Friday, November 24, 2017

Zen Koans: Preparation for Life's Tough Questions

We're reading Zen Koans by Rev. Gyomay Kubose as part of my lay minister training. The class discussions have been challenging, insightful, and they've caused me to reflect on how koans have affected my practice through the years.  

My deep love of koans actually started before I was Buddhist. I have a B.A. in philosophy, and a large part of the curriculum was studying and writing papers on thought experiments like The Trolley Problem and The Prisoner's dilemma. 

The goal in these investigations was to stretch my reasoning abilities to the max, and force me to investigate the root cause of my ethical choices. These exercises planted the seed which allowed me to be open to koan practice.

That being said, it has become clear to me over the years that koans and thought experiments have very different goals. The thought experiments worked to help strengthen my conceptual mind. In contrast, koans work to help me see past it.

The way I work with koans is fairly informal.  When I read them on my own, I simply sit with each one for a while, and search for what the deeper meaning might be.  Other times, I don't even do that.

Instead, I read them, and enjoy the conversations from all those years ago.  The word koan has a very heavy, formal meaning these days.  But I can see many of them being birthed from the notes and idle gossip of aspiring Zen students.  In my mind, I imagine them sweeping temple floors, and trading stories about teachers they met, and turning words they heard over the years.

For me, koans have never been about solving some great riddle or seeing through the fabric of space and time.  They've been about catching a glimpse of the life of ancient Zen teachers (Joshu, Tozan, Nansen, etc.), and bearing witness to how they lived in the world.

In this way, they remind me that life itself is the most difficult koan of all.  How do I  walk a spiritual path in a secular world? How do I build relationships with  people who have different religious/ political views than me? How do I balance my checkbook!?

As I continue to read and study Zen koans, they give me insight into these questions.  They assist me in hearing the sound of my inner wisdom during difficult times.  And they help me know what to do.


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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Keep pedaling: The Buddhist Secret to Effective Meditation

Attack the hill is a catch phrase that's heard at least twice during every group bike ride.  It's usually shouted at the bottom of elevation changes as a way to motivate cyclists.

People have a tendency to slow down when they start climbing a hill. It's an instinctive attempt to avoid the tight muscles and extreme exertion that comes with a hard climb. 

The phrase attack the hill is meant to shake us out of that mindset, and remind us of what we really need to do in order to reach the top; pedal harder.

This is necessary because as the bike begins to climb, gravity takes over, and we lose forward momentum.  In fact, if we give in to the initial instinct to slow down, we may lose all momentum and come to a complete stop.  That's why we have to pedal hard, with everything we've got in the beginning.

Once that's completed, the name of the game is to keep pedaling.  It sounds simple, but when our quads start to burn, and shortness of breath kicks in, it's very tempting to coast for a minute. But the momentary relaxation that comes with coasting results in the loss of forward momentum; momentum that we have to work twice as hard to get back.

Finally, it's important to keep the bike in the highest gear possible. The rookie move is to shift to a low gear so that pedaling will be easier. That's okay for beginners, but all of that easy pedaling results in very slow-going. The more efficient route is to pedal slower, in a much higher gear. It's harder, but it results in more forward motion with each revolution of the pedals. It's also a better workout.

To recap, if we want to ride up a hill in a reasonable amount of time, we need to do three things:
  1. Attack the hill, and pedal hard in the beginning
  2. Keep pedaling until we reach the top
  3. Use the highest gear possible
This method is both simple and effective., but most people don't use it.  It's hard, and people don't like doing things that are hard. So we shift to a low gear, or pick a path with no hills when we ride. Maybe we even go so far as to not ride at all because staying where we're at physically/ emotionally is easier than dealing with sore legs and a sweaty body.

Meditation works in much the same way.

There's a lot of mysticism and expectation built up around the practice of seated meditation. We hear words like enlightenment and satori, and we think there must be a secret to being a good meditator. In truth, the method for this practice is quite simple. 
  1. Sit on the floor or on a cushion in a cross-legged position
  2. Place your hands in your lap with the palms upward, right hand resting atop the left, and thumbs tips lightly pressed together
  3. Adopt a noble posture with the spine straight
  4. Breathe from the stomach, and focus on the feeling of air moving in and out of your lungs
  5. When your mind wanders, and it will, bring your focus back to the breath without judgement
  6. Don't move
That's it. That's everything involved in seated meditation, the practice that Buddha himself used to realize enlightenment.  But if its so simple, why are people so unwilling to do it?  Perhaps it's because meditation is a lot like riding a bike uphill.  It's simple on the surface, but there's a lot of hard work involved.

For example, in order to do this practice successfully, we must be willing to sit with whatever unpleasantness comes up.  We have to experience the anxiety of wondering, "Am I doing it right?" We have to endure the ache of sore muscles and stiff backs without moving, and feel every bit of emotional hurt that manifests itself.

In short, we must be willing to struggle a little bit in order to practice meditation just like we must be willing to sweat if we want to make it up a hill .

The only secret if we want to use that word is consistency. Just like our legs get stronger each time we jump on a bike, our minds get stronger each time we sit on the cushion. Over time, the practice acts as a sort of exposure therapy for our minds. The more we feel anger without giving in to it, the more we experience mental pain without reacting, the less control our emotions have over us.

Eventually, we start to get bored with our thoughts. The same trigger that used to illicit a level 12 meltdown gets downgraded to a 7, and then a 3.  As our confidence grows, we start going for longer "rides", and the hills we experience during meditation seem smaller.  Eventually, they get overshadowed by the inherent contentment that lives within us.

But that can't happen if we don't keep pedaling through the hard parts.

That's why we must attack our cushions in the same way that cyclists attack hills.  Even if we only meditate for 1 minute a day, through consistency and hard work we can realize enlightenment in this lifetime.


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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Stolen Goods: A Hard Lesson on Life and Nonattachment


I walk out of the yoga studio feeling like I might start floating.  My skin is rippling with energy, and I feel incredibly relaxed.  Even the 40 degree temperatures and light rain don't dampen my mood as I walk happily down the street. 

On a whim, I step into a nearby book store, promising myself that I'm only there to look.  Then I notice that they're doing a sale, buy one get the second 50% off, so I treat myself instead.

Once my purchases are tucked safely in my book bag, I head over to my favorite coffee shop and do some writing.  But things are different today.  It's like my heart has cracked open, and the words are flowing out of me like river.  Hours pass without me realizing it until I finally stop, mentally exhausted, and read over the several pages of text.

Hmmm... it's not perfect, but it's still pretty damn good. Smiling, I gather my things and head back out into the street.  I've got just enough time to ride home, drop off my stuff, and pick up my donation for Food Not Bombs.

Humming to myself, I walk around the corner of a nearby building expecting to see my vintage, baby blue touring bike waiting for me... but it's not there.  . 

For a moment, I stand on the sidewalk and stare dumbly into the air.  As the reality of my situation hits, my heart drops into my stomach, and I forget to breathe. But there's no denying the truth.  My bike has been stolen.

It's hard for most people to understand the bond between a cyclist and their bike.  But if you're a serious rider who puts in lots of miles or lives as a full-time bike commuter like me, your ride starts to become a part of you.

You have stories and matching scars that bind the two you together.  There's that slight tear in the bike saddle from when a truck ran you off the road.  There's that scar on your left forearm from when you crashed during a rain storm, and fond memories of 100-mile rides that left you feeling both exhilarated and exhausted.

In other words, it wasn't some random piece of metal that went missing. It was my friend.

In a daze, I walk around the neighborhood hoping to locate the perpetrator.  But after an hour of searching I give up hope.  My bike is gone, and it's never coming back.  My initial sadness is replaced with anger as I ponder my next move.  The food share is in less than an hour, but helping others is the last thing on my mind.  I feel hurt and pissed off, and I just want to go home.

I take a few steps in that direction, mentally preparing myself for the 3 mile walk back to my house, but then I stop. I start thinking about the men and women who come each week, and how much they depend on the donations. 

The guy who gets extra apples to share with people at his AA meeting, the woman who gets grapes for her son, and the random people who just want a snack before jumping on the bus; they didn't do anything to me.  Why should they suffer because of my misfortune? Is my attachment to my bike getting the best of me?

Buddhism teaches that we can end our suffering by practicing nonattachment.  Often times, this is misunderstood to mean that we shouldn't care about things.  But that's not correct. Caring isn't the problem; it's the holding on.

Buddha discovered this when he left the palace and witnessed the four sources of suffering:
  • Birth/ Living
  • Aging
  • Sickness
  • Death
The thing to remember, however, is that it's not the things themselves that cause dissatisfaction. It's the loss they represent.  For example, aging is a cause of suffering because of our attachment to youth.  

This is why Buddha taught the middle-path as a means to liberation.  He didn't reject the world.  But he also didn't grasp onto it.  Instead, he allowed things to come to him when they were ready.  And he allowed them to leave just the same.  In this way. he held onto life with open hands.

Is this the lesson that I'm supposed to learn; that life giveth, and life taketh away? 

It certainly seems like it.  Because there will come a day when everything I am will be taken from me.  My body, my mind, and my memories will all crumble into dust.  Eventually, even the dust will be gone.

Bicycles are no exception to the rule.  I was always going to lose my ride. It just happened sooner than I expected.  It hurts, but there is no need to dwell on it.  I just need to accept what happened and move on with my life.

With this in mind, I take a deep breath, and try not to look at the people zipping around happily on their bikes.  The world took something special from me today, but it gave me something better.  It gave me this moment, and I've got to make the most of it.

With renewed purpose, I turn my steps towards the market, and start making a list of the produce I'm hoping to collect.  The food share is starting soon, and I have work to do.


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Sunday, October 29, 2017

3 Buddhist Practices For a Better Life

The practice of Buddhism is full of rules and rituals that can be over-whelming to the average person.  Remembering when to bow, how to sit, and where to go to the bath room can be frustrating when all we want to do is ease our mental suffering.

Thankfully, there are many dharma practices that translate easily into everyday life, and they don’t require years of practice to learn.  Incorporating these gems into your daily routine will make life calmer, simpler, and more fulfilling.

Menmitsu

This is a Japanese word that is most often translated as mindfulness. However, in the context of Buddhism it would be more accurate to call it loving attention.  This practice is demonstrated in the way that Zen practitioners carry themselves during meditation sessions. 

Everything is done with ceremony.  The hands are held just-so when bowing. The incense is placed on the altar in a very specific way, and there is often an elaborate ritual for signaling the beginning and end of practice.

The reason for all of this attention to detail is that Buddhism teaches that every moment is sacred.  In fact, this present moment is the only thing that's real! The past is a distant memory and the future is a dream.

So the here and now is treated as a rare and precious gift because it's literally all we have.  The practice of menmitsu trains us to appreciate how special this moment is by causing us to focus with rapt attention on what ever we happen to be doing at the time.

However, you don't need to be in a Zen monastery to practice menmitsu.  Remember, every moment is sacred. And that includes the mundane ones in which we are going about our day at work or having dinner with friends. 

Menmitsu isn't about what we are doing, rather the focus is on how we are doing it.  By giving loving attention to the minutiae of every day life (driving, washing dishes, speaking with friends, etc.) you gain a greater appreciation for the specialness of every day life. 

In this way, putting away the groceries takes on the same importance as attending the altar in a Zen center.  And getting dressed for work is just as special as putting on bowing robes for meditation.  By attending to regular life with menmitsu we can recognize the sacred beauty of life's mundane events.

Shojin

This is the word for effort or great zeal in Japanese Buddhism.  Nothing in life gets better without hard work and dedication.  Life itself is no exception to this rule. It's common in conventional society for people to think that hard work should be reserved for only the most important things in life.  We do calculations in our head, and we decide how much energy will be devoted to a given task based on the expected reward.

That being said, Shojin requires us to take a different approach.  We don't do a task in the hopes of getting a reward.  Rather, we train ourselves to see the task as its own reward.  In this way, we elevate ourselves by elevating the importance of our work and the energy that we put into it.

An example of this can be seen in the practice of Shojin Ryori which requires Japanese monks to prepare vegetarian meals without the use of modern equipment.  A delicious meal is the end result, but the process of creating that meal is where the real training is done. 

The early morning visit to the market where vegetables are selected, the long hours spent chopping them by hand, and the meticulous process of balancing colors and flavor-profiles into a tasty, visually-appealing meal are where the true marrow of shojin are found.

In this way, we can turn literally anything into part of our spiritual practice by doing it with a mindset of shojin.  There is no such thing as busy work or killing time.  Every task is important, because each one is an opportunity to practice the dharma. 

Standing in line at the grocery story teaches us patience. Being stuck in traffic teaches us how to endure.  And a friend who asks us for help is kindly letting us practice generosity.  When we approach the world with a mentality of shojin we shift our mindset.  And when we shift our mindset we simultaneously change our lives for the better.

Intoku

A rough translation of intoku is, "good done in secret".  It epitomizes the Buddhist ideal that we should do good works without expectation of reward. This is empowering because a sad fact of life is that doing the right thing is no guarantee of a good outcome.  When this happens it can be easy to think, "Why did this happen to me?" or "I don't deserve this."

But intoku teaches us that we don't do good deeds in the hopes of a reward.  Instead we do them because the deed itself is the reward.  The feeling that comes from helping someone in need is priceless. More importantly, it's very easy to do. 

We can listen intently while someone talks about their day, compliment a friend on their outfit, or simply refill the coffee pot at work when it's empty.  This practice isn't about doing something big and flashy.  Instead, it's about constantly being on the look out for small things we can do to make life nicer for both ourselves and the people around us.  In this way, we make the world warmer, and more welcoming for everyone.

Over the past 2,600 years Buddhist teachers from countries all over the world have found ways to incorporate the dharma into daily life.  To that end, the practices of menmitsu, shojin, and intoku represent three methods that have been proven to create positive change.  By incorporating them into our daily lives we can make things better for all sentient beings.


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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rick and Morty: The Szechuan Sauce of Desire


I'm what you would call a late-adopter when it comes to T.V. shows.  Maybe I'm part hipster and I shy away from trends. Maybe I'm too lazy to keep up with what's cool. Or maybe not having cable cuts me off from the world more than I realized. 

I don't know.  I just know that I rarely find out about the "hot new thing" on TV until it's been out for several seasons, such is the case with Rick and Morty.

The show is about Rick; an alcoholic, genius scientist who's constantly dragging his family into adventures all over the universe.  Sadly, he spends part of every episode ranting about how life is meaningless.  But no one's perfect.  Rick's comic relief is his 14 year-old grandson, Morty, who is both well-intentioned and painfully na├»ve.

The show is interesting because it's multi-layered.  You can watch it at a surface level and simply enjoy the dark humor, or you can explore some of it's deeper, philosophical concepts. 

I choose to do the latter.

Case in point, some fascinating, real-life events were recently inspired by the show.  In one episode Rick goes on a rant about the great-tasting Szechuan sauce that McDonald's put out several years ago as part of a promotion.  The sauce is no longer available, but Rick swears that he won't stop searching until he finds that sauce, even if it takes 9 seasons!

Eventually, McDonald's got wind of the episode, and they decided to do a one day promotion where they would make the sauce available.  Countless Rick and Morty fans lined up hours before the restaurants opened in the hopes of getting sauce.  But the universe played a cruel joke.  Only a small amount of Szechuan sauce was available at each store, and most people didn't get any.

Madness quickly ensued.

It's easy to stand on the outside looking in and write this off as a bunch of fan boys with too much time on their hands.  But was their behavior really that strange?  If you switch out the words Szechuan sauce with IPhone, money, or enlightenment, are they any different from the rest of us; constantly striving for more.

This begs the question, would life be better if we learned to stop wanting? Would suffering end if we let go of our desires; trading them for contentment with what we already have?  Is that even possible?

Or are we the hungry ghosts of Buddhist legend who wander the earth, eating constantly, but never feeling full?  For a hungry ghost, their quest for satisfaction is the source of their despair.  This can also be true of human beings.

In my practice, I've found that the less I want from the world, the more I appreciate what I've been given.  And the less I live in the future, the more I appreciate the present.  Happiness isn't found in sauce, religion, or consumerism.  It's found in the here and now.  But we can't enjoy this moment if we're always looking for something better.


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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Puja: A Perfect Offering to The Buddha

Puja or 'the act of showing reverence' is a key part of Buddhist practice.  It's often done as a sign of respect for the Buddha and his teachings, and is part of the reason you see Buddha statues and altars in most practice centers. 

Tibetan Buddhists have very elaborate forms for their Pujas.  The ceremonies can take up to a half-hour or more and include the offering of flowers, fresh water, and fruit. In contrast, Zen groups tend to be a bit more low-key; restricting the ceremony to the lighting of incense, chanting, and several prostrations before starting meditation.

That being said, taking part in the more devotional parts of Buddhist practice was difficult when I first started training.  Dropping to my knees and prostrating before a statue felt like idol worship.  And placing food on an altar that would never be eaten felt silly.  But I accepted that it was part of the package, and muddled through without complaining.

However, something started to change during my second year of training.  More specifically, I started to change. It was like each time my forehead touched the ground during a prostration my ego softened just a little bit.  Each time I lit incense and placed it on the altar, my heart became a little more humble.  In short, I started to realize that the world didn't revolve around me.

I was holding on to a lot of hurt feelings and old grudges back then. I felt like the world owed me something, and I was angry because I hadn't been able to collect.  But puja showed me the error of my thinking.  The world didn't owe me anything.  Quite the opposite, I was the one with a debt to pay.

I was walking around with tremendous gifts, and I didn't realize it.  I had my life, I had my family and friends, all of my material needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) were being met.  And to top it all off I had the dharma; a pathway to awakening.  The world had given me so much, the least I could do was bow in gratitude.

More than that, the devotional practices helped me understand the inherent worthiness of all living beings.  I was practicing with the Kwan Um School of Zen at the time, and we were taught that the Buddha on the altar was representative of the Buddha nature that lives in all sentient beings.  So when we paid homage to him we paid homage to everyone.

Sadly, I no longer live near a Kwan Um Zen Center, however, that lesson has stayed with me over the years.  Recently, I started to realize that I don't need to be inside a temple in order to practice puja.  Because if Buddha resides within everyone, then everyone is worthy of devotion.  And I can manifest that in a number of ways.

Instead of placing water on an altar, I can refill the coffee pot at work. Instead of chanting a sutra on the cushion, I can call a friend, and make sure they're well.  I can do these things because Buddha is more than the statue that sits atop my altar.

He's the homeless man who panhandles near my work. He's the coworker who doesn't know how to make coffee, and the motorists who drive past me on the road.  Buddha is every person I meet, and each time I make an offering to them, I make an offering to Buddha.


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Upcoming Events:

I'm giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  The talk is entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll discuss my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118. Learn more by clicking here.




Thursday, October 19, 2017

Buddhist Faith: A Stepping Stone to Enlightenment

I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, so we spoke a lot about faith, and what would happen if we allowed our faith to waver.  At that time, faith for me meant placing my trust in a supernatural power that I could neither see or feel. 

The idea was that if I had enough faith in this supernatural power, then I could use petitionary prayer as a means of having my desires (good grades, better health, more friends, etc.) fulfilled.

However, as I got older I was introduced to a different kind of faith via my studies in science and technology.  This faith was not in a supernatural force.  Rather it was faith in a method, the scientific method, and our ability to understand the world around us if we followed it.  My teachers taught me that if I followed the scientific method closely, was careful in my lab measurements, and honest in my reading of the data, then the truth would be revealed.

In Buddhism, I've found a faith that is a blending of these two ideals.  First, we are taught to have faith in the method that was taught by Buddha to the ascetics in Deer Park.  If we wish to be freed from suffering, we must trust that by earnestly studying the three seals of the law, the four noble truths, and the eight fold path, we will be able to achieve our goal; liberation from suffering.

Second, Mahayana Buddhism instructs us to have faith in our own basic goodness (e.g. Buddhanature or Dharmakaya) which we can neither see or feel.  We must trust that the seed of enlightenment exists within us even in darker moments when we don't feel good or enlightened.  Additionally, the practice requires us to trust that this same enlightenment-seed exists in all sentient beings without exception. 

However, just as a farmer must cultivate his seeds with good soil and plenty of water in order for them to grow, we must cultivate our own basic goodness through meditation and study in order for it to be fully realized

In this way, the two types of Buddhist faith feed off of each other.  We are given the desire to continue in our spiritual inquiry by the belief in our enlightened nature.  And we are given the practical means to make that inquiry via faith in the teachings that Buddha gave us 2,600 years ago.

That being said, faith without effort is dead.  That's why Shojin or 'ceaseless effort' is one of the 6 paramitas.  Like a gymnast who wakes each morning at 5 am to train for the Olympics, we must approach practice with a religious spirit in order to realize enlightenment. 

Of course, this doesn't mean that we lose our common sense or accept the dharma unquestioningly. After all, Buddha did tell us to be lamps unto ourselves. Rather, practicing with a religious spirit means that we center the dharma in our lives, and we prioritize our training in the same way that we prioritize our job or school work.  We have to be committed.

By having strong faith in both the dharma and ourselves we provide fuel for our spiritual inquiry.  And by maintaining a strong dedication to our practice we build a vehicle that moves us along the path.  In the end, we have everything that's needed in order to realize enlightenment.  We just have to put in the work.


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Upcoming Events:

I'm giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  The talk is entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll discuss my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118. Learn more by clicking here.

I'm leading a Meditation Flash Mob in Cleveland on Saturday, Oct. 21st at 4pm with Be The Peace.  The event will take place in Tower City (on concourse level 1, next to the fountains).  The address is 230 W Huron Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113.  You can find more event information by clicking  here.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Existence: A Buddhist Response to Mass Murder

I'm standing in the break room at work, preparing to make a cup of tea.  Then a news alert appears on my phone, and I learn there's been a mass shooting in Las Vegas.  My heart drops, and I reflexively focus on my breathing. 

The impromptu meditation keeps me standing as I stare at the screen; 50+ dead, and hundreds wounded because of one man.  Lives have been shattered, and families torn apart because of one man.  Unimaginable suffering caused by one man, in a hotel room, with a small arsenal of guns;  it's hard to comprehend.

And yet, life goes on.  I have to attend meetings and answer emails.  I have to ride my bike home at the end of the day and make dinner.  I have to keep living in the midst of this tragedy, and find a way to move forward. So I return to my desk, empty cup in hand, and get back to work.

A few days later, I ride my bike to a nearby church.  A nonprofit called The Interreligious Task Force on Central America is located there, and I volunteer with them once a week. They deal with a lot of tragedies.  In fact, the organization was started when four activists were murdered in South America while advocating for indigenous rights.  

Today they have me stuffing envelopes in preparation for a fundraiser.  I go about my task dutifully, methodically, trying to focus more on the feel of the envelopes in my hands and less on the ball of sadness in my stomach.  50+ dead and hundreds wounded; how do I respond to that?

The answer comes when I read one of the flyers that I've been mindlessly stuffing into envelopes for the past hour.  The title states, Mi Existir es Resistir which translates to My Existence is Resistance

It goes on to talk about the atrocities that have occurred in Central and South America along with different ways that people can get involved.  The overall message is that the most powerful thing an activist can do in the face of cruel and unjust systems is to keep being an activist, and keep fighting for what's right in the face of insurmountable odds.

After I finish reading the flier, I shoot a quick glance around the office to make sure no one is watching.  Then I place my hands in gassho and bow. 50+ dead and hundreds wounded; it hurts more than I can bear.  But I know what I have to do.

I have to keep practicing the Dharma. I have to keep studying, meditating, and living a compassionate life.  I have to let people cut in front of me in traffic. I have to smile at coworkers and do volunteer work.  I have to take the fear and pain inside of me and use it as fuel for my practice.  

My life, my very existence will be a response to this tragedy. It's not enough, but it's all I have to give.  People can be cruel.  This was true in the time of Buddha, and it's still true today.  Sadly, it will keep being true as long we're trapped in the illusion of a separate self.  But in the face of endless suffering and death, the most powerful thing I can do is to live kindly and compassionately until all sentient beings are saved.

In a world filled with suffering, kindness is an act of resistance.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'm giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  The talk is entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll discuss my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118. Learn more by clicking here.

I'm leading a Meditation Flash Mob in Cleveland on Saturday, Oct. 21st at 4pm with Be The Peace.  The event will take place in Tower City (on concourse level 1, next to the fountains).  The address is 230 W Huron Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113.  You can find more event information by clicking  here.







Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sisyphus: Laughing In The Midst of Suffering


According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king in modern day Corinth, and a renowned trickster of both men and gods alike. 

He famously escaped death by convincing Hades, the god of the underworld, to put on a set of hand cuffs in order to show him how they worked.  Once Hades was locked up, Sisyphus threw him in a closet, and continued living his life as if nothing had happened.

In spite of his cunning, however, Sisyphus did eventually die, and his soul was sent to Tartarus, the ancient Greek version of hell.  As punishment for his crimes, he was condemned to spend eternity rolling a heavy boulder up a hill each day only to have it roll down again once it got to the top.

It was a grueling task.  Between the boredom of doing the same thing every day, and the back breaking labor of pushing a boulder I imagine that Sisyphus endured great suffering.  In this way, his story is an excellent metaphor for our lives.

We all have boulders/ suffering that we deal with every day.  Perhaps it's a job we hate.  Perhaps it's poor finances or a body that doesn't work the way it should.  Often times, we can change our circumstances, and alleviate discomfort.  But sometimes we can't.  Sometimes we're like Sisyphus; left with no other choice than to roll a giant rock uphill each day.

In our weaker moments, we try to hide from our pain.  We close our eyes and pretend it doesn't exist. We numb ourselves with television, bad food, social media, etc. in the hopes that we can find an escape.  But these are temporary solutions that leave us feeling unsatisfied.  In spite of our best efforts, the boulder is always there.

Other times, we grit our teeth, and suffer violently.  We rage against the boulder as we push it up the hill.  We curse as waves of grief and frustration wash over us with each step.  And when we finally reach the summit only to have the rock slip from our fingers; we stand there for a moment. And we wonder why life is so hard.

In contrast, Rev. Gyomay Kubose implored his students to take responsibility for their suffering. It sounds harsh, but this is the Buddhist view on dealing with mental anguish.  We don't try to escape it, and we don't get bent out of shape about it. 

Instead, we take responsibility for our pain.  We put it under a microscope, and we study it.  We tear it apart until we find the root cause of our anguish (hurt feelings, disappointment, fear, etc.), and then we learn to be at peace with those feelings.

Once we accept the boulders in our life, a shift occurs in our thinking.  Our pain lessens as we stop piling emotional baggage on top of it.  Eventually, the job sucks, but we tolerate it.  Finances are tight, but we make it work.  And our life gets a little bit better because we've trained our mind to stop making it worse.

Over time, we may even learn to appreciate the experience, unpleasant though it may be, and laugh a little at our plight.  After all, life can only be exactly what it is.  And it's funny each time we think it can/ should be different.

Finally, we begin to enjoy life not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.  Because this pain, this struggle, this constant fight is the juice that life is made from.  It's how we know we're alive.  Thus, we end our suffering not by trying to escape it, but by learning to embrace it.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'm giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  The talk is entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll discuss my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118. Learn more by clicking here.

I'm leading a Meditation Flash Mob in Cleveland on Saturday, Oct. 21st at 4pm with Be The Peace.  The event will take place in Tower City (on concourse level 1, next to the fountains).  The address is 230 W Huron Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113.  You can find more event information by clicking  here.






Monday, September 25, 2017

Critical Mass: Will Authentic Buddhism Please Stand Up?

I'm fortunate to be part of a very tight-knit cycling community.  Once a month, we do something called a critical mass ride in which several hundred cyclists get to together and "take over" the streets. 

It started off as a protest in the early 90's as a way to bring attention to the cyclists that were being killed by hit and run drivers, and advocate for more bike lanes and trails within city limits.  

However, it's become mainstream in recent years, and the droves of hippies and punks cruising down the street on upcycled bikes have some surprising company riding with them.  There are grandmas that participate every month, and soccer mom's that carry a toddler on their bike racks.  There are "tall boy" riders who have custom-made bikes that stand 10 feet tall. And there are spandex-wearing account executives who only break out their bikes on the weekends; if it's not raining.  

That being said, as different as all of these riders are, it can't be argued that any of them aren't cyclists.  Their rides all have two wheels, pedals, and handle bars.  And they all move forward via leg-power.  Culture, history, and personal preference cause every rider in a critical mass to manifest cycling in a different way,  but the fact that they're all riding bikes means that every single one of them is a cyclist. The same line of thinking applies when we talk about authentic Buddhism.

Instead of a bike, of course, we start with the four noble truths, and the eight-fold path.  That is the core of Buddha's teachings as they were given to the early monastics in Deer Park.  These lessons are the bicycle in the "critical mass" which is the last 2,600 years of Buddhist literature.  Anyone who has these 12 items at the core of their sect is practicing authentic Buddhism in the same way that anyone who rides a bike is a cyclist.

Of course, this doesn't mean that all schools are created equal.  Just like there are certain rider/ bike combinations that work better for speed or personal comfort, there are different ways to manifest the dharma that will be more effective based on an individuals personality or country of origin.  When viewed from this perspective, it seems silly to think that there should be one Buddhism to rule them all. Just as it's silly to think that that there is only one way to ride and operate a bicycle.  

In this way, having many schools of Buddhism isn't a bad thing.  In fact, it's a natural occurrence of the teachings spreading throughout the world, and being touched by millions of people.  This is why I enjoy the Bright Dawn method which encourages us to approach these many manifestations of the Dharma from a nonsectarian viewpoint.  This allows the practitioner to learn from everyone they meet, and manifest their Buddha-Nature in a way that's appropriate to the moment.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'll be giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  My talk will be entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll be discussing my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Oneness: How We Can Achieve Community Harmony

This Saturday, I'm participating in a panel discussion with a group of faith leaders at the Heartfulness Meditation Center in Cleveland.  The theme of the event is "Achieving Community Harmony Amongst Various Traditions and Paths."

It's a noble idea; getting everyone to live and work together in peace.  And I've spent the last two weeks agonizing over what I'll contribute to the discussion.  After lots of meditation, and a few sleepless nights this is what I came up with:

Buddhism teaches us that everything exists simultaneously in two separate planes of existence.  There is the relative world that we are all very familiar with, and then there is the absolute world.  In the relative world, our mind creates distinctions between everything.  There is man and there is woman.  There is good and there is bad.  There is light and there is dark.  Essentially, the relative world is a world of opposites.

On the other hand, everything is a part of Oneness in the absolute world.  That is to say, everything is interconnected in ways that we'll never fully understand.  More than that, everything in the universe depends on everything else for it's existence.  So while everything appears to be separate in the relative world, when we step back into a place of stillness (via meditation or prayer), we realize that everything is also connected in the absolute world.

One way to think about this would be to look at the organs of the human body.  Our brains are separate entities from our hearts.  And our hearts are very different from our lungs.  However, if the heart stops pumping blood, the brain dies.  And if the lungs stop collecting oxygen, the heart can't pump blood.  So in the relative world our bodily organs are completely separate and different from one another.  But in the absolute world they are part of a singular human body.  And that body requires all of them in order to be healthy and strong. 

They're separate, but they're part of a single Oneness.  

Similarly, human beings are all very different from one another in a relative sense.  We have different races, religions, cultural backgrounds.  However, in the absolute sense we are all part of a single Oneness called humanity.  And while we can't track the connections between people as easily as we can track the connection between our organs, that doesn't change the fact that humanity needs many people of different races, religions, and cultural backgrounds in order to be strong.  

There have been times in history when people thought that the way to create community harmony was to force everyone to be the same.  They thought that if the world only had one race, one religion, one culture, etc., then there would be peace on Earth.  But this is a mistake.  These people were trapped in the illusion of a separate self, and they caused terrible suffering as a result.

In order to create harmony between people, we don't need to make everyone the same.  After all, would you try to make a person healthy by replacing their heart with a second brain?  Of course not, the heart is different from the brain, and that's a good thing.  That difference is what allows a person to survive.

In order to create peace, we must pay less attention to the relative world, and pay more attention to the absolute world.  We must learn Oneness, and appreciate the interconnectedness of all living things.  Each person is unique, and different from everyone else.  And that's a good thing.  That difference is what allows humanity to survive.

By celebrating our differences, and learning to appreciate our interconnectedness, we can build a community where people live happily with each other.  By recognizing the Oneness of all living things, we can achieve peace in our lifetimes.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'm taking part in an interfaith discussion panel on Saturday, Sept. 23rd at the Heartfulness Meditation Center in Cleveland.  The theme of the event is Achieving Community Harmony Amongst Various Traditions and Paths.  The event runs from 9am to 12pm, and the address is 5425 Warner Road, Valley View, OH 44125.  You can learn more about the event and some of the other speakers by clicking here.


I'll be giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  My talk will be entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll be discussing my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.



Sunday, September 17, 2017

Barking Buddhas: What Dogs Taught Me About Buddhist Practice


I have a confession to make. I'm not a dog person. It's not that I dislike dogs; quite the opposite.  I grew up with them, and I think the world would be a better place if people as whole were more dog-like.  But dogs require a lot of time and patience. 

They need to be walked, and played with, and they take up more than their fair-share of the bed at night.  Dogs are wonderful. But they're also a very big commitment. 

That being said, I am literally surrounded by canines.  All of my siblings have dogs, and the same goes for my parents.  Even my room mate has a dog.  As a result, I spend a lot of time dog-sitting for the people in my life.  I feed their fur babies when they go out of town, I walk their pets when they have to work late, and I share my home with four-legged friends when ever the situation requires.

Currently, I'm watching my sister's dog.  He'll be with me for at least a month while she gets settled in graduate school.  Having him here has been a huge change in my daily routine.  Every morning my alarm goes off at 6 am, and every morning he wants to be walked IMMEDIATELY when the alarm goes off.  No amount of pleading or swearing on my part will change his mind, and hitting the snooze button is futile.  He needs to be walked every morning at 6am. Period.

At first, this caused a lot of frustration on my part.  However, having him here has taught me many important lessons about the dharma.  The three biggest ones are:

1) Surrender to the Form

When I walk into my Zen center, there are countless forms that I have to follow. There are correct and incorrect ways to bow to the Buddha, etiquette that must be followed when addressing the monks, and rituals that must be observed when getting up from the cushion.

All of these forms can be overwhelming.  However, I've learned that if I surrender to them, and simply do what needs to be done in the moment, a feeling of contentment arises in my mind   Furthermore, I've learned that life in general is also full of forms.

There are forms for going to work in terms of dress code and what time I need to be there.  There are forms for gardening, and bike maintenance.  And there are countless forms that go with caring for a dog.  Life is full of forms, and when I surrender to them in the same way that I surrender to the forms inside of my Zen center, life becomes much easier.

When I stand before the Buddha, I bow.  When I stand before a hungry dog, I bow, and then I feed them.

2) Compassion Comes From Humility

I care for pets who treat the whole world as their toilet. And I deal with others who are more particular about where they do their business. In both cases, however, I'm responsible for the aftermath.

Thankfully, scooping up dog poop from the sidewalk and scrubbing pee out of a carpet both make for excellent Buddhist practice.  I'm humbled each time I walk down the street with a leash in one hand, and a bag of manure in the other.  And I learn a lesson in karma when a dog leaves "presents" on the carpet because I waited a too long before taking them out.

All of this has showed me how humility and compassion intersect.  The dogs in my care are sentient beings, and I want to take good care of them.  But I can't do that unless I humble myself and become their servant.

They can't eat unless I throw 40 pounds of dog food on my bike, and ride home from the store.  They can't exercise unless I take them for walks.  And they can't stay clean unless I bathe them.

If I want to be compassionate towards dogs, I must be humble, and put their needs before my own.  This is also true when dealing with humans.

3) Desire is a Source of Suffering

It's a little frustrating for me to write this part.  After thousands of hours on the cushion, one would think that I'd understand this point in my bones.  But I still need to be reminded of it every day. and dogs are excellent at doing that. As I stated earlier, my sister's dog absolutely has to be walked at 6 am every day.  He has a small meltdown if it doesn't happen.

This was a point of intense suffering for me the first week that he was here, but then I realized something. It's 100% normal and natural for him to want to pee in the morning.  I do it, so why shouldn't he?  Furthermore, it's not his fault that he lives in a house, and not in the wilderness like nature intended.  So what right do I have to be mad at the dog for something that's both completely natural and not his fault?

I don't have that right.  And the suffering that I experienced had nothing to do with him.  It was caused by my desire to lounge in bed.  Instead of surrendering to the form and walking the dog, I was surrendering to my ego, and I suffered as a result.  These days I simply go to bed a bit earlier in preparation for our morning stroll.  That works much better than complaining.

When dealing with dogs.  Focus on what you need to do, not what you want to do.

Despite my misgivings, dogs have been some of my greatest teachers over the years.  In the process of caring for them I've managed to learn a great deal about Buddhist practice and life in general.  But the greatest lesson that I've learned is this; the Buddha doesn't just reside on my altar.  Sometimes he walks around on four legs.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'm taking part in an interfaith discussion panel on Saturday, Sept. 23rd at the Heartfulness Meditation Center in Cleveland.  The theme of the event is Achieving Community Harmony Amongst Various Traditions and Paths.  The event runs from 9am to 12pm, and the address is 5425 Warner Road, Valley View, OH 44125.  You can learn more about the event and some of the other speakers by clicking here.


I'll be giving a talk for the Cleveland Animal Rights Alliance (C.A.R.A) on Monday, Oct. 23rd at 6:30pm.  My talk will be entitled, "How Organic Farming Led Me to Being Vegan".  I'll be discussing my experiences living and working on organic farms for 8 months, my Buddhist practice, and how the two led me to become vegan.  The event will take place at the Cleveland Heights Public Library, 2345 Lee Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.







Monday, September 11, 2017

Selfishness: The Key To Long-Term Happiness

Before he discovered the middle-way, Buddha searched for happiness in a variety of ways. In his early life, he was a hedonist. As the son of a wealthy warlord, Buddha was given access to the best of everything as a child. Women, wealth, and fine food were always at his finger tips. He excelled at sports, and he seemed destined to rule over a great kingdom once his father died. 

But while this lifestyle gave him a great deal of short-term satisfaction, it didn't lend itself to a feeling of peace or fulfillment, so he left the palace in search of something else.

Next, he practiced asceticism in his quest for spirituality.  Eventually he reached a point where he was eating only a single grain of rice a day, and he was so thin that he could poke his stomach and feel his spine.  He continued on this path until one day he passed out from the physical torment that he was experiencing.  Once again, Buddha realized that this path wasn't giving him the long-term happiness that he was looking for, so he went in search of a better way.

With this in mind, he started eating regularly again.  And once he'd regained his strength, Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree with the intention that he wouldn't move from that spot until he either realized enlightenment or died.  He stood up 6 days later as a fully awakened being.

After his awakening, Buddha spent the next 45 years living as a mendicant monk, and teaching the dharma.  But why did he do that?  Why didn't he return to the palace and live as an enlightened ruler, or remain under the Bodhi tree; enjoying his newfound peace in solitude?  Personally, I think it's because his idea of what constituted the self had changed.  As a result, he understood the importance of skillful selfishness in achieving the long-term happiness that he'd hoped for.  

Let me explain.

Early in his life, Buddha had a very limited view of what constituted the self.  Like most people, he thought that the self was limited to his ego and his physical body, and he acted accordingly.  As a hedonist, he worked to fulfill his earthly desires, and as an ascetic he worked to destroy them.  Both philosophies worked to give him short- term pleasure.  But they failed to give him long-term happiness because his focus was too limited.

However, when Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree he realized that the self is not just limited to the ego and the physical body; it includes all living things.  

This can best be understood by thinking of a tree that is planted in rich soil.  The soil feeds the tree nutrients, and helps it to remain strong.  In exchange, the tree drops leaves every winter which die and feed the soil; keeping it healthy. 

If too much attention is given to the tree, and the soil is neglected, then the tree will eventually starve and die.  Conversely, if too much focus is given to the soil, and the tree is not properly cared for, the soil won't have leaves to replenish it.  A skilled gardener cares for both.

In this example, the tree represents the self as most people understand it, and the soil represents all living things.  The larger self which Buddha discovered under the Bodhi tree is represented by both the tree and the soil together as a single unit.  And the long-term happiness of a human being is represented by the long-term health of the tree.

As a hedonist, Buddha cared for the tree (self), but he ignored the soil (other living things).  As an ascetic, he did the opposite.  But in order for long-term happiness (a healthy tree) to exist, both the tree and the soil must be cared for; this is the middle-way.

We accomplish the middle-way by practicing skillful selfishness.  Like the Buddha, we must find a mode of living that cares exclusively for the larger self.  That is, it must fulfill all of our physical/ emotional needs while still being beneficial to all living things.  Why?  Because our long-term happiness is directly tied to the happiness of everyone around us.  

When we help others, we help ourselves.  And when we hurt ourselves, we inevitably end up hurting others.  This is the truth that Buddha discovered under the Bodhi tree.  However, by practicing skillful selfishness, and only acting in ways that are beneficial to both ourselves, and the people around us, we can ensure our long-term happiness.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!

Upcoming Events:

I'll be leading a Meditation Flash Mob in Cleveland on Saturday, Sept. 16th at 4pm.  The event will take place in Market Square (across from West Side Market).  The address is 1979 West 25th Street Cleveland, Ohio 44113.  You can find more event information by clicking  here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Guaranteed Method for Entering the Buddhist Pureland

One thing that always struck me about Buddhist cosmology was how the gods are treated in various texts.  In some schools, the god realms are seen as literal places where people go based on the karma they accumulate before dying.  In other schools, they are seen more as archetypes that convey symbolic truths and act as teaching tools.  In any event, every school seems to think that we as humans should pity the gods.

This seems strange on the surface.  Why would we pity beings with perfect teeth, perfect health, and perfect lives?  The Buddhist answer is that being a god is undesirable because gods don't suffer.  And without suffering, they have no opportunities to practice the dharma.  In fact, I've often heard it said that suffering is the mother of the Buddha.  And I believe this is both literally and figuratively true. 

Buddha, Shinran, Dogen and a host of other Buddhist patriarchs all had some sort of tragedy in their past that drove them to the cushion.  Could they have attained their great realizations without that push; without that suffering? I don't think so. 

So the gods with their perfect lives are to be pitied.  And we mere mortals are left here on earth to practice the dharma as best we can.  But this is interesting because the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism teaches that if we practice hard enough, we'll eventually live in the Pure Land.  But that begs the question, "What is the Pure Land?" and more importantly, "Where is it?"  This question perplexed me for a long time until I read Rev. Gyomay Kubose's translation of Tan Butsu Ge which translates to A Song In Praise of Buddha.

The text is a poem written by one of Buddha's students, Hozo, in order to describe both the radiance of his teacher, and the great motivation he has to practice as a result of Buddha's example.  In my favorite verse from the poem, Hozo states:

When I become Buddha, I will make my country the first.  All the beings in my country will be unique and beautiful.  That place will transcend all.  My country will be like Nirvana -- nothing to equal it.  Now, I am filled with compassion.  I will enlighten all.

To me, this passage suggests that the Pure Land isn't somewhere we go.  Rather, it implies that the world we live in currently is the Pure Land; not because it's perfect, but because it gives us the opportunity to practice. 

Case in point, Hozo doesn't state that he will realize Buddhahood and ride off into a god realm.  Instead, he vows that he will make his country (e.g. the country that he is currently living in) like Nirvana.  But he wouldn't be able to make all the beings of his country unique and beautiful unless there was some ugliness there to work with.  Similarly, none of us can become Buddhas unless we have the requisite amounts of suffering in our lives that will allow us to practice the dharma 

In typical Buddhist fashion, the passage gives us an impossible vow.  However, it also gives us a ray of hope; that the suffering and disappointment we endure is not meaningless.  Rather, it's a gift that helps us to become Buddhas, and realize that our world is a Pure Land.  In this way, we can continue working to enlighten both ourselves and each other.


If you enjoyed this article, please like The Same Old Zen on Facebook!


Upcoming Events:

I'll be leading a Meditation Flash Mob in Cleveland on Saturday, Sept. 16th at 4pm.  The event will take place in Market Square (across from West Side Market).  You can find more event information by clicking  here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Keep Going: A Buddhist Response To Violence

I entered my first full-contact karate tournament when I was 13 years old.  I'd been training for several years at that point, and after watching Enter The Dragon one to many times, I decided that I wanted to test myself against a real opponent.  It took some convincing, but eventually my dad packed up the family car, and drove me to a tournament in Chicago, Illinois

That's how I found myself standing across from the child version of Ivan Drago.  My opponent was 6 inches taller than me with biceps as big as my legs.  In other words, he was bigger than me, stronger than me, and had a huge reach advantage.  Things didn't look good.

When the match started he opened up with a roundhouse kick to the stomach that took to the wind out of me.  The kick was followed by a right cross to the face which spun me around so that my back was too him.  Finally, a snapping front kick to the back sent me tumbling out of bounds.  Stunned and embarrassed, I looked up at the ring clock; only 15 seconds had passed.  

At that point, I saw my dad walking towards me.  I should stop at this point, and say that my father is what most people call a "hard" man.  He's very loving in his own way, but growing up on a farm gave him a very no nonsense approach to life.  So he was all business when he came to check on me.

"You have to keep your hands up, so he doesn't keep hitting you in the face," he said. "And don't let him get so close.  If he comes in striking distance, make him pay," he said feigning punches to my body and face.  "Are you ready to go back out there?"

Truthfully, I didn't want to go back into the ring.  My face hurt, I was embarrassed, and I wanted to go home.  But as I said earlier, my father is a hard man.  And he doesn't tolerate weakness.  So I gritted my teeth, and nodded silently.

"Good" he said, "Don't let him intimidate you."  Then he turned me around, and pushed me back into the ring...

Don't be intimidated.  As I try to make sense of the deadly violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA, I keep thinking about my father's words.  They give me something to focus on as I try to comprehend what happened.  Heather Heyer was killed and 19 people were injured when a white nationalist allegedly drove his car through a crowd of peaceful protesters.  Now I'm trying to figure out the skillful means, which will help me respond to this tragedy.

Don't be intimidated is a good start.  Don't be intimidated by swastikas.  Don't be intimidated by the Ku Klux Klan or the Alt-Right.  And don't be intimidated by madmen who run over protesters with their cars.  Dust yourself off, keep your hands up, and step back into the ring.

That works, but it doesn't tell me what to do once I'm back inside the ring.  How do I peacefully coexist with people who think my skin color makes me inferior? Is that even the right question?  I don't know.  But in his book Bright Dawn, my teacher, Rev. Koyo Kubose, states:
As individuals, we can decide what kind of person we want to be, and what kind of life we want to live.  This can be an unconditional and unilateral decision that is not dependent on how others act.
I find great comfort in his words.  They're a reminder that the power is always in my hands.  Because I've chosen to live my life with compassion.  And no amount of violence will make me forget the person that I've set out to be.  It's difficult to walk the path in times like this.  But Rev. Kubose teaches us to simply "keep going" when ever life gets hard.

Keep going.  That's all that I can do in this moment.  Keep going with my meditation.  Keep going with my activism.  Keep going in my attempts to make the world a better place.  Because the only way to get out of a bad situation is to keep going towards a better one.

Don't be intimidated... keep going.

My father's words have blended with those of my teacher to create a mantra.  And I've been reciting it a lot the last few days.  I don't know what the outcome of all of this will be.  But I know what I have to do. 

Keep going.


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