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Happiness and Suffering on a Buddhist Homestead

Suffering is an inescapable part of life. The sutras tell us that every person has a nature to be born, to grow old, to get sick, and to die. On top of that, we lose the things we want. And we gain the things we don't want.  The landscape of human life is bleak. One way to deal with suffering is to run from it. We run towards pleasure, we run away from pain. And in the midst of all that running, we ignore the sling and arrows of life that are nipping at our heels.  We know they'll catch us eventually, but we keep running anyway. In Buddhism, we take a different approach. We stand still. We wait for suffering to catch us. And when the time is right, we reach out, we grab it with both hands, and we hold our suffering close. We embrace it as a friend. As Buddhists, we do this not because we enjoy suffering; far from it.  We're just sick of running all the time. When we do this, when we look deep into the eyes of our guilt and our despair, something shifts. And we find happines
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Christmas Morning and Buddhist Devotional Practices

On Christmas morning, Buddhists find themselves in a tricky situation.   They may wonder if celebrating Christmas is in-keeping with the Dharma, or if they should abstain from the celebrations all together. However, a brief survey of Buddhist devotional practices shows that Christmas celebrations are not only in-keeping with Buddha's wisdom, they also help us end suffering for ourselves and others. In Buddhism, we're taught that ignorance is the root cause of suffering.  This ignorance comes in two forms.   There is ignorance of the absolute, which results in clinging to the illusion of a separate, permanently abiding self.  And there is ignorance of the conventional, which results in clinging to sense-pleasures. These two types of ignorance are interpenetrated and mutually supporting.  When we chase after sense-pleasures (drugs, money, status, etc.) they reinforce the illusion that we are separate from the world around us.  And when we feel separation from others, we desire se

Taking Refuge in Cat Lady Bodhisattva

My next door neighbor is a self-described cat lady.  Depending on the time of year, she feeds anywhere from five to fifteen cats in our community. The older, well-behaved felines sleep in her home at night before being let back out in the morning.  For the rest, she leaves her garage door half open, so they can shelter from the heat and rain. Her work is never-ending because there are many farm cats in my neighborhood.  They live in barns where the farm owner gives them just enough food and water to keep them from leaving.   The cats make up the difference by eating mice, rats, squirrels, and anything else on four legs that might hurt the farmer's crops. It's a symbiotic relationship that protects the farm's resources from vermin and gives the cats a safe place to sleep at night.  But it's not perfect.  Farm cats aren't considered pets.  So, farm owners don't bother to have them spayed or neutered. So, dozens of kittens are born every few months when their paren

The Buddhist Practice of Going in Circles

Many years ago, I dreamed of having a house in the country.  I imagined how it would feel to eat food from my garden.  I visualized chickens flapping their wings and running around in the coop that I'd built for them.  And I strategized ways to befriend my neighbors with gifts of fresh produce and warm apple pie.   Fast forward to present day.  I live on a small plot of land in the middle of no where.  I have a productive garden.  I have six fat chickens.  And I have neighbors who are kind, compassionate people.  I also have a lot of grass. Grass grows like weeds out here; getting longer and thicker each day.  It clings to my boots in the rainy season, and I've seen it choke the life out of a push mower.  A full-sized lawn tractor with a forty-two inch mowing deck is required to keep my lawn's tendrils under control. But cutting grass in the country isn't just about technology, there's also technique involved.  Because the grass is course and thick, it's not goo

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

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