Monday, August 29, 2016

Buddhist Magazines, Not Worth Your Time or Money

Against my better judgment, I borrowed a Buddhist magazine the other day. I stopped reading Buddhist magazine about five years ago because, frankly, I thought they were sheer drivel. Most of the magazine consists of advertisements of retreat centers and celebrity Buddhist teachers. "Come meditate for a week with..."

The content tends to be along the lines of, "How to make sure you're meditating correctly." These magazines are the Buddhist equivalents of Fitness and Mens Health. "Want to jump-start your meditation routine? Follow these three steps..."

But I borrowed the magazine anyway from our meditation center, mainly because the lead article piqued my interest. And besides, maybe I had been too critical, maybe their content had evolved since I'd last read them.

Inside, I was greeted by all of the same schlocky material that you'd find in an advice column. The article I was interested in turned out to be a panel interview with teachers from various Buddhist traditions. No one said anything compelling. Maybe the questions weren't substantive enough; I don't know. 

What irks me about these magazines is that they don't promote Buddhism; they are selling the Buddhist lifestyle. Like any other consumer niche, the Buddhist lifestyle requires its adherents to subscribe to all of the major Buddhist magazines, amass and quote serene quotations about mindfulness and forgiveness, and purchase books by all of the major Buddhist authors. And of course, attend retreats, the longer the better, preferably ones led by brand-name teachers.

In my opinion, Buddhist magazines exist to promote books and retreats. They provide revenue streams so that Buddhist teachers can continue doing...whatever it is that they do--teach, lead retreats, write books, travel. 

If Huang Po, Deshan, or Yunmen were alive today, they would burn every copy they could get their hands on. 

You don't need to read a Buddhist magazine to be a Buddhist. In fact, if you want to practice Buddhism, take the $20 you would have paid for a year's subscription to one of these magazines, and donate it to the charity of your choice. That's much closer to the heart of the Buddha's teaching than anything you will find in a Buddhist magazine. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Training Wheels - Dharma talk

The Buddhadharma is like a set of training wheels on a bicycle. Once they have served their purpose, by all means take them off. We shouldn't get attached to the teachings. However, they are very useful to help other people wake up too, so don't throw them out entirely.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Take Nothing for Granted - Dharma talk

Meticulous care and attention, that's what Zen practice consists of. In this Dharma talk, I discuss the importance of appreciating everything in our lives as expressions of the great mystery.

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Drop your "but's"

In social situations, we are confronted with "but's" all of the time. Someone will say, "I'd love to come to the party, but..." Apologies are often punctuated with this conditional word, as in, "I'm sorry I said that, but you..." Which pretty much nullifies people's apologies, as the "but" tries to justify their behavior. It's a way of saying, "It's not my fault."
Sometimes admitting one's mistakes can be as painful as a physical injury. Our use of the word   "but" represents an attempt to protect our ego. The "but" shields us from judgment, both real and imagined.

I say imagined because there are no "but's" in nature. "But's" are products of the mind. We impose them over our experiences and forget that we've done so. 

For instance, when we say, "I'd love to come over but my car is broken," what we may mean is, "I'm angry that my broken car is preventing me from coming over." The "but" here is an imposition of our will on the situation. We can just as easily say, "Sorry, my car is broken so I can't come over. I'll gladly come if someone picks me up." Removing the "but" can dissolve our resentment.

To further the grammatical analogy, the conjunction "and" better expresses the inclusivity of reality. "But" closes doors while "and" opens them. 

Here's a practice: for the next day, notice how many times you use "but." What are the circumstances? Are you trying to alleviate responsibility? Are you afraid to be honest with others? Scared to disappoint people or hurt their feelings?

Study your language to learn about your own conditioned patterns of thinking and speaking. Use your "but's" as a lens to re-view your life. The Vow of the Bodhisattva is to save all sentient beings. That means removing false barriers and opening your heart to people. Our egos--our need to control people and events--prevent us from accepting the way that things are. They cloud our perception by making us mistake how we'd like things to be with how they actually are

There is nothing inherently wrong with the word "but"; it depends on how you use it. Is it an instrument of division or of harmony? Zen liberates us from the language game so that we can eventually use language--and all other means--to liberate others. 

To do that, we must pay meticulous attention to our use of language to make sure it serves our purpose, not the other way around.  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Decorating Your Hyphen - Dharma talk

We spend so much of our time trying to make our lives carefree. We avoid discomfort at all costs, the equivalent to carpeting the entire world. Instead, why not learn how to live intelligently with discomfort?

Introduction and sound engineering by Tom Eunsahn Gartland.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How do we deal with losing?

Two days ago I brought my kids shopping. When I was packing the groceries into the car, I accidentally left the paper towels on the bottom rack of the cart. I didn't realize the mistake until I was two parking lots away, so by the time I returned, the paper towels were gone.

I checked customer service inside the store just in case someone returned the paper towels. No one did.

I was angry, both with myself for leaving the paper towels under the cart and at whoever found them.

My first thoughts were, Great, there's $15 down the drain. Then I tried to make myself feel better by considering all of the times that I had found items or money that added up to that amount. Surely over the course of my life, at least $15 had fallen into my lap.

But that was just rationalizing; I was trying to make the sting go away by convincing myself that things were okay, that everything evens itself out in the end.

But they don't. Things weren't okay, yet neither were they not okay.

I had lost some paper towels--not good, not bad. Sure I could think that someone else was now happy with a bulk-sized trove of paper towels in the trunk of their car. But again, that was just another attempt to numb the throb of my emotions.

The situation was what it was. There was no need to think away the experience. I had lost something and now I was angry.

In moments like these--and there are plenty of them in our lives--we can close ourselves off through a variety of strategies, or we can do our best to remain open.

My chest felt hot and tight. I was hungry and irritable. My kids were quiet in the backseat as I drove home. I tried to stay open to the bedlam of emotions, thoughts, and sensations. The Great Way is easy, wrote Seng-t'san the Third Ancestor of Chan Buddhism, just avoid picking and choosing.

It's when we try to edit our thoughts and emotions, selecting those we deem pleasant or appropriate, that we are cast into the cycle of gain and loss. Before that moment, there is only the tightness in our chests, the sweat in our palms, the sounds of the car carrying us home.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Things We'd Rather Pretend Don't Exist

Today was that time of the year again--time for me to clean out the bathroom sink drain. The sink had been draining slower and slower over the past several weeks, so I knew it was time to clean it. But I kept putting it off. I'll do it next week, I kept telling myself. And on the summer went until I had run out of excuses.

Cleaning the drain is the home-owning task that I like the least. Even though I know that most of the gunk inside the drain is the result of my shaving, I want to gag just thinking about it. 

In Zen, there is no good or bad; picking and choosing is the source of unhappiness. Thinking creates pleasant and unpleasant, beauty and ugliness. Still, I couldn't help but squirm in disgust at the slimy mess awaiting me in the drain pipe.

As humans, we seek pleasure and try our hardest to avoid discomfort. When I unscrewed and removed the drain pipe, then snaked a paper towel down it, Basho's poem echoed in my mind: 
Fleas, lice,
The horse pissing
Near my pillow
Deep down I know that, like the horse pissing next to Basho's pillow, it's all It. Nothing is left out of the great reality. Everything is vital, integral; it's all the body of Buddha. In our ignorance, we as humans would like to remove anything we deem unpleasant: flies, lice, the slime in the pipes.

Avoid picking and choosing, another voice said in my head as black jelly-like slime in the shape of a cylinder slid out of the pipe. My stomach clenched. How on earth could this be part of the Buddha's teaching?

The mistake we often make is to confuse our response--or reaction--to something with the thing itself. Just because I gag at the sight of something putrid doesn't mean that there's anything "wrong" with it. That's simply my reaction to it, conditioned in part by my upbringing, culture, and biology. But if I were a crow, a dead raccoon on the side of the road would be a feast.

Avoid picking and choosing, I reminded myself as I tied the plastic bag shut. I shivered when the task was done. Thank goodness! I suppose that I could feel guilty about my reaction--after all, what kind of Zen teacher gags in disgust at some goop?--but I didn't.
If black slime is it, then so is my instinctive revulsion.
When our bodies and minds naturally lean towards or away from an experience or object (we all prefer one meal over another), that preference too is the great reality. The impulse to pick and choose is itself It. The Buddhadharma includes everything, even our rejection of other things.

Good thing too because in another 300 days or so I'm going to have to clean the drain again. Fun...