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Talk about Buddhism

Discussion in 'Tilted Philosophy, Politics, and Economics' started by genuinemommy, Jan 20, 2012.

  1. genuinemommy

    genuinemommy Moderator Staff Member

    "We can't believe you have been to the moon, but you can't believe we can reach enlightenment in just one lifetime." - something a Tibetan buddhist monk said to Wade Davis (National Geographic).

    Enlightenment is real. It is possible.

    I've always considered bodhisttava as an Eastern version of a saint, but they are much more than that. A bodhisttva's role is more quiet and introspective. While a saint may perform wonderful miracles and give selflessly to a few, the bodhisttva opens their mind and heart fully giving to all humanity. I might be hit by lightning for typing this, but I've been thinking recently that perhaps the only comparable role in western religion is that of Christ.

    What do you know about Buddhism? Have you ever heard the Dalai Lama speak? What kind of interactions have you experienced with buddhists? Have you entered a shrine, practiced meditation, or perhaps been to a buddhist retreat?

    When I attended UC Berkeley, their East Asian Library had just opened. There were many campus visitors from what seemed like everywhere, and many of them stopped by the coffee shop where I worked. I'll never forget one. It was close to closing time and I was busying myself with sweeping, mopping, and otherwise cleaning up the place. He was sitting at a table upstairs, reading and writting something in a notebook. His head was bald, though he seemed young, he was wearing clothes that were a little odd, but not a monk's robes. I hesitated speaking with him, he was so focused. Something about the way he held himself made me feel like I should treat him with an intense amount of respect. I decided to speak, to tell him that we'll be closing in a half hour. He thanked me. He commented to me that I was the happiest person he has seen in a while. I asked him if he was a teacher, he said "aren't we all?". He asked me what made me so happy. I shared with him a bit, how I lived every dream my good heart could imagine, then follow however life leads, and the peace that comes with such a mentality. He thanked me, shook my hand. I said something about it being an honor to meet him, and I went on with my work. He came in a couple more times that week, and I was happy to see him each time. I have never before met a person who had such an overwhelming presence.
  2. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    I have been familiar with the Dhammapada for about fifteen years. I have read books on Buddhism by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön, Steve Hagen, Stephen Batchelor, and currently Surya Das. I am currently working on expanding/reinforcing my understanding and working on an active practice. Please see my blog entry here on my current reading list.

    I have a basic understanding of Buddhism, especially if you pare it down to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I am, however, limited in terms of taking that path. That is something I'm working on this year, which is why I assembled the reading list.

    I have had few interactions with Buddhists. I had a high school teacher of social science and history who was a Buddhist, and a casual acquaintance of mine took a layman's vows a few years ago, shortly after attending a retreat. I have not attended a retreat. Part of the reason is that I've been unprepared for it. I am currently too steeped in attachment to get enough benefit from one. I must first work on my solitary practice and get to a point where a community would make sense. I have to be ready to give and take, rather than just take.

    Toronto is home to more Buddhists than anywhere in Canada. There are several temples here and probably quite a few communities (or sanghas). Once I find I have dedicated myself to the path appropriately, I may seek out a Buddhist sangha close by to help my practice and to help others with theirs. Dedication to the practice of Buddhism is based on a commitment to Buddha (to enlightenment), to the Dharma (to the spiritual teachings, to seeking truth), and to the Sangha (to living the enlightened life among others, and not just other Buddhists).

    Your view of Bodhisattvas is pretty close to my own. They are different from Christ, however, in that they choose to remain among the masses as teachers, pointing others towards the path to enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are Buddhas among us.

    There are many similarities, but the main difference between Christianity and Buddhism is that Christians seek salvation in Christ, while Buddhists seek salvation in themselves. Buddhism is the belief that we all have an inherent Buddha-nature (Christians and non-Christians alike) and that the Eightfold Path is the way to reveal it. The Eightfold Path removes ignorance and delusion to illuminate our true selves. Only you can do this for yourself. This is why Buddha wanted people to focus on the teachings and not him. He didn't want to be idolized, as that would be one of the many attachments he warns us about.

    But, yes, the essence of Buddhism is an open mind and unhindered heart. It is having compassion for all living beings without prejudice. It is seeking a way to alleviate the suffering of life. It is seeing reality for yourself, rather than accepting dogma. All of us can traverse this path, regardless of religion or belief system. In this way, Buddhism is more an applied philosophy than it is a religion.
  3. snowy

    snowy so kawaii Staff Member

    My best friend is a Buddhist. She practices Shin Buddhism, and so this is the flavor of Buddhism I am most familiar with. What amuses me about it is that going to temple is really not that different from going to a Christian church, as far as I can tell, in that most people go for the fellowship. Even the name of the organization that oversees her temple has church in it: the Buddhist Churches of America. Her mom teaches Sunday school at temple, and so her mother and I have had some fantastic conversations through the years about what it means to be a Shin Buddhist. One of the things I found interesting about their school of thought is the presence of Amida-buddha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amitābha). There isn't a lot of orthodoxy in their temple--people are free to explore their own beliefs and practices--and so Amida plays a different role to everyone.

    I enjoy reading Buddhist sutras and have been meaning to get back into the practice. Hopefully I will have time soon.
  4. Buddhism seems like a simple way of life in a complicated world. It should probably be taught in LIFE 101.
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  5. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    This is it in a nutshell. Buddha means "awakened." Buddhism is seeking a way through ignorance and delusion. In today's world, there are many distractions. Today's world hooks us everywhere we turn. We have longings that can never be satisfied. Only by seeing these longings for what they really are can we learn how to see past them.

    It may seem simple, but it's not, really. Though good things in life usually don't come easy. Doing what's good for us is truly hard to do. Buddha himself acknowledged that. It is our burden of being human in a complicated world. :)
  6. Carbonic

    Carbonic Getting Tilted

    Snowy, you describe, in part, exactly what I dislike about Pure Land Buddhism (of which Shin Buddhism is a part). As an atheist, I'm obviously prone to dislike the metaphysical aspects that can be present in Buddhism, and in many ways Pure Land Buddhism just emphasizes them. You've got the quasi-worship of Amida Buddha, and then the Pure Land itself... and you've basically got a Buddhist version of Christian metaphysics.

    Many forms of Buddhism - perhaps most, in fact - are religion, despite persistent claims to the contrary. That said, I think there is plenty of room for Buddhism from an atheist perspective, and so I generally find myself agreeing with people like Stephen Batchelor, who wrote Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, which even Christopher Hitchens enjoyed. That's not to say I dislike the teachings of Buddhists who are further down the "religion" spectrum in one way or another. It's just that while many Buddhists may believe that karma, Nirvana, reincarnation, etc are actual things, I view them as linguistic tools that convey a greater truth.

    In general, though, I've been fascinated by Buddhism for quite some time and went out of may way to study it repeatedly while in college (along with a number of other religion-oriented classes - comparative religion is kind of a hobby of mine). It has been awhile, though, since I've been able to truly do anything with regard to Buddhism. There is a sangha about 30 minutes away that I've been interested in checking out for years, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet.
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  7. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    I shy away from this aspect of Buddhism as well.

    My earliest education in Buddhism was through Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs. I've been meaning to read the other one but haven't gotten around to it. I did build a reading list recently, but I've thought about amending it after reading a couple of titles. I think I should read his book sooner rather than later.

    I prefer to explore the atheistic and non-ritualistic/religious aspects of Buddhism. It is often said that the Buddha himself was ambivalent about much of the metaphysical aspects we see in various schools of Buddhism. He was simply more about the eightfold path as a practical means of overcoming misery and finding happiness/enlightenment.

    Do it! :) I'm of the same mind right now. I recently finished listening to an audiobook verson of It's Up to You by Dzigar Kongtrul. It has inspired me to continue. I think I might check out Confession of a Buddhist Atheist this weekend.

    Confession of a Buddhist Atheist was, interestingly, blurbed by the late Christopher Hitchens: “The human thirst for the transcendent, the numinous – even the ecstatic – is too universal and too important to be entrusted to the cultish and the archaic and the superstitious. In this honest and serious book of self-examination and critical scrutiny, Stephen Batchelor adds the universe of Buddhism to the many fields in which received truth and blind faith are now giving way to ethical and scientific humanism, in which lies our only real hope.”

    Check out the commentary on this by humanist Mark Vernon's review of the same book:

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  8. Carbonic

    Carbonic Getting Tilted

    Funny, I edited my post to link to that review while you were apparently writing your response :)
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  9. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    Actually, I've been meaning to check out more of Mark Vernon's work as well. I browsed through his book Teach Yourself Humanism, and this bit struck a chord with me: "In your arguments against religion, do you examine the best in religion? After all, you look to the best in humanity in your humanism." This is generally in line with my own beliefs. I'm essentially atheist, but I'm not anti-religious.
  10. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    I've been thinking more about Buddhism as a practice. I'm not, for the most part, what you would consider a practicing Buddhist. I don't meditate. I don't actively try to follow precepts, etc. Mostly I remain knowledgeable about the fundamentals, and this informs much of my day-to-day morals and ethics, though I admit that I struggle with a lot of ignorance and longing.

    Though I'm sure many do.

    That said, I've been exploring the options of an actual practice. Much of what has prevented me from developing one was the sheer magnitude of the Buddhist canon in addition to the number of schools. I examined the differences closely for the first time, and I was a bit surprised at what I discovered.

    I have been drawn to Tibetan Buddhism for a number of years. This is mainly because of the teachings of the Dalai Lama and his "colleagues." I've also infused some Zen Buddhist teachings, because they're everywhere even if who you're reading isn't a Zen monk. So in my reading, I've had the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh (Zen), and Lama Surya Das. For the most part. One is a Zen monk, while the others practice Tibetan Buddhism of one school or another. More broadly, they fall under the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.

    By chance, I started reading a book by Jack Kornfield, whose name kept cropping up in the books I was reading. He was often blurbed on the cover or quoted in the text. He's a well known American teacher who practices under the Theravada branch of Buddhism, which is the first of two branches before Mahayana. Without getting into information overload, Mahayana is "northern" Buddhism that migrated north out of India, while Theravada is "southern," which migrated south. Theravada is considered more conservative, as it focuses purely on Buddha's teachings via the Pali Canon, while Mahayana has added many new writings and teachings (mainly via the Sutras) as well as additional rituals, symbols, beliefs, etc. Theravada can be described as more philosophical, while Mahayana is more religious (though not necessarily dogmatic).

    What appealed to me was the focus of Theravada Buddhism. It doesn't go into a lot of the more metaphysical aspects of Buddhism that, say, Tibetan Buddhism goes into (just look up Bardo for an example, or the Tibetan Book of the Dead). Without the rituals, etc., Theravada, to me, is more practical and seems like a good place to start. What's more is that Jack Kornfield is a prominent Western teacher of what has become known as the Vipassana movement, which basically refers to a focus on the Theravada meditation practice on the three marks of existence: impermanence (anicca); suffering or unsatisfactoriness (dukkha); non-self (anattā). It cuts to the core of what the Buddha taught, and I think its why it appeals to me.

    While both branches of Buddhism essentially have the same destination in mind (nirvana), Mahayana Buddhism tends to have way more content and practices to choose from, and at this point, for me, less choice is better.

    I've tracked down a number of interesting books based on the Theravada tradition or by Theravada teachers: more books by Kornfield, plus some by his Western colleagues and some by Buddhist masters from Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc., including Kornfield's own teacher, Ajahn Chah. Though there is a lot of crossover. (Kornfield likes to quote the prolific Thich Nhat Hanh, which is nice. I love Nhat Hanh's work, and as a Zen Buddhist, he has incorporated some Theravada practices into his teachings.)

    Anyway, I have some reading to do. Right now I'm just reading titles that look at overall approaches to what the Buddha taught and how Buddhist meditation practices can help develop mindfulness. They're kind of like a refresher for me, with the added bonus of new perspectives and more examples. Once I get through a number of titles in that respect, I've listed some more "advanced reading": some books that look at developing specific meditation practices, and some books that are directly from Buddha's teachings.

    On top of all of this, I need to start meditating. Even if this means doing it 5 minutes at a time at the beginning.

    Oh, my fragmented, focus-deprived mind...you're in for a shock.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2013
  11. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    To me, Buddhism is one more spice in the pot for my soup.
    I've read it...enjoyed aspects, added it to my thoughts.

    For myself, one perspective is not all...I blend a variety into my worldview and experience.
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  12. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    That's what I like about Buddhism; it applies to everything.
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  13. Lordeden

    Lordeden Part of the Problem

    Redneckhell, NC
    I picked up the Dhammapada once and read it a few times. Some of the words stuck with me, but not as much as a story I read in a book about Zen (don't ask me the title, I forget).

    This story stuck with me in a way that shaped my view of what was "heaven and hell". It wasn't a plane of existence that you were either rewarded for a good life or punished for being bad. It was life, it was what you made it. Hell was living in anger, hate and rage; heaven was peace, calm, and love.

    Like Baraka_Guru said, it applies to everything. Tho I do not walk the path, I've always wanted too.
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  14. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    I've heard more than one version of "The Brute and the Zen Master" (or whatever it's actually called). It's a fantastic little tale, and it is a perfect example of what great art does: teaches and delights.

    And surely that idea of "heaven and hell" is in tune with much of Eastern philosophy, which tends to be more inward looking than outward looking.

    It seems to be the case that many tend to complicate their approach. (I'm one of them.) It's not something "out there" or something you work really hard to earn. It's something that's already there. We each have everything we need. We just need to get out of our own way.

    That's not saying it's easy. But it may at least help us get on the path in the first place.

    Another way of looking at it is not as some mystical practice but as an applied psychology that focuses on self-healing. Outside help is crucial, but ultimately, it comes down to your own practice.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2013
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  15. DZwarych New Member

    What does Buddhism say about overcoming the misery of "Not having Enough Time", a common tone in these answers? Doesn't Buddhism say happiness is the absence of wanting...more time?

    Example: Everyone wakes up each morning; some in calm at first light when the birds start chirping, others in panic after the last snooze button, rushing out the door at the last minute like the house is on fire!

    Deep breathing, stretching, some yoga and meditation to calm your thoughts before the hectic day is started are all possible elements of the morning routine for everyone...but only IF enough time is allowed. Planning for one day to 'start a practice' or adding another book to your reading list seems like just another "I Don't Have Time" excuse.

    I suspect a natural circadian rhythm, early to bed early to rise, is a first step in the discipline needed to find happiness/enlightenment....fr0m a reduction of the stress of "too busy..not enough time". When the sun goes down tonight, follow your instincts and start to wind down your own body. Once started, each day becomes easier to shut off the cacophony of your life, get to sleep, and let your body recover.

    You don't need to think anymore about it..so why not "Just Do It"? ... and start tomorrow morning! One step will lead to another. Soon you WILL find the time, and then you will MAKE time.


    P.S. I noticed this morning first light is about 4:10am...when small chickadees and sparrow start to chirp. An hour later, the damm crows start their cawing back and forth...the signal "Time to Get Up!"