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Posted in anxiety, Uncategorized

Touch of Grey

I’m not sure whether to say “I have a touch of autism” or “I’m at the very edge of the autism spectrum”. But there it is, plain and out in the open for everyone to see. Totally exposed and vulnerable.

I was tested for it last year. I’m in the range of just barely detectable.

When they had me my parents were over 40. I also had childhood epilepsy, which stopped presenting symptoms as I grew up. Both of those things have strong ties to autism. If they tested kids for autism back then as much as they do now, I probably would have been tested.

I don’t know how to talk about it, really. When you think of someone with autism, you probably don’t think of someone like me. So I’ve been reluctant to tell people. I’m a whole lot more comfortable writing about it. If you wish I had told you, I’m sorry. Right now I’m just wondering if some people reading this won’t believe it.

But I do have a lot of the traits associated with autism, it just wasn’t clear until I found out. That’s how life is sometimes, like a difficult riddle that you can’t figure out. Once the answer appears you realize it’s been really clear the whole time.

Sometimes I pay attention to the wrong things. Sometimes my memory picks up the weirdest details and forgets things that should be easy to remember. And I get lost very easily. I’ve been known to hurt myself when I’m really upset. And I’m sensitive to sound, simple things like hearing music while I’m in a conversation is challenging for me.

In social situations I don’t always know how to behave. And sometimes I stare at people. There are aspects of social interaction that are just common sense for other people, things that everyone knows but no one talks about. Those are the things that are lots on me. For the longest time I believed I just had social anxiety. But it’s a little more complex than that.

I suspect my affinity for meditation and other contemplative practices is directly tied to how my brain works. I sit and read books on meditation and Buddhist practice all the time. That’s not because I’m a perfect Buddhist (I assure you I am not). It’s because that’s what interests me.

In ancient cultures people like me had special roles as shamans, fortunetellers, or monks.

Just a little different.

It’s really really helped me understand myself  a lot more.

Anyway, I didn’t write this as a plea for attention, although I wonder if someone reading this will think that. I wrote it so that if there are other people like me they won’t feel alone. And because the only way to remove the stigma from things like this is to talk about it.

 

Posted in meditation, Uncategorized

Simplicity in Shamatha

Shamatha is a simple meditation style. The point is to free ourselves from delusion. We dwell in delusion all the time, but as long as we understand that and cultivate discipline, shamatha can help us transform ourselves. It’s about being here now. When we aren’t fully present we make all sorts of mistakes.

Shamatha is based on stabilizing our body, speech and mind. We want to have mindfulness of physical experience, mindfulness of emotions, and mindfulness of discursive thoughts.

To free ourselves from delusion we practice. We sit and meditate. Through meditation we develop a state of awareness, both when we’re meditating and off the cushion in daily life. In shamatha we let go. We pay attention to the things that arise and we simply let them go.

In shamatha we are just dwelling in mindfulness. We are engaging in one pointed awareness. Mindfulness manifests in us in a sense that we are actually present in what we’re doing. We train our minds to just pass through, instead of attaching to them.

Our development of awareness is based on our mindfulness practice. We strive to be present, just being, just here. Shamatha is the point at which we behave like a Buddha. It is simple and doable. Being here without preconceptions or discursive thoughts or daydreams is possible. Mindfulness isn’t really religious or even spiritual, it’s just being here. As you go it becomes more natural.

Meditation is about experiencing reality in being as real as possible in our own existence. We train our minds to experience reality directly. By practicing meditation we are following the Buddha’s example and going through what he went through. It’s important to remember that he was a regular person like us, not a god or a spirit.

SIMPLE SHAMATHA INSTRUCTIONS

Set a timer. You want to set a time for your sit, rather than just sit until you feel like getting up.

Sit and arrange yourself. Posture is important. Your head and shoulders need to be straight and uplifted. Keep your back straight and never slouch. When we slouch we start to lose our awareness. Upright sitting helps our back be free of strain and helps us avoid sleepiness. Sit with your legs either in the half lotus or just the cross-legged position. Relax your eyes. Don’t focus on anything.

Put your hands in either the cosmic mudra or the relaxing mind mudra. The cosmic mudra consists of placing on hand on top of the other, face up. Gently touch your thumbs together, making a circle. The relaxing mind mudra consists of simply resting your hands on your knees.

Feel the cushion beneath you and make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Feel yourself breathing. Keep your mouth slightly open, so you’re breathing through both your nose and your mouth.

Feel the breath coming into and going out of your body. As we pay attention to the in breath and the out breath, we can feel our awareness expand. Every time a stray thought or distraction comes into your mind, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simply bring your attention back to your sensation of breathing every time a thought comes into your mind.

Just be here.


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Posted in Three Trainings, Uncategorized

What Do You Mean By “Wisdom”?

It’s an important virtue in Buddhism.

It’s one of the Three Trainings, along with Virtue and Meditation.

But, Wisdom is not always well defined. We sometimes blur the line between wisdom and knowledge, or between wisdom and intellect. These things aren’t the same.

But What is Wisdom, Really?

To me, wisdom means an intuitive understanding of the Dharma.

We can understand concepts like impermanence, emptiness, and interconnectedness on an intellectual level without so much difficulty. It’s easy to memorize and recite the four noble truths or our favorite sutras, but memorization isn’t wisdom. If it was, then the directions for becoming wise would be simple and straightforward. It’s easy to say that “ego is an illusion.” but to really understand that in our minds is something different.

Understanding interconnectedness is knowledge. Wisdom is being interconnectedness—understanding and acting on our interconnectedness in everything that we do. It is much easier said than done.

Knowledge consists of words, letters, and concepts. Wisdom is beyond concepts.

We can learn about the Dharma all we want. There are endless things we can read and we are lucky to live in a time when that is the case. There was a time when many Buddhist teachings were hard to find. That is not so anymore. In fact, more old texts are getting translated all the time.

And that’s good. Knowledge is important too.

But we have to actually practice the Dharma to gain wisdom.

It isn’t just something to learn about. It’s something to do.

The Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki once said,

“There are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened action.”

When we engage with wisdom we are enlightened, we are experiencing enlightenment.

 

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Posted in Mahayana, Uncategorized

The Six Perfections

The six perfections are: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom.

 

The Perfection of Generosity

The perfection of generosity represents more than just giving material things. Obviously, it does represent giving money or items to the needy. It also represents giving your time, things like helping a friend move or spending time comforting someone who is suffering from a loss.

We can also give someone less tangible things, like our love, respect, or patience. We can offer stability, being reliable. If we make plans with someone and keep those plans, we are giving them stability. We can give someone space when they want to be alone, or quiet when they are being bothered by too much noise.

The practice of generosity is beneficial to us. It increases our confidence and self-esteem. It also helps lessen our attachments. If we give material things, it helps us lessen our attachment to material things. Cultivating generosity is helpful in developing love, joy, and compassion.

 

The Perfection of Virtue

This perfection represents ethical behavior, morality, self-discipline, integrity, and nonviolence. The essence of this perfection is that through our love and compassion we do not harm others. We are devoted to being virtuous in our thoughts, speech, and actions. This practice of ethical conduct is an important aspect of our path.

We abstain from killing, stealing, lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, gossip, and greed. We follow this path so that we can enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and security in our lives, because through our virtuous behavior we are no longer creating suffering for ourselves and others. We must realize that unethical behavior is always the cause of suffering and unhappiness. Practicing the perfection of virtue, we are free of negativity, we cause no harm to others by our actions, our speech is kind and compassionate, and our thoughts are free of anger.

When our commitment is strong in the perfection of virtue we naturally become more positive.

 

The Perfection of Patience

This perfection is the enlightened quality of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and acceptance. The essence of this perfection of patience is the strength of mind and heart that enables us to face the challenges and difficulties of life without losing our composure and inner tranquility. We embrace and forbear adversity, insult, distress, and the wrongs of others with patience and tolerance, free of resentment, irritation, emotional reactivity, or retaliation.

We cultivate the ability to be loving and compassionate in the face of criticism, misunderstanding, or aggression.

The ability to endure, to have forbearance, is an important part of the path. In practicing this perfection of patience and forbearance, we never give up on or abandon others—we help them cross over the sea of suffering. We maintain our inner peace, calmness, and equanimity under all circumstances, having enduring patience and tolerance for ourselves and others.

With the strength of patience, we maintain our effort and enthusiasm in our Dharma practice.

 

The Perfection of Diligence

The fourth perfection is diligence. It involves continuing to persevere when the path is difficult. It includes right effort, enthusiasm, and the energy needed to overcome unwholesome thoughts and attitudes as well as the cultivation of positive virtues, study of Dharma and the choice of right actions.

Diligence requires eagerness and sharp interest in the path. It requires active bodily or mental strength to improve our personality for individual enlightenment and supreme Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings. We need the energy of diligence to stay on the path.

When we are on the right path, we will be diligent in studying ourselves, in seeing the true reality, and in having the sustained energy needed to attain Buddhahood. Through diligence we can generate great compassion to help others and ourselves.

 

The Perfection of Concentration

This perfection represents concentration, meditation, contemplation, and mental stability. Our minds have the tendency to be very distracted and restless, always moving from one thought or feeling to another. This can cause us to be heavily attached to our thoughts and emotions. The perfection of concentration means training our mind so that it does what we want it to. We stabilize our mind and emotions by striving to be mindful and aware in everything we do. When we train our minds in this way we achieve focus, composure, and tranquility.

Concentration allows the deep insight needed to challenge our delusions and attachments that cause confusion and suffering. This development of concentration requires diligence. In addition, when there is no practice of meditation and concentration, we cannot achieve the other perfections, because their essence, which is the inner awareness that comes from meditation, is lacking.

To attain wisdom, compassion, and enlightenment, it is essential that we develop the mind through concentration, meditation, and mindfulness.

 

The Perfection of Wisdom

This perfection is the enlightened quality of transcendental wisdom, insight, and the perfection of understanding. The essence of this perfection is the supreme wisdom, the highest understanding that living beings can attain, beyond words and completely free from the limitation of mere ideas, concepts, or intellectual knowledge.

The Perfection of Wisdom is the supreme wisdom that knows emptiness and the interconnectedness of all things.

The Perfection of Wisdom is a result of contemplation, meditation, and rightly understanding the nature of reality. The sixth paramita is what truly ties the other five together and is often considered the most important.

In a way, the Perfection of Wisdom is the sum of the other five perfections. If one is able cultivate generosity, patience, virtue, diligence, and concentration, this will naturally lead to the cultivation of wisdom. Wisdom represents an awareness of the truth of our nature. It is our intuition, our innate understanding that everything is interconnected, that we are one with everything. Just as a wave in the ocean is never really separate from the water although for a time it appears to be, so are we.

We are all waves and the universe is our ocean. When we act in accordance with this fact, then we are dwelling in nirvana. Recognizing our interconnectedness is unleashing our Buddha Nature. We have this wisdom already, we just have to clear away the delusion and unleash it.

 

 

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Posted in buddhism, Uncategorized

The Three Yanas

These are the three Yanas, or the three great sects, of Buddhism.

If we’re going to compare the three yanas to western religion, I think the appropriate thing is to liken them to the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although they have essentially the same foundation, those religions have some big differences. Buddhism is the same way. And just like those religions, Buddhism has many many subsects within the three yanas. We can’t suggest that these yanas are 100% separate, as each of them does penetrate the others a little. Vajrayana especially has lots of elements of the other two yanas within it. All three of these yanas have come to the west.

Hinayana is called “the path of the worthy ones”. It’s the oldest of the three yanas. It’s said that there were 18 hinayana sects and only one, Theravada (the way of the elders) has survived into the modern era. Hinayana is pragmatic and deep-rooted. It’s emphasis is on the core Buddhist teachings: the nature of the mind, meditation, suffering, impermanence, egolessness, personal development. It’s based on training in mindfulness, awareness, cultivating virtue and equanimity. It’s foundation is the refuge vow. Theravada Buddhism is mainly practiced in  Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

Mahayana is called “the path of the awakened beings”. It’s the biggest of the three yanas and there are numerous sects within the Mahayana, to name a few: zen, pure land, tendai, nichiren, and many many others. It’s founded upon the premise of combining wisdom and compassionate action. It’s about serving and saving others. In the Mahayana we cultivate wisdom through the view of emptiness. We practice lojong (mind training) based on cultivating the six perfections; generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom. It’s foundation is the bodhisattva vow. It’s mainly found in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Vajrayana is called “the path of fearless engagement”. It’s by far the smallest of the three yanas, but it’s well known because of figures like the Dalai Lama and Chogyam Trungpa. It’s based on devotion to one’s teacher, spiritual empowerment rituals, visualization meditations, and devotional practices that are almost like prayer. It’s considered a whole hearted practice, one you engage in with all of your energy. It’s foundation is samaya vows, vows of devotion to one’s teacher. Vajrayana Buddhism is mainly practiced by Tibetans (many of whom don’t live in Tibet) but there are also some Vajrayana branches from Japan that still exist.

 

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Posted in emptiness, Uncategorized

Emptiness

The story is that the Buddha gave the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, the first set of teachings, just after his Enlightenment. This teaching consisted of the Four Noble Truths.

And later there was a second turning. In the second turning the Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. This was a collection of numerous sutras designed to teach us about the true nature of reality, that all things are empty of inherent existent, that nothing exists apart from everything else, including us.

And later there was a third turning. The third turning was that Emptiness, far from being a nihilistic concept, can actually be explained as Buddha Nature, that we and all things are intimately and fundamentally connected.

It’s important to keep the Four Noble Truths in mind when we think about Emptiness. To truly understand Emptiness is to overcome our suffering. We can use analogies to help us think about Emptiness, but the only way we can really understand it is to experience it directly through meditation practice.

To say something is empty of inherent existence, we aren’t saying that it’s not real. We are only saying that things don’t exist independently and separately from other things. Everything is interconnected and dependent on everything else. In this way the entire universe is connected. The Buddha once described all things with the Indra’s Net analogy. This teaching is part of the foundation of the Huayan School of Buddhism, one of the precursors to Zen. He described all things as reflective gems reflecting each other in a giant net that encompasses the entire universe. In this way, all of the gems bare the reflection of all of the other gems.

Indra’s Net reminds me of a Mirror Maze I went to in Branson earlier this year. I was surrounded by mirrors. I could see myself in the mirror in from of me. But, because of the way the mirror walls and corridors were set up, I could also see myself in all of the other mirrors. My reflection was boundless and infinite.

The hope is that if we can see everything as empty of inherent existence then we can see ourselves in that way too. When we cling to this notion of a separate self, then we think of the things and people around us as “others”. It’s in this division that our suffering arises. It’s our continual conflict of self versus other. If we can drop this sense of duality and see that all things are connected, then we can overcome these negative emotions. To see yourself as one with everything is to love everything.

According to the doctrine of Emptiness any belief in a permanent reality is based on an assumption that makes no sense.

This whole teaching leads us to an understanding of another deep Buddhist teaching, Dependent Origination. That’s just the concept that things don’t exist on their own. We are all woven together in Indra’s Net and any separation that we perceive is a delusion. Our existence is connected to the existence of all other things. Looking at ourselves as separate beings who are alone is a mistake that leads to wrong views. Understanding that we are one with our environment is helpful to us.

Emptiness, in some ways, represents our potential. How many of our limitations are a result of how we perceive ourselves? If we are vast and interconnected, if we are boundless like the sky, then we aren’t held back by the ways we define ourselves. We are the universe.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving

To me Thanksgiving is a day of quiet reflection.

18 years ago today my mother died, three years after my father.

As of today they’ve both been gone from my life longer than they were here. It’s kind of strange to think of things that way. I could easily be full of bitterness or despair but I’m not.

What I am doing is quietly reflecting today.

My parents were kind and full of love and I’m thankful they were here at all. I’m thankful they were around long enough to get me to the beginning of adulthood.

I wonder sometimes how losing my parents has affected me. I’m sure it’s influenced who I am in a number of ways.

But I am who I am and things are what they are. I’ve made plenty of mistakes to get where I am now, but I can’t really say my life is bad at this point. I’m content.

I love you all. Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted in Uncategorized

Gratitude

Our culture seems to teach us that there’s no such thing as enough.

I can enjoy my iPhone, but I’m really very distracted by the fact that I want the newest iPhone. There’s always more for us to try to accumulate, when, in the end, possessions don’t really make us happy.

If we learned to appreciate what we have instead, we would be a lot happier.

We have certain needs that must be filled, of course. That’s not what I’m talking about. I am talking about desires that go above and beyond our needs. The only way not having the things we want can make us unhappy is if we decide it can make us unhappy.

Gratitude can help us deal with the poisons of greed, jealousy, resentment, and grief. When we are grateful we do not wish for more than we have, but appreciate that which is already present in our lives. We do not look upon the good fortune of others and feel jealous.

The desire for more can be boundless and endless—there is always one more thing to want.

Gratitude is something that can occur in us us spontaneously, but it also can be cultivated. The more we practice it, the less room there is for mental poisons to take root.

The desire to always want more is a big part of Buddhist philosophy. The second noble truth states that suffering is a result of attachment.

In this sense, to cravings that can never truly be fulfilled.

But, if we cultivate gratitude and practice the noble eightfold path, then we can work toward overcoming this problem.

Posted in Uncategorized

Getting Out Of Our Own Way

“Flow with whatever may happen.”

~ Tao Te Ching

Our true self is always open and free—the only thing stopping us from realizing that truth is ourselves.

We get in our own way.

This applies not just to our spiritual practice, but to many of our goals in life, the big goals and the smaller goals. We are the cause of many of our own problems—not all of our problems, but a lot more of them than we realize.

The number one way of getting out of our own way is simply becoming aware. We meditate to train our awareness. We want to become more aware of ourselves and the things we do.

If we simply can understand what we are doing to get in our own way, then solutions become easier.

How do we get in our own way?

In Buddhism, we talk about the Three Poisons—greed, aversion and delusion. These three poisons all come from within us and they cause a lot of our suffering. When we are guided by these poisons, we are causing ourselves to suffer.

The first poison is greed or desire: I want, I need, give it to me, please, please please I really want it. I need to get it and I need to figure out a way to get it. Maybe I can just take it.

Greed interrupts the natural flow of things. Adding my desire into the equation of life, trying to change or alter the way things are to bring me satisfaction, ultimately can lead to suffering. We often want things that we don’t need and we sometimes want them so much that we get upset.

We also sometimes want things that are incredibly unrealistic.

Aversion or hatred is the second poison. Aversion is essentially rejection—get that thing away from me. Hatred and aversion arise in response to something we don’t like or want to happen to us. It often leads us to push away, at worst culminating in violence. Hatred and anger can overwhelm us, causing us to act in negative ways in order to get relief from these feelings.

Sometimes, pain can’t be avoided, of course, but we make things worse for ourselves when we get angry or stressed out about it. Obviously bad things are going to happen and we want to avoid them and we should try, but at the same time, we shouldn’t become obsessed about bad things.

We tend to worry about things that are unrealistic too. And we tend to magnify things. If something bad happens and we get angry, we are making ourselves suffer more. Anger doesn’t help. It only contributes to our negative feelings.

The third poison is ignorance or delusion—this poison follows directly from the other two. Our greed and anger leads us to a sense of separation. To live with that separation I make up a story or narrative to explain who I am and why my greed and anger are justified. More and more of my true self is lost and I live in the dream of my narrative.

This is a fundamental delusion. The more rigid we become trying to justify and bolster our story, the more we suffer, and the more we cause suffering for those around us.

So what can we do about this?

Awareness. Moment-to-moment awareness is what we talk about in Buddhism. If my mind is here and now, living in this moment instead of in some kind of delusional fantasy, then I am not polluted by the three poisons. Things are going to happen—the universe is going to unfold however it unfolds. We can’t control everything.

The only thing we can really and truly control is ourselves. We can control how we respond to things. Sometimes, it can be very difficult.

Understanding our own actions and responses is the first step in getting out of our own way.

It is a big step.

If we practice meditation, we can learn to be more aware of our minds.

This is important.