Posted in 37 practices, Patheos

37 Practices of a Bodhisattva: Patheos Series

I did a series on the classic text “The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva” for Patheos. I’ve linked all of the articles here. I had a good experience delving deeply into this important text and I hope you will too.

37 Practices of A Bodhisattva: Introduction

A Bodhisattva is one who strives to attain enlightenment. Bodhisattva is a sanskrit word that means “Enlightenment Being.” It has multiple definitions: Bodhisattva: an enlightened person one who is on the path to enlightenment one who enlightens others. Mahayana Buddhism rests entirely on the Bodhisattva ideal. We have innate wakefulness—we are enlightened already—but we are also on the path to realizing the fact that we are awakened and our true nature is not separate from bringing others to awakening along… Read more

37 Practices: Keep Awareness Clear and Vivid

1
Right now, you have a good boat, fully equipped and available — hard to find.
To free others and you from the sea of samsara,
Day and night, fully alert and present,
Study, reflect, and meditate — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Going For Refuge

5
With some friends, the three poisons keep growing,
Study, reflection, and meditation weaken,
And loving kindness and compassion fall away.
Give up bad friends — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Give Rise to Awakening Mind

10
If all your mothers, who love you,
Suffer for time without beginning, how can you be happy?
To free limitless sentient beings,
Give rise to awakening mind — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Put Them Above You

37 Practices: Subdue Your Own Mind

18
When you are down and out, held in contempt,
Desperately ill, and emotionally crazed,
Don’t lose heart. Take into you
The suffering and negativity of all beings — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Let it Go

21
Sensual pleasures are like salty water:
The deeper you drink, the thirstier you become.
Any object that you attach to,
Right away, let it go — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.. Read more

37 Practices: The Perfections

Verse 25 and the ones that follow detail the 6 perfections. The most important teaching for walking the bodhisattva path is the six perfections. The six perfections free us from delusion and lead us to Awakening.  If we practice the six perfections in our lives, then we can dwell in Enlightenment… Read more

37 Practices: Don’t Say Anything

31
If you don’t go into your own confusion,
You may just be a materialist in practitioner’s clothing.
Constantly go into your own confusion
And put an end to it — this is the practice of a bodhisattva… Read more

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Posted in anxiety, Patheos

Eclipsed Expectations

“Listen to the love letters sent by the wind and the rain; the snow and the moon.”

-Ikkyu

Kansas City.

Just on the edge of totality for the Great American Eclipse of 2017.

I still remember people going crazy over a partial solar eclipse in the area when I was a kid. There was so much media around that event back then, and that was only partial. This was to be a full eclipse, not experienced here for over 100 years.

People travel a long way to see total eclipses and we were lucky it was close to us. My research told me that my home and my work would get one minute of totality, when the moon passes directly in front of the sun. I wanted more than a minute, so I took the day off work. I went with my girlfriend to her brother’s house, about an hour away in Lathrop, Missouri. It was deep in the path of totality and we would experience the full eclipse for two and a half minutes instead of one.

Our plan was to go in the morning and just hang out for a few hours, watching things slowly get darker until 1:07pm, when the sun would be blotted out and we would be shrouded in darkness. I was excited for months about this plan.

Then something happened.

The weather.

On the Friday before the eclipse the weather forecast called for clouds and rain, everywhere in the area. We might not even be able to see the sun. And we’d probably be wet. Panic ensued. I wasn’t going to have the experience I wanted, I thought. It seemed so unfortunate. I looked to see if we could go somewhere else in the path of totality to have clear skies, but the nearest place with a clear sky in the forecast was actually 8 hours away. So we just had to wait and hope for the best.

This is a story about our worries and expectations.

I didn’t even know what would happen, but I was suffering, thinking about how my expectations wouldn’t be met, how I’d have to wait until 2024 (and travel far away) to have this opportunity again. I was thinking about how frustrated I’d feel. If we were really wet from rain or if the sun remained behind clouds, I would be sad.

That’s how expectations work.

When our expectations aren’t met we sometimes feel like we are being defeated. We get lost in the space between what we expect and what really happens. We are trapped in our expectations a lot of the time and they make us miserable. We tend to think about how we wish the world was instead of experiencing how it is. Part of what I’ve learned from meditation practice over the years is how to be here with what’s happening, instead of thinking about being somewhere else. Because being here now is all we can really do. We can decide how fully to experience our situation.

And, like me that day, we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that haven’t even happened. This is anxiety, something I’m very familiar with. Suffering because we’re waiting for bad things to happen instead of just being here.

It was cloudy and rainy when we headed for Lathrop, actually some land outside of the town of Lathrop, I think. The place we went is in the country. I live in Kansas City, far removed from such places. I didn’t even learn the difference between a gravel road and a dirt road until I was an adult. So, going to the country is like a little adventure for me every time, where things are quieter and there aren’t so many people around all the time.

It was only a little rainy, the vague drizzle that tends to come and go. As totality was approaching it stopped raining completely. But there were still lots of clouds in the sky. The sun only occasionally coming out from behind them. We had to keep looking up once in a while with our eclipse glasses, to see the moon slowly making it’s way across.

I focused my awareness to just be fully present, to not worry about what would or would not happen. I don’t mean to say that it was easy, but it was necessary. It would have been easy to ruin the experience for myself instead, just thinking about how things could have been different instead of dwelling in the moment.

Around 12:50 crickets started chirping. They thought night was approaching.

It slowly got darker and darker. When totality came, we couldn’t see the sun. It was behind clouds. So, I didn’t get to see any of those cool solar flares or anything. But it really does look like a 360 degree sunset. I saw the sky toward the horizon being that orangish pinkish color that you only see when the sun is going down.

And I saw day turn into night. Two and a half minutes of darkness in the middle of the day.

It was awe inspiring.

People in other places probably got a better view of the sun. But my expectations of wonder were met. I can’t express the feeling that rose in me as I saw this amazing cosmic event.

The world seemed to stop for those two and a half minutes.

Was it what I expected and wished for? No.

But how often is life that way?

This was an amazing experience, a transcendent gift from the natural world. The sun was blotted out from the sky and day turned into night. Ancient people were often terrified by eclipses. We just face them with wonder now. There is a lot of wonder in an eclipse and the truth is it surpassed my expectations.

 

*also published on Patheos.

Posted in Patheos, Uncategorized

Lotus

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. You can see it all over the place in Buddhist art. It’s really common for images of Bodhisattvas to be seen sitting on giant lotus flowers, and maybe holding small ones too.

One of the most well known mantras “OM MANI PADME HUM” means “the jewel in the lotus.” Chanting this mantra is declaring our own intent to attain Enlightenment.

Different colored lotus flowers are said to have different meanings in Buddhist symbolism. The blue lotus represents Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom. The gold lotus represents the spiritual Enlightenment of all awakened beings. The pink lotus represents the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The red lotus represents Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and it’s said to represent our pure true nature. The white lotus represent purity, a state in which we aren’t afflicted by the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. The purple lotus represents the mystical path.

There’s an additional layer of meaning. A lotus that is fully open represents full and complete Enlightenment. A lotus that’s closed represents the earliest stages on the path.

The lotus is significant because it’s beautiful and pure. But it came out of muddy water. Out of impurity comes purity.

We are the same. We come out of our messy human lives. We exist in a great deal of suffering, like the muddy water. Many of us have had horrendous circumstances in our lives. People we care about die. We struggle in daily life. And most of us have made decisions that are absolutely awful. (I know I have). We are mired in delusion and this is like the muddy water.

But, like the lotus, we can rise above it.

When we rise above the suffering of our lives, when we let go of the attachments that don’t serve us well, when we overcome the preconceptions that are harmful to our well being, we are rising out of the water. When we purify our minds, we are rising from the muddy water, beautiful and pure. And as we travel on the spiritual journey, our lotus blooms.

This is our spiritual journey. To come out of this delusion and bloom as pure and Enlightened beings is the essence of the Bodhisattva’s journey. We exist in the muddy water of suffering, but we are rising above the suffering in transforming ourselves. The lotus reminds us that even in the worst, most stained and deluded circumstances we can rise above things. We can transform ourselves.

But the truth is the lotus was pure the whole time, even before it bloomed, even before it rose above the water. It’s nature didn’t change. It’s purity simply emerged. We are the same way. Our Buddha nature is our true nature. Our Enlightenment is right here right now. We just have to emerge and bloom.

 

Lotus