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How to Be a Buddhist Protester

On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd died after a police officer held his knee on the back of his neck for more than 8 minutes.  Floyd was handcuffed at the time, and he was simultaneously being restrained by several other officers.

In the days after his death, protests have erupted in 17 states; resulting in mass arrests, property damage, and calls for peace from local officials.  In the wake of these events, many Buddhists are struggling with how to respond. 

The truth of the matter is protests are not pretty.  There is a lot of hurt and emotion at these events that spill out in strange, sometimes violent ways.  People get tear-gassed or shoved by police and counterprotesters.  Slogans are shouted that aren't in keeping with Right Speech.  And there is a real risk of bodily harm that comes with participation.

However, the more I practice, the more I realize that protest is as much a part of Buddhist training as meditation.  After all, how can I chant in praise of Kannon if I don&…
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Stripping Buddhism of Cultural Baggage

Cultural Baggage is a term that comes up a lot in Western Buddhism.  Generally, it's used in reference to any part of the practice that can be traced to a specific geographic region in the world.

The implication is that there is a pure Buddhism lying underneath all of the traditions and philosophies that flavor Buddhism as it's practiced in different areas.

Some things that are commonly referred to as cultural baggage include bowing, chanting, wearing robes, making offerings, and building an altar.  
Of course, if we go far enough down this rabbit hole, all of Buddhism falls under the cultural baggage umbrella as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path have their roots in the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which come from present-day India.  Be that as it may, the term is usually used in a pejorative way, suggesting that there is a true Buddhism that westerners can access if we remove all of that other stuff.  
We have purebred dogs, purebred horses, and now we want purebred B…

Breaking the Cycle of Codependency

Codependency describes a relationship where one party depends entirely on another for feelings of self-worth or validation.

     The relationship is generally one-sided with one party either exerting an unhealthy amount of control over the other (e.g. you don't leave the house unless I tell you) or enabling unhealthy behaviors in exchange for affection (e.g. I know he'll use the money for drugs, but he'll leave me if I don't let him have it).

     People can also engage in codependent relationships with objects and organizations.  For example, if someone is codependent with money, basing their self-worth on how much or little they have, their mood will vary wildly depending on the contents of their bank account.

     Similarly, if someone is codependent with their job, depending on it for their sense of identity, they may stay in an abusive or unfulfilling work environment because the thought of leaving is scarier than the thought of being mistreated.

Some of the…

Wabi Sabi Flowers and Buddhist Practice

Part of my routine is going for daily walks.  My body responds well to the dose of fresh air after being inside all day and I enjoy stretching my legs.

     Recently, I was walking through a park near my home on a cold, cloudy day.  I'd been walking for a long while, and the wind was starting to find it's way inside my coat, freezing my skin.  I was about to turn around and head home when a yellow blur caught my eye.  When I moved closer to investigate, I saw that it was a daffodil.

     The flower swayed violently in the wind and the ground around it was bare except for a few stray pieces of mulch.  But that didn't stop the daffodil from blooming with everything that it had.  The bright yellow of its petals glowed in contrast to the gray, dreariness of the day.  And I stared at it, spellbound for several minutes.

     As I looked at the flower, I was filled with melancholy.  Part of me was happy that I could see it, but the other part was sad that no one could see i…

Buddha Warned Us About Coronavirus (Covid-19). We Should Have Listened.

In the Vimalakirti sutra, we're told the story of a lay Buddhist teacher by the name of Vimalakirti who is on his death bed.  Buddha, in his wisdom, sends one of his attendants to Vimalakirti's hut to find out what's happened.

     When he arrives at the hut the young man is greeted by countless gods, devas, and demons who've come to pay their respects.

When the attendant asked Vimalakirti why he was ill, the old man replied, "I am sick because the world is sick."
     With that one statement, he summed up the whole of the human condition.  When our neighbors are healthy and happy, we naturally get healthier and happier.  Similarly, when our neighbors are sick, we suffer with them.  Thus, we exist simultaneously as individuals and as parts of a much larger whole.

     To put it another way, Vimalakirti used his final teaching to remind us that when we care for others, we care for ourselves.  Unfortunately,  this is a lesson that we're still strugglin…

Don't Be Scared of Coronavirus. We Were Built for This

When people think of Buddhist practice, a variety of images appear.  Sometimes, they picture a woman with perfectly manicured nails; sitting on the beach in full-lotus position.

Other times, they envision a bald man in robes; prostrating in front of a Buddha statue.  And if they stretch their imaginations, Americans see the typical Buddhist as a college student, resting under a tree as they read the Dhammapada. 
When people think of Buddhism, what they almost never see is poor people, hungry people, desperate people who are struggling to survive.  But that's been the reality for practitioners of the Way going back to ancient times.  
Buddha's mother died a week after his birth.  Shinran Shonin lived in exile for most of his life. And Rev. Koyo Kubose was sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War 2.
Thus, the history of Buddhism isn't one of people sitting on beaches and college students reading books in the quad.  The history of Buddhism is a history of pain.  I…

Contemplating the Coronavirus

The first noble truth of Buddhism states life is suffering.  I imagine Buddha chose to start there because life was terrible for most of the people he met.

Many of them lived hand-to-mouth; only one crop failure or failed hunt away from starvation.  They had little to no legal recourse if a neighbor stole their property, and people died regularly from disease outbreaks.

So, when Buddha taught the first noble truth, he wasn't giving a philosophical treatise.  He was naming and validating the lived experience of the people he ministered too.  More than that, he was positioning Buddhism as a practical, proven method for dealing with the trauma in their lives.

This is important to remember as we cope with our own suffering.  We like to imagine ourselves as the model with washboard abs, meditating on a beautiful beach.  We want to be the perfect person, with the perfect life, and the perfect practice.  But that's not reality

The truth is we don't practice Buddhism because life…