daecabhir: (Calvin's Selective Reality)

So, you've probably seen a renewed online presence from me, in the form of my daily Twitter re-cap via LoudTwitter. Micro-blogging is easier for me than sitting down at the keyboard and composing anything of substance these days, but it is less than adequate for communicating the details within the context of the big picture. If you've been reading my Twitter stream, you'll have noticed a thread about a significant change I've made semi-coincidentally with the calendar year, to which the subject of this post points...

On going 'cold tofu'... )

Periodic updates on this topic to follow...

daecabhir: (Firefly Zen)
Five Refugees and a Bodhisattva
Originally uploaded by daecabhir.

On September 22, I and five others from the Baltimore sangha traveled to Washington, D.C. I was there to take my Bodhisattva vow, while Frank, Jeff, Sue, Emily and Melanie were there to take their Refuge vows. The funny thing is, the way Frank conducts himself, I thought he'd already taken his Bodhisattva vow. Emily is Sue and Jeff's daughter, whom I first met when I coordinated her Level V in June. Melanie is my buddy, and a beautfiul soul.

Acharya Richard John was again the preceptor this year, as I took my own Refuge vows with him last fall. The Bodhisattva vow ceremony is at once both more formal and more relaxed than that of the Refuge vow ceremony, at least as performed by the Acharya. Taking the Bodhisattva vow is a very serious step on the Buddhist path, as the vow is basically making a commitment to put the good of others ahead of one's own wants and desires, a commitment to do no harm through action or inaction, and a commitment to work for the rest of this lifetime and in all future lifetimes for the benefit of others. It is not about making yourself feel good because you are helping others, it is about helping others because it is the right thing to do.

Part of the vow ceremony, which in our tradition is a closed ceremony (only open to those who are taking their vows and those who have already taken the vow), is an offering to the teacher. The offering should be something of value, but most importantly it should be an act of letting go of "attachment", in that what is offered should be something that is perhaps painful or not very easy to let go. From the Buddhist point of view, it is this attachment to material things, to the belief that we have a "self" that is somehow separate from everyone else, to the neuroses that we have created for ourselves, that causes us to suffer. I had a bit of difficulty with this, because so much of what I believed I am hooked by is not material, but then I realized that there are material things that symbolize my attachment to how I view myself, how I value myself.

So after 20 years, I parted with something that symbolizes my attachment to a concept of who I am or want to be, that symbolizes my habitual pattern of behavior that involves buying things to somehow make myself appear better or feel better. It caused rather a bit of a stir, and they had to bring in a sturdier offering table for it (and then Acharya John told me to go ahead and put it down next to the table): my Rickenbacker 4000 bass guitar. I bought it while in college, because I had this fantasy of becoming a bass guitarist, with all the trappings that came with it. Did I ever really make the effort to learn how to play it? No. Did I distract myself with fantasy, delude myself into thinking that "one day..."? Yes. Was it painful to part with it? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Yes.

The reason maitri, or "loving kindess towards oneself" is stressed very early on in our tradition is that the Buddhist path of meditation is not a path where you try to "transcend" all the shitty stuff in your life, to obtain joy by somehow no longer feeling those things that have caused you pain. Quite the contrary - you come face to face with your own neuroses, your own embarassing habitual behaviors, your own dirty laundry, so that you can see what you are really doing, and then break the cycle of self deception, self distraction and sometimes self destruction. If you do not learn to love yourself - which is, from my own experience, the hardest thing I have to work with - then you will discover these things about yourself, and then beat yourself up for being a "bad person". Which totally misses the point.

So, when you take refuge, you receive a refuge name. And when you take the Bodhisattva vow, you receive your bodhisattva name. The names are usually given by the preceptor based on their experience with you, and are usually intended to point out qualities within you that may need to be developed (wait for the irony, it's coming), and can be used as part of one's practice to help uncover one's own buddha nature. My refuge name is Jigme Chodzin, which means "Fearless Dharma-holder", and Acharya John made it clear to me that he'd served me up a pretty tall order there. My bodhisattva name is "Champa Riwo", which means "Maitri Mountain" - see the irony here? Something I need to work with? Needless to say, I'll be contemplating that name for years to come.

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

One of the things that Shambhala has brought into my life is poetry. Apparently Buddhists are rather attracted to poetry, or so it would seem from simple observation. Perhaps it is the vividness of experience captured in the words of the poet, or perhaps it is the willingness of the poet to expose their immediate feelings through meter and verse. The origins or spiritual leanings of the poet do not seem to be important - some of the more powerful poems I have been fortunate to encounter are from decidedly Christian poets, who seem to have touched the heart of their connection to their deity. Often the poem offered by a fellow practitioner is timely and appropriate, even if the one offering the poem is not aware of that fact.

Mary Oliver is a favorite amongst the locals, and we've shared a few of her poems during our Wednesday evening study group. Inspired by a poem from her collection Dream Works, I purchased a copy. As is my wont, I fanned through the pages, and let Fate decide which poem I would read.

As well you know, Fate has a sense of irony, if not outright humor. I ended up on The Journey, and was stopped in my tracks. Given the current circumstances, this is poignant to say the least.

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

I feel like I should turn in my "Geek Cred" card, since I'm probably the only person in my group of geek contemporaries who didn't know from whence came that quote. Yes, I must admit, I have never followed Babylon 5. Nor have I followed most of the "popular" SF series like ST:TNG and its cousins, SG1 or SG:Atlantis, or the new Dr. Who or new BSG. My television watching is sporadic at best, and most recently [livejournal.com profile] ravynmaniac and I have been working our way through the original black and white "Wild Wild West" series (and I've been working my way through "Charlie Jade" when the mood strikes me, after snagging a copy from [livejournal.com profile] pafischer). I've heard good things about a number of these SF television shows, but I just haven't had the time or the desire to get caught up in them.

That wasn't my topic for this post, but I do have a tendency to digress or go off on tangents, so it is what it is. For some reason, the quote came to mind when I was musing on the subject of "impermanence" as it pertains to Buddhism. At it's most basic level, "impermanence" is the principle that everything changes, be it at the macro- or microscopic level or anywhere in between. I am not the exactly the same person I was this time yesterday, as somewhere along the lines I have shed skin, my hair has grown by some small amount, I have excreted bodily waste, and I have probably read something that has caused a [potentially] inperceptible shift in my world view. Even mountains change, although the cycle of change is often on a grander scale, sometimes spanning centuries - but mountains settle and erode, are dug into by humans, animals and the roots of growing things, and occasionally are affected by upheavals of the earth.

As an aside, I wondered for quite a while why "Destruction" was one of the Endless in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics. It later dawned on me that destruction is part of the natural cycle - that without an ending, there is no beginning.

When presented with an explanation like that, most rational people will nod their heads and agree that this is indeed the way of the world. So why is "impermanence" such a foundational tenet of Buddhism? Because what I described above has a point of reference in the physical world, where people can see evidence of change and largely accept that change is part of the physical world. However, when our point of reference is more ephermeral, in the realm of emotion, perception and thoughts, human beings are far less accepting of change. That the human body will over time eventually break down, and ultimately cease to function, is something that we can acknowledge intellectually. That the person residing in that human body will cease to exist is something that causes us great pain, even though that is as much a part of the way the world works as the physical death and decay of the human body.

Which brings me around to the topic of "attachment". The sanskrit word shenpa is translated traditionally as "attachment", and can be characterized by an unwillingness to let go of "things" - material goods, relationships, the lives of others or our own life for that matter. As with "impermanence", there are other aspects to "attachment", but I think that it is this meaning within which I have been working of late. We do not have a reaction to change until change affects us directly - that is to say, until change affects something to which we are "attached". Our favorite glass gets broken, our new car gets wrecked, our favorite restaurant closes or stops serving our favorite dish, we break up with our significant other, our best friend moves away to follow work, we lose a family member. All these things bring us suffering, because we do not want to accept that everything changes, that nothing lasts forever, that we must let go of something that we have invested with so much meaning.

This isn't to say that one should not become "attached" to someone in the sense of loving them, of caring about them, of enjoying their presence in your life. It doesn't mean that when someone dies, when a relationship ends, when a loved on moves away, that there isn't a feeling of pain, or that one should somehow stifle that feeling of pain. The experience of pain from loss at its most basic level is an honest pain, one from which we should neither turn away or run. Love and compassion are integral components of a healthy life. However, when we become "attached" to someone such that they in a sense become more of a possession, we begin to suffer needlessly. When someone dies, we cannot let them go, we cannot move on with our lives. When in a relationship, we worry about what the other person is thinking, what they are feeling, are the happy with me, are they angry with me, do they want to stay or do they want to go.

All of this because change is inevitable, because everything is impermanent, because we cannot accept change when it comes to things to which we are attached. It's not that we shouldn't care, it's that we shouldn't get hung up on it. It isn't a stoic approach, it is a soft, open and compassionate approach. If we stop struggling against the inherent impermanence of our world at all levels, then we allow ourselves to be present for what we are experiencing, and therefore appreciate the vividness of the world in which we live. That includes the pleasure and the pain, the pleasant and unpleasant.

No boom today... boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow.

daecabhir: (Drama Queen)

This is the Latin over the door in the Oracle's kitchen in The Matrix. "thine own-self you must know", or more simply "know thyself". In many ways this is the path of the Buddhist - a simple instruction, taking many lifetimes to comprehend, and many lifetimes thereafter to cultivate an understanding of how the mind constantly obscures our view of reality "as it is" with storylines, excuses, and neuroses built over many lifetimes to support our dualistic notion of self.

A common misconception about Buddhism, and meditation in general, is that the goal is to somehow "transcend" reality. That through meditiation one cultivates a peaceful state of mind, so that the rigors of daily life cannot shake our peace and calm, achieving some kind of equilibrium that allows us to placidly withstand the assault of the human condition. Taking such an approach to meditiation is to actually turn one's back on the basic tenets of Buddhism, because what we are cultivating is not insulation from reality, not an ability to ignore the pain, suffering, happiness and joy around us - quite the opposite. The practices in which we engage are there to "wake us up", to set aside our habitual patterns of behavior that do harm to ourselves and others, to help us become more present and aware in everyday life. It isn't about insulating oneself; it is about opening oneself up further and further, allowing oneself to feel the joy and the pain that others are experiencing, that we are experiencing, without putting a filter of concepts and ideas about what is going on in everyone's head (including our own).

It's bloody hard, really. Perhaps one of the hardest things about being a practitioner is that at a certain point you lose the ability to totally delude yourself about what you are doing. The execuses, the denial, the neuroses that leave us immobile... they don't go away. What does go away is the ability to claim plausible deniability - at a certain point you become aware of your own thought patterns, your own habitual behaviors, and you know that you have a choice to make - that which is beneficial, and that which is not. Usually that which is not involves falling into one's addicitions, or destructive patterns of behavior, where we seek to escape into an activity that we swear will bring us happiness this time, even though it hasn't truly worked to date. Being a practioner doesn't mean that you don't induldge in this behavior... that's part of the many lifetimes bit... it just eventually means that you are painfully aware of the fact that you are engaging that kind of behavior, and that you could have chosen not to induldge - this time.

So, why do I bring this up? Because today was a classic illustration of how my mind works. It is not an unusual mind in many ways, as it does work much like everyone else's - dualistic, conceptual in nature, constantly making judgemnents of the nature of "for me, against me". My vice, if you will, is procrastination - it is how my strongest desires to avoid situations that are potentially painful, potentially disagreeable or unpleasant, are manifest. I avoid telephone conversations, because I loathe the phone. If a telephone conversation has the potential for unpleasantness or discomfort, I am doubly loathe to pick up the phone or even send an e-mail on the subject. If I ignore it, it will go away.


What brought this into stark relief today was an e-mail from [livejournal.com profile] lohquesse, because she and [livejournal.com profile] moliarity were in a bit of bind. I'll leave the specifics out, but suffice it to say it was not an unreasonable request. However, two elements were involved that hit my buttons hard. First, it would involve a telephone call whose outcome I could not predict at all, to see if I could acquire the necessary resources. Second, it would involve NOT working on the house today, instead driving out to Baltimore to lend assistance. I felt so much internal resistance to both of these tasks, that I was quite embarassed with myself... I felt rather the selfish prick, truth be told. In the grand scheme of things the favor being asked was not a huge one, and the benefit to [livejournal.com profile] lohquesse and [livejournal.com profile] moliarity would be substantial. And yet I had to lean on myself pretty hard to make the phone call (which was nowhere as unpleasant as I had convinced myself it would be), and then to drive out to Baltimore. Because I knew it was the right thing to do, and all I was doing was trying to avoid discomfort for myself.

This illustrates how difficult we make our lives, to avoid that which is unpleasant or perceived to be a pain in the neck, when simply doing what needs to be done takes less time and less stress. Hopefully something from today's lesson will stick.

daecabhir: (Charlie Brown Sigh)

Georgia killer executed after lethal injection moratorium

I used to be a supporter of the death penalty, a rather vocal one in fact. Over the past year or so my views have changed on the subject... I am... conflicted, I guess. There is a part of me that rails against paying for the incarceration of someone for decades who has in some way... forfeited their right to live, by taking the life of another. But there is a part of me that now asks if then in effect I believe that two wrongs make a right? Does taking the life of someone because they themselves have taken the life of another human being really "fix" anything, or does it ultimately only serve to propagate more hatred, more aggression, more dissatisfaction because the execution of a killer does not bring the closure one had hoped to obtain in the process?

I have never lost someone close to me through an act of murder, so I cannot profess to fully understand what thoughts and emotions torment those who have gone through such an experience. The loss of someone close due to old age, sickness or pure accident is traumatic enough - the loss of someone close through an intentional act of violence is beyond my ability to conceive. Yet I wonder if the trauma of such a loss is ever truly salved by the taking of the life of the murderer through execution, revenge or vigilante justice?

Am I advocating that murders simply be set free? No, of course not. Do I believe that everyone who has committed a crime of violence (i.e., murder, rape, abuse) can be rehabilitated and returned to normal society? No, not really. But right now I don't believe that the "solution" (if there is such a thing) is to take a life as punishment for taking a life. I don't have much in the way of alternatives at the moment, but violence in answer to violence only seems to perpetuate negative karma, and deep down inside I want to believe that there is a better answer.

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

One of the things I've been asked off and on since first starting meditation practice and then becoming a Buddhist is "What do you get out of all that sitting?". I've been hard pressed to explain to non-practioners, because so much of it is simply experiential... and I don't want to just fall back on "dharma jargon" which makes even less sense if you don't follow the Dharma. [livejournal.com profile] ravynmaniac has been better at articulating how I've changed, because she's had the opportunity to observe me in close quarters *wry grin*. However, I had an experience tonight that I think perhaps illustrates in a clear and simple way in which I have been changed by the practice of meditation and following the Dharma.

We have a cleaning service come in every other Tuesday - we admitted to ourselves a long time ago that we suck at housework, and so to ensure that the house does not fall into a truly disgusting state, we pay a service to take care of the bathrooms and other key areas of the house on a regular basis. Those of you who know us well know that we are constantly battling clutter, and therefore it should be no suprise to those people that the night before (or more often, the day of) the arrival of the cleaning service, we engage what Jeff Foxworthy so wittily described as "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" to make sure that the cleaning service can do their job.

This morning was no exception, and I had to take a couple of items out of the hallway and place them in my office so as to not impede vacuuming. As this happened just before my departure for work, I placed these items just inside the door of my office on the floor. Upon my return this evening, I blithely walked into my office with today's mail in my hands and almost fell over the small grouping of items that I had placed just inside the door this morning.

Immediately following the second or two that it took me to stop my forward momentum and catch my balance, I shook my head and had a good laugh... I was honestly and sincerely amused at the fact that I had been undone by my own actions, and that in mid-stumble I had been incredulous enough to wonder "What the heck am I stepping on?".

Why is this significant? Because even a year ago, I probably would have gotten pissed off and let fly with several choice invectives about the idiot that put obstacles in my path. Two years ago I might even have kicked the offending items, and seethed a bit. Tonight I didn't even start down that path as an initial reaction - my first and only reaction was one of amusement, at having been "hoist on my own petard", without self-denigration or any of the other self-destructive behaviors to which I am prone.

Am I somehow cured of angry responses? No, of course not. I'm sure I'll come up against a similar situation, and my nerves will be fried from work or something else, and I just may well explode. Backsliding happens... we're human. But maybe, just maybe, I'll catch myself mid-explosion and be able to head it off... not by getting angry or disgusted with myself, but by gently reminding myself that it's no big deal... whatever "it" might have been that caused me to react in anger.

Little by little, one can remember how to listen to the wisdom that is innate in each and every one of us. Of this I am now convinced.

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

[livejournal.com profile] ladysmith asked in response to a prior post, "So, if someone was interesting in starting to learn about Buddhism, where would you recommend they start?" Of course, my thoughts first turned to what book(s) I would recommend, but I realized that perhaps that wasn't the best way to approach things. This led me to further contemplate the question, which in turn led to more questions - such is the life of a Buddhist. *wry grin* So my answer to your question may be a little lengthier than expected [livejournal.com profile] ladysmith, and you may need to answer a couple of questions yourself along the way, but I hope that within my response you will find something usable. Note to everyone reading this post - the information herein is based on my own understanding of the teachings I have received, and my own experiences, so there is a distinct possibility of errors or inaccuracies.

Cut to spare those who may not be interested in this particular thread... with a warning that I may ramble a bit... )
daecabhir: (Firefly Zen)

The car is mostly packed, with just a box, my tea kit and my laptop to go. The last leg of my whirlwind dharma tour is about to begin, as I start my journey home. While I don't want to leave what has been my home for a month in the mountains of Vermont, I very much want to come back to [livejournal.com profile] ravynmaniac, my home, my birds and the challenges that await me. The sun is bright, and the air is crisp and clear, both good omens for the trip home and my re-entry into the world outside of the Karme Choling mandala. It is possible that I may post again briefly tonight, but more likely it will be tomorrow. For now it is OM GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA. Peace out from Barnet, Vermont.

daecabhir: (Firefly Zen)

I'm in the dining room at Karme Choling, getting ready to head down to the Samadhi Cushion Store to pick up some books and a few small items that found their way on to my list. I had picked up some things for my home shrine on the last trip down there, but there are a couple other items that may be of use for practice. One of my things to do during the four days that I am home before returning to work will be to clear space in my office for a shrine, and to go in search of an appropriate piece of furniture to use for the shrine at first. At some point I'll be looking at building a shrine box that is more in line with the design in use by the Shambhala lineage, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is "do what you can now, rather than wait until you can do everything, because that day will never come".

Insert interlude where G goes to Samadhi store, and spends more money than planned, mostly due to purchasing a hammered gong and a few more books than originally intended.

I actually got up for morning chants and sitting today, did some qi-gong after breakfast, and then participated in refuge practice*. Yesterday I elected to sleep in until breakfast, and do some reading before taking Robyn to the bus station. I did some sitting practice of my own yesterday afternoon, and attended the evening sitting and closing chants. The idea has been to apply some discipline to my practice while I am still in an environment where there are not a significant number of distractions from practicing and studying. Of course, one needs to do things to help them re-acclimate to their normal lives, so after dinner I accepted an invitation to visit the off-site residence Ashoka Bhavan for the purposes of sharing cigars and scotch on the front porch (generally speaking, consumption of alcohol on the premises is restricted to banquets, parties and various vajrayana practices). Miles had sat the first two weeks of dathun with us, and he's a hell of an interesting character, and we hit it off very well from the start. We were joined by a couple other staffers on the porch, just chatting against the backdrop of the river gurgling across the street from the house.

Under the heading of "how interesting", one of my fellow dathunees just came by to talk. I've exchanged maybe twenty or thirty words with her during the course of dathun, and we just had a conversation for like 20 minutes. I'm not complaining, I'm just a little surprised... I haven't exactly been the most gregarious of people during the course of dathun, and some folks (including this young lady) have been pretty quiet and kept somewhat to themselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this - although dathun is a group retreat, it is very intensely personal. The fact that we've all opened up is just amazing.

Ok, enough for now... I want to go take a walk, do some sitting and do some reading. So more later.

* Sayong Mipham Rinpoche, the current head of the Shambhala lineage, put together a practice involving chanting, visualization and contemplation for people who have taken refuge in our lineage to help them stay connected with the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) in their daily lives. This morning's refuge practice was going through that practice as a group, which was very helpful as a refresher since I've had limited opportunity to do the practice since I took refuge in September.
daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

And so most of the mandala has dispersed, heading their own separate ways - some going home, some going on walkabout, some heading into the great unknown. There were many good-byes, and much wishing peple well. I drove one of my fellow practioners down to the nearest bus station so that she could start to make her way home, and I may drive another one down on Tuesday. It's been kinda like a month-long family reunion where everyone managed to get closer rather than getting on each other's nerves. Thus last night and today have had a bittersweet flavor, in celebrating all that we shared, and in finally departing the space that we have shared for the past month. Yes, I am still raw... I don't expect that to change anytime soon, nor do I particularly want it to change... even though it can be painful, there is something about keeping oneself open that is liberating. I know that I will close up some over time... a dathun is in a way a very artificial setting, because the environment, the staff and the participants are all working together to create the circumstances under which we can be more open.

I'll be posting more thoughts on my dathun and post-dathun experience, but probably mostly to my Buddhism filter. If you're not on my Buddhism filter and want to be, just holler.

daecabhir: (Firefly Zen)

Dathun is officially over. The exodus has already begun, and will continue over the next few days. Apparently my karma is such that I have been allowed to not return to work until November 12, rather than on November 7 as originally planned. This is a good thing, as it allows me to take a slower re-entry trajectory back to the world outside Karme Choling, including delaying my departure from Vermont until Wednesday morning.

For those who are not practioners it is hard to describe - the past month having been an exercise in stripping away the armor or coccoon that we built around ourselves to "protect" us from feeling the intensity of the world. It leaves one raw, open and much more vulnerable to the intense emotions that others can manifest. If my ten days in Nova Scotia is any indicator, leaving this mandala that has suported our practice and allowed us to really open up will be painful. So a gradual return to the life that has been on hold for the past month is best.

I probably won't try catching up on LJ posts, since a month is just too much. If there was something important I should know about, send me e-mail. I'll be working through THAT backlog later in the week. The next few days will be spent studying, meditating and contemplating, along with walking the land here and serving as a taxi for a couple of folks who need rides. Hopeully this will help ease the transition back to "real life".

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

I have returned from ten days in Nova Scotia at Dorje Denma Ling, seven of which were spent in group retreat on more advanced Shambhala teachings, and the remainder spent receiving teachings from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. There is much for me to digest, and many things to do over the next week of a more mundane nature, but I am home now and heading for bed. Before I do, I'll leave you with two thoughts, which you might consider and perhaps include in your own spiritual practices:

May all sentient beings be free from suffering, and the root of suffering.

May all sentient beings enjoy happiness, and the root of happiness.

And if you can, please find a place in your prayers, spells or other supplications for the Buddhists of Burma who continue to suffer under the violent oppression of that country's rulership, and to truly appreciate the freedoms you have to engage in your spiritual practices.

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)

I haven't posted to this filter in a while, so I figured I would update my journal while some thoughts on the subject are fresh. My apologies for the length of the post, but alot of things just started flowing once I started typing. Many words, many thoughts, click here... )

daecabhir: (Default)

Brought to you by the good feeling of freshly trimmed fingernails, and an unusually early wake-up time...

Cut to save space on friends pages... long-winded run down on my so-called bachelor week, a visit from Allen and Sherri, an introduction to the Wii, and what's on deck for this week... )

daecabhir: (Enlightenment)
I'm setting up a filter for posts pertaining to my journey and observations along the Buddhist path. Some folks may not be terribly interested in the details of this unexpected spiritual awakening of mine, so to spare them the blathering and to keep some control over who sees my meanderings, I'm asking those of you who are interested to leave a comment here to that effect. Comments will remain screened for this post, and I'll post a message here shortly for y'all to verify that I've added you after you ask.


daecabhir: (Default)
Daecabhir, Lord of the Leaping Shadows

August 2017

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