Monday, January 25, 2010

Buddhism is the cultural frame

This one of those topics that just doesn't go away. Western Buddhists continue to say stuff about their spiritual identity in relation to their host culture. The host culture happens to be the one I find myself in. After staring at the sky for several minutes last night, something popped into my head while watching the crows take on a super-real aspect against the twilight sky. Buddhism is the cultural container of enlightenment in the East. It's not the only one either. I think a lot of the religious movements of the East are exactly that: containers of Enlightenment.

Enlightenment has happened lots of times in different times and places. Of course, I'm speaking outside of the opinion that all are enlightened. We'll leave that to another time (it's probably already in the past). For instance, Christ very well could have been enlightened. Why not right? Same with Muhammad and any of the Indian masters of Hinduism or all of the rest of them that spring from India (no disrespect intended). The shamans and medician men of all the tribes-people of the world all share from the same root.

So where did the Western container of enlightenment go? Did we kill it off with the Cathars? Was it forced into obsolecence with the Orders of Christian monks and nuns? Or was it hidden with the Freemasons and other occult groups? We don't even have a form of dress that denotes enlightenment. If we did, it certainly has missed my notice. Culturally, I think there's good reason why we're looking to import these symbols from foreign cultures. If it did exist somewhere and was fairly accessible, I suspect seekers wouldn't be out there chasing enlightenment from other cultures. Maybe Christianity just isn't sexy enough?? Maybe we're all crazy enough to chase something exotic (just because it appears to be so).

Perhaps the big dilemma is that Buddhism has people that have found clarity and that's what we are really looking for ourselves. The attractive part is the package that it comes in. We find all kinds of old stories that we begin to identify with like the seeker who chases after the master at any cost. Just listen to some podcasts and you'll find people that identified and executed the behaviour. Is this worthwhile? Well, that's not for me to answer. I've never done it. There's lots of people who became monastics to practice more fully. This identity is also evidence of the cultural container. I admire those that go for full ordination but somewhere in my relative make-up, I know that any cultural container is a bit of a mistake.

The reason I came to Buddhism is that at one point, I was very close to the views of Buddhism. I spent a lot of time in meditation and came up with some of the same content. I look back to this time in my life as the period where "I had it all together": well, at least mentally. Financially I was too broke to pay attention and wasn't eating too well. Some of that was fuel for whatever level of realization I saw then.

I continue to feel a bit dissatisfied with the cults that surround a living or dead master. The crowd distorts and confuses the simplicity of the message. I guess that's been my understanding for a long time now.

So is Buddhism inherently wrong? Well, you decide for yourself. I think its fine. It'll change as it passes through everyones practice. There's nothing to do for or against it but understand it as it currently is. Make it for yourself, the self-made raft will deliver the self out of the frame.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mara as an excellent representation of endless discursive thought

In my current practice of watching thoughts go as they come and touching the present moment, I happened on an old image that works very well. It's probably why it's still around :). A good way to get to the present moment is to label the behaviour or thought pattern. It could be done as easily as just call it: thinking, obsessing, angry dream, utopia. From where I sit, the label-making takes up as much space as the thought itself so it doesn't help me that much. But giving similar thoughts the same name does help. Mara happens to encompass lots of mind-stuff. Well, at least in my mind!!

So why do I try to get back to the present moment. Well, using my handy, dandy conceptual framework; it just feels right. When there's no thoughts in mind (or a few passing through), everything is ok. When there's endless thoughts, it really depends on the nature of thoughts. The best kind of thoughts, from my experience, are the ones that are barely there. The kind of thing where it's closer to a feeling. It's more like a colour filter on the mind than it is a thought. Even ones that kind of have a dark colour to them, they are far more enjoyable than an angry thought dream.

The wheel of suffering above really states it nicely and makes a good label. There's lots of symbolic story telling here. As I've come to know the image, it makes a good teaching device as well as nice wall art! Mara, who encapsulates the entire wheel could be seen as the embodiment of the wheel of pain. Mara sometimes is understood as ignorance or delusion. It leads to all kinds of crazy crap that's depicted in the wheel. In the Buddha's enlightenment story, he "defeats" Mara and all the stuff that Mara shows him.

So during sitting, as thought appears, we can just say Mara. That gives us something simple to do that, hopefully, doesn't spin us off into other universes of thought. When Mara doesn't exist, neither does the wheel of suffering.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thanks Eckhart

The place my personal story meets up with spirituality of any sort that has made a difference was with the New Age books and talks. I regard each author and teacher on their own merits but I do tread with some trepidation as usually New Age folks don't have a tradition that keeps them grounded. If they have found some truth, usually they don't need the tradition. If there is a tradition, it does help to validate philosophies that are out there.

The thing that has been a bit troublesome getting into Buddhism is how things are worded. There's a ton of great stuff in there that just needs a little context. For instance, I've seen the six perfections as something to attain when that understanding is completely backwards. Sometimes it helps to have stuff spelled out for ya. I'm not always the sharpest knive in the drawer so coming to these relational things, I don't always make the connection.

Something like the six perfections is a description of how being is expressed when there isn't a bunch of crap in the way. By crap, I mean ego, dinner plans, mental complaining, tv, and the rest of it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Relations, Conditions, Transformation

In thinking about relational existence (I am a body, I move around the world), if you consider the past expressing itself without a sense of "selfness" the thought process, and perhaps reality transforms.

So take all of space and all its forms there are conditions by which the world came to be and we can read about this in science and other religions everywhere; of course, it's better to formulate this for yourself. We can take those conditions and work them down to our own personal story and how our lives came to be and see that it's really no ones fault. Our conditions form our behaviour. As long as we are not seeing it directly there's only a couple of outcomes for any kind of stimulus.

So being a related body that experiences (perhaps creates?), relations and conditions we also transform the whole thing on the way by. We either continue the lineage of ignorance and thus create whatever it may create or we see directly and thus free ourselves. Seeing is the only thing that needs to be done. Once the pain or confusion has been seen directly we have a choice. We can choose to let it be or we can choose to change it and thirdly we can let it pass as all things do. Many times, leaving the situation be is the right answer.

Many people talk about being on a path or journey to some goal or end-point. Maybe its best to let them experience that. The only trouble with that is that whatever goal it may be is either unattainable without previous work, and thus only ever could be a pipe dream, or is fully attainable now. Either way, it's a sense of accomplishment that's being sought. Can we not generate this now? The form that's sought is strictly an attachment that can be dropped if we know that we are able to do this.

For some, it may be necessary to have a goal to "hold on" to. Maybe a process of generating some merit during a goal seeking exercise is necessary to prepare the mind for further acheivement. A sense of accomplishment can be a powerful force to move one from diseased states of mind to one that is able to clearly see the situtation.

A lot of the time, behaviours are there for a reason. Sometimes it's not entirely apparent. Many times if you know the personal story, or can infer bits of it, it's understandable as to why a behaviour is present. This works even for extreme aggression or other more severe mind states. Just because from our point of view, a behaviour is seen as unwholesome doesn't mean that it is so. To re-iterate, behaviours exist for good reasons.

The good news is that we have that pure ability to see and awaken at any point and if we are able to see, in the moment, what our conditions have created then we have the ability to be something else. Our existence is an odd mystery. Whatever is done with it is valid.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Solipsism - solved

I've linked an article by a Buddhist, North American scholar and the reason why I'm replying on it, is due to the "aha" I got from the article. The content of the post is mostly about a philosopher that meets up very closely with Buddhist phenomology. These are topics I'm interested in so it naturally peaked my interest.

I've always been a big adherent of Solipsism in that I've seen it as the only relational system that seemed to make sense - from my thoughts. The "Aha" in this article was that Solipsism only takes place in the recounting of a past moment. The fact that we can only see from our own experience is only grasped at the time of conceptualization. When in direct experience, there's only this experience. For that matter, the whole basis of self/other can only be conceptual. In the moment we are playing out our habits and conditions.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Hardened Religious

I think this is a view we all suffer from. Once you get baptised, take refuge, or whatever other initiatory rite we may take, we find ourselves identifying and defending. I guess what I've come to is that our religious systems shouldn't be something we draw lines between. To me, it's more like speaking different languages. They can be translated and it takes quite an understanding to do this work.

The views that scare me the most are the ones that are hardened down to the point where the person holding them are willing to kill because the non-adherents are damned anyway. This kind of identification is naturally prone to hierarchy building as there will always be greater and lesser. Someone has to make the decisions right? In that whole process one is measuring and bowing to the greater and ever seeking the fame of the top.

Aren't we all capable of our own decisions? We all know what's right from our experience. Do we need to treat each other as higher and lower? We know that every person is born equal. We're nothing more than humans on the way to death and it all hurts sometimes. Is it possible to treat each other with respect and equality? It seems that the world moves so quickly that we attach to these designations very quickly in reliance on others to do what we know that we can do with a little trust in oneself. Besides, can you truly prove your senses are telling you the truth? (Sorry, my inner existentialist needed some exercise).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A song while dreaming

A kids show song got stuck in my head. In the morning, this is what it turned into. Thanks Foofa!

Who thinks these thoughts, where do they go?
Who thinks these thoughts; some kind of animal?
Who thinks these thoughts, where do they go?
Who thinks these thoughts; who am I? I don't know.