Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Hitting The Curve Balls

In our company, I’m the field supervisor.  I’m the one who has to go deal with things when the site supervisors either can’t handle them or aren’t available.  That happened to me this morning.  A call at 8:00 AM changed my day, and practically all the chores (and fun) I had planned for the day are trashed: the price you pay for being a boss.

As I was rushing through the things I had to get done, I was thinking about how easy it was, compared to the way I would have dealt with the same sort of thing when I was active in my addictions.

Read more at the Sunrise Detox Blog, then subscribe to its feed.


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Forest of Light

Sofan Chan paints lovely images of the Buddha in bright primary colors.  For some reason I find them very much in the spirit of the Buddhism that I practice — focused on obtaining peace, often happiness, and occasional joy by looking at the world as clearly as I am able at a given time.  (I’m not saying I’m good at it, I’m saying that my efforts bring me peace and joy — what’s not to like?)  Anyway, if you’d like to see more of Chan’s work, even purchase some, click the image.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with the artist whatever; I just like the work.


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What will be the direction of American Buddhism?

GARRISON, N.Y. — Crosses still adorn one wall of this former Roman Catholic monastery, but a 6-foot golden Buddha now anchors the main room. The meditation hall, also used as a meeting space, is where the luminaries of Buddhism in the West recently gathered to debate.

The issue they were facing had been percolating for years on blogs, in Buddhist magazines and on the sidelines of spiritual retreats. It often played out as a clash of elders versus young people, the preservers of spiritual depth versus the alleged purveyors of “Buddhism-lite.” Organizers of the gathering wanted the finger-pointing to end. The future of American Buddhism was at stake, they said….

Read more: http://www.appeal-democrat.com/articles/generational-108402-shift-american.html


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Bodhisattvas

A pair of 72-year-old scientists, saying they have much to be grateful for and little to lose, have formed the Skilled Veterans Corps, enlisting volunteers willing to venture into the radioactive Fukushima Daiichi plant. Officials have accepted their offer.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-japan-nuclear-old-20110704,0,7843713.story


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Gender and religion: Where nuns fear to tread

The controversy over a Thai Buddhist nun successfully petitioning an Indian court to gain control of a temple has raised broader questions surrounding the administration of temples overseas. It has also highlighted the ambiguous role nuns, or mae chi, face within the structure of Buddhism in Thailand.

via Gender and religion: Where nuns fear to tread.


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Gay Teen Suicides

We now have another well-publicized suicide of a gay teenager.

It’s well-known in the mental health field that suicides come in clusters, especially in well-defined groups of teens.  I imagine that we can expect to see more gay teens at risk — especially since they might see their “sacrifice” as advancing the cause of gay equality by bringing attention to discrimination.

They might well be right, and that might be a slight upside to the loss of these kids.  Still, if you know a teen who might fit into this category, now would be a great time to show some compassion and support.  We don’t need sacrifices, we need live people with a conscience.  There aren’t enough.

I had a good friend who blew his brains out with his dad’s gun at age about 19, because he was gay, depressed, and got no support.  I still miss him.


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Book Review: Sex, Sin and Zen, a Buddhist Exploration of Sex – by Brad Warner

Apart from their both being Buddhist teachers, one does not often think of Brad Warner and the Dalai Lama in the same context.  Over the years, I’ve come to see that as a mistake.  Warner and His Holiness have one major thing in common: no matter what they write about, at the end you’ve gotten a good education in basic Buddhist philosophy and practice.  They give good Dharma.

One of the things that I find most charming about HHDL’s writings is the way he sticks with the basics.  My understanding of practice is that it is about incorporating the Eightfold Path into my life.  Many writers and teachers, even Zen teachers, get carried away with the details and seem to forget that Buddhism is about living, not about having scholarly discussions.  Both Brad and His Holiness manage to make their teachings accessible — albeit in radically different ways — without getting bogged down in esoterica.  I like that.  A lot of my own practice has been about getting over myself and my IQ, and they both help me a lot when it comes to simplifying my thinking.  Steve Hagen is another favorite for the same reason.

Sex, Sin and Zen* is not an attempt on Warner’s part to pontificate about what “good Buddhists” are supposed to believe with regard to the beast with two (or more) backs.  What it really comes down to is a very personal exploration of Buddhist ethics and teachings as they seem to him to apply to situations that he has experienced, or heard, or been asked about.  He doesn’t claim to have the answers — is, in fact, excruciatingly careful to make it clear that these are personal decisions — yet he provides a first-class framework to use in thinking about such issues as they apply to us.  I mean, this book includes an entire chapter devoted to examining the practice of well-known porn star Nina Hartley, and how she incorporates Buddhism into her work and marriage.  It would take a writer with a background in blogging for “Suicide Girls” to even dream of pulling that off — but Warner does, and we feel as though we learned something. (I felt a couple of shifts in my attitudes while reading it, and I consider myself about as sexually liberal as you can get.)

Of course the book is written in Brad’s eminently readable — albeit sometimes joltingly non-traditional — style:

We reflect on the effort that brought us this piece of ass
and consider how it comes to us.

We reflect on our virtue and practice, and whether
we are worthy of this piece of ass.

We consider sexual greed to be the obstacle to freedom of mind.

We consider this piece of ass to be good medicine to sustain our lives.

For the sake of attaining the Truth we now receive this piece of ass.

And:

If you’re too goddamned horny to think straight, then perhaps the best way to avoid misusing sex is to log on to Suicide Girls, or whatever website you enjoy, masturbate furiously, be done with it, and then go out into the world more mellow, less sex-crazed, and less likely to misuse sex in a far more damaging way.

See what I mean?

Sex, Sin and Zen may shock you, it may leave you flabbergasted at the idea that an ordained priest of any religion would think it appropriate to write in the way that Warner habitually does.  But you know what?  You won’t be bored; you won’t feel you’ve wasted your time; and — unless you work hard** at avoiding it — it will give you a lot to think about.

____________________

*Available in your favorite bookstore this Labor Day weekend.

**Hee hee, I said, “hard.”

Disclaimer: the writer was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher.


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I run across people, on the Web and elsewhere, who seem directionless. They don’t seem engaged with their lives. Some seem simply to exist passively, with little pleasure and no discernible joy. Others flail around at this and that, become intrigued or outraged by every small thing that crosses their path and may, briefly, stop off and register their interest in some way. However, when push comes to shove, if you ask them what moves them, what their passion might be, they are often unable to answer. If they do, it’s often with a caveat: too old, too young, not enough time, can’t afford it, and so forth.

There is a temptation to think of those folks as shallow and superficial, but that is an arrogant (not to mention judgmental) attitude. It is not up to me to weigh the importance of someone else’s life, their degree of satisfaction and joy, or their lack thereof. I do, however, see folks who I believe could be happier, and I suspect that’s because they haven’t looked deeply enough into themselves. They haven’t identified the one or two things that they feel strongly enough to act on, instead of reacting.

I think everyone needs such an avocation: not a job, not a hobby, but something that is so important to them personally that they would work at it — whether or not for pay — in preference to many of the things that we conventionally think of as “fun.” Self-fulfillment is a basic human need, and I believe that in order to be happy we must pursue it in some way. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our little corner of it, a little bit. We may not be able to affect history, but we can affect the future of individuals.

We can drive a disabled vet to the store or to the VA hospital. We can read to someone who is unable. We can volunteer as a Big Brother or Sister. We can call up a church, a charitable organization, a library, and ask if they need people to help with anything at all. We can volunteer at a local nature center and turn our love of critters or plants into an enthusiastic presentation that will engage budding naturalists. There are hundreds of such things that we can do, if we but look for them — things that allow us to make a difference that we can see, that is tangible, that can bring us satisfaction and fruits that we probably can’t imagine yet. The people I see doing these sorts of thing nearly always seem fulfilled and happy.

I’ve got mine. It’s not posting links on blogs or Facebook, not even writing essays like this. Those are things I do when I’m distracted — and I have a lot of distractions — but I also have time to pursue my “bliss”, as Joe Campbell used to say. It doesn’t matter what I do. What matters is what you do. I’ve found mine.

Have you? Will you look? Will you at least think about it?


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The Banyan Deer — a parable of courage and compassion (Book Review)

It’s remotely possible that even those folks who consider themselves “serious” Buddhists may not have gotten around to reading the Nigrodhamiga-jataka (part of the Pali Jataka, a collection of 500 stories about the Buddha’s earlier lifetimes).  Somehow, I find myself able to forgive such lapses.  However, in addition to being a renowned writer of, among other things, childrens’ books, Rafe Martin has apparently delved into it — at least the first few stories.

Martin’s latest book, a slim volume entitled The Banyan Deer, is a not-too-modernized retelling of one of the Jataka tales (number 12).  The writer has stayed with the common construction of Buddhist parables and allegories, building on the central theme, step by step, until the lesson is completely delivered.  This repetitive form is common in oral storytelling. The repetitive and progressive structure helps listeners learn the stories themselves so that they can pass them along in their turn.

The Banyan Deer
has an archetypical theme that speaks to all compassionate hearts, especially those of children.  Martin tells the story of the deer king Banyan who, through his compassion for the members of his flock, turns the heart of the human king who has been hunting them and convinces him to spare them and their descendants from further hunting.  This teaching and conversion theme is another that is common in Buddhist folklore, and it carries a message that is critical to Dharma in the present day.

Too long have I lived with danger
to let it fall so heavily on others.
How can I abandon them and be
at peace myself, knowing that my
freedom was bought at such a price?

…”Imagine that,” said the young deer.
“Yes, imagine it.”

Rafe Martin has told a story that is especially suited for reading to children.  It has the feel of one of those tales from my childhood that I constantly nagged the adults to read to me again, pleeeeease?  Don’t get the idea that it’s just for kids, though.  Its lesson addresses the major problem in the world today, and its concepts of interbeing and compassion could well be our salvation in a physical sense — no metaphysics required (nor desired).

The Banyan Deer
, by Rafe Martin
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2010
ISBN 978-0-86171-625-8
Order it from Amazon

Clarification: The publisher provided the writer with a complimentary
copy of the book in return for this review.


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Wealth, poverty and compassion: The rich are different from you and me

LIFE at the bottom is nasty, brutish and short. For this reason, heartless folk might assume that people in the lower social classes will be more self-interested and less inclined to consider the welfare of others than upper-class individuals, who can afford a certain noblesse oblige. A recent study, however, challenges this idea. Experiments by Paul Piff and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, reported this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest precisely the opposite. It is the poor, not the rich, who are inclined to charity.

Wealth, poverty and compassion: The rich are different from you and me | The Economist


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The Revival of Musar

A woman writes in her journal every night, focusing on her struggles with anger. Two friends sit down over coffee and discuss their recent efforts to perform at least three acts of generosity every day. A man posts on an online forum about how easily he is distracted by needless concerns but how daily Jewish prayer has helped him to focus his mind. A group studies Jewish teachings on greed, and they commit themselves to taking concrete steps to limit their consumption. Another group pores over a medieval Hebrew text about pride, and they conclude their weekly study session by chanting some of its words out loud to a haunting Jewish melody.

These American Jews display a good deal of moral seriousness, a tendency towards introspection, and a concern with the virtues to a degree that is somewhat uncommon in mainstream American Jewish culture. In describing their behavior, they might refer to the Jewish tradition of “Musar” (“moral discipline”) and explain that they are carrying on the legacy of a nineteenth-century, Lithuania-based movement known as the “Musar movement.” Most American Jews have not heard of the Musar movement, and many, upon learning about it, would write it off as requiring too much self-criticism, too much moralizing, and too much work. And yet interest in Musar has been steadily growing in contemporary America, in part as a counter-cultural phenomenon….

Institute for Advanced Studies In Culture