Posted in buddhism

The Passing of Michael Stone

Michael Stone was a pretty famous Buddhist teacher from Canada.
I’m not going to lie to you and say I was a fan, as people often do when celebrities die. I had heard his name, but I didn’t really know anything about him, to be quite honest. I know that he taught Buddhism and Yoga.
He was a non-traditional Buddhist teacher. He studied with Zen and Insight meditation teachers. He believed Buddhism didn’t have to be held back by tradition. He famously said on his website “I don’t wear robes.”
From his website:
“And I believe in depth without dogma. I’m interested in an ethics-based spirituality that is sophisticated and accessible for contemporary, urban people. The majority of people who study with me don’t consider themselves to be spiritual. They have likely read about meditative practices, but have never studied with a teacher. The thing they have in common is the desire to actively respond to personal, environmental, and economic challenges. They’re also interested in learning how to work with their minds rather than adopting a new belief system.”
He was passionate about taking Buddhism out into the world. He believed in engagement, and actively trying to make the world a better place. He was a true Bodhisattva.
It was shocking when he went into a coma. It was shocking when he died. It was shocking when his family announced that he had bipolar disorder and that he had opioids in his system.
He was 42 years old and he left behind a family.
His story speaks to me for a couple of reasons. I’m a father, just like him, and I’m 37—only a few years younger than he was when he died. And, of course I think of myself as a non-traditional Buddhist teacher too, but I’m not nearly at his level.
And the nature of his death is important too.
After he passed his family released a statement that he had bipolar disorder and that he had opioids in his system at the time of his death. These are two things we don’t talk about as a society, very much.
The first is mental illness. People are afraid to talk about it. In some circles people still think of mental illness as a weakness, or something to get over. But, a lot of us have mental illnesses. They are everywhere and they are real, and having a mental illness certainly doesn’t make you weak. We can see very successful people who struggle with mental illness, just like Michael Stone did. Like so many others.
There’s a huge tendency to think that Buddhist teachers are better than us (especially really talented teachers like Michael Stone) or that they’re somehow beyond the problems that all human beings have. But they aren’t.
We’re all human and we all have these frailties.
And then there are the opioids. I don’t know if he was an addict or not. I think that word gets thrown around too often sometimes. But I do know that opioids are increasingly a problem and we aren’t talking about it much. What they found in his system was a drug called fentanyl, which is said to be 50 times more potent than morphine. That sentence blows my mind: 50 times more potent than morphine.
According to Canadian news sources, fentanyl overdoses are on the rise, and it’s on the rise here in America too. It’s something going on all over the place and we just aren’t talking about it much (or maybe not talking about it enough).
I don’t know if he was a drug addict or not, but I know that there’s a stigma around drug addiction and that’s something that we, as a society, have to figure out how to deal with. People are afraid to get help because they’re afraid of being judged or criticized.
We need to move beyond the belief that mental illnesses and drug addictions are weaknesses, or that the people having these experiences are losers. Michael Stone is not who you imagine when you think of someone dying from opioids—not by a long shot. He was a very successful spiritual teacher and the world is a worse place without him.
It just shows that this can happen to anyone, even those we least expect.
 
if you want to help Michael Stone’s family, you can donate here. It’s a good cause.
https://www.gofundme.com/carina-stone-family-fund

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Posted in lojong

Lojong Point One: Train In The Preliminaries

POINT ONE: Train in the Preliminaries

1)Resolve to Begin

This involves everything that has led us to the path of the Bodhisattva. It’s hard to view our past as part of the path, especially when our past may have been particularly difficult. But the truth is everything that’s happened to us before now has led us to this training. In training in the preliminaries we take a good hard look at ourselves and the things that have led us to who we are and what we are doing. When we look at our lives honestly we can see all sorts of things we may not have noticed. We have to see that the path we have been on isn’t serving us or others as well as it could and we have to strive to be on a better path.

Cultivating a regular meditation practice is another way we train in the preliminaries. It’s very important to have time on the cushion and we have to always keep that in mind. Meditation is foundational and it’s importance can’t be overestimated. Meditate regularly.

It’s said that we should keep four things in mind, which are called The Four Reminders. We need to reflect on these reminders over and over. They are taken as our inspiration on the path.

These are:

  1. The preciousness and rarity of human life, being born in a time and place where we are lucky enough to study the dharma. There have been plenty of times and places throughout history (and there still are some today) where the dharma was not available at all. Today we not only have access to the dharma but also to a great wealth of teachings.
  2. The reality of death, that life is temporary and can end at any moment. Every day we are getting older and drawing closer to our end. This means we should put a great focus on what’s important to us.
  3. The power of karma, the way whatever we do puts us further in the chain of cause and effect. Everything we do has far reaching consequences.
  4. The inevitability of suffering for ourselves and  all other beings. Everyone suffers, just like we do. We need to keep that in mind when we’re dealing with others. we’re all struggling.

 

This slogan sets the tone for the whole thing. It establishes the difference between the realm of suffering, which is pain, neurosis, and egotism, and the other shore, which is openness, gentleness, and freedom. This is where we set our intention to recognize the importance of the spiritual path.

Posted in interfaith, Uncategorized

My Friend Krishna

Krishna was a nice old Indian man. He was always in a good mood and very pleasant to be around. He was very nice.

He sat next to me at work for two years and he talked to me every single day.

I think a lot of the time we don’t really think of the people we work with as having a big part in our lives.

I’m not sure it’s right to call us close or even friends, really. But he passed away and I am feeling the loss. Now that desk to my left at work is empty.

I remember the first time we talked. Two years ago he asked me if I was a Buddhist. Everyone knows that I am. I’m as “out of the meditation closet” as you can be. I have Buddhist tattoos. Everyone knows I’m a Buddhist and that it’s a big part of my life.

I told him that I am a Buddhist. He asked if I have a temple that I go to and I told him about the Rime Center.  He told me that he attends the Hindu temple in Shawnee, which I had actually visited that same year.

He told me he was  Hindu. He had been raised in Hinduism and he was really interested in talking about spirituality with me. He didn’t know much about Buddhism, but he really like discussing where our beliefs intersected.

There was one other thing.

He asked me about the Dalai Lama’s health. Really he asked if the Dalai Lama’s health was a big concern, something people were worried about.

I said, “Well, I know he’s been having health problems for years now. I don’t know if he will die soon, but he is in his late 70s…so, you know…” (the Dalai Lama is 81 at the time of this writing. )

Krishna just laughed and said, “I’m in my late 70s. What do you mean?”

So, that was embarrassing. But, luckily he was such a positive thinking person that he didn’t get offended at all.

I was clueless. I have trouble realizing how old people are sometimes.

It was a rude thing to say anyway, but I believe in being completely open and honest here. I hope the Dalai Lama lives for many more years.

Anyway, I sat by Krishna for 2 years. We talked about spirituality a lot.

Some of you reading this may not be aware that Hinduism and Buddhism have the same roots and they have a lot of similarities. He thought talking to me was interesting.

Earlier this year he asked me to tell him how to meditate. This was surreal. He had been raised as a Hindu. He had been practicing Hinduism for much longer than I had even been alive. And Hinduism is a meditative religion, just like Buddhism is.

There something we don’t always realize here in the west. There are plenty of people who were raised in Hinduism and Buddhism that don’t meditate, that don’t even know how.

That sounds weird, until we think about how many people raised in Christianity don’t pray or study the Bible. Plenty of them, right?

Anyway, I taught him how to practice breathing meditation. I guess at the temple he went to there was a lot of chanting and bowing, but not all that much meditation instruction.

Last week he told me he wanted to learn more about Buddhism. He asked me to bring a book in, something he could read and get through pretty fast, something simple. A lot of people ask me to recommend books. This is not a big deal.

I did bring in a book for him. I brought it in last week. But I never had the opportunity to give it to him. He never came to work again. And he passed away over the weekend.

He lived a full life and he died surrounded by his loved ones. His death was not a big surprise. He had been struggling with his health for a while.

It occurred to me that if my own father hadn’t passed away 21 years ago, he’d be the same age as Krishna.

Krishna was a wonderful man and my heart is with his family today.

Posted in Uncategorized

I sometimes wonder if losing my parents caused me to find Buddhism.

“To study Buddhism is to study ourselves. To study ourselves is to forget ourselves”

-Dogen

 

I sometimes wonder if losing my parents when I was a teenager has been a contributing factor in my interest in Buddhism. The realities of suffering and impermanence are important concepts in Buddhism. I experienced those realities firsthand as a teenager. I watched each of my parents die slow and painful deaths. That could be why I started thinking about deep questions regarding suffering and the causes of suffering.

The Buddha didn’t experience anything like that, of course. If anything, his experience was the opposite. He was shielded from all kinds of suffering by his protective father. He had every possible joy available to him for his entire life. That’s not something most of us can relate to very well.

The 13th century Japanese Zen master Dogen, on the other hand, had an entirely different experience from the Buddha. He was inspired by personal tragedy and I find his story to be something I can relate to and understand. He lost his father at the age of 2 and his mother at the age of 7. He became a young orphan and that is how he learned the realities of suffering and impermanence, just as I did as a teenager. I lost my father when I was 15 and my mother when I was 19. Not nearly as young as Dogen, but certainly before I was ready to become a full adult. I think any child suffers a great deal when their parents pass before their time.

On her deathbed, Dogen’s mother recognized the purity of her son’s heart. She told him to devote his life to benefiting others. My mother told me the same thing on her deathbed. She said to me, “Always be a good person. Be kind to others.”

Dogen’s experience of great suffering inspired him to become a Buddhist monk. He devoted his life to understanding suffering, just as the Buddha had 1800 years earlier. He developed great compassion and an inquiring mind. I developed these as well. Was it the result of personal tragedy? I suppose there’s no way to tell, but his story really speaks to me on a personal level.
Dogen went on to become a very important figure in Zen Buddhism, even founding his own sect. I don’t truly want to compare myself to him. I only wanted to say that I find parallels between his story and my own.