Monthly Archives: November 2010

Giving Thanks

Since it’s Thanksgiving, I thought I would take this time to offer thanks and gratitude and present some useful Buddhist tips for the holiday.

First of all, I would to thank anyone who actually takes the time read this! Second, I am thankful for my grandmother who is now out of the hospital and can actually spend Thanksgiving at home with the family. Thank you everyone for your prayers and thoughts. I am thankful for my beautiful fiancee, who makes me laugh my ass off, comforts me when I need it the most, and is all around the coolest person I’ve ever met. I am thankful for my family – my brother and his beautiful family, and all of the family that I can’t see this holiday because of the distance between us. I am also thankful for the job that keeps me from being homeless, and the Buddhist practice which continues to help me towards awakening every single day.

Thanksgiving is also well-known for the huge meal, of course centering around turkey. A chant which can be used before meals is included in the Paritta Suttas (as translated by Piyadassi Thera) which goes:
“Wisely reƒlecting I will partake of food not for pleasure of it, not for the pride (resulting from physical strength obtainable), not for adornment, not for beautifying the body, but merely to maintain this body, to still the hunger, and to enable the practice of the holy life; also to resist the pangs of hunger (due to previous want of food), and to resist the pain (resulting from excess of food). Thus will my life be maintained free from wrong doing and free from discomfort.”

There are also some more meal chants, such as the Gokan No Ge (as part of the Gyohatsunenju, or “Meal Sutra”) which is used in some Zen traditions:
“First, we consider in detail the merit of this food and remember how it came to us;
Second, we evaluate our own virtue and practice, Lacking or complete, as we receive this offering;
Third, we are careful about greed, hatred, and ignorance, to guard our minds and to free ourselves from error;
Fourth, we take this good medicine to save our bodies from emaciation;
Fifth, we accept this food to achieve the Way of the Buddha.”

Since we are giving thanks, we should also keep in mind the principle of “parinamana” which means “transfer of merit” or “dedication”. There are benefits to be derived from the non-attached practices of Wisdom and Compassion. These practices include the Buddhist Precepts which are guidelines for enlightened living. These benefits, or “merit,” may be accumulated and subsequently transferred to any or all sentient beings for their benefit (transpersonal) or rededicated so as to transform it into a benefit for one’s self (personal). The three bases of merit are giving, virtue and mental development.

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My Grandmother’s Adversity

My grandmother lays sick in the hospital at the moment. I tried calling her earlier today, but she was in too much pain to speak for very long. She is having heart and kidney problems, and they also found water in her lungs. She is one of the strongest and most independent women in the world – by far. She has already beaten cancer before. This courageous woman also helped to raise my brothers, cousins, as well as many other kids and I when she provided her own babysitting service. Now, you have to admit that it takes one hell of a woman to be able to handle all of those bratty kids at once.

This is yet another harsh reminder that we are all caught up in the whirlwind of Samsara (“continuous movement” or “continuous meandering”). This refers to the cycles of birth (jati), aging (jara), death (marana), and subsequent future becomming (punabbhava) that all beings are subject to. As a part of Samsara, the consciousness (vijnana) carries karmic energy/conditioning/inluence/etc (kamma-vega) from rebirth to rebirth.

Just as one can not point out the beginning of a circle, one can not easily point out the beginning of Samsara. We have been wandering about and suffering within the snare of Samsara for an inconceivably extensive amount of time. Thus we will continue on, wandering and suffering, until we finally realize bodhi (i.e. awakening, knowing, enlightenment, etc) and abide in Nirvana. No, I am not referring to the 90’s grunge-rock band from Seattle; but the ultimate state of awareness and second ultimate state, to paranirvana, of harmony. Nirvana literally means to “go out” like a lame, as it is the liberation (or “unbinding”) from the cyclic existence of Samsara.

In the Assu Sutta (as translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu), the Buddha poignantly explains our predicament as follows:
At Savatthi. There the Blessed One said: “From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. What do you think, monks: Which is greater, the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — or the water in the four great oceans?”

“As we understand the Dhamma taught to us by the Blessed One, this is the greater: the tears we have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.”

“Excellent, monks. Excellent. It is excellent that you thus understand the Dhamma taught by me.

“This is the greater: the tears you have shed while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — not the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a mother. The tears you have shed over the death of a mother while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Long have you (repeatedly) experienced the death of a father… the death of a brother… the death of a sister… the death of a son… the death of a daughter… loss with regard to relatives… loss with regard to wealth… loss with regard to disease. The tears you have shed over loss with regard to disease while transmigrating & wandering this long, long time — crying & weeping from being joined with what is displeasing, being separated from what is pleasing — are greater than the water in the four great oceans.

“Why is that? From an inconstruable beginning comes transmigration. A beginning point is not evident, though beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving are transmigrating & wandering on. Long have you thus experienced stress, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted with all fabricated things, enough to become dispassionate, enough to be released.”

Bhaisajyaguru (also known as the Healing Buddha or Medicine Buddha) is a popular form of the Buddha in the Mahayana traditions of Tibet, China and Japan. The name means ‘Healing Teacher’ or even ‘Supreme Healer’. He is looked upon therefore as someone who can be invoked in times of curing physical illness, warding such calamities as famine, drought and plague, granting longevity and assisting the dead, and is also known to have dispensed all kinds of mundane benefits to those who pray to him. However, his significance is deeper than this because he is also the healer of spiritual ills, including the three poisons: greed, hated and delusion.

Therefore, I dedicate the merit accumulated by chanting the great Dharani of Medicine Buddha to my loving grandmother:
Namo bhagavate Bhaishajya-guru vaidurya-praba-rajaya tathagataya arthate samyak-sambuddhaya tadyata Om bhaishajye bhaishajye bhaishajya-samudgate svaha

Metta: Loving-Kindness

It’s been a very exciting past few days, to say the least. I have just recently gotten engaged to the most wonderful person in the world. Because of this, I thought I would share the Karaniya Metta Sutta (as translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita) which is the Buddha’s discourse on loving-kindness (or “metta”).

“Who seeks to promote his welfare,
Having glimpsed the state of perfect peace,
Should be able, honest and upright,
Gentle in speech, meek and not proud.

Contented, he ought to be easy to support,
Not over-busy, and simple in living.
Tranquil his senses, let him be prudent,
And not brazen, nor fawning on families.

Also, he must refrain from any action
That gives the wise reason to reprove him.
(Then let him cultivate the thought:)
May all be well and secure,
May all beings be happy!

Whatever living creatures there be,
Without exception, weak or strong,
Long, huge or middle-sized,
Or short, minute or bulky,

Whether visible or invisible,
And those living far or near,
The born and those seeking birth,
May all beings be happy!

Let none deceive or decry
His fellow anywhere;
Let none wish others harm
In resentment or in hate.

Just as with her own life
A mother shields from hurt
Her own son, her only child,
Let all-embracing thoughts
For all beings be yours.

Cultivate an all-embracing mind of love
For all throughout the universe,
In all its height, depth and breadth
Love that is untroubled
And beyond hatred or enmity.

As you stand, walk, sit or lie,
So long as you are awake,
Pursue this awareness with your might:
It is deemed the Divine State here.

Holding no more to wrong beliefs,
With virtue and vision of the ultimate,
And having overcome all sensual desire,
Never in a womb is one born again.”

The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.

The title of this post comes from the amazing pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She was released from house arrest today amid massive cheers from the people of Burma (Myanmar). This is wonderful news, but we have to keep in mind that this is less about bringing democracy to Burma and more about the ruling military junta there giving themselves some positive publicity after their much criticized elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th, 1945. Her father Aung San founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947. Unforunately, he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year. Aung San Suu Kyi became head of the Burmese National League for Democracy in 1988, opposing the military government of Burma (Myanmar). She was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights work.

In honor of her freedom, I decided to share some of my favorite quotes from this beautiful, intelligent and strong woman.

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. Most Burmese are familiar with the four a-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance. But perhaps the worst of the four is bhaya-gati, for not only does bhaya, fear, stiƒle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption. Just as chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear of want or fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated or injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.”

“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”

“We have faith in the power to change what needs to be changed but we are under no illusion that the transition from dictatorship to liberal democracy will be easy, or that democratic government will mean the end of all our problems. We know that our greatest challenges lie ahead of us and that our struggle to establish a stable, democratic society will continue beyond our own life span. But we know that we are not alone. The cause of liberty and justice finds sympathetic responses around the world. Thinking and feeling people everywhere, regardless of color or creed, understand the deeply rooted human need for a meaningful existence that goes beyond the mere gratification of material desires. Those fortunate enough to live in societies where they are entitled to full political rights can reach out to help their less fortunate brethren in other areas of our troubled planet.”

“I don’t believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want. I always say that one has no right to hope without endeavor, so we work to try and bring about the situation that is necessary for the country, and we are confident that we will get to the negotiation table at one time or another.”

“Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men and women are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society.”

The Burmese struggle for democracy and freedom continues to be in my thoughts and prayers. Please keep them in yours.

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