Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Ethical Conduct • Right Livelihood
samyag-ājīva • amyak-karmānta

Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided. (via The Big View)

Considering what I do, I LOVE my job. I put in that 'considering' qualifier because I'm not convinced that the career I'm in will be career I always do. I'd like to mix things up someday and try teaching or some other line of work, perhaps overseas. I do love my job, though. The people I work with are great, the company seems to truly care for the employees, we're financially stable in tough economic times, I have interesting work to do, and they compensate me fairly for it. I really can't complain. However, I wonder sometimes about how the work I do may violate this step in the path.

The four examples given don't apply to me, but the caveat about occupations that could violate the principle of right action has left me a little befuddled. The company I work for is involved in the jewelry industry. There's nothing wrong with jewelry, per se, but I wonder about the environmental and social consequences of the production of the raw materials of the jewelry trade. Everyone has heard about "blood diamonds", but mining itself has a ton of negative environmental consequences from cyanide-laced leachate from tailings of gold mines to sulfide mining to open-pit diamond mining and the associated erosion and so on. The fact that most mines are in underdeveloped countries means that, with some notable exceptions, the human tragedy of this resource exploitation is staggering. How can I, as a practicing lay Buddhist, reconcile these facts with my livelihood? I have a hard time with it. My company is not directly involved in the mining, manufacture or sale of jewelry, we're in the insurance business, but we're involved enough that it makes my conscience twinge a little.

My mental jury is still out, though. I work with great people who have the best of intentions and any harm done is several layers of transactions removed from what I do, but I struggle with the connection, none-the-less. The industry has done a lot to clean up its image over the last decade or so. I hope that the work being done there is primarily in real effort and not just in marketing. But if the recent sulfide mining debate in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is any indication, then I suspect that greed is the motivating factor nine times out of ten and I'm going to continue to struggle.

Posted at 20:22:01 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Ethical Conduct : Right Action
Śīla : amyak-karmānta

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts. (From The Big View)

This principle reminds me of a Kahlil Gibran quote I encountered recently: "If the other person injures you, you may forget the injury; but if you injure him you will always remember." A person who has incorporated the previous principles into their lives will find it difficult to forget harm caused to others, leading to an unsound state of mind. A person who's actions are wholesome has little to worry about since in not harming anyone, they will generate nothing but goodwill from the people they encounter. The first explanation above talks about causing harm to come to sentient beings. I've talked extensively about this in previous posts as it regards my decision to stop consuming animal products, but it brings up another point, that of suicide. I can't help but think of a situation where one would have to likely sacrifice one's own life in order to save others. I would think that this would still be considered right action even though the result was essentially suicide, as the good caused by saving others outweighs the negative of what is essentially suicide. The second explanation speaks to the classics of lying, cheating and stealing. These seem pretty self evident. The third talks about sexual misconduct. This gets a little thornier as the times have changed a great deal since the time the sutras were written. Ultimately, though, it all comes down to not causing harm. Sexual and relationship issues, though, are pretty darn complicated. For instance, let's say Guy A is interested in Gal B, but Guy C is also. If Guy A and Gal B "hook up", that causes harm to come to Guy C, does it not? Does the good generated by the mutually consensual relations between Guy A and Gal B outweigh the harm caused to Guy C? It all makes my head spin and reminds be of a cartoon I saw recently

XKCD Comic

Posted at 10:18:26 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Ethical Conduct : Right Speech
Śīla : samyag-vāc

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary. (From The Big View)

The Buddha's explanation of right speech, as highlighted above, seems pretty straightforward. Don't lie, don't say bad things about people, don't say hateful things and speak only when it means something. In principle, I agree with the first three. The fourth, though, I have to only partially agree with. I'm not a particularly talkative person, and I try to be conscious of the meaning of the words I do use, but "idle chatter", when not in conflict with the first three principles, can still be a very useful tool. The friendly banter among friends, the pleasantries exchanged with a co-worker around the coffee station, the shared dreams and "sweet nothings" exchanged between lovers, and the news of relations shared among family... These are some of the things that build and sustain close personal ties with people. However, when this idle chatter is done insincerely, without any sense of presence, or with self-serving motivations, then I absolutely agree that it is undesirable. Anything, done mindfully, and with the right intention can be positive. I wonder, then, if this kind of talking, done mindfully, that has no deeper meaning other than to build relationships with people, is then considered "idle chatter"? Does this still violate the intent of this principle? I think not, but that's my gut/heart talking. Doing a little research, I've been unable to find any guidance. I'm sure it's out there and if I turn anything up, I'll be sure to post a followup. If any of my handful of readers have an opinion, I'd love to hear from you, feel free to leave a comment.

Posted at 20:42:38 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Sorry for my lack of updates lately. Things have been pretty chaotic. However, I read a blog post elsewhere today that really struck a chord with me. While my flirtations with Buddhism have spanned a couple of decades now, just as the author (Julia May Jonas) suggests, I'm like many 21st century Buddhists in that I finally converted while attempting to recover from a bad relationship (divorce in my case) and am now struggling in the beginnings of a new romance. So this post really spoke to me. Enjoy.

Posted at 21:29:50 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Wisdom : Right Intention
Prajñā : samyak-saṃkalpa

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion. (From The Big View)

I like this definition of Right Intention as "The mental energy that controls our actions" and "commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement". It's all about your state of mind and your attitude towards the world around you. I just recently watched the 'movie' "The Secret". While its hocus-pocus explanations for things and its focus on material wealth was pretty disturbing to me (seeming to indirectly encourage rampant consumerism), one message in the film made sense in light light of Right intention... What you think will manifest itself in your life in unexpected ways. While my criticisms of the details of the film are many, this is fundamentally true. The Buddha is said to have stated "The mind is everything. What you think, you become." So to think compassionately, to be thankful, to intend no harm, all of these things become you. If you cultivate these thoughts, they will begin to drive your actions and the universe will respond in kind.

This is also a large factor in my decision to be vegan. Compassion and cruelty to any sentient being (animals included, directly or indirectly) are fundamentally incompatible. Beginning to cultivate a sense of good will in all that I do has had a transformative effect on my health, both physical and emotional, and my dietary decisions have been a large part of that lately. I can look my cat in the eye and not be haunted by the other animals that would have suffered were I to continue to have the harmful intentions manifest in decisions regarding diet.

Posted at 21:11:36 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Wisdom : Right View
Prajñā : samyag-dṛṣṭi

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realize the Four Noble Truths. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions. (From The Big View)

This is where one begins when first studying the dharma. It's the process of studying the basic Buddhist principles. In one sense, you could pick up a textbook on world religions and study up, but as stated in the above quote, it is not just an intellectual exercise. It is something that must be grasped and internalized at every level of being. It's understanding, at a basic, intuitive, and instinctual level. I've heard this step called Right Understanding, and I actually prefer that name, as it better relates this idea.

I tend to over-analyze things and find this level of understanding to be difficult to achieve. I live in my head a little too much sometimes. Fortunately for me, anyhow, there really was no element of faith (in the traditional sense) involved here. The basic teachings of the Buddhadharma just plain makes sense to me. Not that they are easy to grasp, or that I have some perfect understanding of them, I have much work to do in gaining additional insight. It's just that they do not seem in conflict with reason and so I don't have that internal hurdle to leap.

So Right View/Understanding is the idea of looking at the world as it really is. But what is the true nature of reality? Start with the Four Noble Truths, throw in the Natural Law of Karma, stir in equal measures of Dependent Origination and Uncontrolled Rebirth(Samsara), blend in anātman until creamy smooth. Pour onto a hot griddle of Emptiness in 6" cakes and cook until bubbles of Wisdom begin to form, flip over and repeat until golden brown. Presto! Buddhist Worldview Flapjacks.

Posted at 10:13:30 central time.

Posted at 21:45:08 central time.

Posted at 22:06:25 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
This is the 26th and last installment of this series. I hope that if anyone has been reading this, that they've enjoyed it somewhat. I've learned a lot. It's forced me to slow down and really pay attention to this book, taking a year to read it instead of the couple of hours it would take otherwise.

He does not linger
With those who have a home
Nor with those who stray.
Wanting nothing,
He travels alone.

He hurts nothing.
He never kills.

This whole 'chapter' goes on about the characteristics of the true master. It's like a shopping list for a teacher, or a list of the hallmarks of a Bodhisattva. This section stood out for me because it reminds me of what it is to be a long distance backpacker. Happy with the few possessions necessary to sustain life on one's back, traveling alone, and continually moving. It then immediately talks about non-violence. The backpacking vegan in me perked up at these couple of verses. So it seems that when I'm actively backpacking, I've got two of fifty-four verses nailed. OK, so I've got 96% of the qualities of a true master yet to go, about 6% of the time and 98% of them the other 94% of the time... All I have to do is stop trying.

Posted at 19:53:52 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
desire rises
when past and future conspire
to keep us apart.

but time has no form
in the light of the moment.
patience comes easy.

Posted at 21:38:31 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Look within -
The rising and the falling.
What happiness!
How sweet to be free!

After this past weekend, this verse has a great deal of meaning to me. The rising and falling referred to is simply the breath, the object of meditation, Anapanasati. It really is the gate to true happiness, true freedom. Today, being a square day (March(3) x Third (3) = Year '09 (9)), has me thinking in mathematical terms and I wonder sometimes if the path isn't subject to the law of diminishing returns. Is it possible to achieve liberation or do we just get ever closer to it? I'm thinking the freedom alluded to in this verse is perhaps attainable, but even if it isn't, getting closer to it has its own rewards.

May we all get closer.

Posted at 20:55:40 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Let me start by saying that I'm a bad Buddhist... I did not finish the class. I was given tickets to see a band in Madison for Saturday night and it turns out a bunch of old college friends from up north came down for the show and ... long story short ... stayed out WAYYYYY too late and couldn't get myself out of bed Sunday morning for the last day of the class. I feel pretty bad about it, but had such a great time with people I don't get to see but once a year that it's hard to stay mad at myself for long.

So, that admission out of the way...

The day and a half of the class that I did attend was nice. I was really hoping for more dharma talks and discussion, but nearly the entire day was spent in meditation. I don't think I've ever sat for that much in a single day, but I felt wonderful afterward. I need to see about doing a retreat sometime. I thought this was going to be more of a class and less of a retreat, frankly, and that was somewhat disappointing. It also bugs me how secular the class is. I really WANT to learn more about the dharma. Perhaps I'm just being impatient. On the other hand, perhaps this is all there is in this series. It's valuable instruction and time well spent, but my expectations were off. Perhaps I just need to adjust them?

Posted at 19:40:21 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
I'm off to Madison again this weekend for the second weekend seminar at the Shambhala Center there. This weekend is called "Level II: Birth of the Warrior". The warrior metaphor kinda bugs me a little, but it was explained as being a reference to the courage needed by warriors, not as some sort of implied violence.

I'll post a little 'review' once I return. Have a great weekend!

Posted at 20:39:38 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Quieten your mind.
Nothing binds you.
You are free.

You are strong.
You have come to the end.
Free from passion and desire,
You have stripped the thorns from the stem.
This is your last body.

I'm seriously not cut out for the monastic life. You see, I like passion and desire. I know they ultimately lead to unhappiness since all things come to an end, but wow! what a ride! It's the ups and downs in life that mark the most memorable times. I know that those memories are the past, and the past exists only in my mind, as with the future. I understand this, but I crave experience of all sorts. My meditation practice and study of the dharma has tempered this somewhat or at least informed me of its true nature, but it doesn't make me want to live a passion-less life. I hope I can bring a little more presence, and little more compassion, to the experiences I have, but to throw off desire altogether seems super-human, and I'm merely human.

Posted at 18:45:41 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
To have friends in need is sweet
And to share happiness.
And to have done something good
Before leaving this life is sweet,
And to let go of sorrow.

To be a mother is sweet,
And a father.
It is sweet to live arduously,
And to master yourself.

O how sweet is is to enjoy life,
Living in honesty and strength!

And wisdom is sweet,
And freedom.

I like this passage as it talks about many of the core experiences of being human: friends, family, happiness, work, parenthood... All the essential experiences of this life. They are all presented as opportunities to 'master yourself' and develop wisdom, compassion and mindfulness. You don't need to be a hermit, or join a monastery, or give up these life experiences to be a virtuous person, or to follow the Buddha's example. For some people, it is their path, but for most, there are plenty of opportunities for spiritual growth in the day-to-day experiences of life. Believe me, those opportunities are everywhere! You don't even have to look for them!

Posted at 21:44:13 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
It is better to do nothing
Than to do what is wrong.
For whatever you do, you do to yourself.

Like a border town well guarded,
Guard yourself within and without.
Let not a single moment pass
Lest you fall into darkness.

Other passages in the Dhammapada, like this one, also have the universal appeal of the 'golden rule'. This one stands out to me in that it immediately calls to mindfulness as the antidote to doing the wrong thing. There's a certain truth to that. If one is mindful and approaches daily life with loving-kindness and forbearance, it naturally becomes more difficult to cause harm to come to other people through your own actions (or inaction). As I've mentioned in earlier entries, that kind of mindfulness is hard to cultivate while engaged in meditation, let along "off the cushion". It seems easy when things are going your way, but becomes next to impossible when the busy demands of modern life get the best of us. But there are those rare days when it seems nearer to possible. With work, maybe those days can become the rule, rather than the exception.

Posted at 19:50:31 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
I found a great quote on this subject this morning.

There are numerous sidetracks that lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.
-Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Spiritual Materialism seems tailor-made for western Buddhism and 'American' Buddhism in particular.

Posted at 09:14:29 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
Like the Himalayas
Good men shine from afar.

But bad men move unseen
Like arrows in the night.


Alone with yourself,
Never weary.

On the edge of the forest
Live joyfully,
Without desire.

This verse has proven difficult for me to interpret. I'm assuming that the forest represents the place where 'bad men move unseen'. We are then encouraged to live on the edge of the forest. Assuming I'm on the right track, here... the idea is to go about daily life (sit, rest, work) joyfully and without desire. IN doing so, in an unassuming manner, we make examples of ourselves and shine 'like the Himalayas'. Doing so without ego can be problematic. It's common for very 'spiritual' people to think so highly of themselves that they lose sight of the necessity of humility. There has been some real drama in western Zen circles lately, as blogged here, here and here that really seems to speak to this issue. I know none of the persons involved, but it's this kind of drama that makes me shy away from organized religion of all stripes.

Posted at 20:12:59 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
I've found myself thinking a lot over the past few days about coincidence and serendipity and their spiritual significance. For once, I'm going to have to rely on my own words, here, instead of quoting others, as I have not yet found any good writings on the subject. So, the standard disclaimer that these are my own ruminations and aren't to be taken too seriously applies double today.

I don't believe that coincidence or serendipity are entirely random. My rational mind wants to, but this is a rare case where gut feeling wins. Mostly random, yes, but I believe these moments are what we make of them. There is often hidden meaning in seemly random or odd events, but that meaning is what our pattern-seeking, conditioned, minds make of it. We make the meaning, but that doesn't mean that the universe isn't looking out for us.

Dependent Origination tells us that nothing has intrinsic reality, nothing is permanent, because all things are interrelated, dependent on one another, and always changing. The law of Karma, likewise, tells us that everything we do, our every action, thought and word, impacts our own lives and those of all other beings. With everything so interconnected, it's no wonder that life presents us with strange coincidences, serendipity, and even deja-vu. It's simply the echoes of our own actions coming back to us after bouncing off the rest of the universe.

So, what do they mean? I see them as lessons, as signs that things are going right or going wrong, or as signs that I'm heading in the right direction or making a mistake. Sometimes they are dire warnings, sometimes signposts, other times they're just a happy coincidence. How do I know which is which? Here again, I trust my gut and check in with my feelings on the matter at hand. The answer may not be immediately obvious, but it will usually come to me and will help guide the course of my decision making. By way of example, when my now ex-wife confirmed, after our 6-month cooling off, that she did still want a divorce, I was at a loss as to what to do or where to go. The very next day I was given the opportunity to work on a 6-month project out of state where I'd be put up in a corporate apartment. I saw that coincidence as the universe telling me that separation was the right course of action, so I took the contract. I've since come to understand that my divorce was the single largest catalyst of personal growth I've encountered and it was absolutely the right decision. The timing of that contract being available to me at that precise moment was unsettling at the time, but proved, as these things often do, that it was the way things should be. Things have a way of working out. It's just seldom in the way you may have thought it would. Just go with it.

Posted at 15:53:02 central time.

Category: Buddhism
Posted by: khanti
All Hail Discordia!

The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. I started reading this supremely weird book about a year ago, but just couldn't get into it. I've picked it up again, determined to finish it this time around and within pages of where I left off found an oddly Buddhist section.

All affirmations are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense and true and false and meaningless in some sense. Do you follow me? ... The life history which most of us carry around in our skulls is more our own creation ... than it is an accurate recording of realities. As Malignowski concludes, 'Reality is retroactive, retrospective and illusory.' Under these circumstances, things not personally experienced but recounted by others are even more likely to be distorted, and after a tale passes through five tellers it is virtually 100 percent pure myth... Only Marxists still believe in an objective history. Marxists and a few disciples of Ayn Rand.

This book takes every conspiracy theory ever imagined, lots of myth and legend, sprinkles in liberal amounts of sex and drugs and then bakes it at 450 degrees for 20,000 years in an oven in Atlantis. I'm hoping there's a point to it in here somewhere, but I think looking for the point may be missing the point, the book is about chaos more than anything and not by describing chaos, which it does, but by being chaos itself.

So, I was surprised by the above quote. It's remarkably insightful and lucid compared to the rest of the book. It's a fair description of Śūnyatā or emptiness.

Posted at 18:05:51 central time.