Archive for the ‘Personal musings’ Category

In Buddhism, there is a term for speaking “well” – “right speech.” You could say that this is a guideline or a step toward enlightenment – you could also say that this is a way to limit your own and others’ suffering, and encourage your own practice of not harming any person (including yourself).  I think this is a worthy practice for anyone seeking to better themselves and their lives and relationships, regardless of spiritual / religious preference (if any). (more…)


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A somewhat belated 5th anniversary Dhamma musing, offered out of gratitude for my teachers and the Tuesday evening sangha:

It was a Saturday morning in February, and Sharon Salzberg had arrived at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center to offer a benefit workshop on the theme of her latest book, Real Happiness. I sat among the overflow audience in the basement, listening with my eyes closed while her jovial voice was broadcast from the main hall upstairs.

As Sharon spoke, my mind became enthralled by the words “real” and “happiness.” My attention digressed from the sound. A thought arose: “So, what is real happiness anyway?” A moment later, another thought: “Ah, unconditioned happiness; of course!” Next: “What does that mean?”

Buddhists refer to this sort of mental proliferation as papanca. Like a runaway train papanca can be a potent force, and this particular train of thought had considerable momentum. Although I soon returned from my sojourn, my curiosity was piqued.

Now revisiting the questions that came to mind that midwinter day, what does it mean to say that something is unconditioned or unconditional? We commonly speak of “unconditional love,” of course, but perhaps with only a vague notion of what we’re talking about. And if we may speak of unconditional love and unconditional happiness, what about unconditional freedom, the ultimate promise of the Buddha’s path?


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Diehard Dhamma

The Major League Baseball season gets under way — finally! — in less than a week, which undoubtedly prompted a very interesting article in the Boston Globe: “A Brief Inquiry into the Nature of Sports Fandom.” The author takes a lighthearted jab at diehard sports fans — himself included, apparently — concluding that “If you actually care deeply about your team, you are probably wrong.” The issue, it seems, hinges on “an ancient philosophical problem, that of identity over time.” (more…)

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With the direction of our country, and indeed the world, seemingly hanging on this Presidential election, it can be difficult for many to avoid being fearful or cynical about the future.  A Christian friend who shares my concerns told me he is at the point where he is unable to sleep at night over the uncertainty of this election.  How does one avoid falling victim to such understandable worry and anger during these very unsettled times?

I just came across a very helpful commentary in the Fall 2008 issue of Buddhadharma by Jack Kornfield addressing this very issue, entitled Buddhism’s Call to Action  [excerpt online].


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The recent Presidential forum at the Saddleback Church, the California megachurch led by mega-best selling author and forum host Pastor Rick Warren, left me more than a little cold.  Not because the forum came across as a political litmus test from time to time when the audience occasionally applauded strongly or groaned somewhat at certain times.  No, Pr. Warren and the audience made good on the promise of civility towards both candidates throughout the event.  Not because of the troublesome reports that Republican candidate Sen. McCain was not in a “cone of silence” while waiting his turn to follow Democratic candidate Sen. Obama’s one-on-one talk with Pr. Warren, as the pastor had assured the audience.

No, the cold part for me was the implicit assumption, which goes far beyond the vast Saddleback campus, that a US Presidential candidate must, by definition, be a Christian in order to have a chance at winning.

This thought left me wondering, what would a Buddhist Presidency be like?  How might a Buddhist President lead the country?

EDIT: Since this post, Sen. McCain has of course named Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his VP running mate.  Gov. Palin’s political qualifications include serving two terms each as city councillor and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 5,469 as of 2000.

She also describes herself as a “Bible-believing Christian.” 

She has been eagerly embraced by the Republican party.

Now, back to the original post…


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The subject of attention is a common one in Buddhist practice.  Indeed, meditation is all about paying attention to this present moment only, while letting ‘everything else’ – thoughts about the past, speculations for the future – float away like so many clouds.  Meanwhile, society in general seems to be increasingly aware there is an “attention gap” going on.

Author, martial arts champion and youth chess champion Josh Waitzkin, who you may know from the book and film Searching for Bobby Fischer, which followed Josh’s journey to his first national chess title, recently shared a compelling story of inattention with author Tim Ferriss


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   Vesak (pronounced Wee-sock I think) is a Buddhist holiday marking the Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment — all in the same month of Vesak.  Just so you know — I don’t know much more about Vesak than that.  Nonetheless, I decided to go to the local South East Asian temple, Wat Buddabhavana  (http://www.greatwisdomcenter.org) on the most recent Vesak celebration, on May 18th, to see what it was like.  

 The word that comes to mind is ‘sweet’.  It was almost entirely Laotian people, and they were very welcoming.  I sat next to a Laotian woman who coached me on what to do, throughout.  The hall was very beautifully decorated — mostly bright reds and golds. Children ran in and out at will.  There was a row of monks sitting at the front with many beautiful golden buddhas behind them.  The monks spoke and chanted, mostly in Lao, but sometimes in English for the benefit of the visitors.

   A man walked by with long flexible candles.  He pinched off a piece the length of the circumference of my head, and another the length of my hand, and another the length of my forearm.  But the pieces stayed with the man and I gave a small donation.  At the appropriate point in the ceremony, all the candles were burned in one glorious flame, as a blessing to all the participants.

   At times during the chanting, familiar phrases would pop out from the chanting we do in our group — but so different!  Differently pronounced and accented — but it made me feel connected.  Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa….  There were times when the people chanted along with the monks, and it made me happy to be able to join in for parts of it, although I don’t know if anyone else noticed…

   Then the monks went on an alms round to the people, and people presented food that they had brought for the monks — lots of fruit and  balls of sticky rice, but also favorite crackers and snacks for the monks.  Luckily I had been forewarned, so I had oranges to present.  But my guide also invited me to offer some of her sticky rice, so I was able to offer an orange and a ball of sticky rice to each of the 8 monks, ranging in age from very young to ancient. 

   As I stood up, I touched the arm of my guide and gave her my thanks for sharing and helping me.  She seemed so pleased.  She thanked me for coming and gave me a hug, and said ‘I love you’.  ‘And I love you’ I replied.   As I said — sweet, very sweet…)

   Then we feasted on Laotian food brought by the women of the temple — all wonderful.  Like any church pot luck there was way too much — but I completely trust that it wasn’t wasted. 

   I had to leave before the procession to the water, and the honoring of the Buddha relics at the temple.  Next year I will plan better.  But it was a wonderful and sweet glimpse into the local Laotian community and their practice of Buddhism.  If you’re tempted to celebrate during the next new moon during the month of Vesak, I highly recommend it. 

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