The Lotus flower is a beautiful plant. It lives in the water. It often comes out of water that’s muddy and unclean. But with great beauty, it blooms. This is a common symbol in Buddhism.… More
The tragedy in Orlando was still fresh in our minds.
And then Alton Sterling was shot by two police officers in Louisiana.
And then later I walked by the news on a TV at work and there was a story about a black man being shot by police. I thought it was another story about Alton Sterling, but it wasn’t.
My friend asked me, “What happened with this shooting?”
And I said, “I don’t know…I can’t keep track of all the shootings anymore..”
Philando Castle was killed by police in Minnesota when he was pulled over for a broken tail light. Because he was reaching for his wallet, after telling the officer that he had a concealed carry license and that he did have a concealed weapon in the car. He told the officer he was reaching for his wallet and the officer shot him. In the car. By the way, there was a child in the backseat. That shouldn’t matter, of course. But it does. An innocent man was shot and that’s what is really important. But thinking about that child makes me really sad too.
Police make me nervous anyway. If I was black my anxiety would probably make me stay home all the time.
I am so sad.
And our society is so fucking divided that people say things like, “If they treated the officers with more respect they wouldn’t have been shot.”
That is victim blaming. It’s no different from telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn a short skirt. Victim blaming makes me really uncomfortable. People are dead.
People say things like, “This person had a criminal record, they weren’t really innocent.” That’s crazy too. Who cares if they had a criminal record? Does that mean that they should be shot in the street?
When people make excuses for brutality like this I just wonder if they love and trust the government a lot more than I do. I don’t understand.
I get it, being a police officer is hard. Really really hard. But I believe we can expect more from them. Maybe police need more training. Maybe they need better pay so that precincts can be a little more discerning in who they allow to work these jobs. I don’t know. But I do know that we shouldn’t just accept this as normal and blame the victims whenever possible.
And I’m not sure if these officers had hate in their hearts when they committed these acts (but let’s investigate and find out). But I am sure they shouldn’t be police anymore. Because at best these actions were negligent. If your job is to protect people and you accidentally kill someone, that’s it.
And then some police officers were shot at a protest. (as of this writing I couldn’t find their names or I would post them here. I am mourning them too) As though violence can solve anything, as though this will do anything other than make people angry and ruin the lives of those officer’s families.
I don’t believe our society is so divided that we can only feel sympathy for either the officers that were slain or the two men. All of them are victims of a cycle of violence and division that I hope we can stop.
I think our culture teaches us that violence is the way to solve problems and I don’t agree with that.
Violence makes problems. And we should all cultivate peace and love in our hearts instead of violence and hate.
Not that people shouldn’t defend themselves when they’re under attack. People think that because I’m a pacifist that’s what I think, but if you’re against the wall, you do whatever you have to do. None of these killings were in self-defense.
What can we do?
As Buddhists, some of us take vows to try to save everyone. What can we even do in situations like this?
Today I just don’t know.
Love each other. Build bridges instead of walls. Be kind. Be connected. Stop trying to divide and separate. We do far too much of that.
The media and politicians have a role in this division, but that’s because that’s what people expect from them. So let’s expect something different.
Just be nice.
You can spread kindness and positivity in your life.
It starts with you.
I collected some of the articles I wrote for The Tattooed Buddha and put them into an e-book. If you’re interested in paying for something that you can easily get for free, it’s only $1.99.
click the link below
His holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is celebrating his 81st birthday in Dharamsala today.
Formerly both the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people, he fled to India in 1959 to escape the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
He is the leader of one specific school of Tibetan Buddhism, but since the exile he has done his best to represent all of the Tibetan people. He is an advocate for nonsectarian approaches to Buddhist practice.
Since his exile he has lived in India and regularly traveled around the world.
He’s dedicated not only to spreading Buddhist teachings, but also to expressing and spreading the values of peace, interfaith dialogue, and activism.
He’s always touring, going on a traveling schedule that I think very few of us could handle. He was here in the United States less than a month ago.
He has written dozens of books with a wide appeal, being able to give teachings to both beginners on the path and seasoned practitioners.
According to a 2013 poll he’s the most popular spiritual leader in the world.
I traveled to Arkansas to see him give a talk in 2011 and it was a profound experience. He is a wonderful spiritual teacher and I hope he lives on to celebrate many more birthdays.
I set off on my journey at 4 in the morning, hours before dawn. I was not on a road trip. I was on a pilgrimage. I was not traveling with family or friends, I was taking this journey alone.
I was crossing the empty and desolate plains of western Kansas to enter Colorado. I live on the eastern edge of Kansas, so I would have to cross the entire state. My destination was the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, the final resting place and shrine dedicated to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He was the founder of the Shambhala lineage and one of the first people to bring Vajrayana Buddhism to the west. He was the first Tibetan Buddhist teacher to really and truly embrace western culture and teach in that context.
Being a devout Buddhist, I decided that’s it’s silly that there’s this great Buddhist holy site 10 hours away and I’ve never been there. I know a few people that have, but I don’t know if they’ve seen the journey as a great pilgrimage, as I see it. My friend Ray Porter, who taught me “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” said that he donated to the stupa project when they were building it, but he’s never taken the trip to see it.
Being a 36 year old man, I decided it was silly that I had never seen a mountain and never gone west of Kansas.
It was a year ago that my marriage ended. Since then I’ve realized that a lot of loneliness sometimes comes with a lot of freedom.
It’s been one year since the end of my marriage. There have been some big struggles but some good times too. I’ve made mistakes along the way but some good choices too. Everything is different now and I am different too.
I drove 1500 miles in a weekend so I could go to the mountains, so I could see a Buddhist holy site, so I could have a big experience to help me put down my emotional baggage.
My plan was to go to Red Feather Lakes, to the Shambhala Mountain Center to see that stupa and maybe hike a little. Then, go sleep in Fort Collins in an Airbnb. Then, travel to Boulder Saturday to explore a little. Then, stay at the Airbnb again and return home Sunday.
I went on 4th of July weekend, knowing I could get home Sunday and rest all day Monday before going back to work.
I wanted to sit and meditate under the rocky mountains.
So, away I went early in the morning. As the sun was rising I was driving through some interesting scenery called the Flint Hills. I saw rolling hills of beautiful green grass. After that I entered the void that is western Kansas. The only thing that catches your attention driving through western Kansas is the giant metal windmills.
Endless time seemed to pass before I crossed the state line into Colorado. I knew I still had four hours left before I would get to Red Feather Lakes, but I still felt like I had accomplished something by driving across the entire state of Kansas.
Hours later I saw them. They were far away in the distance, so far that I thought they might actually be clouds. They were mountains. A new kind of excitement flowed through me as I continued. I turned onto a dirt road to go up to Red Feather Lakes. Mountains were all around me now. I could hear my little car working harder as the elevation increased. I don’t think little cars like mine are meant to go up in mountains.
It was 3pm when I got there.
I came to Shambhala Road and turned left. I parked my car in a parking lot with many other cars. There were signs marking the path up to the stupa, and flags all the way up the path, so I wouldn’t get lost. I could see it in the distance, poking out from behind the trees. It was majestic and beautiful. It was 108 feet tall. It was a long winding path, so the stupa kept coming into view and disappearing again among the trees. I think I walked a mile or more on this mountain path.
Eventually I came upon it. I noticed a dark statue standing toward the top, built into it. I walked around the stupa clockwise once, as a sign of respect. There was a spot just outside the door for my shoes, so I left them behind and went inside.
There was a shrine room inside. There, sitting in front of a row of cushions, (all gomdens, no zafus) was a giant golden sitting Buddha with a beatific smile on his face. And suddenly I had a beatific smile on my face too.
The floor, walls, and ceilings are covered in intricate sacred designs. My friend Lama Matt told me, “When you’re there, don’t forget to look up.” I did look up and there was a beautiful mandala on the ceiling. And there are little alcoves built into the walls all around, even behind the statue. These had different things in them, pictures of Trungpa, notes on his life, statues of Bodhisattvas. All these alcoves were very interesting.
I sat on a cushion at the feet of the Buddha and looked up at him. I noticed my heart was racing and I felt a little light headed. I wondered if it was from the walk up to the stupa and the high elevation, or if it was because of the sacredness of the stupa and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
My head was spinning as I sat there. Then I felt at peace. I felt oneness with the statue, and the other people around, and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the mountain. I felt oneness with everything. I felt a dropping away of body and mind. I heard the inconceivable thunderous silence of a mostly empty universe. My sense of self was gone.
I was empty and I was emptiness and everything was bliss.
I had a timeless moment of unconsciousness and I saw the golden eternity. There was no coming or going, there was no one and no path. There was only emptiness. And love. There was love too. I felt like I turned a corner in my spiritual journey. I felt like I had put down a lot of my emotional baggage. I felt light and free.
I felt like I was receiving teachings from Trungpa, and also from the earth and the sky. I felt so….connected. And aware.
I had a spiritual experience on Shambhala Mountain. Or maybe it was just the lack of oxygen from going up the mountain too fast. Either way I feel transformed.
After an endless and deep sit, I cam back to my body. I stood, opened the door, and stepped out. The sun was shining brighter, everything was infused with wonder. As I walked down the path, a deer walked right up to me. We stood for a moment, looking at each other. Then it ran off. Animals behave differently when they aren’t being hunted. In Kansas deer get the hell away from you as fast as they can. In Colorado they come up to you.
I made my way down the mountain.
I spent that evening exploring Fort Collins and I spent the entire next day exploring Boulder.
These were wonderful places. I saw a man in an African tribal mask dancing and playing bongos in the middle of downtown Boulder. I went to a jazz festival. They had food trucks, just like festivals here. But there was no unhealthy food. It was all kale shakes and salads and vegan burritos. (here in Kansas city it would be chicken fingers and ribs). That’s probably why everyone I saw in Boulder was fit and thin. That, and the bicycles. There are bike lanes on all the streets and I saw people riding bikes everywhere.
A cute hippy girl tried to sell me a pendant with a secret compartment to hide my stash in. I wondered why I would need such a thing in Colorado.
I expected Boulder to be full of Buddhist temples. I only found three and the only one that really seemed like it got a lot of visitors was the Boulder Shambhala Center. There were two Buddhist stores with Tibet in their names. And there was a new age-y bookstore that had a lot of Buddhist stuff too.
I didn’t travel to Colorado to party, but I did buy pot in a store, just because I could.
Sunday morning I came home.
The drive home was harder than the drive there. As you go from Colorado to Kansas on I-70 the scenery slowly gets less and less interesting. But I made it. I got home in the early afternoon.
I brought a little of the mountain back with me.
Sometimes we make mistakes and stumble on the Buddhist path.
It happens to everyone. This is a list from the Buddha of things we can rely on on the path to help us avoid going astray.
The list comes from a teaching called the Four Reliances, which is found in several Mahayana scriptures.
1) Rely on the Dharma, Not on People.
This is the idea of the finger pointing at the moon. Teachers are very helpful, but no one can give the Dharma to you. You have to practice it to gain the benefits. If you don’t practice the Dharma and have experiences with it yourself, then you won’t make progress. Great Ultimate Truths require that we learn them for ourselves. A teacher can be very good at showing you the moon, but you have to actually look at it yourself to see it.
2) Rely on Wisdom, Not Just an Accumulation of Knowledge.
It’s important to remember that the wisdom of Buddha Nature is already within us. We just have to tune into it by clearing delusions. We can fill our heads with stories and facts about Buddhist practice, but that won’t equal the amount what we receive from a single moment of awareness of our Buddha Nature. If we can rely on wisdom and look at the world with it, then we can see things as they really are instead of seeing things through a cloud of delusion. Studying the teachings is helpful, but for real success on the path, we have to understand them intuitively as well as intellectually.
3) Rely on the Meaning of the Words, Not on the Words.
The truths expressed in words aren’t the words themselves. This is important. In all aspects of our lives we label things and become beholden to those labels. Bodhidharma said that real truths are “Beyond words and letters.”
4) Rely on the Complete Meaning, Not the Partial Meaning.
We should practice and study until we have a really deep understanding of Buddhist teachings. The deep meaning of the Dharma is the truth of our Buddha Nature. We shouldn’t lose sight of this. It can be easy to have a shallow or moderately deep understanding and think we’ve attained Enlightenment. We need to be on guard against this.