Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Time Has Come: True Practice

Often when I use quotations in my posts, I place them at the end. Today, I'll start with one:

"Studying Zen should not be confused with practicing Zen, like studying aesthetics should not be confused with being an artist." TP Kasulis

Funny, this was posted by DailyZen on twitter just as the idea regarding study versus practice was hovering about in my mind.  So, here's the deal, I 'discovered' Buddhism in the context of my own life about four years ago, in the spring of 2007. Since then I have read a lot of books, articles, blog posts, attended lectures, and gone on a short retreat. In all, this has been an intense period of study. 

And I wouldn't trade it for the world. I learned so much, most of which I was able to apply directly to my life in a positive way, which no one topic has ever enabled me to do. I devoured books from Thich Nhat Hanh, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thubten Chodron, Pema Chodron, Steven T. Asma, and Susan Piver. So many discussions, uncertainties, thoughts, and realizations- it has all been beneficial. 

But lately I have been experiencing something curious. I go to the bookstore and stand there, in front of the 'religion and spirituality' section, unable to choose any book. I am at a loss. I have not lost interest, I still enjoy the all the writings I have in the past. And being cheap is not the issue, because it is the same deal at the public library. 

Then I realized- now is no longer the time to read, the time to think. It is time to practice in earnest.

Of course practice has always been important to me, but as someone who was only recently introduced to Buddhism, my initial focus was learning some background (okay, a lot of background). I will continue to read books and texts, but I feel the time has come to deepen my practice, mostly through my everyday actions and routine. As with many things in our lives, we shift our focus when we are ready to move on to the next step. For me, the time is now.

May all beings be happy!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A True Skeptic?

A few days ago, my love and I were discussing the downright bizarre way some had reacted to the death of Sri Satya Sai Baba. For example, the fact that he had passed away on Easter Sunday made some people insist that a miracle must happen- like the mere suggestion was going to make him spring from the dead! First of all, while my fiance and I are both believers in small and great miracles, we also feel that one cannot * make * a miracle happen. Suggesting otherwise just seems insane, and also pretty damn self-centered.  

Anyway, from there our conversation drifted to the handful of controversies that had been linked to Sai Baba during his lifetime, mostly about skeptics insisting that the sacred ash and other items that he claimed to be materializing was merely a well-practiced sleight of hand. Okay, so as you might know, I am a pretty pragmatic person. I do not believe in hocus pocus, pulling stuff out of thin air, or even that anyone is watching over me every minute of my life (how boring that would be for them!). 

However, despite the allegations of Sai Baba engaging in trivial sorcery, there are many things about his life that are difficult to explain, such as being able to recite large passages from the Vedas after having little schooling, appearing to be the likeness/reincarnation of Sri Shridi Sai Baba, etc.

And then it dawned on me. Skeptics are often not really true skeptics. They prattle on about reality and pragmatism, but honestly, do they really know what that means? Aren't they just putting their own experience and 'knowledge' before others', ultimately ending up with the same type of myopic view? Maybe the people they should truly question are themselves.

Let me explain. We have all heard the stories- a small boy who experienced death for a short time but still lived, a person condemned to death by cancer returns to health through prayer, or an arhant in Thailand who sees people not as male or female, but as their true selves. All these are impossible, right? But yet, according to some people, they still happened and exist. And we all have the right to not believe them. Questioning is good. But the important thing to know is that we are not omnipresent. We may not share everyone's experience and just take their word for it, but still we can be open to it. 

So, question not just the phenomena outside your experience, the supernatural, the outrageous, the unimaginable, but the rational, the mundane, the status quo. Science and human reasoning are useful, but still incomplete. Challenging everything is just the beginning. 

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear” - Thomas Jefferson 


May all beings be happy!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sai Baba's Death Mourned Around the World

Here are several links to articles with people around the world condoling and mourning the passing of Sri Satya Sai Baba.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Indian Leaders

Bollywood Stars

Trinidad and Tobago


Condolences: Sri Satya Sai Baba

This past Sunday, an event occurred that saddened millions of people around the world. Sri Satya Sai Baba, who had been a key spiritual guide for a vast and diverse assemblage, passed away. I would like to offer my humble condolences to those devotees close to me, and around the globe who mourn his death.

Here is a wiki link to an extensive article about his life, accomplishments, and death.

Bless him for his lifelong emphasis on love and equanimity towards all.

Om Sai Ram.

A Mindful 15: First Testimonial

To elaborate on how the 'less is more' theme has helped me lead a more peaceful, mindful life, here is an example:

I love having a clean, uncluttered living space, but just like with everything else, often fantasy is in total discord with reality. About nine months ago I wrote a detailed list outlining many home projects, and fantasized how great it would be to get all that done- what a rush!! But about four months went by and I had barely completed two projects on the list. How sad and discouraging for me!

But after I had my little 15 minute epiphany, things were different. I looked at that first list and broke each project into bite-sized parts, taking about 15 minutes each. In the course of about a month, I accomplished more than I had in four, with SO much less frustration and exhaustion. I was amazed; my cupboards were neat, my bathroom tidy, my closet organized- and I did not have to spend one iota of valuable weekend "me" time to do it!

The key for me was evaluating my goals by determining how beneficial their realization might be to me and others. After determining what was important, I resisted the temptation to resort to my usual extremes. This gentler, age-old approach was just what I needed to work towards my goals with joyful mindfulness, and I believe it can help do the same for others. 

May all beings be happy!

Less is More : The Power of the Mindful 15

Yes, I am one of those people. The ones who plan a TON of stuff, fantasize about how much they are going to get done, do only a fraction, then feel horribly guilty about their lack of efficiency. Well, at least I was one of those people . . .

Looking back even to a few months ago, this was my treadmill. Exhausted, I decided to jump off and just think about things for a minute. Or maybe 15 minutes. Hmmmm, 15 minutes, that sounds good. I decided that what I was doing was crazy. Not only did I feel guilty and exhausted, but I also felt very frustrated that I wasn't venturing an inch closer to any of my goals. And I have a lot of goals- finishing (grad school), having a svelte body, clean house, pure soul, sharp mind. You know, just like everybody else.

The problem, or I should say reality, is that one of those goals, i.e. finishing grad school, takes up most of my time. For whatever reason I did not want to admit this, and just tried to plow through everything else as if I was some super-creature who needed no rest or repose.

So, enough. About three months ago I decided to finally take a gentler approach. I constantly said to myself, "Any minute spent on ______ is a step toward my goal". Through trial and error, I have found that 15 minutes is an optimum time for me to spend on whatever I am doing. My mantra is "Slow and steady, this is not a race" and I constantly remind myself that it is time to be gently mindful of the task at hand. Working towards goals that are important to us should be a joy, not a chore!

This new perspective has begun to yield results- although I need a little more practice making baby steps, I have made a substantial amount of headway in some of my domestic and fitness pursuits. Yes, I know, my realization is by no means new or original, but why not give it a try? I am sure you will also end up more efficient, productive, and most importantly, happier for it. And if I can do it- you can too! 

“Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours” ~ Swedish proverb

May all beings be happy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Article: Vegetarianism and Inner Conflict

An interesting article in Shambala Sun features singer K.D. Lang and her ideas about vegetarianism. She recounts how after 21 years of strict vegetarianism, her teacher has encouraged her to start eating meat again. She discusses the potential issues and conflicts the suggestion of this change brings about, such as vegetarianism with compassion versus aversion. The article concludes her statement that despite what different traditions may recommend (or demand!), "what matters most is that whatever we do, whatever we eat, we do so with mindful awareness". Truly an interesting and thought-provoking piece.
I also thought this article was neat from the standpoint that I had posted here about this general issue, but from an omnivore's perspective. It is indeed difficult to tease apart why we eat what we eat, and why we don't what we don't. Are we eating said food because we are being truly mindful and compassionate, or because of aversion and/or obligation? It just goes to show how the mundane but very necessary aspects of life can shape and mold our spiritual path, for better or for worse!

May all beings be happy!