Life is rough sometimes. Good or bad, just keep on waking up and living. Life gives us each moment to be here, to greet it. It's up to us to open our arms and accept the river as it hits us. Fighting upstream is good now and then, shaking things up, demanding others to take a second look. But if all we do it push against the current, we'll drown before we have a chance to make any change.
A bare stand of trees
Marked, lonely, littered, barren
Even in Hell, Joy.
Also, starting my bread making journey this week. We shall see how this transpires.
But my happiness? I don't think so. Truth is, we are each the architect of our own happiness. Zen says there is no where we can be but where we are at this moment. Indeed, the next moment is up in the air - it is a world full of possibility and we always have the chance that our lives will change. Nothing guarantees that I won't receive a call about my billion dollar inheritance. Nothing also guarantees I won't receive a call about the death of a loved one. Neither are terribly likely I think. But anything's possible. We may lift ourselves out of the mire and into the light or choose to stay in the muck and wallow in complete happiness. Really, the only person who designates whether we are content or not is us.
I have friends much wiser than myself. More often than not I put myself up on the High Horse of Zen. "Oh... you trying to speak to me about Zen? Don't you know I practice Zen?" Well, sure, I can sit still for a bit longer than the average person, but really everyone else lives life more than I do. I sit and fantasize about the future, anticipate the downturns, wallow in self-pity from time to time. Everyone else just does them, so who is more ignorant? The man who gets up each morning and chops wood, or the man who gets up each morning and wishes he didn't have to chop it?
I try to worry about the future less and less; I want to be a professor, I want to help the environment, I want to have a garden and a small home with some books in it, and I want to see nature from my window. The rest is up to life and my interaction with it. It will be a grand, graceful, stumbling, dance.
The above being said: Life will not work out as I plan. I can guarantee it. But I cannot be anyone else than me. I cannot be anywhere else than where I am. I cannot be anything but now. So when now sucks, why not just be with it? Pushing the river, trying to force it back up the mountain only tires us to the point of drowning. Better, I think, to just enjoy the ride through all the shallow sun-lit pools and rapids.
Life is busy, college is busier. That's why I haven't been here. Plus, to post when I have nothing to say is even more pretentious than to post in the first place. But I wanted to share a poem by Kobayashi Issa:
I picked up a copy of The Book of Mormon Today (for FREE! The nice price). Talked to a few of the "elders" and may have convinced them to come to a meditation session. Oh the ways life turns.
But anyways, I was struck with a thought today. The nature of religion, really, what we call it, what I, emphasis here, think it is.
I've spoken abou the Kesa before. Really, it is one of the biggest robes you will see. It is also humble. Made of shit-stained rags, funeral shrouds, etc... anything anyone doesn't want. It is beauty from horror, warmth from rags, form from the formless. It is Buddha just as you are Buddha, through all the good and the bag, the soiled, bloody mess, and the perfectly clean and serene. It is just what it is. It's up to you to pick up the needle and go, putting together your life, making what you will of the ups and downs. It warms my heart to the brim. But I'm 19 and a fool sometimes.
Now Christ. And I emphasize that as well, Christ, not Jesus. Two very different ideas here. Christ is bigger than you can imagine. The concept of Chirst and of God, for that matter, cannot be touched. If it could, it would limit it. This is why I am skeptical of much of Christianity. When you put Christ into a denomination, you limit it. Even the idea of "Heaven" limits the concept of Christ, a place of dwelling. Christ should, I feel, be present in everything! How could it not be? If this world is all one of God's creations and Christ was fully of God, then, naturally, every being on this planet is endowed with Christ, all capable of experiencing it. All that need be done is to let go of the concept of Christ, for when concepts are applied you shove something infinite into a box. Just let Christ be as it is, permeating everything.
The Kesa is Christ and Christ is the Kesa. The Kesa is boundless, Christ is boundless. The Kesa is Buddha, you are Buddha, Christ is Buddha. All of these things have been given forms, but they are truly beyond form.
Put me at the stake, I'm just a Buddhist musing :]
I expect to graduate college. It's a pretty solid expectation, what with my past academic history, this and that, all adding up to a pretty good idea that I will, indeed someday graduate college.
I expect to stay in my current relationship. We're both happy, yes the distance is hard and it does weigh on me more now and then but really I am very happy.
I expect to wake up tomorrow. I'm in good health, I eat well, exercise frequently, there's no reason why I shouldn't be alive and in good health tomorrow.
All expectations, all daydreams built upon the past and present. Really, despite our GREATEST expectations, life does not always work out in this way. And the second it doesn't, we have a conniption. Thrashing about, screaming "WHY WHY WHY?!?! IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY!" Well, true! It wasn't SUPPOSED to be anyway, it just happens to be that way now.
So what can we do?
Study for our tests, say goodnight to our loved ones, prepare for tomorrow!
"Do what you can, change what can be changed, and let go of the rest." It's all you can do.
Nine Years Ago, I first learned of the Middle East, Islam, and a small minority that falls under both of these categories.
Eight Years Ago, I cried for hours because I thought my father would have to go to war.
Seven Years Ago, it was just another day.
Six Years Ago, the world seemed fine, war never seems to touch us.
Five Years Ago, I was too busy starting high school.
Four Years Ago, the opposite sex always outweighed politics.
Three Years Ago, fear of the future, a consciousness of the world set in.
Two Years Ago, I was too busy applying for college.
One Year Ago, I began to understand the happenings of the world, and if not understand, at least pay attention.
Today: The world is sickening sometimes. Our adults throw fits, threaten to burn Holy Books, all in the name of some belief system. When the world doesn't go their way, they don't follow that holy maxim "Do Unto Others...", they begin a temper tantrum that has more weight than they could ever possibly hold. Our adults cannot even follow the advice they give their children, "Be Kind." "Share with others." "Use your words." How do we expect our children to grow up understanding right and wrong when we are aggressive, selfish, and violent towards those whom we disagree with? If we justify acts of racism and xenophobia with media coverage, we justify hate.
I don't pray for the troops, or for America, if I did pray it would be for all of us. We all need it.
Somedays I am really goddamn arrogant about being Buddhist. I feel so high and mighty, so much more moral than the rest of the world. Somehow I "get it" and others don't; even other Buddhists. My meditation is better, more important, somehow more complete than others. Not to mention what I do is FAR more important than what other people do, their feelings, their wants and needs.
Then I get the solid kick in the head that I need. A few examples about getting off that high horse we call "Buddhism". My new job at school is in the Biology Department working in the genetics lab. I work with fruit flies and not much else. Feeding, transferring, and, oh yeah, freezing them. Hypocritical? Yes. The whole "non-violence" thing really does not exempt freezing insects. A life is a life. But, it is part of my job. I have wracked my brain trying to find a way around this, but it is not like being vegetarian, I can stop another cow from being bred to feed me, but these little guys die either way, for lack of food, or because their containers get too disgusting to support life. So, what do I do? I recite a poem I wrote for them, and I freeze them with several bows toward their final resting place. There isn't much more to do. Making someone else do it would be to imply that I somehow holier than them. "Oh, really? Sorry, you'll have to do that part of my job, I'm better than that." Truth is, that's bull. If you eat, you kill things. If you drive, you kill things. I would rather take this responsibility and have the opportunity to show these guys/gals some respect before their inevitable demise than to have to make someone else do it. I'll take the negative karma, not to be self-rightous or Bodhisattvic, but because it is the right thing to do. Buddhist vets still have to put down animals, this Buddhist lab assistant still has to freeze flies:
Freezing The Flies
I vow with all beings
To respect and preserve the life
Of all, great and small
Second example: I live with someone who is decidedly not Buddhist. No problem; I like the guy. Thing is, I have to be mutually respectful of our space. When he's sleeping, I can't go and chant the heart sutra as I normally do, or really do kinhin (walking meditation) between zazen, it would wake him up. I used to think that my meditation was somehow more important than whatever anyone else was doing. Once again, bull. I always sit, everyday, but I make sure that my sitting does not disturb others. Zazen isn't about proclaiming to the world " I AM BUDDHIST HEAR ME ROAR!", if anything it may be more about becoming more like a chair in a room. Something that is just there, doing its (no)thing. I wanted to sit a 4-hour retreat today, with the chanting, walking, bells, etc... but he has somewhat of a concussion. Point is: don't be a dick because you think you're somehow better than the people you are with. Exchange the position and see if you would want someone making a silent ruckus while you were sleeping. It helps to take a walk in another pair of shoes now and then.
I really wish that I could slap this across my face so I would realize it each morning. Another day, another day.
Less than a week until I leave for school again and it's a strange amalgam of feelings. I'm elated and excited to see people I haven't seen for months, enjoy new classes and experiences etc... but I'm also sad to leave the comfort and ease of home during summer, seeing my girlfriend, and laying outside all day. But everything changes eventually!
The Buddha taught extensively on the impermanent nature of phenomena, everything is subject to change, no matter what. Relationships, people, attitudes, ideas, illness, health, failure - a mixed bag it would seem. The good doesn't always stay "good" and the bad doesn't always stay "bad", so we're left in a state of transition. But certainly that means we could never be bored right? Well... no. People are still people, Buddhas and still people, Zen Masters are CERTAINLY still people. So often Buddhas and Zen Masters, even meditators in general are supposed to be those who never fall down or give in to human tendencies. I will give you $50 if you can find a Zen Master who doesn't prefer one food over the other given a choice. Sure, maybe they will care a bit less about what's for dinner, taking everything "as it is", but maybe not. Eastern Idealism has led to one too many brainwashing cults centered around a "guru" figure. I don't intend to perpetuate that.
But I digress. People come and go, relationships start and end, life moves on (but not necessarily forward!) one moment at a time. When things suck and we are caught up in doomsday thoughts, well that'll change. Maybe only for a few minutes before we jump on the hamster wheel again, but certainly we can't be one thing forever, can we? Not young, not old, not conservative, not liberal, all these things are fluid rather than concrete. So time passes and passes again, and as of right now, time passes ever faster as Summer days slide by and the breeze starts to get cooler:
Blogs are pretentious; everyone gets a soapbox and everyone wants theirs to be important. Well when we all have a soapbox we're all just standing on level ground again, aren't we? Blogs are ESPECIALLY pretentious when they're just a bunch of random musings by a person with no particular aim or purpose (like this one). So! I'm going to try to be just a bit less pretentious in the further. Duh duh duh duhhhhhhh! A series!
Before my freshman year in college last summer I started to keep track of college life through a Buddhist lens. Well it failed, I was way to busy drinking and being stupid in general to even consider anything else much less a journal. To make a long story short, I got off the crazy train and started being more responsible with myself. No drinking (hate the taste anyway), a reestablished relationship with my girlfriend (almost two years, put that in your pipe), and a generally more conscientious attitude towards others. And so here I am, at it again.
My history with Buddhism in 60 seconds: Raised nonreligious minus the trips to church on Christmas, fast forward 17 years and I start questioning life and what I believe in. Much reading and learning on different faiths. I receive a copy of The Dhammapada for Christmas and I'm hooked. Read read read read! Find a center 15 minutes away, Tibetan in the Drikung Kagyu lineage. Love it, the sounds, the smells, the people. I take refuge 2 weeks after visiting for the first time! VIOLA A BUDDHIST IS MADE. I read everything I can, go to all the ceremonies, learn all the mantras and mudras, take empowerments from anyone I can. And, like all things, I overload. Too much pressure, expectations, guilt, this that and the other. I become more of a recluse than a human, not wanting to show too much negative emotion because of the Buddha Ideal, perfectly calm and blissed out (more on this and why it was so damn wrong soon). Emotional turmoil. I visit a Zen center and feel like I'm finally walking home. It makes sense, I love the poetry and the aesthetics. No voodoo, no superstition, just you and a cushion. Currently in constant contact with two Soto Zen teachers who seem to think I'm ok at what I do (pffffft, too kind). I sit everyday, regardless of where I am or how I'm feeling.
So there you have it. A bit of me. I'm going to try to make this relevant. Experiences, thoughts, all less ranting than before. Maybe you'll get something out of it!
What would the Dalai Lama do? Ok, so I get it, the guy is adorable. I mean look at him! Cutest world leader I've ever seen. But I'll be honest, I'm pretty tired of other religious leaders and politicians saying they're "Interfaith" because they met with His Holiness. Don't get me wrong, he knows his Buddhist philosophy, he gets the basic premises, but there is something lacking... Oh yeah, the influence and voice of the other schools and sects of Buddhism.
The Dalai lama represents Tibetan Buddhism overall but more specifically one sect, the Gelugpa, of Tibetan Buddhism. My thought? It's the easy way out for politicians.
The Buddha never appointed a successor, it was said the community of monks he left behind would continue to teach the Dharma after his death. Not so convenient for today's modern political candidate who wants to appeal to the Buddhist voters. I mean seriously, who's he going to shake hands with, 500 monks and nuns? I think not. So in comes His Holiness, how easy! One monk to rule them all, and he's darn sweet to boot! Well sorry, but that's not how life works. No easy package to just satisfy all of the masses.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful, His Holiness is a huge humanitarian, a symbol of world peace, and a wonderful Buddhist, I just wish politicians would and could understand that he does not speak for all of us. Not only that, he is not our Pope. Bodhisattva incarnate or not, he isn't the boss of me (Nehhhhhhhhhhhh!).
Blessings to you your Holiness, may you live long and continue your work. Blessings to you politicians as well, you could learn much from H.H. and other Buddhist and religious wayseekers.
Sounds a bit like something Zen Master Popeye would say, huh? But that really is the point. We are not perfect and no amount of meditation will ever make us perfect. We are neurotic, upset, dysfunctional, sad, angry, alcoholic Buddhas. And it's ok, always ok. But we should still try to be better, kinder, more compassionate people. A paradox, huh?
Too often I feel as though I come off wholesome, humble, all of that business. I've hurt people, messed up relationships, lied, stolen, pushed, yelled, cheated, etc... But! I've tried to change that as much as I can. I think I'm a bit more even headed now, but really that isn't the point. There is no point! No end goal, no "other shore" to reach, no enlightenment, no delusion. Every moment is the other shore whether we like it or not. We just wish things were different, and that's why we can't even see the Buddha's robe we wear.
I don't drink. Not because I'm so high and mighty on the moral ladder that I think I'm better than that, that it is some how beneath me. It just doesn't agree with me, I don't like the taste, and I don't like feeling numb. Often enough, drinks are taken to "take the edge off." I think this is the biggest load of BS I've ever heard. NOTHING, not even meditation, will ever fully take the edge off. It might dull things for a bit, but life is a self-sharpening knife. The edge always comes back. The purpose, I suppose is figuring out how to handle that knife. We can use it to slice our food, make something wonderful and fulfilling. Or we can cut ourselves because "we just can't handle it."
There are people with real, deep, dark problems and secrets in the world. It is hard to handle them, but let me reiterate it is ok. We start our life every moment, there is nothing holding us back. Let your demons come out, it's just your brain anyway. Thoughts are to the brain what stomach acid is to the stomach. A natural occurrence. Just leave them as they are and they will fade. I have no credentials, no certificate saying anything I'm saying is right, "an enlightened experience" I just speak from what I know and the pain I see in those close to me. I just ask that people wield their knives with care and a calm demeanor, even when it seems impossible. Cut your tomatoes, your cucumbers, and your bread - not yourself or each other.
The end of summer draws closer and closer every day. What do I have to show for it? Not much; a tan, some relaxing days, a few cases of heat stroke and some new scars. Lately I have been feeling terribly listless and totally useless. Doing the same thing OVER and OVER and OVER again. Well that's what I thought at least.
The computer is a bit of a leech on our lives I've come to see. We check this site and that site over and over looking for something new to pop up to entertain us for a brief moment or two and then we go back to lazing around until we get bored and then go back to the computer. There's no schedule in all of it, it's a random, energy sapping fascination. Very bizarre to me, now.
I suppose my whole realization is that I need to stop feeling so goddamn sorry for myself, I'm alive and I have food (and A/C, seriously). The whining about having nothing to do and blehhh blehhhh blehhhhhhhhhhhhh is only a self-defeating (yeah I know, "no-self") cycle. So I've put myself on a more rigid schedule. Wake ups, meditations, working, reading, computing, breakings, yogaings, all pretty much planned out. More and more I see why sesshin (intensive zen meditation retreats lasting from 1-90 days) are so freeing even though there is a VERY rigid schedule. Here's a typical one I found:
07:10 Zazen 08:00 Kinhin 08:10 Zazen 09:00 End of Day
INTENSEEEEEEEEEEEE! But seriously, there is freedom in the rigidity. No worries about this or that, you know what you're supposed to do and when you're supposed to do it. But, I say this with a grain of salt, because if things do not go as we plan, we cannot do this and this time or that at that time as we may have planned. JUST BE OK WITH IT. Life never follows a schedule exactly. Nothing is ever how it is SUPPOSED to be, it is just how IT IS. Life, unfolding moment by moment. Teaching, moment by moment.
Hey guys. So here's the lowdown on this: I need your help. I beginning a long and possibly frustrating journey of sewing this. The Kesa.
Sawaki Roshi's Kesa made of old Kimonos
Just some background info on this. It is the Buddha robe, well this Buddha's robe anyway. Way back when in india the Buddha collected scraps of cloth from anywhere he could find, rubbed them with saffron and other plants to sterilize the bacteria (and get rid of the smell possibly?), and sewed them together to make his clothing. The tradition lives on until today. So I am currently in the process of gathering fabric to make a kesa in the coming year(s). It is a loooooooooooooong process. I believe there are about 24,000 stitches in one, all done by hand. So that's why I need your help.
If anyone has any fabric, shirts, bedsheets, curtains, dresses, etc... I would be extremely grateful for the donation. It can have holes, stains, anything. The point isn't having the nicest fabric, the cleanest, the freshest. It is wholly about the journey, the process.
One more thing
My grandmother passed away just before summer started after a long and debilitating battle with a degenerative brain disease. I never got to say goodbye to her and I don't feel that my father or grandfather have come to terms with it. I will ask for an article of hers, anything really, from my grandfather and include it in this kesa. In the same sense, if any of you have a loved one you wish to be remembered and wish to donate an item of theirs, I would be beyond honored to include it in this robe.
The kesa is about life; not all shiny and new, not all happy and colorful. Sometimes it's dirty, depressing, saddening, even bloody. But that is life. We take the shiny and new right along with the dirty and old. Everything is viewed with an equal eye and respected with an equal heart.
Deshimaru Roshi wearing the Kesa in zazen (It's a HUGE piece of fabric)
So take a look through your closets, you college dorm sheets you were going to burn (we all know how gross that gets), anything. You have my biggest and most heartfelt promise to do whatever you provide justice.
THE VERSE OF THE KESA (recited before placing it on the body) Vast is the robe of liberation A formless field of benefaction I wear the Tathagata teaching Saving all sentient beings
Going camping in a week, Dad recommended a fishing license. Sorry, Dad, fish have feelings too. It's a common misconception that fish can't feel pain. In lab tests, when their lips were injected with low strength acid, they spent much of their time rubbing their lips in gravel to dull the pain.
I often get emails from various members of very extended family I have never met but this? The Above link refers to an email many of you have probably already seen, but that was just revealed to me this morning. It includes a letter written by a Michigan state professor telling Muslim students to "leave the country" because he is fed up with their culture, aka freely practicing their religion and protesting the depiction of Muhammad in a Dutch newspaper. Michigan State has supported the professor and not asked him to give an apology for his letter.
The title of the email I received? "Go Michigan State!"
Here's my problem: What the hell? We support bigots and racists who generalize whole cultures based on the most vivid case? Is that how America works? So basically, I should refer to all Catholics as pedophiles, all Protestants as Jesus Freaks, all Hindus as Cow-Worshippers, and Buddhists as asians or hippies, and all Muslims are terrorists. Not a chance.
Obviously ignorance and arrogance reigns in this country from time to time. For if Christ was depicted like this there would certainly be just as much outrage. "But, hold on! They're different! They don't believe in Christ (actually Christ is mentioned about 28 times in the Quran as a messenger of God) and well, they blow stuff up!" Get your head out of the sand, to put it nicely.
Certain members of my family feel the need to feed me this ignorant bull and I'm rather tired of it. I'd rather be written out of 100 wills than to even acknowledge that this is just and O.K. People would do well to read something about anything these days rather than live off sound bites from Anne Coulter, Glenn Beck, Keith Olberman, or any other conservative/liberal reporter.
A long day in Washington D.C. today. Much walking about, mainly around the Smithsonian, with my roommate. On paper? We should hate each other. Politically, religiously, and sometimes morally we are total opposites. But it works. Why?
Because people can get over themselves from time to time. I think that's a big problem we have, especially here in this political climate. We are much to concerned with me, and less concerned with each other. As long as I go home, get in bed, and know that I was a stubborn fool that stood up for dusty old beliefs that have no real bearing, well I can sleep well can't it? Nope. You shouldn't. It's foolishness. But that's how we cope isn't it?
Like most people home from college after their freshman year, I found a hobby. No, not recreating all the debauchery of my first year, I don't have the time to party quest when they aren't within walking distance. I started sewing. Yeah, whatever, I know. Not exactly the wildest or craziest summer plans, but I like it.
I started sewing the Rakusu just less than ago, you can see a picture to the right. It's as finished as it can be for the moment, as I am required to receive a piece from my teacher to sew on the back. This is all in preparation for Jukai, which I will let you google on your own if interested. But sewing a metaphor for life and then some. Again, I won't repeat all the metaphors. Pick up a needle and thread to hand sew something for a month and I guarantee you'll learn a thing or to about your patience, humor, and commitment.
I would like to sew the kesa, the full Buddha's robe. The Rakusu is a miniature version of this, used when the kesa is cumbersome to wear. It is a reminder of the commitment to one's practice. And I am very proud of mine, even for it's flaws and even though I don't think I should be.