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Posts Tagged ‘Dharma’

This week I was faced with a question/dilemma/problem, it was all born out of a harmless comment in someone’s eyes I am sure, but these words maybe me look within and turn to the dharma for guidance. The dharma has never steered me wrong, it has always cleared everything up for me, but this case was not immediately cleared and I am asking all of you. What is right speech? And what does it mean to practice right speech? Let me put everyone to speed, I find that most will see how it is not as easy as one might think.

I was at work, a good day, I was wearing a new Fred Perry polo (I must admit that I am a total fan of this clothing line, bordering on obsession!) and one of my bosses was also wearing a new Fred Perry sweater. I always feel a certain feeling of joy when I wear a new item by this designer and I can see that I am not the only one that feels that way when we find that awesome shirt and get to share it with those around us. My boss was wearing a colour that some might say was more “effeminate” than the green that I was wearing. A colleague of mine asked me if I had seen his new sweater and I said yes in a tone that clearly stated my approval of his new digs, he then proceeded to say “I asked him if he switched teams and this is his way of telling us”, and this is where my debate and reflection starts. Is it right speech for me to call him on his homophobic statement and get to question why he thinks that first of all being gay is derogatory, that the colour that we were explains our sexual orientation, and lastly, seeing as how he is newly a father, what kind of role model is he being for his son and how he will view the world in the future.

Right speech is usually understood as one of the ethical conducts in the eightfold path as:

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.

As one quickly understands, this is aimed at the individual and the actions that the individual does in the world. I am really questioning, if we are to practice engaged buddhism, if this act of calling people out on their racist or homophobic comments not a part of right speech. It is slanderous speech, the words that are used are malicious and create a world where it is Ok to use homophobia as an insult towards someone. I have always had a hard time when people use terms like faggot to joke around when someone is not being manly enough or good at a certain task, to the point that I am seen as a hyper sensitive person that has no sense of humour because I object to the fact that this term is being used. I should know that it is not what they mean and should not take it so seriously, I find the phenomenon of the normalisation of hate to be a plague in our society and assures that prejudice will continue for many generations to come.

What I wish I said to my co-worker, instead of simply ignoring the homophobic statement and saying that I was glad that at least one person had taste in clothing in the office, I wish I would have asked him first of all why he finds homosexuality to be derogatory, that he should take some time to reflect on what kind of role model is he being for his newborn son, and how would he react if one day he learns that his son was gay (would his vocabulary change)? I find that it is important to study the normalization of hate in our society, language is an extremely subtle tool for hate, the more we hear something the easier it is for us to use it in the same context. I am trying to be as mindful and aware with my dharma practice, so why would I not stand up to hate and respond with love, teaching others how they can be less hateful on a daily basis? I find that it is my duty to stand up and call people out on their ignorant comments, that is what right speech is, speaking out to help others suffer less. I owe it to my colleague to let him know what happened to me when he uttered what he believed to be “harmless” words, I owe it to him, and I especially owe it to his son!

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Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday commemorating the day that the Buddha achieved enlightenment, which is translated as Bodhi in Sanskrit or Pali.  Bodhi Day is always celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, this is what is believed was the day that Siddhartha Gautama while sitting under the Bodhi tree became the Buddha. Sid, who was born in a very noble and privileged Hindu family, left his material comforts in the search for answers to the problem of suffering, specifically old age, sickness and death. He thus sought bodhi through meditation, self-mortification, and practicing other austerities.

After several years of intense practice, he realized that bodhi was to be found through meditation, but through a Middle Way, away from the extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence. The story goes that he meditated in Bodh Gaya (I am sure that you have all heard of the famous Bodhi Tree that is supposed to have been grown from an original branch of the tree that rested atop of the Buddha, it is one of the main pilgrimage sites for Buddhists from all over the world) under a peepal tree (a species of Banyan fig), now famously known as the Bodhi tree, and resolved to continue meditating until he achieved bodhi (enlightenment). It is believed that after 49 days of continuous meditation, Gautama achieved bodhi (enlightenment) at the age of 35. Since then he was known as the Buddha (‘enlightened one’). In other words, he kicked Mara’s ass and was freed from the shackles of suffering.

In Buddhism, Māra is the demon that tempted Siddhartha Gautama by trying to seduce him with the vision of beautiful women who, in various legends, are often said to be Mara’s daughters. In Buddhist cosmology, Mara personifies unwholesome impulses, unskilfulness, the “death” of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting humans from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive. We have all wrestled with Mara at one point in our lives, I know that I do it on a daily basis, I just keep working on not giving Mara too much power in my life and how I act within the world. I am sure that everyone that has attempted to sit and meditate has tasted the allure of what Mara has thrown at them, the important part and what I try to do every time is simply to say “I see you Mara” and keep on keeping on.

People usually celebrate and commemorate this day with meditation, studying the Dharma, chanting sutras (Buddhist texts) or by doing kind acts towards others. I find that all these activities are all great ways to commemorate this moment, I also find that it is a great time to reflect on what has brought us to this practice and what keeps us going on this path… So why not take some time today to sit and meditate on our practice and how we are progressing on the path. I know that I like to check in on my practice at least once a year and I can’t think of a better time than now. So take a moment to reflect and renew your effort towards your practice and the path that you have chosen, if you do not practice meditation or the dharma, there isn’t a better time than now to start!

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Things are going well, I had a visitor this week, I met her during my meditation instructor and group facilitator training in LA in 2008. It was really nice to be able to hang out with an old friend and talk about the dharma. I find that this visit has helped me learn a lot about myself and also my relationship to the teachings and how I should be presenting them to others. Honest exchanges are what make this practice so amazing, I find that the more I practice this path, the more I am learning about myself. Spirituality is seen as the practice to learn more about ourselves, but is Buddhism spirituality? This is a debate that I find is really worth exploring. I have always made a point of not telling people that I am a Buddhist, I find that it is greatly misunderstood in our Western society. In other words, I do not find that Buddhism is a religion or spirituality (I know that many of you may find this confusing, especially seeing as how we get all our books about Buddhism in the spirituality section, but if we really look at the teachings we can see that this may not be the case…). Let me explain, this is something that I have been explaining to a lot of people who are new to Buddhist practice, Brad Warner in his new book goes with the same argument, so I will use some help from him to help elucidate this argument.

Most people see Buddhism as a religion, it is easy to see that, as most writings on religion will always clump Buddhism in the big ones. The buddha, however, told his followers to let go of religion, seeing as if we are to achieve enlightenment we must let go of all dogmas. Religion gives us rules and beliefs to follow, hence we are tied to narrow views that tell us what is right and what is wrong. If we are to go beyond narrow views we must let go of all beliefs and question all experience that we have, with this unflinching question we are able to find truth in this life and world. In many ways, Buddhism is realism, as opposed to the two major trends of the history of Western philosophy which are idealism and materialism. Brad’s argument, which I could not of been said any better in his new book, is short and to the point of what I and others are trying to get at. Spirituality, in most intellectual circles, is seen as a kind of idealism “It takes the view that the spiritual world, the world of ideas, imagination, and mental formations, is the true reality.” This brings to mind the common notion in religious circles that we are souls trapped in bodies, but this is not at all a Buddhist concept. Materialism, instead of seeing material matter as nonexistent, sees it as primary. “Materialists, on the other hand, see matter as primary and spirit either as nonexistent or, at least, as negligible.” Buddhism believes that neither materialism nor idealism is correct: “We are not immaterial spirits trapped in material bodies, nor are we mere permutations of essentially dead matter who only imagine we have a spiritual side.” I am sure, if you have dabbled in Buddhism before, that you have heard the famous line out of the Heart Sutta “Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.” “Rather, the experiential, internal, subjective, spiritual side of our day-to-day existence and the hard, external, objective, material world we inhabit are manifestations of one underlying reality that is neither spirit nor matter.” I find that this can help one understand what one could mean by Buddhism being realism.

Our meditation practice is to help us navigate our life in the eternal now, it is not meant to hold us back or narrow our view of reality. This week has been really great for me to examine my relationship to the teachings of the Buddha and my practice in general. I guess the best conclusion that I got out of all of this is the realization that instead of trying to define myself with labels and ideas I should really be examining my practice and how it relates to my life. I am always reminded of the famous quote that we are not suppose to see what our practice can give us, but more what are we able to let in from our meditation practice. I think that I have rambled enough, I hope that this will open a debate within yourselves about why we do what we do, and exactly how are we going to approach our spiritual practice. Get in there and wrestle with these ideas to help have the most profound and honest practice possible. Thanks for reading!

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