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Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal and Buddhism's Theology of Lament

In 2010, I was a fire team leader, serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines.  The men and women I served with were smart, strong, and capable in ways that I'll never measure up too.  And they sacrificed their physical and mental health because they thought we were doing something important.   They missed the birthdays, funerals, and weddings of their loved ones because they thought we were part of something bigger than ourselves.  And they endured cold, hunger, and the threat of death because we thought we were making the world a better place. When I served overseas, I believed that last part with every fiber of my being.  Every time I took charge of a Humvee, every time I stood post, every time I called into the command operations center for a radio check, I believed that my actions were bringing light to a dark corner of the world. I had to believe it.  There's no way I could have survived over there if I didn't. Today, I'm sitting in my living room.  The air cond
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Buddhism and the Myth of Rugged Individualism

In America, we have  a culture that is self-centered and individualistic.  We believe that each person must look out for their own self-interest, working to earn as much money as possible at the expense of others.   Ideas like community and egalitarianism are looked down upon; replaced by a social Darwinism that insists only the fittest among us are worthy of food, water and shelter. But this me-first mindset doesn't stop with finance and social programs.  It has burrowed into our Buddhist centers; coloring the ways in which we read scripture and teach the Dharma.  For example, take this quote from the Dhammapada No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path: Buddhas only show the way. The first time I read this passage the message seemed clear.  I was responsible for my own actions, and if I I wanted to walk a spiritual path, I had to walk alone.  Many years later, I realize the first half of my statement is true, we are all responsible

Buddha in the Garden of Eden

One of the first bible stories that I learned involved Adam, Eve, and the garden of Eden.  As the story goes, Adam was the first man, created by God from the dust of the earth.  And Eve was his wife, created from Adam's rib in order to serve as his helpmeet. The garden of Eden was a paradise, designed by God to provide for their every need.  Adam and Eve were charged with caring for the garden.  They named the animals, they cared for the plants, and they enjoyed each other's company. There was only one rule.  God proclaimed that they could eat the fruit of every tree.  However, they must never eat fruit from the tree of life, which grew in the center of the garden.  God warned Adam and Eve that if they broke this rule, they would die. The couple lived in harmony until one day a serpent entered the garden and spoke to Eve, telling here that if she broke God's commandment and ate from the tree of life, she would not die.  Instead, she would gain knowledge of good and evil. Ev

Nirvana and the Buddhist Path to Enlightenment

Nirvana is a core teaching of the Buddha Dharma, and it's commonly misunderstood. Some people think  Nirvana refers to a Buddhist version of the Christian heaven. And while there are countless heaven (and hell) realms in Buddhism, none of them are called Nirvana. Similarly, some people think that Nirvana is synonymous with enlightenment. But this is also incorrect. Nirvana is an important step towards the realization of enlightenment, however, it is a separate thing. If we want to have a good understanding of Nirvana, we must put our pre-conceived notions aside, and look at how Buddha defined the term. Then we can use that knowledge to develop a praxis (practical application) of this term in daily life. In the Nirvana Sutra , Buddha describes this state of being by saying: Good man, what is analogous is when a man or woman wants to light a lamp they fill it with oil, regardless of its size. As long as there is oil, its light will be present. When the oil has been exhausted,

Understanding Grace and Original Enlightenment in Buddhism

The dictionary defines g race  as, 'a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior."  Another definition that is commonly used in religious circles is, 'underserved mercy.'  To understand the Buddhist interpretation of grace we first need to understand the teaching of Original Enlightenment, which is found in the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana Sutra . It states that all sentient beings are inherently enlightened. More than that, they all exist as part of a single Buddha-body. This is explained through the Trikaya teaching, which divides the Buddha-body into three parts.  First, there is the Dharmakaya or wisdom-body of Buddha, which is the primordial essence of enlightenment.  Next, there is the Sambhogakaya or joy-body of Buddha, which includes celestial beings like Kannon and Amida.  Finally, there is the Nirmanakaya or physical-body of Buddha, which is physical reality. We can understand the Trikaya teaching by imagining the ocean in the north pole.  We hav

Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Buddhism

  As Buddhists, we have an unnatural pressure placed upon us to forgive people who harm us.  This is to be expected.  After all, humans are social creatures, and they hate conflict.   Unfortunately, the quickest way to end conflict is ask the victim of an altercation to forgive their perpetrator; immediately and without question. But this is an unhealthy practice.  It creates an environment where various types of abuse can occur.   That said, forgiveness is an important part of practice.  And it can be helpful to have a working definition of the word.  According to dictionary.com, to forgive means, "to cease to feel resentment against." But the way in which we go about forgiving people is important.  There is a process that needs to be followed. To put it a different way, if we cut our hand, it is foolish to expect it to heal immediately.  There are steps that must be followed to ensure the wound does not fester.  We clean the damaged area, apply pressure to stop the bleeding

Confessions of a Hungry Ghost

I moved out of my parent's house at the age of 18.  The ensuing years involved a series of highs and lows as I struggled to find my place in the world. I graduated college with a B.A. in philosophy. I served 8 years in the U.S. Marines.  Then I entered the civilian world and discovered veterans with liberal arts degrees aren't employable. So, I got a room mate and an apartment in a bad part of town.  I was lulled to sleep by the sound of gunshots each night, and I worked a crappy call center job that didn't pay my bills.  I ate canned ravioli three times a day, and friends commented on how skinny I looked. I was hungry and ashamed.  I'd done everything that the school counselors told me was required for success.  I wore suits to interviews,  I looked potential employers in the eye when I shook their hands, and I even spent money I didn't have to