Sunday, January 29, 2012

The "Big Reveal": I am a Buddhist Conservative!

My last few posts on ByChanceBuddhism have been about living authentically, without fear. On one level, that means not being afraid of what people may think about my views or opinions. 

Here are things about me you probably already know:
I am a graduate student.
I recently got married- twice!
I have married outside my culture and am therefore committed not only to my spouse, but a lifetime of learning.
I am trying to simplify my lifestyle through my own approach to minimalism.
I discovered the Buddhist path in 2007 and am currently doing my best to live by it.

And what you might not know:
I love to eat apple slices dipped in Nutella
I can relate to 'Big Bang Theory' much more than I would like to admit

and . . . I am a political conservative.

"Click," I can almost hear it. I may have already lost you by way of the 'next blog' button. 

But if not, that means you are continuing to read, and I thank you for that.  _/|\_

First, let me define what I mean by "conservative" (it has different meanings in different countries). Skip this if you like.

My perspective from the standpoint of (American) conservatism is:
That the US Constitution is to be interpreted as it is written, and is not a 'living document'
People who work for their money should be able to keep it, and not be shamed or punished for it.
The federal government should be involved in maintaining the military and coining money, and that's about it.
All amendments should be fully upheld in the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment.
Basic human rights regarded as nonnegotiable for adults and children should be fully extended to unborn babies.

So now you know my basic political beliefs -or not- but thanks for bearing with me. Just remember that sharing my political views here is not for the purpose of converting anyone, or even for the sake of discussing them, simply because I do not think this blog is the proper venue for it.  

This post was written for two purposes:
1) To reveal my perspective, and perhaps add to the patchwork of thoughts and beliefs out there.
2) For me to continue my quest to live authentically through honesty to myself and you, my readers.

So why have I delayed this post so long? In two words, I would say, 'sore thumb'. That's because I know that given my religious affiliation, I do stick out like one. For some reason Buddhism really appeals to liberals in America, which honestly makes me feel like, well, a sore thumb.

But it's time to show that even though most Buddhists in America are liberal (some very much so), I am a conservative and I am cool with that. The truth is I always was, but I was also worried about what others would think about me

That brings up two more purposes of this post:
3) I should no longer fear how others might react to how I am different, but to take ego out of the equation and just continue being.
4) There is no me versus them. Let's not construct those concepts on the basis of something as superficial as political beliefs.

To me, these four points mean being confident about my beliefs and the life experiences that led to them, while also being open to the perspective of others. This can (and I believe should) be done quietly. In fact, this 'big reveal' doesn't change much, except now I will remain quiet because that is the right thing to do, not because I am afraid.

Finally, we all know that the Buddhist Precepts are not 'liberal' or 'conservative'. There is only a guide to live a meaningful and beneficial life, and a willingness to reject radicalism and anger. Following the Precepts and the Middle Way, there is room for us all!

 *****
Hopefully I have gotten my point across that this post is NOT about political beliefs, but about not being afraid of criticism from others. Are there times when you hide opinions/thoughts that are important to you for fear of what others might think? If so, please respond in the comments.

As a side note, don't think that I don't know there are other conservative Buddhists out there. Here is another one, who also has a blog!

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What fear does to us

In my last post I pledged to live authentically, without fear

To follow up, I thought it would be relevant to discuss the impact fear has on our lives. I am no psychologist, but in my opinion fear often seems to be the root of many negative practices and emotions.

To name a few:

Apathy = fear of taking risks or asserting oneself.
Stubbornness = fear of change.
Jealousy = fear of loss, marginalization, and one's own inadequacies (real or imagined)
Timidness = fear of disapproval. 
Neuroticism = fear of ________ .

Prejudice is the fear of people or concepts that are different.

Of course, these examples are not textbook. Negative emotions can be complex, and caused by forces other than fear. For instance, stubbornness can help us navigate difficult times in our lives and make us stick to something we believe in, sometimes in the midst of substantial opposition. 

My point is that we start getting into trouble when emotions are rooted in fear. The emotion or state is no longer helpful, and also seems to last longer than it should.

"Fear: False evidence appearing real." ~ Unknown

Fear that is not based in reality, but in false perceptions leading to negative emotive states that can harm us and the people around us.

So, unless there is a lion chasing us down the street, we're better off without it!

In what ways does fear affect your life?

*****

"Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop" ~ Usman B. Asif

May all beings be happy- and live without fear!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

One Goal

There are many things I would like to do with my life, many things I would like to learn and achieve. But, digging deep, I can only perceive one core goal:

Live authentically, without fear. 

Each day, I stumble many times and live with needless fear. But every day is another step in the journey. The choices I make are mine alone, and will determine whether I move towards or away from fear.

What is an important goal in your life? 

*****
May all beings be happy! 


Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous Year of the Dragon.

Here is a neat site with a lot of information about the Chinese calendar and zodiacs.

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Happy Pongal!

As you may know last year I married the love of my life. My husband is from India, so in addition to making a commitment to him, I have also committed to a lifetime of learning. A great source of lessons about Indian culture are India's many festivals. This weekend my husband and I celebrated our first 'Pongal' together, which is a harvest festival widely celebrated across southern India. During this festival, a ceremony or 'puja' is conducted for the sun, which on this date is said to start its journey back north from the southern hemisphere, and is a very auspicious time. This 'solar' event also marks the traditional end of the growing season, so farmers finally get some much-needed rest. Generally there are four consecutive days of festivities and various activities, all of which are listed and explained on this great website completely dedicated to Pongal! 

My husband and I participated in a few of these activities, including getting rid of old clothing (which by the way fits in really well with my goals to live simply, although we did not burn the items as the tradition suggests). We made 'wen' (Tamil: 'plain') and 'chakar' (Tamil: 'sweet') Pongals, which are relatively simple dishes made with lentils and rice (and are for what this festival is named). Interestingly, the word 'Pongal' means 'boil over' in Tamil, which is what you are supposed to let the dish do while cooking as a symbol of abundance and prosperity. Before eating these simple but delicious preparations, my husband and I performed a 'puja' or offering to the Sun God, which was represented on our altar by a big sun face that I drew on a dry erase board. Finally, my husband and I also wore new clothes as advised by his mother and grandmother. I wore a new salwar kameez made from material given to me by my husband's aunt.

Another thing I did was draw a kolam (design) on the sidewalk in front of our apartment. Often geometric or floral, these designs are traditionally fashioned from white and colored rice flour, (although many people today use chalk). Birds feed on kolam made of rice flour, which is a symbol of sharing abundance with all creatures. Kolam designs (also called rangolis, among many other names) are also symbols of purification that are often drawn in front of the main door, allowing the goddess Laxmi to enter the house and bring peace and prosperity to the inhabitants. Kolams are drawn throughout the year, but have special significance during Pongal.

Finally, feeling inspired after our month and a half in India, I decided to make my first attempt at wearing a sari 'by myself'. With the help of a great online video and a few pointers from my husband, I was able to wear a traditional cotton sari, although I think I do need some practice. (However, something tells me I will probably get that practice in the future :) It was truly a great 'Thalai Pongal' (First Pongal) for my husband and me, and I will always remember it.



Me in my new sari next to the simple chalk 'Kolam' on our front sidewalk.



A closer look at the kolam drawing in blue. In the spirit of the festival I also decided to draw a happy, smiling sun. 



My first attempt at wearing a sari by myself. The material was given to me by kindly neighbors who live near my husband's grandparents.



New salwar kameez for Pongal!


Happy Pongal, Everyone! May all beings be happy!



Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A simple metaphor: being both grounded and free

Yesterday I took an hour long walk. It was a little chilly and gloomy outside, but it was still nice. On the way back I passed by a playground in a public park and decided to visit the swing-set. 

I can't say that I had forgotten, but it was great to be reminded of how fun it is to just swing, head and arms towards the ground on the upswing, feet pointed towards the sky. I stayed on the swing for a few minutes, breathing deeply as I swung backwards, exhaling as I swung forwards to the top. 

It felt so wonderfully free.

After while I slowed down and jumped from the swing. I landed on the soft wood chips, my feet gently coming in contact with the earth. As I walked away I realized that feeling of grounded-ness felt just as good as the freedom I felt on the swing. Moreover, this grounded state is the one that my body occupies most of the time (although my monkey-mind might beg to differ!).

I wanted to share this experience because I felt it was a simple metaphor for but one component of the Middle Way. Day to day we strive to approach our lives while grounded by the ideals of balance, moderation, and mindfulness. But we should also know that despite our circumstances, we still have the thrill of unbounded freedom to decide with our minds. 

What do freedom and balance mean to you? What activities make you feel most balanced and free?

May all beings be Happy!

*****

I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom. ~ Simone de Beauvoir 

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte 

Balance is beautiful. ~ Miyoko Ohno

Friday, January 6, 2012

TMI and why I write

My two-month hiatus from posting ByChanceBuddhism left me with a whole new desire, or perhaps need, to write. Of course my feeling is nothing new- while human beings have long benefited emotionally and intellectually from great written works, writers from all backgrounds have themselves been nurtured by writing's cathartic effect.

But 'catharsis' is an interesting term. According to Wikipedia, catharsis is a Greek word that means to 'cleanse or purge'. 

Purge what, exactly? It may be clear that writers like Virginia Woolf, who had known the pain of sexual abuse, would have a lot to unleash. But what about a person like me, who grew up in rural western New York state, and who now lives happily married in a suburban apartment complex? What could I possibly have to 'purge'? On a human level, I suffer from the same restlessness and fear about the future that a lot of people face. But deep, dark angst and pain? Probably not, at least at this point in my life.

So why do I write? In an attempt to be mindful, I tried to stay aware of my feelings as I surfed the net and read books and magazine articles for the past few days. (A truly pleasant activity while recovering from jet-lag, by the way). As usual, I found certain passages insightful, images beautiful, articles that I disagreed with, etc. But after engaging in several hours of this each day, I felt drained. Why? I asked, when reading is something I truly enjoy? 

I then realized that I was suffering from TMI (Too Much Information). Not the type of TMI where someone you just met shares intimate habits, but just simply T. M. I. Every day we open up our internet browser or turn on a smart phone and are immediately exposed to emails, news articles, weather and traffic reports, celebrity gossip, recipes, images, etc. These are all things people in modern societies are used to being exposed to, except not the internet makes all this information available to us in seconds.

From ancient to modern times, human beings have always had to process a lot, and still do. So in addition to the benefit of release that writing imparts on those who are suffering deeply, this same age-old method has done wonders for generations of people just trying to process the world around them.

And that's just what I'm trying to do- to navigate the sea of information spouted each day and process my experiences, emotions, and the world around me through written communication. I hope that despite the current TMI status quo, this processing will help me lead a wiser and more mindful life, and that any clarity or perspective I gain will somehow benefit others. 

May all beings be happy!

*****

You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.  ~Arthur Polotnik

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.  ~Norbet Platt

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

December Hiatus

Well, here I go again, absent for almost two months. And again, SO MUCH has happened since - I just can't seem to keep up with all the events and surprises that life has come up with these days. Since my last post, my husband and I have:

Made a trip to India
Gotten married (again!) in a Tamil Brahmin wedding ceremony
Made a journey to the former home of my husband's spiritual guru
Had many adventures with the US Consulate and visa processing
Missed Christmas and the holiday with my family in NYS
Experienced mind (and gut) bending jet lag

Of course, some of these adventures will not be as exciting for you as they were for us, so I don't think it necessary to bore you with all the details. But there will definitely be a post or two about our wedding/s, both American and Indian, as well as my impressions of the trip to India as a whole.

So that's that- Stay tuned! Oh, and Happy New Year- May all beings be happy in the year 2012!