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Stripping It Down to Nothing

I love Buddhist rituals.  I love their history. I love their meaning. I love their ability to transcend time and space.   When I bow, I embody the Buddhist ancestors who bowed before me.  When I light incense, I grab hold of a karmic strand that goes all the way back to Buddha. Thus, my practice might seem arcane and esoteric to the casual observer.  I wear robes. I prostrate before my altar.  I chant and study sutras.  Each day, I go to the meditation hall and live as Buddha lived.  I do this so when I leave the meditation I can continue living as he lived; ending suffering for myself and all beings. That said, there are times in life when these practices become burdensome, like wearing a fancy suit on a hot day.  The fault lies not with the training, but with me. It requires strength to carry the rituals from one day to the next, keeping them alive for the next generation.  And there are days when my strength is lacking. There are days when my mind is so frazzled, my body is so tired
Recent posts

Catepillars and Butterflies

A student sat down in front of their teacher and asked, "How do caterpillars become butterflies?"  The teacher replied, "They don't, only butterflies can become butterflies." This koan comes from my new book, "A Year of Zen Mindfulness" .  I like it because it describes my approach to teaching the Dharma along with the primary focus of my book, which is to help people transform their daily life experiences into spiritual practice. The koan is based on Hongaku or original enlightenment, which is at the heart of Mahayana Buddhism.  Simply put, the teaching states that we all have Buddha nature, which is the source of enlightenment. Thus, enlightenment is not the goal of spiritual practice.  It's the starting point.  We don't study sutras, sit on the cushion, and chant in front of our altars because we need to attain something.  No, we do these things because they remind us of what we already have.  They point our attention inwards; to the enlight

I'll Keep You Alive

In a couple of weeks, I'll have my one-year anniversary of living on a homestead.  And I can say with full honesty that I love this life.  Growing food and caring for animals is rewarding.   Watching the land grow and shrink throughout the year is educational.  And being surrounded by nature is nourishing. That said, there have been challenges and hard lessons.  I think I may have killed my tractor.  Apparently, I wasn't supposed to leave gas in it over the winter.  And several trees have fallen down in our back pasture.  So, those will need to be limbed and quartered at some point. The most important challenge (and lesson) came early last year when I was working in the garden.  I was dealing with an infestation of striped cucumber beetles that were threatening to destroy our squash plants.  this was after dealing with slugs that threatened to destroy our bean crops and gypsy moths that threatened to eat our collard greens. As I stood there baking under the summer sun, carefull

Blind Faith and Buddhist Practice

Faith is a dirty word in American Buddhism.  When teachers discuss having faith in Buddha and his teachings, for example, there's a lot of hand-wringing involved.   We're quick to explain that faith in Buddhism is more akin to trust, and practitioners don't need to believe anything that doesn't resonate with them. This is good, correct teaching.  In fact, one of the high points of Buddhist doctrine is that it encourages discourse.  It encourages people to be skeptical and ask questions.   And no one is required to believe something that doesn't sit well with them.  I'll say it again, this is a good thing. However, if we visit, we find two definitions of faith:      1. confidence or trust in a person or thing      2. belief that is not based on proof The type of faith that's most often discussed in Buddhism is the first definition.  We ask questions, we experiment with the teachings, and we develop faith in them based on their efficacy.    I&#

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

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