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.