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Archive for December, 2010

Buddhism is yet again in the spotlight in main stream Western medias, I just saw a couple of weeks ago an ABC story on Spirit Rock and interview with Joseph Goldstein. I was also very surprised by the treatment that it received, the dharma was presented in a non-judgmental and serious manner. I guess this is all thanks to the book and now movie Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts has brought meditation back in the public arena, and it is not just about hippies in California anymore. It sometimes takes phenomenons like this to make people consider the validity of certain practices. If Buddhism is to survive and flourish here in the west, I must admit that there is a need for us to Westernize the teachings, we must create the New American Buddhism like my teacher Noah Levine mentions. If is wasn’t for his presentation of the teachings I might now of taken up the practice, he spoke to me in terms that I could relate to and helped me make sense of it all. As practitioners in the West we must take it upon ourselves to make the teachings accessible to the people around us, to use a language and situations that everyone can relate to, these teachings are meant to be used in everyday situations thus they have to be put in the right context. How are we to establish the dharma in the West? This is a big question, but it is worth exploring. Helen Tworkov stated in a recent article in Tricyle magazine that:

“I’ll make it simple: One Western person must attain full enlightenment in the same way as Marpa, Milarepa, or Padmasambhava. If one Westerner—man or woman, doesn’t matter—attains that level of realization, then pure dharma will be established in Western culture, Western language, and environment, and so forth. Until that time, dharma can be taught in the West, which is already happening; it can be practiced in the West, which is already happening; and it can be recited in Western languages. But it’s not yet one hundred percent complete.”


It took this type of realization for the dharma to become established in Tibet and then flourish, with the presence of great mahasiddhas like Guru Rinpoche, Marpa, and Milarepa which began to establish the dharma in a way that it will always remain there. After the appearance of these enlightened beings the dharma flourished within its own culture and language and has lasted to this day. This unbroken living lineage and blessing explains how even an unenlightened person like myself can practice the enlightened dharma. In India, Buddhism took root with the appearance of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Indian mahasiddhas. In both Tibet and India, dharma was established through the appearance of enlightened beings, and it will take root in the West the same way. Until we have this lineage here in the West, Tibetan dharma will for Westerners always be related to Tibetan culture and language, and Tibetan ways and mentality.

I do not want to take away from this idea and its teachings, they are still extremely valuable and will always remain like this. And I don’t know if I completely agree with what she has to say about the need for an enlightened being, the dharma IS established in the West, it is just really young. If we really think about it, we are already in the second generation of Buddhist practitioners in the West and it is still growing and spreading. I once heard of the analogy of a tree to explain Western dharma versus the more established traditions like Tibet and India. Western dharma is like a two foot tree compared to the magnificent old growth trees (India, Tibet, etc), but it is still a tree and it is not less of a tree.

Jeff Watt believes that what the West needs to help establish the dharma in the West is the third jewel, “sangha”. Many of us when we think if the sangha we think of the community of practitioners, but in reality the term means more the community of monastics. What Buddhism in the West really needs is a strong and dedicated monastic community. Instead of saying that the dharma can only become truly established by the attainment of just one Mahasiddha, Watt believes that the monastic commitment of many is what will strengthen and fortify Western Dharma. I tend to agree with this, it is important that we develop a tradition in the West that goes with our values and beliefs if we want it to really grow. I find that this is what is really important in this debate, the package can change to accommodate the most people possible, but the teachings always remain the same.

I am someone who has taken up the Dharma Punx nation as my sangha, and it has helped me develop a practice that is dedicated and has made me also want to share the teachings with my peers. The DIY aspect is something that has always spoken to me, and I find that it makes it much more accessible to others, to strip everything down to just the teachings and the sense of community is what can help spread the dharma in the West. I guess, all that matters is that we follow the teachings and apply them to our lives the way that we see fit, whatever that may be. I find that the dharma is becoming more and more established in the West and it will continue to grow if everyone applies it to their lives in a way that is true to them. Look around for a sitting group that speaks to you and don’t worry about the rest, the sangha and the dharma has many faces and one will speak to you, and at the end of the day that is all that really counts.

 

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I don’t know if all of you that read this blog have a meditation practice, but we all come to this practice for a reason. I have yet to meet someone who decided to take on this practice and their life was going great and were in search of a new activity. We usually come to this because we need a change, we become aware of our suffering and make the decision to make a change to free ourselves from this suffering. I am starting my meditation group at a new venue tonight, moments like this always make me reflect on why exactly I came to this practice and what are the benefits that I have gotten from sitting on a cushion observing my breath. Take a moment to reflect on what brought you to this practice, I know that my path to the cushion was long and full of bumps in the road, the important thing is that I did eventually make my way to the cushion and have been able to see direct benefits in my day-to-day life thanks to my meditation practice. I was a “clinger” that’s for sure, I would hang on to feelings of hurt and not able to let go of good moments in my life, I would be lost most often in fantasy and wanting my life to be a certain way. My mind was in a terrible state of disorder, my attention was never steady at all. I finally realized that I was the cause of my suffering and it was not everything else, I was tired of blaming all my shortcomings and disappointments on others. I also realized that I had a very unhealthy image of myself, my mind was on a continual pattern of judgement and that I would always believe my judgments as absolute truth.

I think that we can all see ourselves in this a little, we will always remember the cause of our determination to free ourselves from suffering. I also believe that everyone that has developed a dedicated practice has seen benefits to this practice in their day-to-day affairs. Even the smallest changes can be seen as a victory in our fight to go against the stream. My moments on the cushion have become a time that I cherish in my day, it is a time to look inward and learn to know ourselves on a deeper level, to truly understand ourselves and the world around us. Even if I have been living a horrible day, my 6-7 hours of unhappiness will soon be forgotten by my twenty minutes of happiness on the cushion, realizing that this unhappiness is nothing more than a mood that changes all the time. The teaching of impermanence has taught me not to cling to pleasant mind states and do my best not to push away out of aversion the not so pleasant ones. This idea of accepting the moment as it is has been possible thanks to the notion that every moment will pass, and having experienced moments of total contentment (being at ease) have given me the motivation to continue with this practice. We all have benefits that are particular to us, this practice is different for everyone, it is extremely personal and beneficial to the one that does it. There are however, general basic benefits that can apply to everyone with time.

The benefits of meditation are many, and can bring about feelings of confidence and self-control, increased concentration, better relationships and reduced stress levels to name just a few. Once you have found your own inner stillness, through regular meditation, you will be able to access it over and over again and with ease. This brings with it many far-reaching and profound benefits, I know that this new access to stillness has helped me act more skillfully in day-to-day situation where I would have reacted with anger in the past. Some changes can occur quickly, while others may take time and practice, but we must remember that on the path of meditation there is no destination, it is all about the journey.

Discovering your own inner stillness will have a ripple effect on the rest of your life, bringing surprise benefits as well as some that are more predictable, such as better health and a longer attention span.

People who have developed a regular practice will say they have developed a feeling of greater emotional equilibrium. In psychoanalytic terms this means that meditators will involve their egos less in everyday situations. In other words, with this loss of ego, one of the results of meditation should be a feeling of compassion – which is much easier when your ego is dissolved. Self control, in turn, increases self-confidence and a person’s sense of certainty. Thus, meditation makes you a ‘nicer’ person. Regular practice will make your mind much sharper and quicker, the ability to concentrate is hugely enhanced, so you will be much more efficient seeing as how tasks take less time and feel easier to accomplish. When you decide to do something, you will be able to just do it, instead of wasting time agonizing about how you don’t want to do it.

Benefits of Meditation =

  • Confidence and self-control
  • Improved concentration
  • Inner certainty
  • Ability to focus and work efficiently
  • Ability to let go of negative emotions such as anger and paranoia
  • Improved posture
  • Greater enjoyment of the physical
  • Better personal relationships
  • Improved health

Some scientific research had been done on meditation in the 1960’s (I know that this might be a little outdated, but I still believe that this would hold true today) and some of the benefits that were mentioned were: lower blood pressure, alleviation of some pain, increased levels of the sleep hormone melatonin and lower stress levels. It has also been mentioned as a tool to help people quit hard drugs, alcohol, and smoking; this has been proven with people in my life and I have also been noticing that it is getting attention from the bigger media outlets now.

There have been some people, people that suffer from severe depression or psychotic illnesses, became worse once they began a meditation practice. These cases are rare, but it can happen, meditation is not this perfect remedy to solve all our problems and free us from suffering immediately. It can be really hard at times and be one of the scariest things that you will experience, the scariest thing is sometimes our own mind. I have been in the darkest parts of my mind and it has always been worth it, I feel the benefits of my practice everyday and would never give up on the path now. This is a hard practice, I mean the shit’s hard sometimes, but the benefits always outweight whatever problems or bumps you may experience on the cushion or in life!

The benefits of meditation are obvious, for me, the biggest has been that I am more involved in society to help create positive change, my practice has been the greatest gift I have ever received and now all I want to do is share it with everyone else. I try to walk through this life with compassion and kindness to all beings, no matter how difficult it may be. I believe that change is possible, through kindness and compassion, this change will happen! I will leave you all with an amazing quote from Raghunath Cappo (ex-singer of Youth of Today and Shelter and all around positive rad dude!),

“If we scream for change we must be willing to make that change.”

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