Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Free Buddhist eBooks

I found two excellent websites that offer FREE Buddhist ebooks (as pdf's). The first is the Numata Center, publishers of Gudo Nishijima's translation of Dogen's masterpiece, Shobogenzo. This title, amongst a handful of sutras (the Vimalakirti and Lotus Sutras, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, and the Hui Neng's Platform Sutra, to name a few) is available for free download. Click here to check it out.

Another great site is For an extensive list of free ebooks as pdf files, click here. For general resources, ranging in everything from Buddhist comic strips, audiophiles, to an online magazine, click here.

As these are free resources, please support them with a donation if you can. If you know of any other open source resources, please feel free to share them below.

Happy reading and tons of metta.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The impermanence of laundry

If you're anywhere as neurotic as I am, weekends are more stressful for you than the work week. I try to cram all of my chores--cleaning, vacuuming, laundry, yard work--into Saturday morning, so that I can "relax" the rest of the weekend. I don't know about the Zen"just doing the dishes," but when I'm unloading the dishwasher, all I can do is think about the next five items on my to-do list. When I'm home, I'm thinking about going to the gym; when I'm at the gym, I'm thinking about being home with the kids. It's textbook dukkha.

I'm stressed in the car ride home from work because I miss my family and can't wait to get a head start on ironing my clothes for the week (crazy, I know).

When I'm doing the laundry, I swear I have to fight back the temptation to take off the clothes I'm wearing and throw them in the washing machine. I'm haunted by the impulse to get things over with "once and for all," for finality. And of course it's unobtainable. As a Buddhist I'm well aware of the fact that nothing stays the same from moment to moment, not my mind and not the bathroom sink. No sooner is it clean than it's already getting dirty.

That's the nature of reality--impermanence. And the more I practice the more aware I am of my resistance to it. I think it's human nature to seek permanence, to assuage the existential dread of uncertainty. We cling to the dual fantasy that things are permanent and that they can actually satisfy us for good. ("If I only get this one last [fill in the blank with your obsession of choice], I'll be fulfilled." What a joke!) Both are impossible, and yet I still find myself fighting the circumstances of my life. Deep down I know that I will have to vacuum the stairs again next weekend, but that doesn't stop me from attacking them as if this time could somehow be the last.

Nothing illustrates this more than the laundry basket--the moment it's empty, it starts to fill back up. Whatever satisfaction I gain from completing the laundry is short-lived. Soon it dissolves, replaced by...dirty socks and towels.

I suppose that's the heart of our practice--learning how to accept things as they are, to stop resisting, not in resignation, but with genuine wisdom. That's easy to say, but harder to put into practice. For while I know this intellectually, I'd be lying if I said that next weekend that seductive voice isn't going to return, saying, "Hurry up and do the laundry," torturing me with the temptation of finality. Of control, of lasting fulfillment.

All of which are illusory.

I guess, like everything in life, it takes time to truly understanding this. We sit and meditate, pay mindful attention to the fleeting nature of the the mind, until we know impermanence in our bones. Until we are the impermanence, the flux and flow of life.

But that's a long way off.

In the meantime, I guess I might as well relax while I can; Saturday is still almost a week away.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons Flickr user: Sappymoosetree.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Happy Bodhi Day!

In Japan, December 8 is observed as the day the Buddha reached enlightenment. For Buddhists, I suppose, it's kind of like Easter is to Christians.
Last night, I tried to explain to my four-year-old daughter the significance of today's date. I told her the story of the Buddha, and to simplify it, I said that today, many years ago, Siddhartha Gotoma sat beneath the Bodhi tree and became a Buddha.

To this she said, "So it's his birthday."

At first I was about to correct her, but then I realized that in a way she was right. In a sense, the Buddha's awakening was a kind of rebirth.

Sensing this, she said, "Can we have a birthday party? With pink and blue balloons!"

I said maybe. I'm such a sucker.

Today is a very--if not the most--important day for Buddhists (or at least for those who recognize today as Bodhi day). If I could, I would take the day off work and sit in meditation. Next year I plan to. For me, today is the anniversary of one of the greatest moments in history--the day that Buddha realized the Dharma.

I can never express enough appreciation for the Dharma and the Buddha's selfless commitment to humanity. Every moment of every day I try to embody the Awakened One's extraordinary teachings. Thank you so much, Buddha!

With infinite reverence and gratitude, I bow.

Photo of Bodhi tree borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Peter Garnhum.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Don't forget to smile :)

Who ever said that Buddhist's don't have a sense of humor? Here's a little Buddhist cartoon I thought up:
"Gee, this sure doesn't feel empty!"

Image borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Abraham Lincoln's Photography.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Where did my "I" go?

Last Sunday I was sitting zazen in the zendo when I started to feel woozy. My head became heavy and my mind spacey. I've had similar symptoms before when my blood sugar drops (I'm mildly hypoglycemic).

This put me in an awkward position. Should I get up and tell the jikido? I wondered. Or should I just sit it out? Trying not to get too anxious, I decided on the latter and just began to observe the sensations. Peering inside, I tried to penetrate the feeling of unreality. Quickly I found it, a kind of solid barrier in my nerves, almost a literal physical pressure around my body. It was manageable and not too unpleasant, so I decided to have some fun with it. I probed the feeling deeper, and what I found fascinated me.

The moment I located the sensation, my sense of "I" disappeared. Not in a non-dual, dropping of body and mind Dogen way; but in the sense that for the life of me, I couldn't identify who was experiencing any of this. Sure I knew who I was--my name and memories--but I couldn't locate this sense of I. I've had these kind of depersonalizing experiences before; they can be real creepy. You feel disembodied from your own thoughts and mind. It's very unsettling, not at all like the accounts of Buddhist breakthroughs I've read.

But this wasn't like that. It was more interesting than anything else. No matter how hard I tried to find this sense of I--something I take for granted virtually every moment of my life--I failed. Sure I was conscious and there was awareness, but it was a vacant awareness (I'm intentionally not using the word "empty," for it's a loaded Buddhist word and I don't think this was a case of sunyata. But then again, maybe it was).

Interested, I kept searching for my "I," but it continued to elude me. I think this is what the Buddha meant by anatman. There was nothing I could say with certainty was "me" or "mine," for my sense of "I" had vanished.

This persisted through walking meditation, all the way up until I ate an apple in the car. Then, either as my blood sugar leveled or the drive home distracted me, everything snapped back to "normal." It wasn't any kind of transcendental experience--I certainly don't feel changed by it--rather, it all felt kind of ordinary. Mundane even.

Since then, when a strong emotion arises, I've tried to play with it and search for the "I" feeling. And while the experience isn't as poignant as it was on Sunday, I still can't locate the person feeling any of this. There is only sensations and perceptions.

I feel like Derek Zoolander staring at his reflection in a puddle. "Who am I?" he asks, a goofy expression on his face.

"I don't know," his reflection says back, flashing his signature male-model "look."

And neither do I.

But then again, who is it that doesn't know?

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Jahnia.