and seen my heart warmed as his parents and relatives rejoiced in this.
seen my husband and I celebrate the first wonderful year of our married lives together.
. . . And 2012, you are now over.
From frustration and depression to joy and contentment, I have experienced so much in 2012. But I still believe what I wrote in December 2011:
"As milestones pass and lessons are learned, they each irrevocably become part of the past. In life, the past is there to learn from, the future to plan and hope for. But living itself can only take place in the present moment."
Here's to a mindful, happy, and healthy 2013, for all of us!
With that, I will leave you with the following quote from Thich Nhat Hanh (which is considerably more eloquent than mine :)
"In Buddhism, we speak of touching Nirvana with our own body, In Christianity, you can also touch the Kingdom of God with your body, right here and now. It is much safer than placing our hope in the future. If we cling to the idea of hope in the future, we might not notice the peace and joy that are available in the present moment. The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment." (From Living Buddha, Living Christ)
The following is part of my "Buddhism in the News" series, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read whatever interests you. Enjoy!
2. Thai Buddhist monks struggle to stay relevant An account of Thailand's changing culture, and how it is tied to the decline of the status of Thai Buddhist monks in Thai society. Fast-paced city lifestyles, the allure of technology and material goods, and scandals involving monks are just a few of the factors that both monks and Thai laypeople believe have contributed to this relatively recent cultural transformation. Article is from the New York Times.
3. In Thailand, Barack does Buddhism A surprisingly cynical article about the POTUS's comments about his willingness to accept "good vibes" from Thai Buddhist monks in light of America's overwhelming economic woes. From the Global Post.
4. From the ashes, Tibetan Buddhism rises in the Forbidden City Amidst reports of self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Chinese oppression, an exhibit of Tibetan artifacts and antiquities was opened in the Forbidden City of Beijing. The Tibetan art displayed is extremely well-documented, including origin, year, donors, and overall history and indicates the prominent influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism, and Tibetan culture during China's Qing dynasty. From International Herald Tribune.
5. A marriage between Buddhism and science A fascinating article about the life and studies of B. Allen Wallace, who's life work has focused upon the study of happiness, suffering, science and the true nature of reality though Buddhist ideology and thought/meditation practices. Dr. Wallace is a protege of H.H. the Dalai Lama, and is one of the lead Buddhist scholars of the western world. From the Amherst Student.
UPDATE: (from Buddhism in the news, September 2012) "Space-Buddha" may be a fake. Additional inquiries to the story surrounding this supposedly 1000 year-old artifact have brought the age of the item into question. Archeologists address the possibility that the statue carved from an ataxite meteorite is a western reproduction crafted between 1910 and 1970, mostly to appeal to the Nazi-memorabilia market. It will be interesting to see how the rest of this story materializes.
Please share your thoughts about whatever captured your interest in the comments. Also, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspaper websites only post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you!
Earlier this year I wrote posts about fake Buddha quotes and how to avoid them. I thought it was important to let readers know that Bodhipaksa, who has gained some notoriety from exposing many popular Buddha quotes as fakes, now has a website completely dedicated to misattributed Buddha quotations.
There are three things I like about this website- Bodhipaksa investigates where a fake Buddha quote actually came from, citing the true author/sources of the quotation (if in fact, they can be found). The next thing is that each fake Buddha quote is listed, in alphabetical order, in the fake Buddha quotes page (now 75 and counting!). Finally, the thing that makes this a really great site is that Buddha quotations that have been verified in scripture are also listed, making this a useful resource not only for seeking out the impostors, but also for finding Buddha quotations which are actually attributed to the Buddha. Very helpful!
This post was prompted by an article written in Forbes this month, where the author uses ten Buddha quotations to highlight important life lessons. Although I believe the author's heart and motivation are in the right place, several of the quotations are also unfortunately listed in the "All Fake Buddha Quotes" page in on Bodhipaksa's website. My hope is that in the future this will happen less and less, as people use www.fakebuddhaquotes.com as a resource to discern fact from fiction (or at least misattribution).
Do you think this will help reduce the occurrence of false Buddha quotations? Does all this matter? Will you use Bodhipaksa's website in the future? Please comment below!
For years I have constantly struggled, against none other than myself. Why am I so aware of all my supposed flaws, yet disregard my accomplishments? Why do I feel that all I have done is not enough? Why am I not smart enough, not driven enough, not thin enough, not good enough?
I can only conclude that the answer to these questions is my relentless sense of perfectionism.
Don't misunderstand- my efforts in doing things aren't even close to perfect, in fact as of late they are mediocre at best. But I recently discovered that my pursuit of perfection is actually getting in the way of pursuing excellence.
I must realize that excellence and perfection are very different things. With hard work, excellence can be achieved, but perfection can never be, regardless of how much anyone tries.
True excellence is about setting (realistic) goals and then striving to achieve them. Unlike perfectionism, excellence is about not only the goal, but the journey of learning from successes (and mistakes) along the way. Perfectionism, with its impossible standards and unrealistic goals, discourages from the very beginning- and snuffs out the joy of learning, growing, and even achieving.
Why wasn't this more obvious to me earlier on? Being on the Buddhist path and cherishing each effort in cultivating greater wisdom and compassion (whilst rejecting attachment) is to me the epitome of pursuing excellence. Strangely, I guess I just never made the connection to my own life- until now.
I now realize that perfectionism, along with the nagging, bullying thoughts that accompany it, only instills fear of failure- and fear of even trying. In contrast striving for excellence gives people motivation and a true sense of purpose as they take risks to pursue their dreams. The result? A wise, dynamic person who confidently seeks to experience life, fully open to all it can teach us.
It is time for me to go this route.
Of course, this post is mostly as a reminder and wake-up call to myself, but I would love to hear your thoughts to see if anyone else is experiencing similar feelings (with all the negative self-talk I hear from others, I know I can't possibly be alone in this -unless it's all for show!). Feel free to comment and tell me what you think.
The following is part of my monthly "Buddhism in the News" series, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read what interests you. Enjoy!
1. Nazi-acquired Buddha statue came from space Brought to Europe from Tibet by Nazi archeologists/scientists, this is a Buddhist artifact that was likely carved from ataxite metorites that are believed to have fallen near the Siberian-Mongolian border 10,000-20,000 years ago. Article is from LiveScience via Fox News. For another look at this intriguing artifact, see this article from National Geographic. (One of the comments of this second article aptly points out the mistake of describing the statue as of a 'Buddhist god')
UPDATE: "Space-Buddha" may be a fake. Additional inquiries to the story surrounding this supposedly 1000 year-old artifact have brought the age of the item into question. Archeologists address the possibility that the statue carved from an ataxite meteorite is a western reproduction crafted between 1910 and 1970, mostly to appeal to the Nazi-memorabilia market.
3. We need to be 21st century Buddhists: Dalai Lama The Dalai Lama talks about human emotions and intelligence, the growing influence of Buddhism, and suggests that temples and monasteries also become places of learning. Article is from the Times of India.
4. Steven Colbert vs. Buddhism A silly montage of Colbert's rantings and ramblings about Buddhism. (Not exactly accurate- 5000 years after Buddha's death? lol) Video posted on Huffington Post.
Please share your thoughts about whatever captured your interest in the comments. Also please let me know if I missed something by providing the title of the article. I will google it and include it here, with credit to you! :) Finally, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspapers only post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you!
As you may recall, September was going to be my great Anniversary Celebration, to commemorate five years on the Buddhist Path. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. On the second of this month I tripped and had a bad fall, busting open my knee. As if that wasn't bad enough, the cut became infected, so I was put on a course of strong antibiotics. Although I was very happy and thankful to be quickly rid of the infection, the antibiotics wore me out!
The good news is that as far as I can tell, I am recovered, and ready to get back to writing here at BCB! As always, I look forward to your comments and interacting with you. Thanks for bearing with me!
As I wrote a few weeks ago, today is the beginning of my month-long celebration of the fifth year anniversary of my first embarking upon the Buddhist path. I am excited about this celebration and hope to embrace it as much as possible. To understand where I'm coming from, I have written for you a short summary of what first inspired me.
In the summer of 2007, I was feeling overwhelmed with work and worry. The familiar feeling of searching for something that would help me feel more at peace with welled up in me once again. I'd had enough of self-help books, the initial enthusiasm they invoked, and the inevitable disappointment of realizing the author's theories and advice did not apply to me. Instead I just wanted to read something that would help me feel more at ease, so on a whim I chose the book 'Open Heart Clear Mind' from Amazon. On a quiet and pleasant August afternoon, I read the whole book while sitting outside in the peaceful downtown parks of my college town. I was amazed by what I read, because most every page echoed what I had believed all my life.
As they say, the rest is history. (To read more about me and my story, just follow the links). Two years after I began my Buddhist practice, I decided that I would start a blog to reach out to others and discuss Buddhist ideas and spirituality. That was the beginning of ByChanceBuddhism!
In an effort to revisit BCB's original purpose, I have dedicated this month to writing about basic Buddhist concepts. I don't know how many posts I will write, but as always, I hope you enjoy them. I very much look forward to your comments and discussing posts with you!
The following is part of my monthly "Buddhism in the News" series, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. My list of articles is shorter this month, which I think is perhaps more beneficial than a more exhaustive list. However, as always I have tried to provide a good sampling of current Buddhist happenings around the world. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read what interests you. Enjoy!
1. Buddhist monk sentenced to seven years for spreading information about Tibet. Tibetan Buddhist monk Yonten Gyatso was sentenced to seven years in prison for sharing pictures and information about the self-immolation of Tibetan Buddhist nun Tenzin Wangmo, and distributing information about the political situation in Tibet. Critics say that this incident shows the dire restrictions on free communication and speech in China and China-occupied Tibet. Yonten Gyatso will serve his sentence in the Mianyang prison in Sichuan Province, China. From Reporters Without Borders.
2. Two Buddhist brides wed in Taiwan. Two Taiwanese women were married in a Buddhist ceremony presided by Buddhist master and social activist Shih Chao-Hwei. The couple hopes that their union will help encourage fellow Taiwanese citizens to accept same-sex marriage. However, the article also commented that a bill introduced in 2003 legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption has received little attention from the Taiwanese legislature. From CNN.
3. Thai girl inspires Buddhist nun program. Video account of how an eight-year-old Thai girl wanted to share in developing good merit to her deceased grandmother by temporarily entering into monastic life. Although this is very common for (and often expected of) her male counterparts, this honor has not been extended to young females, because the ordinations of Buddhist nuns are not recognized in Thailand. Through this program, which allows young girls to enter temporary nun-hood, many hope that this will raise the status of Buddhist nuns in Thai society. Video is from Aljazeera.
4. Buddhist ceremonial release of captive birds may harm wildlife. There are concerns from the scientific community that the practice of building merit by releasing captive animals (usually birds) may have negative impacts on the birds, other wildlife, and humans. This article also warns of the possibility of humans contracting H5N1 (aka: Bird flu) from birds that are stressed (and therefore more susceptible) to the disease. Article is from Scientific American.
Please share your thoughts about whatever captured your interest in the comments. Also please let me know if I missed something important this month by providing the title of the article. I will google it and include it here, with credit to you! :) Finally, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspapers post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you!
I just wanted to let you know that for the time being I am going to be taking a short hiatus as I gear up for my anniversary posts in September. I will periodically be checking the comments to this post, so if you have any suggestions for posts about basic Buddhist concepts, please share with me! In return I will do my best to write something that is helpful (and hopefully also interesting and informative :). Your comments and suggestions will help immensely because chances are if you have a question about something, it is likely that someone else out there (including me!) will have the same question. I look forward to your input!
Also just FYI, I will still post my Buddhism in the News segment for August 2012 at the end of the month. From what I can tell, there seem to be some interesting stories out there, so stay tuned :)
Until later, all the best, I hope you enjoy the rest of August!
One thing I love about writing ByChanceBuddhism is that I am constantly inspired by readers and their comments. My last post (also inspired by a reader's comment) was about the tendency for many of us to define ourselves with labels, sometimes with unfortunate results, i.e. relationships/perceptions based on assumptions and superficiality. In his response to this post, one reader summed it all up in an eloquent metaphor about a mango tree. As a botanist, I must say that this comparison hit a special chord with me, so I am excited to share it with you!
The comment went something like this:
". . . For example, when I go to the park, I look at a mango tree and I know it is a mango tree because I love to eat mangos. But that's about it. In truth, I don't know anything about the tree that produces the mango, but I know and understand only the fruit. But since I know this tree produces mango and I know its name, I assume I know everything. The label "mango tree" stops me from understanding and knowing the tree.
The tree is a totally different story, for it has a life force of its own. Deep within, the tree radiates life that if we were to sit or meditate under it, then we can feel its pulse. The tree is alive, so why do we not enjoy its presence, but instead choose to stop at the word "mango tree"?"
So indeed, why do/should we stop at the words Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, conservative, liberal when considering another human being? Although some labels can be useful, we must be careful in attaching them to ourselves, and distinguish the label from the human being as we try to relate to others.
The comment above was from xenusfreeman from over at www.powerfulintentions.org Please check out his page here. With that, I will leave you to ponder the "life force" behind the words "mango tree" with these pics that I took years ago in Florida :)
I hope you've enjoyed this post and pics! As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below.
In my last Buddhism in the News, July 2012, I provided a link to an article about a man who escalated a road-rage incident by whipping out a crossbow and pointing it at the other driver. It was later discovered on his facebook page that he described himself as 'a Buddhist who holds tolerance in great importance'. This was something I found quite humorous (not to mention ironic), considering that anger and purposely inflicting harm are big no-no's according to Buddhist beliefs.
While I posted the link mostly in jest, a dear 'blog friend' of mine also pointed to lessons that could be learned. He expressed concern about how anyone who is not familiar with Buddhism could not only jump to conclusions about this individual, but about Buddhists in general. He added that whenever someone does something wrong, any labels they have attached to themselves can reflect badly upon others identifying themselves with that label.
These statements got me thinking about labels in general. Lately I have noticed how often people attach labels to themselves, sometimes moments after meeting someone for the first time. Although labels such as nationality can be useful, most are fairly ambiguous. Even if they have a completely different perception about what a label means, the minute we label ourselves, people think they've got us figured out. Based upon assumption, this prevents people from truly getting to know one another as individuals, and can also be a source of great misunderstanding.
So then why do we need to make it so clear to others that we are Buddhist, Christian, minimalist, hippie, vegan, omnivore, republican, democrat, conservative, liberal? Is it an ego thing, to show others just how sure we are of our own identity? Or are we actually very insecure about who we really are, so we need to find ways (or in this case, words) to make ourselves appear solid and consistent?
Of course since the basis of ByChanceBuddhism is my journey on the Buddhist path, it is clear that here I am identifying myself as a Buddhist. Fair enough. But in regard to my off-line existence, one of the first things I learned while studying Buddhism is that Buddhists don't necessarily have to go around telling everyone they are Buddhists. Many of the first books I read on the subject made it clear that our actions in daily life are much more important than 'being Buddhist'.
Over time, I've begun to temper the impulse to reveal my 'labels' to people I meet. I also have started to let go of the constant need to define myself to others, and tested the idea of being just a little bit more mysterious. For the most part (and actually, to my amazement), this has resulted in more authentic interactions between myself and others. I guess that when it comes down to it, if I care at all about what others think about me, I would rather they think I am a good person than 'getting' the fact that I'm a Buddhist. I just need to remember that it's okay if others don't always know exactly where I are coming from, as long as I know where I'm going.
I would like to thank Dan Kurtti over at dankurtti.blogspot.com for inspiring me to think critically about this topic and post. If you have a moment please click over to Dan's blog and check it out!
"Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are." H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama
Next month I am celebrating a very significant personal milestone: the five-year anniversary of my journey on the Buddhist Path. During this celebration I would like to revisit the original purpose of ByChanceBuddhism, which is to help and welcome others who are new to the Buddhist way of life.
My goal for September is to write as many posts as I can that discuss the Basics (and not so-basics) of Buddhism. Similar to posts where I outline fundamental concepts such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, I plan to write a number of 'list' posts that describe other core Buddhist concepts and ideas.
Please keep in mind that due to my preparation for this project, my posts in August may not be as frequent (although I do have a few special posts planned ;). As always, I look forward to writing these future posts, and interacting with you as we discuss them.
Although I have a good idea of ideas and concepts I would like to cover, I also would like to know what you are interested in knowing more about. After all, this celebration is not all about me- so I would be delighted if you would also share in its joy! Please post your suggestions/questions in the comments below, and I will do my best to follow up.
The following is part of my monthly "Buddhism in the News" series, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. I am certain that I have not included everything, but have tried to provide a good sampling of current Buddhist happenings around the world. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read what interests you. Enjoy!
1. The Dalai Lama celebrates his 77th birthday This is a link to a post I have written about the 14th Dalai Lama's birthday celebration. Post includes links to various articles and a slideshow featuring the festivities.
2. 'Meaningful autonomy is the only realistic solution' Interview with the Dalai Lama in the Indian newspaper The Hindu. The interview focuses on the Dalai Lama's new role, China, and the issue of choosing the next Dalai Lama in the face of Chinese restrictions on the concept of 'reincarnation'.
4. New Buddha site discovered Researchers have discovered Buddhavana, described by the Chinese scholar Xuanzang in the 7th century AD. It is an important site associated with the Buddhacarika, or sublime wandering of the Buddha. The Buddha is said to have stayed one night in a cave of the Buddhavana, near the present day Indian village of Ayer. As with many places in the Gaya district of Bihar, India, the Buddhavana and Ayer village are filled with Buddhist antiquities, many of which have
yet to be excavated and categorized. In addition, this second article also provides quite a few pictures of the ancient artifacts researchers and locals have gathered. Articles are from Times of India and the blog Nalanda- insatiable in offering.
5. Meditating Buddhist monk saddles up for London The story of a Japanese Buddhist monk's plans to participate in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. He and his family have a long tradition of both spiritual and equestrian pursuits! Article is from Agence France-Presse (AFP).
6. Taiwan to stage 1st same-sex Buddhist wedding First same-sex Buddhist wedding in Asia will be held August 11th at a Buddhist monastery in north Taiwan. The article features the experience of one of the two women to be married, and discusses the reaction from different segments of Taiwanese society. Article is from AFP.
7. Gateway to Myanmar's past, and its future A detailed article of the great wealth of Buddhist archeological treasures that now await foreign visitors and scholars as Myanmar opens it's doors to the outside world. Article is from New York Times.
9. Alleged crossbow road-rager: I'm a Buddhist Bizarre story of how a road rage incident escalated when one man wielded a crossbow. It was later found on his facebook page that he described himself as "a Buddhist who holds tolerance in great importance". The moral of the story? Watch out for all those crazy Buddhists out there- They probably have crossbows, and they will mess you up! :) Story is from NBC Philadelphia.
***** As always, please share your thoughts about whatever captured your interest in the comments. Also please let me know if I missed something important this month by providing the title of the article. I will google it and include it here, with credit to you! :) Finally, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspapers post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you so much!
Yesterday I took a really nice, long, meditative walk. It was quite hot out, so I lingered in one of the cool, shady groves of the trail I frequent. A stream runs there, and so I decided to relax on its banks for a little while.
As I was sitting, the woods around me seemed to come to life. Frogs jumped near the stream, dragonflies buzzed, birds sang. A beautiful butterfly flitted by and landed on the shiny wet stones near the stream. It paused for a few minutes, opening and closing its wings, revealing bright blue patches. Suddenly, the creature fluttered its wings and flew to the shelter of a nearby tree.
This moment made me remember something I had long forgotten. When I was about eleven years old, my class took a field trip to a local park. One of the foresters there gave us a quick tour, and also told us about something called a 'magic spot'. She invited us to find a spot in the forest, settle down, and then be very, very, still. She described how nature will come to life around us, just like magic. Of course most of us laughed at how kiddish it sounded- after all, we were mighty sixth graders!
But to tell the truth, it really was like magic. While sitting in our 'magic spots', the natural surroundings seemed to awaken. We each wrote what we observed in a little journal the forester had given us, which we (secretly) enjoyed sharing with our classmates.
Back to yesterday's experience, I realized the 'magic spot' can truly be an exercise in mindfulness, and a gateway to a meaningful meditation practice. This was exemplified by my observation of that beautiful butterfly: As I sat watching, my breath slowed, becoming one with the rhythm of its undulating wings.
Here is a picture I took of a butterfly at a conservatory a while ago. I am posting this for your to enjoy, because I did not take a picture of the butterfly described above. After all, I was in my 'magic spot' :)
Have you had an experience like this? How do natural surroundings affect you and your mindfulness/meditation practice?
A little while ago my Mom sent my husband and me this beautiful card. It totally brightened our day, and now hangs on the wall above our altar. I just thought I'd share its beauty with all of you :)
I love the lotus symbol, floating above the Buddha's hand. :)
Amazingly, the back of the card is almost as beautiful and ornate as the front! The artist's name s Miriam Robert (-Moraza) of Mystik Art Studio. Unfortunately the website appears to be down, but
some of her creations can be found at greenearthstones, Keta Trading, and Kheops International. Her cards feature an eclectic range of spiritualities, depicting Buddhist, Christian, and Goddess themes. My mom purchased this card from one of our favorite Indian grocery stores.
I love this card, and smile every time I look at it! :)
I hope you enjoyed this post. And once again, thank you Mom! :) ***** May all beings be happy!
I have recently been receiving some positive feedback for the way I end my posts, which is with the words:
"May all beings be happy!"
I have chosen to close each post with this because the truth is, we all want to be happy. Given this basic commonality, I believe that "May all beings be happy" brings us together as fellow sentient beings, whatever path we choose.
A little while ago my mother-in-law also commented on how much she liked my sign-off phrase. She then told me the Sanskrit translation, which is (in Roman script, of course):
"Samstha Loka Sukhino Bhavanthu!"
I was very happy to learn these uplifting words in this beautiful ancient Indian language. As with many of the new things I have encountered lately, this is yet another precious lesson in my lifetime of learning with my wonderful husband and his family.
Thanks so much, all of you, for your kind and positive comments. I hope you have enjoyed this post!
In my last post I discussed my decision to pursue the goals I have in life by enjoying them for their own merit, letting go of the idea of 'self-improvement.' This means that, for now, I want to do things because they make me happy, not because my life is some kind of pet project.
A few years ago, I was an aggressive and very impatient person. Needless to say, these emotions caused me a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. My troubles were compounded by the fact that I didn't have a constructive way of dealing with them.
Enter my 'discovery' of Buddhism. If such a thing were to exist, it was like being hit (hard) with an enlightenment stick! Suddenly the ideas I had believed all my life (yet had not quite connected) were right there in front of me. Intellectual appreciation gave way to effort, effort to practice, and practice to a way of life. My realizations and initial zeal were also tempered by the indispensable Buddhist concept of rejecting extremes and following the Middle Way.
Slowly and steadily, my attitudes towards other people and the world around me changed. Don't get me wrong, I still get angry and act unskillfully. But I in the past few years I have grown more calm, patient, and understanding. I regularly engage in activities that require self-discipline, like meditation, mindful eating, and practicing yoga. I also try (and sometimes succeed) in making an effort to practice Metta, or loving-kindness, towards all beings. I take part in these activities because I feel it is the right thing to do.
I realize now that this type of action is very different from the 'self-improvement' I had always pursued. Although (usually) unintentional, my efforts at 'improvement' had been outwardly motivated, to seek approval from others. It took me a long time to discover this pattern, not to mention how draining and demoralizing it can be. Now that I know, I am ready to let it go. It is time to focus on effort that is not only beneficial, but filled with freedom and joy.
In making this decision to change my motivation, I believe I have come a long way!
In our lives, we are all on our own great journey. How do you feel that you have you come a long way in your life? What does the term 'self improvement' mean to you? As always, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
It seems like ever since I can remember I have been working to improve myself. Lose weight, tone down, eat better, work harder, get better grades, be more confident. During this journey of 'self-improvement', I went from being a gung-ho, crash-and-burn type to someone who gradually works towards personal change. As you can imagine, the second method has brought me the most success.
Yet recently I have felt very frustrated. Although I may have accomplished a lot in the past few years, I still have many more goals- perhaps more than I have had at any time in my life. But I don't seem to be getting anywhere with any of them.
Thinking of posts I've read from success gurus like Leo Babauta, I decided to make one last-ditch effort. Leo is at the forefront of advocating bite-sized change for big-time goals, from losing weight to becoming a great athlete. Baby steps are key.
With this in mind, I planned to take the smallest step I could. I made a date with myself to work on my own self-improvement, for just one minute each day. I could choose to do anything I wanted, and stay at one minute until I was comfortable to move on to two minutes, then three, then four . . . all the way up to an hour of working on self-improvement each day. What a great idea! (Right?)
Well, even though I do actually think this was a pretty decent plan, I had not anticipated the massive resistance I would put up against it. After procrastinating for several hours, I finally was ready to do my 'one minute'. However, instead of the one minute of pushups I had planned, I just sat there and rested for one minute. Then two. Then three.
Feeling defeated and angry at myself, I decided to go for a long walk to calm down. As I was walking, I kept wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Couldn't I just work on improving myself for ONE MINUTE?! How lazy am I, really?!
After some time I calmed down and thought more rationally about my behavior. Okay, I had obviously been resistant to that one little minute of change because I simply didn't want to do it. Fine.
But it was the answer to my next question, Why didn't I want to do it?, that really hit me.
"Because I've had enough!" my mind blurted out. Surprised, I realized in that moment that I don't need to do this to myself anymore. The idea of 'self-improvement' is all well and good, but the way I was going about it was sucking the joy out of my life. All the goals I have, everything I love and want to do in life, I had demoted to mere drudgery.
And, turning inward, I realized something more. My slavish effort in 'self-improvement' was implying (and constantly re-enforcing) that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, that I somehow need to 'fix'. I know now that this is simply not true. I don't need any more 'improvement'.
Does this mean I think I am perfect? Absolutely not. But I think it is time for me to become comfortable with my own imperfection. Following a Buddhist way of life has helped me establish and strengthen a code of conduct not based on faith alone. Instead, the guidelines set by the Buddha in the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts have resonated with me as fundamental laws of the universe. In my effort to be in balance with them, these guidelines have helped set a distinct framework for my behavior, and shifted the emphasis of what I feel is important in life.
Keeping this framework close to my heart, I think the time has come that I just need to do what makes me happy. It is in this way I will work towards my goals, joyfully, without self-reproach and judgement.
I am finally free.
I feel like a butterfly, spreading my wings in freedom!
May all beings be happy (even me)! :)
As always, I welcome your comments. With love and Metta, Renata
Because my last post was about the Dalai Lama's 77th birthday, I thought I would write a quick blurb on the coattails of that, since this experience is (at least remotely) related.
On a visit to my husband's workplace last week, I remembered that it was the Dalai Lama's birthday, so I thought it would be nice to post about it. While I was writing, a colleague of my husband's stopped by to say hello- It was his birthday, too! However, he was unfortunately (albeit jokingly) rather bummed out, having been born on the same day as former US president, George W. Bush.
I laughed and said that if he thought that was such a bad thing, he might be happy to know that he also shares his birthday with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He brightened up for a second, then made a sudden 'head exploding' motion with his hands. "The Dalai Lama and George W. Bush have the same birthday?! Mind blown!"
"Yes", I said, "and you too!" Then I jokingly shook my finger at him, "That is why you should never let people get under your skin. You never know what you'll have in common with them!" He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. (I don't blame him for sighing- I can be such a pain sometimes!)
But you know, I was only being sassy because I have learned this lesson myself. There have been times when for some reason I have been really put off by someone, disagreeing with them about almost everything. Yet, some of these same people have also become good friends of mine (eventually :).
The only reason I can think of why we became friends is because there was a mutual effort to see through the superficial. The fact is, I have realized that although I won't necessarily 'like' everyone (and vise versa!), I can now stand back and know that anyone, friend or foe, has the capacity to surprise. (And apparently, people have also realized the same thing about me)
Have you had such an experience, where someone you thought you had nothing in common with suddenly surprises you? Perhaps you didn't become BFFs, but what did you learn? Please share in the comments below, I would love to hear your take on this!
"Hanging on to resentment is letting someone you despise living rent-free in your head" Ann Landers (Esther Lederer)
. . . To His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, the exiled Tibetan leader and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He began life as Lhamo Dhondup, born to a farming family in the tiny village of Taktser, Tibet, 1935. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition and through mystic signs that led a government deputation from Lhasa to Taktser, at the age of two he was discovered to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. You can read more about the Dalai Lama's life before and after his exile from Tibet in 1959 here. Biography is from the official website of the 14th Dalai Lama.
Of course, there are numerous festivities going on around the world to celebrate this day. Please enjoy this slideshow of people celebrating the birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama in India and Nepal. Slideshow is from TIMEWorld.
May all beings be happy! As always, please share your views and experiences in the comments below.
Update and caution: Apparently some people out there are trying to exploit this joyous occasion so they can infect computers with malware. If you get an email with a subject line that goes something like: "Dalai Lama's birthday on July 6th to be a low-key affair" Don't open it or the attachment enclosed! You can read the article about the malware at http://www.net-security.org/malware_news.php?id=2176
Said with hands held in a prayer position in front of the heart, these beautiful words are a common greeting between Buddhists at temples and meditation retreats. The joined hands represent the bud of a lotus flower, preparing to blossom in all its beauty and purity. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explains, "The meditation practitioner is like a lotus flower in the process of blooming. Buddhas are fully bloomed flowers, beautiful and refreshing. All of us are Buddhas-to-be." This is one of the main reasons why people practicing meditation and the Dhamma greet each other in this way.
As a botanist, flowers and plants in general inspire a great amount of fascination and interest, but the lotus has always been among my favorites (A happy premonition, perhaps? :) Since becoming a Buddhist and learning about both Buddhist and Hindu spiritual symbolism, this sacred flower now has taken on a deep personal meaning. I find that the inspiring way these delicate blooms emerge so purely from the deep, dark muck below are a great subject for contemplation.
Is the same true for you? How does the symbolism of the lotus blossom inspire you in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
The following images are from a trip my husband and parents took to Pennsylvania's beautiful Longwood Gardens a few weeks ago. Much to our delight, the lotus ponds nestled between the wings of the enormous, four-acre conservatory were in full bloom. I hope you enjoy looking at some of the pictures we took there- I couldn't think of a better time to share them!
Overview of the central lotus pond, with a beautiful Indian lotus contemplating its own breathtaking reflection.
A magenta colored lotus emerging from the dark water, luminous in the sunshine.
A lovely purple lotus, with its bountiful petals.
A delicate white lotus.
My favorite image: A delicately pink water lily looking almost silken in the bright afternoon sun. I love how the reflection of clouds in the sky seem to caress the flower; a harmonious union of earth, sky, water, and sun.
I hope you've enjoyed these images I have posted today. I know that I certainly enjoyed capturing these photos and sharing them with you!
May all beings be happy- and now a lotus for you, a Buddha to be! _/|\_
The following is my new monthly "Buddhism in the News" segment, where I provide links to articles about Buddhism, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. Buddhism is an ancient religion, but it is also very much alive and relevant today. By writing these posts, I hope to show how very true that is. I am certain that I have probably not included all important events, but I think the articles below are a good sampling of current Buddhist happenings around the world. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read what interests you. Enjoy!
1. Ancient statue reveals prince who would become the Buddha Ancient artifacts discovered in the ruins of the Buddhist monastery Mes Aynak in Afghanistan show representations of prince Siddhartha Gautama before he became the Buddha. The stone statue, or stele, was found in 2010, but had not been analyzed until recently, and may provide evidence of a cult dedicated to celebrating events in Siddhartha's life before his enlightenment. Article is from Fox News.
2. Buddhist yoga retreat death raises questions about Arizona monk's 'Enlightenment Preaching' An account of the story that ended in the death of Ian Thorson, who was attending the three year yoga retreat with his wife. His wife had previously been married to the man leading the retreat, who some say has built a bizarre Buddhist cult around himself. His practices have been heavily criticized by the Dalai Lama and other leaders in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Police investigating the death do not suspect foul play, but people are now questioning what has been going on at the retreat, set near a remote town in Arizona. Article is from ABC news.
3. South Korean monks launch reforms following gambling scandal An update to the scandal that broke last month, where South Korean monks were caught on video in a luxury hotel suite drinking, smoking, and playing an illegal poker game with stakes reaching $875,300 USD. Reforms include hiring outside financial professionals to manage the funds of the monastic order, lay people to run the temples, and making financial records open to the public. Article from the Global Post.
4. Censorship in China is morally wrong: Dalai Lama The Dalai Lama speaks out on the control of information and freedom of movement of the Chinese People by the Chinese government. He insists that the Chinese people have a right to know the realities of their current situation, and to be able to freely determine right from wrong based on correct information. Article is from Firstpost.World.
5. The Dalai Lama and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi meet in London A brief article of the two Nobel laureates' half hour meeting in London. It was the first time Aung San Suu Kyi had been abroad to Europe in 24 years. She was released from house arrest in Myanmar in 2010. Article is from NYDailyNews.com
6. Crisis in Myanmar over Buddhist-Muslim clash Violence between Muslims and Buddhists in the Rakhine state in Myanmar has resulted in the burning of 500 homes and 17 deaths. President Thein Sein has declared a state of emergency in this part of the country. Article is from the New York Times.
7. Buddha attacked by Taliban in 2007 gets facelift An Italian archeologist has partially reconstructed the face of the Jahanabad Buddha located in the Swat valley in Northwest Pakistan, which had been dynamited by Taliban extremists in 2007. The article also discusses the concern regarding the protection and preservation of other ancient Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim sites in the region. From NYDailyNews.com.
8. American Buddhism on the Rise A video of 'Buddhafest' film festival in Arlington, Virginia featuring people who discuss their interest in Buddhism, and what benefits they have received from learning about and practicing the Buddhist faith. Video from PBS.
9. What's an American Buddhist? This article discusses the huge boom of Buddhism in North America since 1990, and why Americans and others may have been attracted to this ancient faith. There is also an interesting discussion of cultural differences between 'Eastern' traditions and 'Western' practitioners, how they may emerge in the practices of North American Buddhists, and how the basic tenets of the Buddhist faith unites them. Article from the Washington Post.
10. Buddhism and the unconscious An article discussing the connections between the theories of the unconscious from psychoanalyst Carl Jung and ideas about our survival as a species from biologist Edward O. Wilson, all compared with Buddhist psychology. From the blog Huffington Post.
11. Keeping the peace: Britain's Buddhist police A very interesting article about Buddhist officers in the British police force. The article features an account by Sergeant Gary Watts, who, feeling isolated, reached out to see if there were others like him on the police internal website message board. He was surprised to find that there were in fact others in the force, both officers and staff, who practiced Buddhism. Sergeant Watts also discusses the issue of using force during his job, and describes that using force can be done properly and guided by Buddhist principles, if it is only used to protect himself and others, and without anger or malice. In the future he hopes to offer meditation classes to all officers for the purpose of health and general well-being. Article from The Telegraph.
12. Europe's largest Buddhist temple inaugurated in Bussy-Saint-Georges Public figures and representatives from several religious groups were present to inaugurate the new Buddhist temple on June 24th, 2012. The temple, which is now the largest Buddhist temple in Europe, will open to the public on July 1st. A slideshow of images from the inauguration accompanies this article from Citizenside.com.
As always, please share your thoughts about whatever captured your interest in the comments. Also please let me know if I missed something important this month by providing the title of the article. I will google it and include it here, with credit to you! :) Finally, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspapers post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you so much!
Earlier this month I hit another (albeit relatively artificial) milestone in my life. My twenties have come to a close, and I now suddenly find myself to be 30 years old. Although I do marvel at where the time has gone, I in no way feel 'old'. If it wasn't for the lessons I have learned and the lines forming on my face, I could persuade myself that 19 was only yesterday.
But despite feeling 20, I am glad to be 30. I think it is an accomplishment that all things considered, I still love to smile, laugh, and continue to be ever-curious about life. And yes, I am still a little goofy and immature.
Recently I came across something I had written years ago, a note listing goals I had for my life. I also expressed concern for my future, wondering if I would ever finish my degree or get married (at the time I was already dating the wonderful man who is now my husband).
Now here I am, a recently married woman, and an even more recent PhD. The words I had written made me smile, but mostly at my own ignorance. Although happily married and proud of my academic accomplishments, I now know that these things do not define me. It is the love, laughter, hard work, and character built along the way that matters. And the amazing thing is, I have found that I can be happy, right here, right now, but only if I let myself. I am pretty sure the same is true for everyone, but also think it is something we all must learn on our own.
With this in mind, I thought of other things I have learned this past decade. If I could send a letter back in time, these are the things I would tell my 20-year-old self:
True compassion is not what you think it is. It is not pity, or even charity for that matter. And it is most certainly not 'people pleasing'. You will learn the difference.
By all means help friends in need, and cheer them up if they've got the blues. But stay away from malcontents. They will bring you down, and their jealousy will poison your happiness. Smile and walk away, your grace and dignity intact.
The less people know about you, the better. Never talk too much about yourself or your relationships with others. Listen mindfully to those around you instead.
Speaking of less, it really is more. In almost every aspect of your life.
If you are unsure about a decision, think, "Will I regret it if I do it, or regret it if I don't?". Trust your instincts.
Never believe that someone else has your best interests at heart. Those who claim to may be genuine, but really, how could they know what makes your heart soar? Only you can know that, so don't be complacent.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent". Take that quote to heart, girl!
Anything in this world worth having does not come easy. Personal growth is definitely one of them, and requires patience and being gentle with yourself. Instead of kicking yourself for what you didn't achieve yesterday, focus on the progress you've made today.
The only actions you can control are your own. You are never in control of other people's thoughts, actions, and beliefs, so let go of worrying about them. If an issue arises that causes concern, the only thing you can rightfully do is lead by example.
and last but not least . . .
Despite what you may think now, know that a spiritual life is possible, even for a nonconformist like you :) Just don't think that it has to be what other people think or say it should be. So go ahead, keep exploring your beliefs- and more importantly, continue challenging them!
Did you enjoy this post? What are some of the things you would tell your younger self? Please share in the comments below.
The following is something I would like to start doing regularly, and that is writing summaries of events centered around Buddhism that are happening around the world, along with news of prominent Buddhists and everyday laypeople. In addition to selecting interesting articles, I will also try to choose pieces that discuss pervasive human problems and how people are trying to solve them in the context of Buddhism. Buddhism is an ancient religion, but it is also very much alive and relevant today. By writing these posts, I hope to show how very true that is.
The first few articles in this month's post are from February 2012 onwards, the rest having been written in May 2012. I am certain that I have probably not included all important events, but I think the articles below are a good sampling of current Buddhist happenings around the world. I welcome you to browse the linked articles below and read what interests you most. Enjoy!
4. Lama Lobtsul of the Palri Pema Od Ling Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Austin, TX An account of the duties of Tibetan Buddhist Lama Lobtsul at this temple that houses a rare statue of Guru Rinpoche. The article also gives an account of Lama Lobtsul's life as he was growing up, and how he would practice his faith in secret because of the political situation in China at the time. The article is from the New York Times.
5. South Korea: monks resign after poker scandal Monks behaving badly! Some Buddhist monks in South Korea were caught on video tape gambling, smoking, and drinking alcohol. There will no doubt be follow-ups to this article as the story unfolds.
6. Wesak celebrations in Kuantan, Malaysia This article about a Wesak celebration in Malaysia mentions the name of a blessed Venerable, Ven. Sik Ji Xing, whom I have had the pleasure to meet in person during my grad years at Purdue University. This article is from the Malaysian newspaper, The Star.
10. Buddhist encyclopedia published in city of Elista, Kalmykia, Russia Article from the Indian newspaper, The Hindu about a Buddhist encyclopedia funded by the Indian Embassy in the Kalmykia region of Russia. It seems that numerous temples have been built in predominately Buddhist regions of Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva. Tuva is also home to the largest Buddha statue in Russia. Who knew?!
15. NGO alleges Buddhist heritage sites in North India are in a state of neglect It seems that important Buddhist sites in the north Indian states of Bihar, Punjab, Rajastan, and Uttar Pradesh have been underfunded and otherwise mismanaged, and thus have fallen into disrepair. This article from The Hindu also mentions that Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, needs attention as well.
16. Europe's biggest Buddhist temple to open near Paris UPI reports that this $20 million temple and cultural center will open on June 22nd at Bussey-Saint-Georges, and will have space for 1000 worshippers. The temple also includes 40 bedrooms for people on spiritual retreats, extra rooms for activities such as calligraphy, and a vegetarian restaurant. Oh, and a 16 foot, 8 ton statue of the Buddha, carved from white jade which originated from a mountain in Myanmar!
As always, please share your thoughts about whatever interested you most in the comments. Also please let me know if I missed something important this month by providing the title of the article. I will google it and include it here, with credit to you! :) Finally, if you are reading this at a later date, please inform me of any dead links, since some newspapers only post articles for a short time before archiving them. Thank you so much!