Saturday, November 6, 2010

Be where you are

Since I don't own a vehicle, I walk - a lot. Each evening as I climb the hill towards my apartment, I have noticed myself saying (or rather, panting!), "almost there . . . almost there!".

I got to thinking, where exactly is 'there'? Loaded down with a backpack full of books, the end-of-the-day trek can be tiring. But really, how can I say I have arrived if I haven't been fully present during the journey?

Lately I have been trying to utilize the 'present moment' concept to look at my little climbs a bit differently. If I find myself slipping into my usual mantra, I stop and say, 'But no, wait, I am here, now.' This shows that despite the perceived comfort and security of our destination, we must acknowledge the present moment. This is a great exercise in flexibility and patience. If we can live in the present moment, we do not suffer longing for the future that awaits our arrival. This applies not only to physical journeys, but also emotional and spiritual ones. If we are so focused on our destination, we will miss all the experiences and lessons along the way. With that, I leave you with a quote from Lao Tzu.

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu

Was this post helpful to you? How important is the present moment to you?

May all beings be happy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Enriching ourselves through other cultures.

In my last post I announced my recent engagement to my sweetheart of almost four years. We met in grad school, and we are doing the long distance thing while he does his postdoc and I finish my Ph.D. We are from different cultures, so we have had a lot of discussions about making sure we respect one another, and each others beliefs.

Recently (in fact, on the eve of our engagement) our parents had the opportunity to meet one another, and I finally got to meet his parents for the first time. Of course the thought of this was quite nerve wracking to me, because I wanted to make a good impression on the people that are so important to my future husband. But I reasoned that anyone who had raised someone as wonderful as my fiance must be just as kind, fair, and thoughtful as he is.

And I was right! Not only did our parents get along well, but my fiance, his parents, and I had a wonderful week together. Before my parents left on their several hours drive home, my Mom said something that touched all our hearts.  

She spoke about different cultures, and that when you meet someone from another part of the world and invite them into your life, everyone becomes enriched by the relationship. We deepen our understanding of others, and learn so much more than if we just stayed in our little area of the world. She hoped that all of us could learn from and grow with one another.
That being said, sometimes the lessons learned can be difficult ones, as we grasp on to aspects of our upbringing that we suddenly realize our partner has no appreciation for. These can be rude awakenings, and if not handled properly can become the basis of bitter disagreements. This calls for a good dose of mindfulness, and compassion towards our partner and their family. As everyone agreed, we should make sure we give each other a lot of slack, and show tolerance for one another as we journey through our relationship.

As I look at the kindness and love my fiance has always shown me, I have confidence that we can do just that.

On a Personal Note: A Special Announcement!

As a break from all the posts about concepts, traditions, and ideas, I have an announcement to make. On October 10th, 2010, my boyfriend of almost four years proposed to me! This of course has made me really happy, and we both look forward to planning our wedding and the life we will build together.

So don't be surprised if the next few posts will relate to weddings, and the Buddhist perspective of marriage and family. I have a lot to learn about the topic as a whole, Buddhist or no. But I plan to post as I learn, which will be both fun and exciting.

Stay tuned!

A Tale of Two Vegans

I have had very little experience with vegans and the vegan lifestyle, so I thought I would discuss just two personal experiences with vegans. I have no idea if these are common or representative experiences, that's for you to comment upon! But they were interesting nonetheless.

A few months ago, I accidentally- and quite awkwardly- found out that a woman I met at a conference was vegan. Two nights before, a lab colleague of mine finished an eating challenge, where two hamburgers, two hot dogs (all covered with chili, relish, etc), and a basket of fries had to be consumed. My colleague not only did that, but also ate a full meal of a burger and fries beforehand! While I was recounting this impressive story to my new friends, I saw the woman turn almost green in color. Later I heard her say to someone else in the group that she was vegan. Whoops! No wonder she had looked like she was going to be ill after I had described all that carnage!

Several people in our group, including myself, were curious about her choice, and were surprised to find that her reason was for sustainability. I was expecting the animal rights angle, and this view was new to me. It was also appealing, since it represented a kind of mindful eating from a local and global perspective. Cool.

But as we ate dinner, I glanced at her from time to time, and as others were enjoying their (mostly vegetarian) meals, she looked almost bitter as she ate her small bowl of lentil soup with idlis. I couldn't tell if she did not like her food or if she was judging others at the table as she gazed at their sumptuous meals, laden with butter and paneer. For her sake, I hope it was just that she had previously eaten a better version of lentil soup.

As for my second example, I was speaking to the post-doc in our lab a few weeks ago, and he explained another idea that was new to me. A couple he knows eats mostly vegan food, but with a twist- They do eat meat, and when they do, they eat animals that they have hunted/raised, killed, and processed themselves. Interesting. Another form of sustainable eating, but not so restrictive. A modern 'middle way', taking from the skills and traditions of our early ancestors of 'eating to live'. Of course I don't know these people personally, and as in the example above, have no idea of whether or not they judge other people for their dietary choices, but just as I like the idea above, I like this one too.

But ideas are only ideas, and the other major parts of the equation are the people that carry them out, and the attitudes with which they do so. If nothing else, I really admire the people I have discussed in this post for their willpower. But I just hope that they can apply their ideas in a way that is beneficial to them and others, without replacing one type of conflict, such as exploitation of land, with conflict at the dinner table. The truth is, we cannot control the actions and attitudes of those around us. All we can do is lead by example.

To end, I would like to post a link to an article written by the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh about mindful eating. Enjoy!

May all beings be happy! Have a wonderful day!

Confessions of a Buddhist omnivore, abbreviated

So in my last post I wrote a lot more than I thought I would about food, attachment to food, vegetarianism, and attachment to that concept. Here is a very abbreviated version to more efficiently discuss the heart of the issue.

Okay, so I (and many other people) love food. I like eating meat from time to time, but have followed a mostly vegetarian diet for the last few years. I try to see food as something that helps nourish us, plain and simple. Food is the essence of the earth, plants, animals, sunshine, and the effort of people who have harvested, processed, transported, sold and cooked it for us. It is impermanent, and becomes part of us when we consume it. Be aware of attachment to concepts and certain types of food, whatever your dietary preference. Treat every meal as an experience, and as an opportunity to develop spiritually. How wonderful it is, to have this opportunity in front of us- several times each day! 

Here are my basic, humble guidelines. I am not yet perfect in following them, but have improved over the past few months.

In my life, I try to:
Be joyful while eating
Eat slowly
Eat mindfully, without distractions
Eat mostly vegetarian food, without becoming attached to the concept of vegetarianism
Eat food that has been cultivated or raised in a sustainable way. 
Be grateful for any food that is provided to me. Saying the prayer below before I eat helps.

Earth, fire, water, air and space
combined to make these foods.
Numerous beings live and labored
so that we may eat.
Let us nourish ourselves,
so that we may nourish life.

May all beings be happy!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Confessions of a Buddhist omnivore

In my last post I discussed one misconception* that people may have about practicing Buddhists- that they are all vegetarians. I am of course living proof that this is not the case, and as a Buddhist omnivore, am definitely not alone.

So why do I choose to partake in the flesh of animals? Well, an obvious reason is that, meat, when it is cooked and prepared well, is very tasty! Indeed Buddhists all over the world enjoy delicacies that have been in their cultures for many years, prepared from fish, chicken, eggs, lamb, goat, beef, and pork.

But I am sure that to any reader this is not a satisfying answer. After all, attachment to taste and delicious food are just grasping sensual desires, right?

To approach the topic more seriously, I have practical reasons for not being a strict vegetarian. However, let it be noted that I actually do love vegetarian food, which is what makes up the vast majority of my diet. If I eat meat at a restaurant, it will most likely be seafood or chicken, with the sparingly ordered beef taco, burger or steak. That being said, my Mom recently made a really good point. She also enjoys vegetarian food, but also is firm in her belief of eating a balanced diet. She has observed that in some cases, it might be better to order a lean, high quality, and very small cut of meat, than a huge 'vegetarian' pasta dish drowning in a creamy sauce laden with saturated fat. Sure, you can order such a dish with the sauce on the side, or get a pasta dish with plain pomodoro sauce, but then, why go out for dinner? It is a personal choice.

As for my upbringing, I grew up in a Christian household, and as I may have mentioned before, hold no animosity towards those traditions. Christmas and Easter are very special times of the year, where families get together and spend time with one another. Some of that time is spent sharing a wonderful meal, prepared with lots of love, care- and hard work! I believe it would be ungrateful to waste any food that had been so lovingly prepared just because it came from an animal.

Okay, so I have still continued to talk about eating, which, pardon me, is something I love to do, so get over it :) But I do have spiritual and intellectual reasons for being open to all kinds of food.

First of all, we can easily picture someone who must eat meat every day as very attached to sensual pleasures associated with eating. They are so attached to the food that if they were for some reason not able to have it, they might become upset or even angry. We would shake our heads and feel sorry for that person for having such a narrow view.

But I have a counter point to this argument- couldn't we replace the ravenous meat-eater with a sanctimonious vegetarian? Indeed, that type of person would be just as upset if their preferred food were also no longer available, and they would have compounded their suffering due to attachment with suffering due to aversion.

In short, the key is non-attachment and a Middle Way approach. I think from a sustainability standpoint, someone who chooses to be a vegetarian is doing something very beneficial. But if that person were to sneer and judge others for the food they eat, they negate any good they generate for our ecosystem by creating hostility at the dinner table. I am by no means equating or even comparing myself to a Buddhist monk or nun, but I do like to take a page from their playbook, in that they are grateful for any food that is given to them. Linguistically, the root of the word Bhikkhu and Bikkhuni (monk and nun) is 'to beg'. In exchange for nourishment through food, a traveling monk would help nourish the community around them through their teachings. Let's remember that food is special, and that we should just be grateful for being able to eat it. 

But speaking honestly from a spiritual development standpoint, I have only begun to quell my sensual desires for food. After all, if I were to truly live by a monk's rules, there would be no ordering a beautiful burger and salivating as I smelled the aroma of it cooking on a grill. But as we know, everything is impermanent. Be happy for the food you eat, and try to learn from the experience of each meal and the many sensations it generates. I eat mostly vegetarian food, but switch it up from time to time. I am open to the possibility that I could someday become a vegetarian, but also to the fact that everything is changing, and that we cannot control the world around us.

I hope this 'little' article was helpful. May all beings be happy!

*This is part of my little series of misconceptions that some people may have about Buddhism and Buddhists in general.

Are all Buddhists vegetarian?

No. In fact, many Buddhists, including myself, eat meat from time to time. The Dalai Lama, who despite his exile, is the political leader of the Tibetan people, eats meat, which I have read is for health reasons. Finally, even the Buddha himself ate meat, although his death at age 80 has by some scholars been attributed to food poisoning, but this remains controversial. The main concern during the Buddha's time was that slaughtering animals in order to provide monks with a special meal was equated to animal sacrifice, which the Buddha was against. Therefore, any meat that was provided to a monk begging for alms must not be from an animal that was killed specifically for that purpose. This of course meshes well with the First Moral Precept, that one should not kill, nor encourage others to do so.

Since there are many more details about this issue, and I am by no means a Buddhist scholar, I will leave the rest of the explanation to the following article and Wikipedia.

I hope this helps. For more information about my personal perspective on vegetarianism (which has been influenced by Buddhist concepts) stay tuned for my next post.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

World View Panel: A surprising discovery

Two days ago, while I was participating in a 'World View' panel at a local high school, I discovered something about myself. With all the other world views present, including Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, and Humanism/Atheism, I found that personally, my views were closest to that of the . . . Atheist!

This was actually rather shocking to me, because although my parents and I never went to church, I was brought up with basic Christian values. I believed in God and Jesus Christ, and as a teenager often said the Lord's Prayer before I went to sleep at night.

During the panel, the representative from each worldview was requested to give a brief summary of their spiritual beliefs. As I listened to the familiar stories of Jesus and the Trinity, I looked down at the sheet I had brought with me, to make sure I correctly covered the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts. Then it dawned on me- not only did the Christian beliefs seem remote, but the beliefs expressed by the Humanist were almost identical to mine. The only real difference was that he did not believe in an afterlife, or any type of rebirth.

This realization then begged the question, why was I so shocked?

When I thought about it, I realized that there was a disconnect between my concept of an atheist and the people that prescribe to that world view. In the past, I may have equated an atheist to someone who was actually amoral. Conceptually I knew this was wrong, but since I had never thought that deeply about it, I wrote it off. Perhaps in a Christian culture people believe that if someone doesn't believe in God, then they are automatically not accountable to anyone, and therefore would not be governed by any sense of morality. (Plus the whole 'going to hell' thing!)

Fast forward to now, with my current beliefs, I know why the worldview that should have been familiar to me were suddenly so alien. Although I still believe in the wonderful things the Jesus Christ did and said, looking down at the less than half a page of paper of the precepts and Noble Eightfold path, I know down to the core of my being that those are all I need to be a good person. For me there is no need for a belief in a god, heaven and hell, miracles or rebirth. And while the Christian worldview represented on the panel could have started with the similar concept of the Ten Commandments, they didn't. Instead both the Catholic and Protestant viewpoints spoke of their duty to serve God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Catholic representative discussed the mystery of the Trinity.

Is this wrong? Of course not. It just demonstrates that there is a different emphasis in the Christian worldview. But the outcome is the same. As I stated in my first post about the panel, the common thread for every worldview represented was made up of 1) being a good person, and 2) striving to realize the huge potential one has as a human being.

The Buddhist view just happens to be that in order to 'be a good person' all you need is accountability to yourself. And to my apparent surprise, it was the Atheist/Humanist perspective that directly echoed that. I certainly hope that those high school students learned something from the panel, but I know for sure that I did!!
This is of course, a complex topic, so I am sure it won't end here. I still have many questions about what atheists believe and emphasize, and am looking forward to learning more in the future.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

'Fat Buddha': An update

In my last post I discussed how I represented Buddhism on a 'World Views' panel at a local high school. Also recently, I had listed some misconceptions that many westerners have about the Buddha, including that he is a big, fat, jolly guy.

Well, I am so glad I looked up that information, because one of the questions for me as the token Buddhist on the 'World Views' panel involved the fat Buddha, and his large earlobes. :)

Haha, I always find it difficult to anticipate the questions people will ask me, but for once I was right!

My experience with a local 'World Views' panel

Yesterday I was honored to serve on a 'World Views' panel at a local high school. This was put together by a young Social Studies teacher, who saw that it was important to not only teach the students the core religion curriculum, but to actually bring them face to face with real people who had those views.

Due to her diligent organization, seven different world views were represented on the panel. These included Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, Humanism, and Buddhism, which I was very honored to represent. However, I was also a little nervous because although I have studied diligently, I have only been practicing for just over three years.

To my delight, everyone was really nice and the students seemed engaged and asked interesting questions, which they handed the teacher on note-cards. Over the course of the class period I learned many things, but besides the overwhelming agreement that all people should just try to be good in our words, thoughts, and actions, there was one thing struck me the most.

Each perspective emphasized that each human being has an amazing amount of potential.

We can all do great and wonderful things with our precious human lives, if only we try.

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I was recently looking for a good video demonstrating 'moon salutations', in order to help stretch my body and relax before going to bed. I really like this one from Esther Ekhart (website:, whose website subscribers just reached over 20,000! Congrats, Esther!

I really like her practical and well-thought out approach, and the way she explains things clearly and concisely. Plus, her accent is really nice to listen to! :)

May all beings be happy!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Art of Procrastination

Lately I have been feeling the desire to procrastinate, in my work, in sitting meditation, in general! However, today while I was procrastinating, I came across this video. The speaker's name is Zachoeje Rinpoche, and he puts the concept of procrastination in a whole new light. So watch the video and ask yourself- When do I want to be happy? Tomorrow? Next week? Next Year? When I retire?

How about now?

Okay, now let's get to work!

May all beings be happy (now, not later :)!

Was the Buddha a god?

In a word, no. The historical Buddha grew up as a normal, if not wealthy, human being. His name was Siddartha Guatama, and he was a prince, son of King Suddhodana in the small kingdom of Kapilvastu in present day Nepal. When he was born, a soothsayer told the king that his son would become either a great warrior or a great sage. Because the king was partial to his son being a great warrior (rather than an impoverished, wandering sage), he made sure and kept all ugliness, age, sickness, and death away from Siddartha, in order to surround- and distract- him with the pleasures of life.

However, with the help of his attendant, Siddartha did eventually leave the palace, and saw an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a wandering ascetic. This is when he made up his mind to leave the palace, his father, and even his wife and young son to see why beings suffer, and if he could find an end to this state of suffering.

We know that the causes and explanation Buddha gave to this suffering were the Four Noble Truths and the solution his Noble Eightfold Path.

For more information and background about the Buddha's life and what the term 'Buddha' means, click here. Here are two additional versions of the Buddha's life story, one using a mythological explanation of his birth, the other a simply illustrated slideshow that might be good for children and people of all ages to look though (93 slides).

May all beings be happy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where did 'Fat Buddha' come from?

In my earlier post about some misconceptions people have about Buddhism, I mentioned "The Buddha was a big, fat, jolly guy".

Now I'll have to be honest here. Even though I know that Siddartha Guatama (the historical Buddha), and this jolly, almost universally recognized figure are not the same (hence my previous post), I have never known who the 'jolly' one was. 

But come to find out, 'Fat Buddha' was indeed also Buddhist monk, even a Bodhisattva (Enlightened Being), who was well-known for his loving and generous nature. His name was Budai (Hotei in Japan), and he carried a cloth sack filled with his few worldly belongings. In Chinese culture, he is a folkloric, almost ubiquitous representation of contentment, and can be seen in restaurants, cars, shops, and worn as pendants. Historically, Budai was a Chinese Zen monk who lived in the early 900's during China's Later Liang Dynasty. 

Additionally, I have also read that Budai is a major symbol of generosity, which is mostly represented by his ample stomach. Finally, Budai is also known as Maitreya Buddha, which indicates that he is a 'future Buddha', who was and will be reincarnated to revive Buddhist teachings and ease suffering. 

And all while carrying a round tummy and wearing a big smile on his face.  

I am glad I looked that up- I definitely learned something. Did you?

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Update to Dial the Dharma: New number!

A number of months ago I posted about a neat service called Dial the Dharma, that anyone can call in order to listen to some daily Dharma advice. I just found out recently that they have changed their number- and become computerized!! That means no more scratchy answering machine tapes :)

Here is the new number:

Enjoy! May all beings be happy!

Top Misunderstandings About Buddhism . . . And the Buddha

Likewise to the misunderstandings about the people that practice Buddhism, there are several prevalent misunderstandings about Buddhism- and the Buddha himself.

Here are a few:

Buddha was . . .
a god
a big, fat, jolly guy
the only one
enlightened when he starved himself almost to death.

Buddhism teaches that . . .
everything in life is suffering, and therefore has a very pessimistic view.
you must give away all your possessions.
your soul will be reincarnated.
everyone is punished by their karma.
enlightenment is being blissed out 24/7.

I know there are more out there. What have you encountered?

Top Five Misunderstandings About Buddhists

I have been wanting to write this post for a while, just because there is so much misinformation out there, which I also often find very amusing. Okay so here goes- the top five misconceptions about Buddhists that I have heard or seen more than once. 

Buddhists are . . .
all vegetarian.
politically liberal. 

Bonus . . . All Buddhists (or at least the 'good' ones) shave their heads!

I know there must be more, but for now they escape me (and five-six are good to start with).

What can you think of?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Personal News: More Responsibilities

I recently became president of one of the Buddhist study groups I am involved in. I am nervous and excited at the same time, nervous because I hope that I can be a beneficial leader our group members, and excited because I am so looking forward to watching our group grow!

Kathmandu to Lhasa: An Article

I read a really interesting article during my Buddhist study group today. What an incredible experience the author, Michael J. Ybarra, must have had. Although it is pretty clear that China is in many ways not yet a free nation, I was astounded that Chinese guards actually confiscate Lonely Planet guidebooks. This is only because there is a map inside depicting Tibet as an autonomous country (which is especially ironic since Tibet is officially known as the "Tibet Autonomous Region"). Another person had a book confiscated because it contained a photo of the Dalai Lama.

Finally, I did not know that tourists may not travel alone while in Tibet, but must be part of a tour. That way the time that any outsider spends in Tibet is carefully limited- and monitored.

How amazing it is that we take the rights to travel freely and read what we want for granted. Yet it is always so easy to be complacent. Let us be ever-mindful of the freedoms we have and be grateful.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Finding a spiritual teacher- Is it a must?

If you take a look at my 43 Things profile, you’ll see that one of my goals is to find a spiritual teacher. I think this is a good goal, and have been also told many times how helpful this is to developing one’s Buddhist practice- or any practice for that matter.

However, I have also foreseen how difficult this will be, given my location and current state of flux between grad school and becoming a professional (could that actually be happening?!). I was not really frustrated about this, because it is just part of my present state of being. But I will admit that I have felt a little forlorn.

This is especially true since almost every book that discusses some personal experience with Buddhism refers to some important teacher figure. This constant reminder has, frankly, made me feel a bit lonely. When reading books by Thich Nhat Hahn, Thubten Chodron, and others, I have felt very close to their teachings. For a while, I really wanted someone I could go to directly for advice and encouragement.

Then it hit me. I actually enjoy thinking deeply about things and trying to figure them out for myself. Nobody told me that Buddhism was the best spiritual path for me. I alone made that decision- and have benefited greatly from it.

So to answer my original question, yes, I do believe that at some point, direct spiritual guidance from a trusted teacher is extremely beneficial. This is especially true for developing one’s meditation practice, since only a person who has experienced stages of spiritual growth can truly guide. Just don’t underestimate the importance of your own questions, discoveries and experiences.

Buddhist temple retreat: Simple etiquette and guidelines

That’s right, I have gone on a day retreat only once, and now I am the expert. But since I am reasonably sure that a lot of what I have written below is pretty standard, please bear with me. Also, don’t be afraid to add to what I have listed, or correct me if I am mistaken. Enjoy!

(The following information is also available on my 43Things profile)

Take off your shoes when you enter the temple. Cubbies, hangers, and shoe-racks are generally available to place your foot and outerwear.

Turn your cell phone OFF.

NEVER face your feet towards the altar at the front of the room, as it is a sign of disrespect.

In the Tibetan temple where I was, I was advised that when the monk came into the room to begin the teaching, everyone was to stand and adopt a bowed posture with hands in a 'namaste' gesture. Some people did prostrations towards the altar. Just do what feels best to you. (It was funny, this particular monk had a good sense of humor, and exclaimed- "C'mon everybody, don't be so formal- I just came to plug in my laptop!!" :)

If you will be sitting on a cushion during meditation, place a small cushion in front of you (if available). Dharma books, notes you take about the Dharma, mala beads, and Buddha statues should never be placed on the floor. This guideline also applies to Dharma materials at home.

You do not have to sit on a cushion during meditation. In the temple where I was, many comfortable chairs were available for seating. There is no 'wrong' seating for meditating- just be comfortable.

Make sure you have a wrap or sweater of some kind to put over your shoulders in case you get cold. I noticed that a lady sitting near me even used her folded pashmina shawl to support one of her legs as she sat in half-lotus position.

Wear comfortable, modest clothing (i.e. for ladies, loose yoga pants with a crew-neck shirt). Although many Western monks are more laid back than their Eastern counterparts, avoiding revealing clothing is a sign of respect to the monk who will be teaching you, your fellow attendees, and the practice itself.

Do not wear perfumes, colognes, or strong deodorants. I think this has something to do with the tradition of being considerate towards those who are celibate, as scents are often used to attract the opposite sex.

Keep in mind that there are different Buddhist traditions. I liked and felt at ease at the Tibetan temple, but judging from what I heard about some of the practices, this tradition may be a little too ritualistic for me (but perfect for someone else). As long as you adhere to the core precepts, there is no right or wrong way to practice, and in the US and other countries, we have the benefit of having many options, and therefore being able to choose what works best. If a community is far away, you can perhaps still participate since many Buddhist groups do podcasts (see Zencast on the web and iTunes), and still others use skype! Don't give up on the many possibilities that are out there.

Finally, have fun! If you live in an area with few Buddhists, it will make you happy to share in a day (or a weekend, or a week) of mindfulness and meditation with others. So relax, be happy, and be ready to learn and slow down to appreciate life!

Have you been to a Buddhist/Spiritual retreat? How long was it? What did you learn and how did it benefit you?

May all beings be happy!

What does it mean to live in the present moment?

As ‘budding Buddhas’, we may have heard fellow practitioners stress ‘Living in the present moment’. This advice echoes a statement made by the Buddha himself, “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly". Renowned Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn further qualifies the present moment with his oft said “Present moment, wonderful moment.” 

Although particular moments may not seem so wonderful, by being aware of the present moment we can still step back into our lives and truly experience life the way it was meant to be lived. We are no longer stuck in a nebulous past or catapulted into an uncertain future, but we are exactly where we are supposed to be, right here, right now.

That being said, what about the ‘pop-culture’ context in which we have heard others declare we were living ‘in the moment’? This could include something as innocent as eating a delicious dessert or buying an item that we probably shouldn’t, to consuming many intoxicating drinks or having an illicit affair.

Seeing these examples and ‘present moment, wonderful moment’ side by side, we can notice a clear difference. In the ‘pop culture’ version, the ‘live in the moment’ focus is exclusively on the self. In contrast, living in the present moment as the Buddha taught is doing so with a balance of wisdom and compassion for all beings, including ourselves. In truth, we are only human, and may therefore sometimes slip up. But we can prevent (and remedy) such errors by being ever-mindful of the joy that comes from slowing down and living life breath by breath, from one moment to the next. 

Was this post helpful? What does the present moment mean to you?

May all beings be happy!

The Middle Way and being Buddhist without becoming a sap

I really love learning and writing about Buddhism, but for a while there I was feeling like an imposter. I consider myself a sensitive, emotional person, but on the other hand I am also pragmatic, assertive, and critical. This duality has brought me some level of conflict in how I conduct my daily life. If I tap too much into my ‘compassionate’ side, I end up feeling silly and sentimental, but also think that some of my reactions to things might be a little harsh.

I carefully considered what makes me feel so torn. Looking deeply, I think it is sometimes too easy to try too hard. Here is how it goes: Inspired by practitioners I admire, I bring on the compassion, and genuinely feel a lot of joy while doing so. The beauties, the joys, even the difficulties in life- everything seems like a wonderful opportunity. I can even see my adversaries in a new light, as fellow human beings who also just want to be happy.

However, inevitably something happens that makes me feel “stupid" nice.  Being cheated at the store, someone misusing donations, actually believing a politician on TV when normally I would know they are lying through their teeth, eventually brings me to my cynical ‘piss off’ stage. Ugly, I know, but let’s be real, the world can really wear you down if you let it. 

So what am I doing wrong? In the beginning my heart is in the right place, my intentions are good, and I don’t expect any personal benefit from my actions. All good things. But in the face of injustice, I know the difference between right and wrong, and I get pretty outraged. I can still see the good things, but not as clearly.

The answer is balance. My problem is that while I am concentrating on being understanding, but don’t keep a firm grip on my street smarts. It is the age-old problem of the good-hearted fool and the cruel genius. In short, compassion needs to be balanced with wisdom. Only then can someone speak, act, and think with confidence, because they know that while they are letting love, not hatred, rule their judgment, their mind is still keen and analytical, ready to ask questions and seek the truth to benefit all.

As we know, perfect balance is very difficult to achieve, and may not occur within this lifetime. However, there is no pressure, since it is certainly not a contest!  Balancing wisdom and compassion is key to avoiding extremes and practicing the Buddhist concept of the Middle Way. This is a great thing to strive for, not only to benefit others, but for the benefit of oneself. And anyone who achieves this will be anything but a sap. 

May all beings be happy!           


An end to a long hiatus

A lot has happened since I last posted, which I guess is good, since life is always such an interesting progression. Over the past few months I have thought about a lot, finally gone on a retreat, attended a second talk by the 14th Dalai Lama, read lots of books, and lost ten pounds (not to mention just been hella busy). I don’t know who even reads this blog, but I suppose I do owe some explanation to whoever is out there.

So with that, sorry for the long hiatus; I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences in my upcoming posts, and look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Words for Taking Refuge

The following are some basic recitations for taking refuge in the Three Jewels, from several different traditions listed on Wikipedia and View on Buddhism

Sanskrit version:
Buddhaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (I take refuge in the Buddha.)
Dharmaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (I take refuge in the Dharma.)
Saṃghaṃ śaraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (I take refuge in the Sangha.)

Pali (Mahayana) version.
Buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (to the Buddha for refuge I go)
Dhammaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (to the Dharma for refuge I go)
Saṅghaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (to the Sangha for refuge I go)
Dutiyampi buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (For the second time ... (repeated for each of the three))Tatiyampi buddhaṃ saraṇaṃ gacchāmi. (For the third time ... (repeated for each of the three))

A Tibetan (Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna) version:
Until I am enlightened,
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the virtue I create by practising giving and the other perfections,
may I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.
(This is the closest version to the one I recited)
Sangye Cho dang Tsok kyi chog nam la
Jang Chub bar du dag gi jin gyat su chi
Dag gi jin so yi pe tsog nam ki
Dro la pen Chir Sangye drub par shok

Of course, the above words can just be uttered in English, or in any language for that matter. In my opinion, it is the meaning, purpose, and commitment that are important.  

May all beings be happy!

How do I become a Buddhist?

Well, if you're like me, I was a Buddhist before I realized it, and *by chance* discovered Buddhist philosophy and beliefs. But perhaps you came across Buddhism in a different way, knew about it intellectually, but did not feel it was relevant to your life until something changed.

The first thing to do is to understand what the Buddha taught, and the very basic concepts of Buddhism. Buddhism is in essence not a dogmatic religion; people who became followers of the Buddha and his teachings were encouraged to ask questions and challenge ideas; a tradition that still continues today. So think about what you currently know about Buddhism and what about it resonates with you, as well as what does not. Be honest with yourself and consider carefully how you feel, the questions you have, and take your time. Only after all that make your decision. During the Buddha's lifetime, he was adamant that people should follow Buddhist principles as a result of understanding and conviction.

If you feel that your sense of commitment is firm, then the next step is to take refuge in the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha

This can take place during a formal ceremony with the guidance of a monk, experienced and trusted layperson, or simply said in front of a picture or statue of the Buddha. Personally, I have never had a formal ceremony, and simply stated that I was taking refuge aloud to myself, with an image of the Buddha in my mind's eye. Pretty simple and informal, yet significant. For some people it is important to make a formal, witnessed commitment, in which case an ordained member of the sangha should be consulted. 

As for me, I am set for now, but do plan on having an official ceremony in the future. I will let you know if I do, and how it goes! 

There are some differences in common refuge wordings according to different traditions. I have posted some which I found on Wikipedia, as well as View on Buddhism.

The next step is to take some vows to guide us in living beneficial lives. The purpose of this is to help us to commit to the path we have chosen by taking part in beneficial behavior.

Also known as the Five Moral Precepts, these are five basic vows.
  1. Refrain from harming living creatures (killing).
  2. Refrain from taking that which is not given.
  3. Refrain from sexual misconduct.
  4. Refrain from false speech.
  5. Refrain from use of intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.
Was this post helpful to you? Please post any personal advice and experiences about taking refuge in the comments below. 

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Three Jewels

Also called the Three Treasures, the Three Refuges, or the Triple Gem, these are, most simply put, what Buddhists take refuge in and look to for guidance. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Each of these words has a variety of meanings, but the basic definitions are:
The Buddha: The historical or Shakyamuni Buddha (although this can also mean a being who has fully realized their Buddha-nature, who is enlightened)
The Dharma: The teachings of the Buddha, which includes knowing them and acting upon them with appropriate behavior.
The Sangha: 'The community', which can refer to monks and nuns, all enlightened beings, and all practicing Buddhists.

Not only do Buddhists look to the Three Jewels for guidance, but they may also 'take refuge' in them.

Here is a simple way in which a Buddhist may take refuge, which is the way of Theravada Buddhists:
I go for refuge in the Buddha.
I go for refuge in the Dharma.
I go for refuge in the Sangha.
(also in the Pali language)

For more common refuge vows, please see this post about taking refuge. Also, please see my post 'How do I become a Buddhist?'

May all beings be happy!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Loving 43Things

I know that 43Things is not exactly a new website, but up until now I hadn't looked at it. I am really happy I did, and to my amazement I have come up with 41 things that I would like to do!! I have shared some of these here on ByChanceBuddhism, but this is an extensive list. Most of the things are just small ways in which I would like to improve my life and those around me, with a few major goals, like 'Attend a Buddhist seminary school' and 'Learn Tamil'. At first I thought coming up with such a list would be overwhelming, but it actually has been really empowering. I look at the things on my list and say, 'Wow, look at all these cool goals!'. Plus, another nice thing about the site is that people can cheer your goals and accomplishments, as you can theirs. An all around good thing.

For my full list of 'Things' please see the list on the sidebar of this blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Buddhist Temple: One Million Bottles of Beer on the Wall!

Okay, last post for the day- With all the serious stuff today, I thought it was time for something fun.

A few days ago, I came across this awesome article about a Buddhist temple in Thailand- built entirely of beer bottles!!!

I have linked to two articles, one with a full article about the temple, the other from, which has more images, two of which can be seen below.

Enjoy the beauty of trash to treasure!!



Not Wasting Time on the Internet

Two weekends ago, I set up my own little mini-retreat away from social networking websites and media in general, including internet, phone and TV. And it was great! But although I have started better habits while using the web (closing tabs I am done with, giving myself a limit to how long I spend on facebook, deleting games from my facebook profile), I have inevitably reverted back to several of my old, bad browsing habits.

But this post is not about beating myself up about that- I have to give myself more time if I really want to change! I was going to make a list of things to do to help avoid wasting time surfing the web, and yes, checking twitter. But upon doing a quick search of how to articles on the topic, I found this great list that someone on 43Things came up with. It is much better than anything I could come up with, and by finding it, hey, I saved some time writing this post!!

Here are the tips- Enjoy!:
1. No Internet games. None. There are better things to do with your time!!

2. Plan your online time. I often go online for legitimate reasons and end up using that as an excuse to waste time. If you really do need to use the Internet for work, research or communication reasons, write a short list of the things you need to do (e.g. reply to an email, look up a word, check the news) and stick to it.

3. Set a limit. If you tend to spend a lot of time on Facebook or MySpace, it helps to set yourself a time limit for those sites. A good amount is ten minutes. Write a Post-It note that says something like “Facebook 10-minute limit” and stick it to the side of your monitor so you can see it whenever you go
on the computer. (Facebook makes me really neurotic and inefficient, so I deleted mine.)

4. Disconnect the Internet. If you really have a hard time staying offline, sever your connection when you’re done working, whether you have a cable or Wi-Fi. The next time you try to use the Internet, taking the time to reconnect will make you think twice about whether you actually need to.

My motivation: Making Sure it Stays Where it Should

As I have stated in my About and Blog Details sections, I really wanted to start this blog because of my desire to help others discover Buddhism, and also to learn about myself. As someone new to Buddhism, I initially felt it was difficult to get information about certain things, from social issues such as gender and ethics; sometimes even basic concepts. I wanted to help ease that gap that a Western newcomer as myself might feel, and provide some kind of link, however small, to helping people access what they want to know about Buddhism.

I discussed the idea of starting this blog with my boyfriend, and he was more than encouraging. I began writing, and just dove into it. I am still astounded that my passion has not waned, even though I have few visitors and even fewer followers (many thanks to them, though!!). I have so many ideas, and so many topics I want to write about. I have tried blogging before, and failed miserably simply because I wasn't passionate enough about the topic. Now I am, and it feels great!

To tell the truth, given how burnt out I have been feeling about my dissertation work, writing here is often much more gratifying (There, I said it!). That doesn't mean I think my work has no value, or that I can slack off doing it, but this just how I feel.

It seems that every time I sit down in front of my computer, all kinds of ideas of what to write about Buddhism flood into my head, and I have the almost irresistible urge to write a new post. This leaves me to ponder if I should try to keep better tabs on separating blogging and dissertation writing/labwork, especially because it has occurred to me that this zeal could simply be another form of procrastination. And that's not what I want this great pursuit to become. So I will keep posting, of course, but also do my best to live in the present moment while I am at work.

"Actions motivated by attachment, aversion, or ignorance, regardless of any external appearances, are simply not Buddhist practices." Lorne Ladner

"I wish things were different"

We all say this, and fantasize how things would be once we got our dream job, house, mate, car, etc. But we also know the truth of the matter; that once we get to that next place in life when we have ______, things are still pretty much the same. 

Unfortunately, and despite this intellectual understanding, "I wish things were different" recently has seemed to have become my personal mantra. As a grad student, I watch others my age buy houses and cars, go on vacations and afford neat gadgets, making me long for the day when I can have a 'real' job, with a 'real' salary and 'real' work hours. I wish that my dear boyfriend could stay near me as he pursues his post-doc, and long for the safety and security married and family life seems to bring. As I said, I know that all this thinking is just fantasy, but it is so easy to get caught up. It was only in a conversation with my roomate that I seem to have awakened a little.

We were talking about being grad students, basically what I mentioned above, without the family stuff. But we also realized that we don't live a bad life, and that we have a lot of things to be grateful for. We don't have to worry about the responsibility that comes with having a house, mortgages, etc. and don't have to take care of anyone but ourselves. What's more, we both decided that you can't go on living life just looking forward to the next 'stage'. Doing that is bound to set yourself up for regret, because before you know it, this life will be over, and you'll realize that you never enjoyed the present moment, and just the joy of being alive.

We may be unhappy with our overall circumstances, but the life we are leading is still a life, and that is something of utmost value.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Albert Einstein

"Go ahead, you deserve it!"

Normally I cringe at statements like these, because in my opinion we really only deserve the things we work hard for. Besides, there is much more satisfaction in working hard towards something and achieving/obtaining it, rather than just having it given to you. 

However, to moderate my point of view, there are things we all deserve in life, and that is to allow ourselves to be happy. Whereas circumstances may often be less-that-ideal, the opportunity to work towards happiness is something we owe ourselves. 

But before I get on my high horse, I better ensure I practice what I preach!!\ I have been struggling with being burnt out at my job, tired all the time, and growing progressively more emotionally withdrawn. I didn't sleep very well last night, and I kept thinking of all the things I want to do to improve my life but never seem to have the time or energy for. These are things I have even noted on this blog, like meditation, yoga, regular exercise, reading, writing, cooking fresh and wholesome food, and keeping my living space clean and uncluttered. 


As I said that to myself, I realized that this type of deserving was not the same as feeling you 'deserve' a new car, handbag, or promotion, and that the emphasis was different. It was not focused on the final outcome or instant gratification, but instead on working towards something important. So I have broadened my perspective a little bit, it is not just only deserving the things we work hard for, but deserving to work hard for the things that matter.

So I vow to do just that, whatever it takes. I know it will be hard, but as Theodore Roosevelt noted,
"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty... I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well." Des Moines, Iowa November 4, 1910

May all beings be happy!

Linked Goodreads to my Blog!!

For a while now I have wanted to embed a widget that shows what I am currently reading, and with a little maneuvering I have done just that :)

Yesterday I came across the website Goodreads ( which is a type of networking tool for avid readers such as myself. Members can display the books they have read, are currently reading or want to read, and accompany the books listed on their virtual bookshelves with ratings and reviews. Also, members can indicate if they own each book they have read, and even arrange for a book swap with someone else. Pretty neat!

At first I had a little trouble linking Goodreads to Blogger, but when I looked it up, I easily found the following useful presentation on Slideshare. The demo presentation is for the most part accurate, except that the 'widget' link is now located on the left hand side of the 'my books' page. Also know that the file name they give in the demo is just an example- you can choose any file name that is appropriate to your blog, etc. NOTE: This widget does not work on Wordpress or LiveJournal blogs. Finally, please keep in mind that the default settings for your Goodreads account somehow display your location, so make sure you take a look at your account settings to ensure greater privacy, if that is what you wish.

You can now see books I am currently reading in the sidebar of ByChanceBuddhism, so check it out!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Afternoon Haiku

Sunshine, bright and warm
streams onto my strolling frame-
A joyful walk home.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Turn Off the TV!!!!

Okay, so we know that watching too much TV is not good for us. But recently I came across a great little book called The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People, by David Niven, Ph.D., 2000.

What's interesting about this particular book is that each 'secret' is supported by psychological evidence, and which is followed by an excerpt from a cited study.

One of my favorite secrets was "Turn off the TV", which suggests asking ourselves 'Is this something I want to see?' and only turning it on when there is something specific you wish to watch.  Use your newly liberated hours to spend time with loved ones, do something you enjoy, or reserve quiet time to yourself.

"Without TV, you can do something actively fun instead of passively distracting."

As for the clinical anecdote, Wu (1998) found that, "Watching too much TV can triple our hunger for more possessions, while reducing our personal contentment by about 5 percent for every hour a day we watch."

We thank the book's author, David Niven, and the people who carried out studies on this topic, for giving us such insight. But of course, deep down we all know our time is better spent than flipping aimlessly through space.
Gatha for Daily Life: Mind and television receive what I choose. I select well-being and nourish joy.
(From 201 Little Buddhist Reminders: Gathas for Your Daily Life)

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life

As my sense of burnout and fear has come to a head, I was very fortunate to find this book at the local library. The full title is as follows,

How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life: Opening your Heart to Confidence, Intimacy, and Joy, by Susan Piver. First Edition, April, 2007.

In my opinion Susan Piver is a wonderful author- I have not read a book written with her clarity, empathy, and precision in a long time. I am not going to go into an exhaustive summary of the book, but just wanted to point out several gems I discovered while reading.

The first thing that intrigued me was the very strong connection Susan makes between Fear and the root sufferings of Attachment (which she calls Passion), Anger and Ignorance. She outlines what causes and dissolves fear, and provides antidotes to the root sufferings, which she describes as 'mistaken reactions' to fear. She then links examining and dissolving our fears to meditation, which she also describes in an excellent manner. I especially enjoyed her explanations of Maitri (loving-kindness, Chapter 5) and Shamatha (breath awareness, Chapter 3) meditation, and her instruction to 'dedicate the merit' of our meditation practice (Chapter 3). It really is beautifully done.

Some of my favorite passages:
"Each of us is born seeking a meaningful life. We have a natural ability to sense what is significant, live in peace, and surround ourselves with love." (page 1)
"So in love, there is also great capability. When you extend this love toward yourself, you allow for the subtle unfolding of your own vulnerability, you can develop friendliness toward yourself, stop living your life as an ongoing self-improvement project, and just relax." (page 90)
From Susan's teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, "The first thing you need to do when presenting a spiritual teaching is to create confidence in the mind of the person studying it." (page 129)

I don't know if she'll ever read this, but I thank Susan Piver for her insightful, clearly written words, rich with compassion and wisdom.

A Morning Haiku

What a gorgeous day; sunny with the trees frosted over!! The amazing scene inspired me to think of this Haiku:

Trees icy frosted
All is a white silhouette
Beautiful morning!

May all beings have at least one peaceful moment today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Beautiful Mealtime Blessing

For a Mindful meal, this is a lovely mealtime blessing.

Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space
combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives
and labors so that we may eat.
May we be nourished
so that we may nourish life.

May all beings find Happiness!!

For the full article, please click here.

Grad Life and Burnout

As I may have mentioned, I am a graduate student. My field is in the sciences, and I love my work, or, at least I used to. I had great interest in my various projects, and a great love of learning. But now every morning I wake up with a fatigue that I just can't shake, with a constant feeling of being trapped and overwhelmed.

So, what's wrong? Is it my field of study? My adviser? My labmates? My personal life? No, no, no . . . and no! "So, what is my problem when other people have real issues to deal with in their lives?", I wondered. After a quick Google search of 'Graduate students and depression' I got my answer from the grad school site at UBC. I am not clinically depressed but I somehow seemed to have burnt myself out.

The 'warning signs' of burnout were listed as follows:
* Loss of interest in or questioning the meaning of your research
* Chronic fatigue - exhaustion, a sense of being physically run down
* Anger at those making demands
* Cynicism, negativity, and irritability
* A sense of being besieged
* Feelings of helplessness

"Well, that's about it," I thought. And it happens a lot, not only to graduate students, but to everyone. What's more, it seemed to have happened gradually, without me noticing it- I just started feeling worse and worse, but for no specific reason. One thing is that at least I know what's going on, and I can focus on bringing back all the other things in my life that made me happy, like dance, exercise, hiking and spending time with friends. It was a wake-up call to return to a more balanced life, and for that I am grateful.

Have you experienced burnout in an area of your life? How did/are you coping with it? Did spiritual practice help?

May all beings be happy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Prayer Wheel

In my search for useful information about the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum", I came across the website Dharma Haven, which hosts a wealth of information about Tibetan Buddhist culture, practices, wisdom, and healing.

In relation to the sacred mantra, the website introduced the Tibetan prayer wheel very cleverly as "Spiritual Technology from Tibet". What a wonderful description for these simple but effective spiritual tools!

The article is really interesting, since it describes not only the widely familiar hand-held prayer wheel, but also ones driven naturally by wind and running water! The article also elaborates on modern versions of the prayer wheel, such as ones powered by electricity, or digital versions that can be downloaded to a computer.

A truly neat and informative article. Enjoy!

May all beings be happy!

Om Mani Padme Hum

Or perhaps I should say "Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum". Translated as "Behold the Jewel of the Lotus", this mantra is actually divided up into its six syllables, each of which represent their own perfection and samsaric realm, and have their own symbolism. Given its deep meanings and purifying properties, Om Mani Padme Hum is arguably one of the most significant mantras of the Buddhist teachings.

Because of the quality and amount of information available, I have linked the background of Om Mani Padme Hum to the Wikipedia article, which provides a beautiful explanation of the syllables, pronunciations, and interpretations of several prominent Buddhists.

I personally enjoy the interpretation of HH the 14th Dalai Lama . . .
"Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha"

And that of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, from which I have listed the following two quotations:
"The mantra Om Mani Päme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful, because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics, and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and patience. Pä, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom."

"So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?"

In my personal life, I have found this powerful mantra indispensable during meditation and to cultivate patience. 

For further reading, a different perspective, and an opportunity to hear the mantra, check out this article from Dharma-haven.

Did you enjoy this article? Did you find it helpful? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

May all beings be happy!

My Posting Philosophy

Better late than never, right? Well, maybe not, but I thought it would be useful to post something about what I aim to accomplish in my posts.

My main objective for this blog is to share my journey of learning about Buddhism with others. I also want to make sure that the resources I use are indicated so that readers can benefit from this information as well. That is why as often as possible, I will try to link my posts to sources that might be a little off the beaten path of the information superhighway. I love Wikipedia, but since everyone readily utilizes this great tool, I felt that part of my role was to help people looking for information about Buddhism branch out a little. In the rare instances where I do link to Wikipedia, I do so for abstract and/or complex definitions or concepts, just because they are usually so well-explained. 

So happy reading, I hope this blog meets your expectations in finding useful information!!

Not Using the Internet: A Summary

My main conclusion: This little mini retreat from online-technology has taught me to appreciate- and be cautious of it. In not being able to use social networking sites, email and other online services, I have become more mindful of how these technologies should be used.

The Blessings:
Staying in touch: Although not constantly checking facebook was a relief, I found myself wondering how family members and close friends were doing. I acknowledged the fact that if I had stayed offline longer, I would have felt out of touch, and after a longer period of time, a little lonely and isolated.

Complete tasks quickly and efficiently: This is one of the main joys of using the internet- making things simple!! Check your bank account, email a friend, send an attachment, check the daily news, look up a recipe, collaborate on a project; all these things we are now able to do in minutes, even seconds, where in the past, many of these activities would take at least an hour to complete. We should all be thankful for such helpful technology, as it allows us to spend more time with our family, loved ones, and on our own self improvement . . . right?

Sharing and communicating ideas: Sites like twitter, blogger, wordpress, and other such forums are a great way to share ideas and ask questions with both like-minded (and not like-minded) individuals. The world has grown exponentially smaller since the www revolution, and will continue to do so. Being privy to such a free exchange of ideas is an unstoppable force, even in the face of tyranny. We have recently seen young people in Iran use technology in their struggle to become part of a free nation. All of us, free or struggling, should rejoice in this fact.  

What we can avoid:
Using the internet as a distraction from an unpleasant/boring task, or worse, from daily life: I have never been a fan of online games, and it is for this reason. Sure, play a game of solitaire, sudoku, or even online chess for mental stimulation, but I see a big problem with having one's face to the screen for hours, as life - and it's many opportunities- pass by.

Ditto: But this time in reference to social networking sites, and yes, twitter. I praised them above, but they are truly double-edged swords. Sites like facebook and myspace are addictive in their instant gratification of our desire to know "what's new?". We should be vigilant of this, and moreover be mindful in our use of these online social tools.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mini-Retreat #1 and Beyond: A guide

I just posted a general outline of what I plan to do during my little personal mini-retreat this weekend. Earlier today, I read a beautiful article by Venerable Thubten Chodron about daily practice. I think this serves as a highly beneficial guide, both for the next two days and beyond. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

Mini-retreat#1: How to spend my day

Sleeping and watching TV. No, just kidding :). As you may have read in my previous post, I have sworn off TV and internet for the weekend, in order to reconnect with myself, and just to experience breathing, life.

I wanted to give some idea of what I would be doing, so here it is: (Take note that this is not a schedule, but a list of general activities.)

Wake up mindfully, breathe!!
Drink tea
Read spiritual books, take notes
Reduce clutter
Practice yoga
Write thoughts, ideas, emotions
Look out the window, observe
Learn and recite mantras
Take a walk

Notice the simplicity of each of these activities. If I unplug myself from technology, will I have fewer distractions preventing me from doing- and experiencing- the item at hand? Stay tuned! :)

Mini-retreat #1: Stress, Mindfulness and Technology

Okay, so in my last post I said that I was going to use this coming weekend to go on a little personal mini-retreat. I talked mostly about technology, how my generation was there to witness an explosion of innovation, and stated my question of how our access to technology may affect our practice and levels of mindfulness.

But I would like to add to that. Another reason for my mini-retreat is to determine the roots of stress, anxiety, and insecurity. And no, I am not going to duck under the covers and hide, but use my time this weekend to see what it feels like to just experience, in a spiritual and mindful way. 

Apart from 'unplugging' myself from technology, meaning TV, iTunes, phone (although I will still receive incoming calls) and dun, dun DUN . . . the internet, I hope to reconnect myself with me, my loved ones, and all sentient beings. Sounds new-age-y and deep, maybe a little cheesy, but I think that temporarily unplugging from technology and reconnecting with what really matters go hand in hand.

I know that doing this will not give me all the answers, but I hope it will help shed light on what triggers the disconnect between our minds and hearts. Moreover, I would like to delve into what distracts us from getting to know our minds and our true selves- and try to bridge that gap.

Given that I have banned myself from using my laptop this weekend, I will keep a notebook of what I experience, so I can share it with you! Stay tuned . . .

Practice and Technology

I think that taking an occasional break from modern technology is helpful to living a mindful and meaningful life. And yes, I state this while typing on my laptop, my ipod touch next to me so I can check facebook and twitter at a moments notice. As a person who grew up in the 80's, I am very grateful for the technology we have today- Terabytes of information at our fingertips, faraway friends just an email or status update away. In today's America, gone are the days of researching a book report by leafing through a dusty (and outdated) stack of encyclopedias. Gone are the days of waiting months for something ordered to arrive; will have it to you within a week. And, most happily, gone are the days of wondering what happened to that great friend you had in elementary school- just look them up on facebook or the online white pages.

In fact, my boyfriend and I discussed this, and we both marveled at the unique position of our generation. We grew up during the onset of a great crescendo of innovation; we had video games and TV, used calculators, and knew at least a family or two who owned a personal computer. But we still had to write letters, look through the phone book, and yes, pour over through those dusty encyclopedias. The birth of the internet as we know it came during our teen and preteen years, with things like instant messenger becoming mainstream in our late teens and college- it was an exciting time. And what's more is that we grew up with this stuff, so that we knew how our parents kicked it 'old school', yet also weren't afraid of using new technology. Now we look back at how far everything has come, even from the beginning of this millennium- it really is amazing. The supernova of technology is in full swing, and we were there to witness and grow with it.

But yes, there is always a 'but' :) I don't have to go into the disadvantages of technology; hackers, ID theft, child pornography, and obscene chat rooms. My question is "How does technology affect Buddhist practice?". I certainly do not have a full answer to this question, and probably won't for some time. But I do hope to elaborate on aspects of technology that are beneficial/not beneficial to practice, from the perspective of a lay person like myself. I will first start out with a personal mini-retreat this weekend, where I will exclude myself from using my television, laptop, itouch, and of course, websites such as twitter, facebook and blogger. Sure, it's not like this kind of thing hasn't been done before, but the point is, I want to see for myself.

My major question for this mini-retreat: "How does our access to technology affect Mindfulness?"

Sunday, January 31, 2010

What About Scripture?

One thing that has caught my attention about Western Buddhism is that there doesn't seem to be much emphasis on learning scripture, outside of passages like the Heart Sutra. However I could definitely be wrong in this statement, because I have only experienced Western Buddhism through groups based at universities.

But based on my experience, there at least seems to be less emphasis on scripture than in Christian tradition. And if this is really true and I am not mistaken, there is nothing positive or negative about this. I just have always been intrigued by the Buddhist 'back to basics' approach, which always seems to bring readers and laypeople back to the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts. And very directly so.

This thought/opinion is supported by the following quote from BodhiDharma:
"Even if you can explain thousands of sutras and shastras, unless you see your own nature yours is the teaching of a mortal, not a Buddha. The true Way is sublime. It can't be expressed in language."

Personally, I would like to learn more about scripture in the future, but also feel that I already have a lot to learn about basic Buddhism for the time being.

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Dalai Lama: The Jury is Still Out

. . . As far as I'm concerned. I have heard HHDL speak once, and will be hearing him speak again later this spring. And I'm just as excited as I was before. I have read quite a few of HHDL's books, and think that they are excellent resources, because of 1) their strong message of compassion, and 2) even the most difficult concepts are beautifully explained.

But I do not consider him my 'spiritual leader'. In fact, during the first time I heard him speak I was alarmed that he called himself a 'Marxist'. I have listened to many people paint a rosy picture of communism, often saying things like, "Well, it sounds wonderful, but it just doesn't work in practice." I happen to believe they are only right in the latter part of the statement. Anyway, my point is that such a revelation might not be beneficial to someone who knows a lot about communism, or has experienced it first hand.

Far be it from me to assume what the DL thinks, but I often wonder if his comment was a way to demonstrate compassion in the face of what he and his followers experienced in Tibet.  Regardless, I am not one to follow blindly behind someone just because their name is preceded by "His Holiness", they wear robes, or they have written many books. To me, the Dalai Lama is a fellow human being- and a very learned, compassionate, and accomplished one at that. And I respect his advice and general message.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Anti-Sectarianism: Transferring BuddhaDharma to the West

In light of tensions between the Dalai Lama and Shugden practitioners, I thought I would write a post about Buddhist sectarianism. To be honest, the topic of religious sectarianism is of very little interest to me, as I feel it needlessly divisive and therefore of little benefit. As someone who just randomly stumbled upon Buddhism, I see the great value of its main message as a way of life that can help people better themselves, and that's what I want to focus on. But I did find this article about the challenges and guidelines of bringing the Dharma to the West both helpful and interesting.

Here is an excerpt:
"In the West, where so many different Buddhist traditions exist side by side, one needs to be constantly on one's guard against the danger of sectarianism. Such a divisive attitude is often the result of failing to understand or appreciate anything outside one's own tradition. Teachers from all schools would therefore benefit greatly from studying and gaining some practical experience of the teachings of other traditions. "

Here is another, regarding choosing an appropriate teacher:
"Students should be warned against the dangers of falling prey to charisma, charlatans, or exoticism."

Ironically, the meeting about 'transmission of Buddhadharma to Western lands' was based upon discussion with the Dalai Lama, the alleged actions of whom Shugden practitioners have taken issue with. However many other spiritual leaders also attended the summit, and no doubt contributed to the discussion. Honestly, for such an event it does not matter who attended, but the content of their discourse, the quality of their conclusions, and most importantly, how well they have implemented them.