Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thank you!

I would just like to take a moment to say thank you to all who read my blog. I have been writing ByChanceBuddhism for over two years, and have only recently begun to consistently see comments on my posts. Not that I mind typing into some nebulous 'yonder', because all I want is for my ideas to somehow reach and help others. But I must say that it is such a great feeling to know that there are people out there who care enough to take the time to read about my thoughts, and share their thoughts with me. 

So I just wanted to say "Thank you!", for reading and commenting here at ByChanceBuddhism. I am honored to share what I learn about the Dharma, and in turn learn from the wisdom and insight of readers like you! 

May all beings be happy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Compassion: unlocking our great human potential

In recent years, I have realized that a common thread of most religions is the belief that each human being possesses an infinite amount of potential. 

Of course, that's where this short thread ends, as people from different backgrounds explain the reasons for this potential and how it should be used. For example, Buddhists take this common belief even further and propose that all sentient beings possess an infinite amount of positive potential. 

But for the sake of simplicity, for now let's stick to humans. I have often wondered, "If it is the case that all people have an infinite amount of potential, what is preventing us from realizing it?" To approach this question, I recently came up with this simple, hypothetical example: 

Let's say a Buddhist layperson is 'practicing well'. They understand the Four Noble Truths, adhere strictly to the Five Moral Precepts, meditate everyday, and earnestly practice compassion towards other sentient beings. But for some reason, they still feel hopelessly stuck. What could be wrong?

Looking deeply, it seems to me that the answer is in the phrase 'other sentient beings'. It seems that in order to truly love and have compassion for others, we must also have love and compassion for ourselves. At face value, this might seem selfish, but just think, would we promise to help someone prepare for an important biology exam if we didn't know the subject? Probably not. 

To give compassion we must know compassion. Knowing compassion is giving it to ourselves, because only then can we be certain of our ability to generate compassion unconditionally. Once we master our self-doubt with self-acceptance, we can be confident in showing unconditional love and compassion towards others. 

Of course, I have found that this is easier said than done. I may not want to criticize or belittle myself, but it happens, sometimes a lot. Despite the natural, brilliant luminosity of our minds, most minds are obscured by many layers of delusion and bad habits. It's a process, and the correct response is being a little more gentle with ourselves. 

One thing I have begun to realize that while it is natural to have emotions, we are not our feelings. Nor are we our reputation, likes, dislikes, occupation, or family history. We are something entirely different, and actually, much, much more precious. Only when we realize this (and behave accordingly towards ourselves), can we be truly compassionate towards others. Certainly though, there is also much merit in committing to not harming others (or ourselves) while we strive everyday to develop and practice compassion.

Once we have these ideas and intentions in mind, we can begin to ask questions like, 'Who am I?' and 'What is my true nature?' For this, I found a great article that walks people interested in beginning the journey of self-acceptance through 10 steps, completing one each day. Finally, I also appreciated this article, that explains self-love and how compassion blossoms from it. There is also a section on Metta, or 'loving-kindness' meditation, which we can do towards others and ourselves. 

I hope you enjoyed this post, and that it has benefitted you in some way. Disclaimer: I am neither a spiritual guide nor a mental-health professional. I myself have not mastered self-compassion, but have only compiled and written about what I have learned, leading from the great universal belief that human beings possess infinite positive potential. Please post any thoughts you have in the comments below.

May all beings be happy!  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ten negative actions and the Four Antidotes

According to the Buddha, there are three outlets through which our actions manifest themselves- our bodies, our speech, and our thoughts.  

Three of these negative actions are carried out by the body:
sexual misconduct

Four are driven by our speech:
harsh speech
divisive speech

Three are perpetrated by our minds:
harmful intent
perverse views (i.e. insisting on seeing things opposite from how they really are and denying that actions have consequences) 

Considering each of these honestly, many of us may have committed at least a few of these negative actions within our current lifetime. In some cases recalling past negative actions may make us feel sad, regretful, or even ashamed. 

The good news is that just as the Noble Eightfold Path was the medicine prescribed by Buddha's Four Noble Truths to end the suffering of all beings, the Four Antidotes are used to remedy the adverse karmic effects of the ten negative actions.

They are:
Power of Regret
Power of Purification
Power of Resolve
Supreme Power of Meditation

In short, these mean that in addition to refraining from the ten negative actions, we exhibit true remorse, purify ourselves, and resolve to not repeat the negative action. Using the Supreme Power of Meditation, we cultivate our efforts to understand the true nature of things, including ourselves.

For more information about the benefits of meditation and how to begin, please read this great article.

Have you heard these terms before? What do they mean to you? Do you have anything to add?

May all beings be happy!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Another personal milestone

Today I am very happy to announce that after more than six years, I have finally finished my graduate degree in Plant Biology. With this accomplishment comes much happiness, pride, and relief. There were so many times that I didn't think I could do it, that I would have to give up, that I wasn't strong enough. But with support from family and friends and a little perseverance, I saw it through. I am happy that I did, because now I am free to follow my dream of educating future plant biologists.  

Of course, with much happiness and celebration comes the need to share much gratitude. I am, and will always be, grateful to my parents, husband, siblings, family, in-laws, friends, colleagues, and, last but certainly not least, my advisor. I also couldn't have coped with the stress and anxiety I experienced along the way if I had not engaged in a spiritual life. As I say on the home page of BCB, "The teachings of the Buddha have brought joy to my life, and given meaning to my previously aimless spiritual path". With that I express my gratitude to the Three Jewels, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. 

Finally, I would also like to thank you, my readers, for reading my posts, and for all you contribute to BCB with your insightful comments. 

For all this I am very grateful. 

So, what now?

As I ponder this a familiar Zen saying comes to mind:

"Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
After Enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water."

~ Zen proverb

Even though it is sometimes difficult to put our current situation into context, life does not begin only when we accomplish our goals, nor do our duties - or potential - cease after we finally accomplish them. Life truly resides only in the present moment. Realizing this, we can, moment by moment, work towards a happy life in whatever we do. 

For me, this means not only rejoicing in my accomplishments as I look towards the horizon, but first and foremost to never stop learning

Are there any personal victories that you would like to share? Have they made you grateful, and if so, why? As always, please share in the comments section below.

May all beings be happy!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Packing light #1

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that one of my short-term goals for living simply is to take a trip and pack light. Well, last month I did just that, and learned a lot from it. The duration of my trip was eight days, seven nights. Before I left I checked the weather forecast, which predicted highs in the 60’s and lows in the 40’s- very balmy indeed for upstate New York in March! I took warm clothes, but not the heavy winter items I would have needed in December and January. The items I packed are listed below, along with a few pics.

Black trench coat
Cobalt blue cashmere sweater
messenger-style laptop bag

plain black t-shirt
grey t-shirt
navy top
black blouse with beads
teal knit

Blue boot cut jeans
Black skinny jeans
Running pants

Red flats
Black suede knee-high boots

skinny black belt
small black handbag
outdoor headband
light cotton gloves
Teal wool scarf
Paisley pashmina shawl
3 prs earrings
1 necklace
1 bracelet

1pr leggings
1 black camisole
black long-sleeved undershirt
8 prs socks

What I learned:
Packing light is great. It was really nice to have a suitcase that was light and easy to manage. Having selected some of my favorite, most comfortable, and easily coordinated clothing, I did not feel ‘deprived’ of fashion choices. The clothing I chose was also versatile, so I was able to carry it through shopping, walking in the woods, hanging out and going out to dinner. Packing fewer clothing items also meant that could take three pairs of shoes, which made the items I packed even more versatile. 

All the clothes I packed for my trip, including a scarf and pashmina shawl. 

 Accessories, including purse, gloves, headband, and belt. Leggings and camisole are underneath. 


My beloved trench coat, a gift from my husband.

My few regrets: I wish I had packed one more sweater, one for lounging, one for being out and about. Cashmere sweaters are great because they are lightweight and don’t take up much space in a suitcase, but are still very warm. Although they might seem like a major wardrobe splurge, cashmere sweaters are often marked down 50-75% just after Christmas. I have also found really decent ones at the Goodwill for under $15, but that also requires patience – and mad hunting skills ;)

Next was reading material. Attempting to pack light, why did I take both my Kindle and a magazine? I don't know. But next time I will choose only one.

Finally, next time I travel light I will also bring some Downy wrinkle releaser. My clothes did not look wrinkled or smell bad after more than one use, but I think this product will help clothing items stay presentable and even fresher while airing them out. 


Did you enjoy this post? What tips and tricks do you have for packing light? Please share in the comments below!

May all beings be happy!


"He who would travel happily must travel light." ~ St. Exupery

Friday, April 20, 2012

My 'Living Simply' Journey: Full Version

Alright, it's time to reveal how things really went down, eventually leading to my current goals for Living Simply

Growing up, I had a bicycle, and an abundance of books and stuffed animals. I was also lucky enough to have my own room. I loved the things I had, but after some "tsk-tsking" from my siblings and parents, I also became quite the declutterer. I organized things in boxes, categorized them, and donated to charity. Although certainly no minimalist, by the time I was a teenager, my room had evolved from a chaotic mess to a neat little haven. I decorated with little treasures from second-hand stores, and a vintage Life Magazine took center stage on my desk. I loved my room and saw it as my own personal  statement and sanctuary. 

Just like any college kid, I was plagued by the biannual move, into and out of the dorms. Perhaps my happiest time in college was when I took a summer course and lived in a strange but interesting house belonging to a music professor. I didn't bring a lot of stuff with me, just clothes that would fit in a suitcase, along with my bike, an alarm clock and small refrigerator for food. I spent the morning in class, had lunch, then went biking for about two hours. I would come back, read, work on papers, have dinner, go for a two-mile jog, then read some more at night. I had very little money of my own, so I only ate the food I had cooked myself. Not only did I lose ten pounds that summer, but I discovered new ways of amusing myself and honed a great sense of adventure.  

When I went to grad school things changed. I finally earned money that didn't just go towards textbooks and tuition. With the help of my amazing parents, I brought a lot of my stuff with me when I moved out to the midwest to begin my grad career. I had my own little apartment with the nice things I had collected, and this made me really happy. However, after a really stressful and exhausting first semester, I was more than ready to come home to rest and spend time with family over Christmas. 

But when my parents picked me up to go home, they told me the unthinkable. The house where I had grown up, and that they had lived in for 35 years, had been completely gutted by fire. I couldn't believe it. I spent most of my winter break helping my family sift through what was left, sad and exhausted. It was a strange time, because although it was a pretty depressing Christmas, it was also one of the best. The fire may have claimed our home, but everyone in our family was still there.   

Still, back at grad school, I struggled. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt being there, while my parents were at 'home' still sifting through ashes and cleaning up the remains of our belongings. Having had most things I had left at home destroyed or otherwise ruined, I also felt cheated. I knew it was just stuff, but I had been saving those things for my future, when I would have a home of my own. How would I replace them?

I spent the next few years intently shopping at antique stores and the Goodwill trying to do just that. But fast forward to my last two years of graduate school, I realized I had accumulated too much stuff. Due to stress and feelings of depression, I had also 'accumulated' 20 extra pounds on my small frame.

Frustrated and overwhelmed, I decided that things had to change. I started by donating several bags of clothing to the Goodwill (yes, I do realize the irony), along with quite a few other items. After several failed 'all or nothing' diet and exercise plans, I also decided to simply walk (much!) more and cut down on the amount of food I ate for dinner. Over the next two years, I donated more than two carloads of items, sold clothes to consignment shops, and lost 15 pounds and kept it off.

Despite these efforts (and believe me, I am very proud of them), I realize that there is still progress to be made. I never allowed myself to become a 'hoarder' or go into debt, but I would love to have the same feelings I did in my old room. As we get older life gets more and more complicated, but as far as possessions go, I want return to simple, cherished, and less.

So here I am again, having gone almost full circle, at least in my thinking. I would have rather not gone through all this, but in in terms of living simply it's good that I did, because now I see things with a little more clarity.

What I learned (and re-learned):

If possessions are taken from me due to situations beyond my control, waiting before trying to replace them (rather than acting out of attachment) can be helpful.

Material possessions should serve me, not the other way around.

Everything in my home should be either useful, cherished, or both.

Excess material possessions can hinder relationships with other people.

Consuming food can be a great source of enjoyment, but food should not be consumed for comfort alone.

Eat to live well, but don't live to eat.

The main purpose of clothing is for comfort and protection from the elements. However, clothing can also be worn to adorn our own natural beauty, as opposed to the sole purpose of impressing others.

Small, frequent positive changes are much more effective (and less exhausting) than large infrequent changes.

Fewer high-quality items are better than many cheap, inferior quality items.

Fewer possessions, less time cleaning, more time for loved ones and cherished hobbies.

A house containing fewer possessions and a greater emphasis on life more easily becomes a home.


Have you had a similar experience dealing with excess material possessions? Have you resolved any difficulties dealing with them, or are in the process of dealing with them? What are your goals?

May all beings be happy!


"Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul." ~ Democritus

"There is no fire like greed.
No crime like hatred.
No Sorrow like separation.
No sickness like hunger of the heart.
No joy like the joy of freedom.

Health, contentment, and trust
Are your greatest possessions 
And freedom your greatest joy.
Look within, be still
Free from fear and attachment, 
Know the sweet joy of living in the Way."

~ From the Dhammapada