Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I checked a book out of the library by Pema Chodron.... A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva.  It is based on The Way of the Bodhisattva, which was written over twelve centuries ago by Shantideva.  It's so groovy that the text survived the twelve centuries!
A beginning bodhisattva is a person who genuinely wants to alleviate suffering- their own and that of others.  It is amazing to even want to pursue such a goal.
A big fan of the Way of the Bodhisattva was Patrul Rinpoche...

Use the time of your life.
Develop your inner happiness.
Recognize the impermanence
of all outer pleasure.
Live as a Yogi
Do your spiritual practices.
Work as a Bodhisattva
for a happy world.
Become an Amitabha
a Buddha of love and light.
Turn your world into the paradise Sukhavati,
by unfolding the enlightenment energy within you.
Search you a spiritual master,
who knows the goal of enlightenment.
Change your world into a place of grace,
by understanding all the phenomena as spiritual exercises.
Dedicate your actions to the benefit of all beings.
Send all beings light.
Live for the happiness of all beings.
So you get the energy of light.

We are usually so preoccupied with our own comfort and security that we don't give much thought to what others might be going through.  But even though our lives may seem far from perfect, we have excellent circumstances!  We have the ability to free ourselves from the rigidity of self-absorption, and to not be indifferent to the suffering of our fellow beings.
What are some ways that you know to practice increasing your empathy and compassion and selflessness?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bernie and the Pope =)

Bernie Sanders for President

"If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort." - Pope Francis addressing Congress today
Brothers and Sisters: I am not a theologian, an expert on the Bible, or a Catholic. I am just a U.S. senator from the small state of Vermont.
But I am emailing you today to discuss Pope Francis in the hope that we can examine the very profound lessons that he is teaching people all over this world and some of the issues for which he is advocating.
Now, there are issues on which the pope and I disagree — like choice and marriage equality — but from the moment he was elected, Pope Francis immediately let it be known that he would be a different kind of pope, a different kind of religious leader. He forces us to address some of the major issues facing humanity: war, income and wealth inequality, poverty, unemployment, greed, the death penalty and other issues that too many prefer to ignore.
He is reaching out not just to the Catholic Church. He's reaching out to people all over the world with an incredibly strong message of social justice talking about the grotesque levels of wealth and income inequality.
Pope Francis is looking in the eyes of the wealthiest people around the world who make billions of dollars, and he is saying we cannot continue to ignore the needs of the poor, the needs of the sick, the dispossessed, the elderly people who are living alone, the young people who can't find jobs. He is saying that the accumulation of money, that the worship of money, is not what life should be about. We cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings.
He is asking us to create a new society where the economy works for all, and not just the wealthy and the powerful. He is asking us to be the kind of people whose happiness and well-being comes from serving others and being part of a human community, not spending our lives accumulating more and more wealth and power while oppressing others. He is saying that as a planet and as a people we have got to do better.
That's why I was so pleased that in his address to Congress today, Pope Francis spoke of Dorothy Day, who was a tireless advocate for the impoverished and working people in America. I think it was extraordinary that he cited her as one of the most important people in recent American history.
As the founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, Dorothy Day organized workers to stand up against the wealthy and powerful. Pope Francis said of her today in Congress:
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
The fact that the pope singled out Dorothy Day — a fierce advocate in the fight for economic justice — as one of the leaders he admires most is quite remarkable. We are living in a nation which worships the acquisition of money and great wealth, but turns its back on those in need. We are admiring people with billions of dollars, while we ignore people who sleep out on the streets. That must end.
Dorothy Day fought this fight, and as Pope Francis says, we must continue it. We need to move toward an economy which works for all, and not just the few.
We have so much poverty in a land of plenty. Together, we can work to make our country more fair for everybody.
I am glad that you are with me in this fight.
In solidarity,
Bernie Sanders

Sunday, August 30, 2015

it seems to have been more than a year since i have last written.  i shall now ramble a bit on the 12.89 month anniversary since my previous posting.
yesterday, eric and i went to our friend Sean's wedding with our new friend, Annie.  it was such a meaningful event for so many people.  it really was an honor to be there, at their farm, their home, and see the beautiful life and world they are co-creating there.  making it as organic farmers in modern America!  willing to work hard to keep at it despite questioning frequently why they are doing it.  there is a very good feeling of joy that exists there.
how i love to be nomadic!  eric and i were talking recently about the silliness of so much structure in our society at times.  he showed me a cool article about how a nursing home has incorporated a preschool within its walls so that old and young alike can have fun together.  it IS an extraordinary thing to do, im not trying to say it's not.  im just thinking that if we didn't have buildings for old people and buildings for young people and just had everybody hang out like they do in many other parts of the world (and in the us too), that would just be happening, the way that it used to happen more so than it does at present =)
i don't want to be nomadic as a means of escapism from the work required to live independently while still being able to give materially to others.  i am willing to work hard.  i just want to be able to do what feels natural and good in the present =) and that often seems to keep me wandering.
if eric and i were ever to have something like a wedding, i think it would be wonderful to not focus it on the parts of the bride and groom, but instead to focus it equally on every person who was present.  so much interconnection.  there could be food potluck, gift potluck where anyone could take whatever they needed from a pile, and it could just be a celebration of everyone's life... a reunion where anyone who wants to come is welcome.
"How important it is to have and keep relationships that span years; thousands of changes.  Let's stay in touch forever.  In whatever form, let's try."

Friday, August 1, 2014

What Happens at Death?

by S. N. Goenka
To understand what happens at death, let us first understand what death is. Death is like a bend in a continuous river of becoming. It appears that death is the end of a process of becoming, and certainly it may be so in the case of an arahant (a fully liberated being) or a Buddha; but with an ordinary person this flow of becoming continues even after death. Death puts an end to the activities of one life, and the very next moment starts the play of a new life. On the one side is the last moment of this life and on the other side is the first moment of the next life. It is as though the sun rises as soon as it sets with no interval of darkness in between, or as if the moment of death is the end of one chapter in the book of becoming, and another chapter of life begins the very next moment.
Although no simile can convey the exact process, still one might say that this flow of becoming is like a train running on a track. It reaches the station of death and there, slightly decreasing speed for a moment, carries on again with the same speed. It does not stop at the station even for a moment. For one who is not an arahant, the station of death is not a terminus but a junction from where thirty-one different tracks diverge. The train, as soon as it arrives at the station, moves onto one or another of these tracks and continues. This speeding "train of becoming," fuelled by the electricity of the kammic reactions of the past, keeps on running from one station to the next, on one track or the other, a continuous journey that goes on without ceasing.
This changing of "tracks" happens automatically. As the melting of ice into water and the cooling of water to form ice happens according to laws of nature, so the transition from life to life is controlled by set laws of nature. According to these laws, the train not only changes tracks by itself, it also lays the next tracks itself. For this train of becoming the junction of death, where the change of tracks takes place, is of great importance. Here the present life is abandoned (this is called cuti--disappearance, death). The demise of the body takes place, and immediately the next life starts (a process which is called patisandhi-conception or taking up of the next birth). The moment of patisandhi is the result of the moment of death; the moment of death creates the moment of conception. Since every death moment creates the next birth moment, death is not only death, but birth as well. At this junction, life changes into death and death into birth.
Thus every life is a preparation for the next death. If someone is wise, he or she will use this life to the best advantage and prepare for a good death. The best death is the one that is the last, that is not a junction but a terminus: the death of an arahant. Here there will be no track on which the train can run further; but until such a terminus is reached, one can at least ensure that the next death gives rise to a good birth and that the terminus will be reached in due course. It all depends on us, on our own efforts. We are makers of our own future, we create our own welfare or misery as well as our own liberation.
How is it that we are the creators of the tracks that receive the onrushing train of becoming? To answer this we must understand what kamma (action) is.
The healthy or unhealthy volition of our mind is kamma. Before performing any action at the mental, vocal, or physical level, whatever wholesome or unwholesome volition arises in the mind is the root of that action. The consciousness arises due to a contact at a sense door, then the sanna (perception and recognition) evaluates the experience, sensations (vedana) arise, then a kammic reaction (sankhara) takes place. These volitional reactions are of various kinds. How strong is the volition? How slow, deep, shallow, heavy or light? According to this the intensity of these reactions will vary. Some are like a line drawn on water, some like a line drawn on sand and some a line on rock. If the volition is wholesome, then the action will be the same and the fruits will be beneficial; and if the volition is unwholesome, then the action will be the same-it will give fruits of misery.
Not all of these reactions result in a new birth. Some are so shallow that they do not give any substantial fruits. Some are a bit heavier but will be used up in this lifetime. They do not carry over into the next life. Others being still heavier continue with the flow of life into the next birth, but they themselves do not give new birth. Nevertheless they can continue to multiply during this life and the next. Many kammas however, are bhava-kammas, or bhava-sankharas, those that give a new birth, a new life. Each one of these bhava-kammas (actions that give rise to the process of becoming) carries a magnetic force that is in tune with the vibrations of a particular plane of existence. The vibrations of a particular bhava-kamma will unite with the vibrations of the bhava-loka (world, plane) that has the same intensity, and the two will attract each other according to the universal laws pertaining to forces of kamma.
As soon as one of these bhava-kammas is generated, this "railway train of becoming" gets attracted to one or the other of the thirty-one tracks at the station of death. Actually these thirty-one tracks are the thirty-one fields of existence. They are the eleven kama lokas (realms of sensuality: the four lower realms of existence, and the seven human and celestial realms); the sixteen rupa-brahma lokas (where fine material body remains), and the four arupa-brahma lokas (non-material realms, where only mind remains).
At the last moment of this life, a specific bhava-sankhara will arise. This sankhara capable of giving a new birth will get connected with the vibrations of the related realm of existence. At the moment of death the whole field of thirty-one realms is open, so it depends on which sankhara arises as to which track the train of existence runs on next. In the same way a train gets shunted onto a new track, the force of the bhava-kamma reaction provides the push to the flow of consciousness into the next existence. For example, the bhava-kamma of anger or malice, being of the nature of heat and agitation, will unite with some lower field of existence. Similarly, one with the nature of metta (compassionate love), having peaceful and cool vibrations can only unite with some brahma-loka. This is the law of nature, and these laws are so perfectly "computerized" that there is never any flaw in the operation.
At the moment of death, generally, some intense sankhara will arise; it may be either of a wholesome nature or an unwholesome nature. For example, if one has murdered one's father or mother, or perhaps some saintly person, in this lifetime, then the memory of this episode will arise at the moment of death. lLikewise if one has done some deep meditation practice, a similar state of mind will arise.
When there is no such dense bhava-kamma to arise, then a comparatively less dense kamma will arise. Whatever memory is awakened will manifest as the kamma. For example, one may remember a wholesome kamma of giving food to a saintly person, or one may remember killing someone. Reflections on such past kammas as these may arise. Otherwise, objects related to the particular kamma may arise. One may see the plate full of food that was offered as dana, or the gun that was used to kill another. These are called the kamma-nimittas (signs).
In another case, a sign or a symbol of the next life may appear. This is called gati-nimitta (departing sign). These nimmitas correspond to whichever bhava-loka the flow is being attracted towards, such as the scene of some celestial world, or perhaps of an animal world. The dying person will often experience one of these signs as a forewarning, just as the train's headlight illuminates the track ahead. The vibrations of these nimittas are identical to the vibrations of the plane of existence of the next birth.
A good Vipassana meditator has the capacity to avoid the tracks leading to the lower realms of existence. He clearly understands the laws of nature, and practises to keep himself ready for death at all times. If he has reached an advanced age, there is all the more reason to remain aware every moment. What preparations are undertaken? One practises Vipassana, remaining equanimous to whatever sensations arise on the body and thereby breaking the habit pattern of reacting to the unpleasant sensations. Thus the mind, which is usually generating new unwholesome sankharas, develops a new habit of remaining equanimous. Very often at the time of death, if there are no very heavy sankharas to arise, habitual reactions occur; and as the new sankhara is being made, an old one from the storehouse might get stirred up onto the surface, gaining in strength as it arises.
At the approach of death, it is very likely that one will experience very unpleasant sensations. Old age, disease and death are dukkha (misery). They produce unpleasant sensations of a grosser type. If one is not skilful in observing these sensations with equanimity, then one will be likely to react with feelings of anger, irritation, maybe malice, which provides an opportunity for a bhava-sankhara of like vibration to arise. However, as in the cases of some well developed meditators, one can work to avoid reacting to these i mmensely painful sensations by maintaining equanimity at the time of death. Then, even those related bhava-sankharas lying deep in the bhavanga (seat of birth-producing kamma) will not have an opportunity to arise. An ordinary person will usually remain apprehensive, even terror-stricken at the approach of death and thus will give occasion for a fearful bhava-sankhara to surface. In the same way, grief, sorrow, depression, and other feelings may arise at the thought of separation from loved ones, and the related sankhara will come up and dominate the mind.
A Vipassana meditator, by observing all his or her sensations with equanimity, weakens the sankhara and thus does not allow it to arise at the time of death. The real preparation for death is this: developing a habit pattern of repeatedly observing the sensations manifesting in the body and mind with equanimity and with the understanding of anicca.
At the time of death, this strong habit of equanimity will automatically appear and the train of existence will link up with a track on which it will be possible to practise Vipassana in the new life. In this way, one saves oneself from birth in a lower realm and attains one of the higher realms, which is very important because Vipassana cannot be practised in the lower realms.
A meditator who is on the point of death is fortunate to have close relatives or friends nearby who can help maintain a good Dhamma atmosphere, free from lamenting and gloom; people who can practise Vipassana and generate vibrations of metta, which are most favourable for a peaceful death.
At times a non-meditator will attain a favourable rebirth at the time of death due to the the manifestation of wholesome bhava-sankharas such as generosity, morality and other strong wholesome qualities. But the special achievement of an established Vipassana meditator is that he enables himself to attain an existence where he can continue to practise Vipassana. In this way, by slowly decreasing the stock of accumulated bhava-sankharas stored in the bhavanga of his flow of consciousness, one shortens one's journey of becoming and reaches the goal sooner.
One comes into contact with the Dhamma in this life because of great merits one has performed in the past. Make this human life successful by practising Vipassana. Then whenever death comes, it will come with the experience of an equanimous mind, bringing with it well-being for the future.
N.B.: The analogy of a running train changing tracks should not be mistaken for transmigration, as no entity goes from one life to the next. Nothing passes to the next life except the force of the accumulated kamma sankharas.

Monday, June 16, 2014

by Tsoknyi Rinpoche

1. Remember Who You Are

Deep within all beings is a kind of spark that lights and warms our lives. It's been called by many names in many different traditions. In the Buddhist tradition it's known as "Buddha nature"-- which is often described in terms of three qualities:boundless wisdominfinite capability, and immeasurable loving-kindness andcompassion.

One of the core teachings of Buddhism is that we all possess this nature. You may think that you're an accountant, an executive, a teacher, a student, a parent, a child -- and indeed, on a mundane, every-day level, you are. But underneath a particularidentity and all the thoughtsfeelings, and behaviors that may attach to it, what you are is the ever-evolving potential of a being who is capable not only of transcending suffering but of leading all other creatures out of darkness and pain, as well.

So all you really have to do in order to open your heart and your mind is to remember your Buddha nature!

2. Mind Your Body

Unfortunately that's not always easy. Throughout our lives we're urged to define ourselves and our experiences in particular ways. Over time, these definitions become so familiar that we end up identifying with them completely as the absolute truth of who we are.

We can, however, begin to break down our mundane, everyday identities into smaller pieces -- a process through which we begin to discover that who we think we are isn't quite as solid as we believe. One of the easiest ways to begin is to spend a little time with our bodies.

It's surprising how many of us forget our bodies. It's so easy to get caught up inthoughts and feelings and overlook this extraordinary system of muscles, bones, organs and so on that serves as a physical support for our thoughtsfeelings and behaviors.

So one thing we can do -- preferably while sitting in a comfortable position with the spine straight and muscles relaxed -- is to start simply and gently appreciating that we have a body, a basic ground of experience. We can begin by simply noticing: "There is a leg. There is a toe." We can simply notice, too, that there is a heart that is beating; there are lungs that are expanding and contracting; there is bloodcoursing through veins. We can also notice physical sensations such as being cold or being warm, feeling pain in the knees, back or shoulders, and so on. The point of the practice is to simply allow ourselves to become alert to the physical aspect of our being in a very easygoing and gentle way, without judging it or identifying with it.

3. You Are Not Your Feelings, You Are Not Your Thoughts

We've become so used to the potency, frequency and variety of the thoughts andfeelings that course through our awareness throughout the day that it's very easy to identify with and as them. This tendency is built into our very language. "I'm angry." "I'm afraid." "I'm happy. "I'm sad."

We can bring the same kind of attention we brought to our bodies to our thoughts and feelings -- gently noticing them as they arise, abide for a moment and, somewhat to our surprise perhaps, disappear. In so doing, we gently begin to recognize that our thoughtsand feelings are only aspects of experience and not the totality. Our identities may be may be influenced by mental and emotionalpatterns in the subtle body, but we are not those patterns.

Try practicing this sort of gentle noticing the next time you feel a strong emotion. Allow the emotion to arise, but look at it as an event occurring within a broader frame of awareness. Tell yourself that what ever you're experiencing is not the total "you," that what you're feeling is only one piece of your experience.

We can also bring this same sort of attention to our thoughts which are often intimately linked to our identities. The speed with whichthoughts appear and disappear across the screens of our minds are like out-of-control "breaking news update crawlers" that appear across television screens. We can hardly read one before another takes its place -- and another and another. Our awareness is overwhelmed by fleeting impressions, half-grasped notions, bits of sentences, ideas that have only begun to form before they disappear.

As we gradually turn attention to our thoughts, rather than being irritated, disturbed or carried away by them, we slowly find ourselves amazed by their coming and going. We begin to appreciate the entire process of thinking in and of itself.

4. Rest In Space

In time, we also begin to notice gaps between thoughts and feelings -- barely perceptible moments in which there is simply nothought, no feeling, just pure, open awareness. As these gaps grow longer -- and a little less startling -- we can begin to rest within them. For a brief second or so, we can have a direct experience of what in the Buddhist tradition is known as the essence of mind, or the nature of mind: a luminous, limitless awareness that is not chopped up into subject and objectself and other, perceiver andperceived. All distinctions between "the looker" and what was being "looked at" fall away, and for an instant we experience complete lack of separation between everything we feel, see, smell, and so on, and the awareness that sees, smells and feels. Our hearts andminds are completely open, and the spark that is our Buddha nature leaps up into a brilliant flame.

5. Share the Bliss

Unfortunately, it's easy to get caught up in the sense of well-being that arises when our hearts and minds open and to forget the most essential lesson that the Buddha tried to instill in us as the deepest of all teachings: that until all of us are free, none of us are free. Rather than rest in our own comfort zones, our contentment dimming our awareness of the pain and hardship that others around us may be feeling, we must remember that the ultimate goal of opening our hearts and minds is to free all living creatures from their patterns so that they can experience the opennesswisdom, and warmth that is the essence of our being.

Buddha nature is infinitebeings in need of awakening are infinite; and our journey, once begun, is never done.