James Martini archive

Tag : wis (7)

Three Jewels and Taking Refuge

Categories: Buddhism
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Published on: December 1, 2011

I should probably start this series of blog entries with the disclaimer that I am not a scholar, expert or in any way to be looked to as an authority on anything. This is first and foremost an exercise in regular writing and a means by which I can identify gaps in my own knowledge for future study.

The first on the Buddhist list of lists is the three Jewels, the three things that lie at the heart of Buddhism: the Buddha, the Dhamma* and the Sangha. Different traditions and sects have a variety of ceremonies regarding officially becoming a Buddhist but when you strip everything extraneous away it comes down to little more than a simple statement of commitment to awakening usually in the form of “taking refuge”.

Taking refuge is best described as looking for shelter from the pain and vicissitudes of life. People do it all the time and in a variety of ways, in the US it’s mostly by seeking distraction. Taking refuge for a Buddhist, however, is a statement both of faith and intent. Faith that through study and effort we can perceive our true nature, the nature of the world around us and, in doing so, free ourselves from pain, fear, worry and doubt as well as the intent to pursue that end.

Taking refuge in the Three Jewels generally goes something like this:

I go to the Buddha for refuge.
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
I go to the Sangha for refuge.

We take refuge with the Buddha as our teacher who points the way. We take refuge in the teachings of the Buddha as a guide, in it’s study, and practice. Finally we take refuge in the community of monks and fellow Buddhists.

As the first Jewel, the Buddha is pretty self explanatory. The Buddha was the awakened teacher who realized the nature of suffering**, its source and how to be free of it.

The second Jewel is the Dhamma i.e. the teachings of the Buddha recorded in the various sutras and commentaries. Essentially this is the roadmap.

The third Jewel is the community of Buddhists. Technically this probably meant the the community of monks but those are few and far between. I’ll settle for simply meeting up with a small group of local Buddhists for discussion and meditation.

Driven by fear they go to many a refuge, to mountains and forests, to parks and tree shrines.

That is not the secure refuge, not the supreme refuge, that is not the refuge, having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering & stress.

But when, having gone to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha for refuge, you see with right discernment the four noble truths:

suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the noble eightfold path that leads to the end of suffering.

That is the secure refuge, that is the supreme refuge, that is the refuge,
having gone to which, you gain release from all suffering & stress.

Dhammapada 188-192


* I tend to use dhamma and dharma interchangeably, the first is Pali, the second Sanskrit. Tomato / Tomahto
**I’ll go on about why I hate using the word suffering in another post

Okay so the Buddha, the Pope and a Rabbi walk into a bar…

Categories: Buddhism
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Published on: November 20, 2011

This morning it was my turn to “lead” the discussion at the UU Buddhist Meditation group (four or five guys that meet weekly, gab, and sit). I spent some time over the last week trying to figure out what I was going to talk about, wrote down a bunch of notes regarding the nature of impermanence etc and finally opted for a version of a joke about the Pope debating a Rabbi. More fun than a discussion of the First Noble Truth and much more in keeping with my attitude towards Buddhism i.e. lets not get too serious and forget that we’re supposed to be working towards being happy.

I’m happy to say I didn’t have to read it but told the story without consulting my notes although it wasn’t exactly word for word. I did, however, add some dramatic flair and the discussion afterwards was no less interesting than any other time.

The Gentle Art of Zen Mondo

The Joshu region of Japan is known for the dry winds that bluster down from the mountains and for the konnyaku plants that grow in the fields. The plants’ potato-like tubers are sliced and dried, then boiled and shaped into deliciously chewy patties, which are also called, simply, konnyaku.

In southern Joshu, on the outskirts of the town of Annaka, there lived a konnyaku maker named Roku. Born and raised in Edo, he might have spent his whole life there, but a tendency to drink heavily, gamble unluckily, and frequent houses of ill repute made that untenable. Having exhausted a lifetime’s worth of credit in just 20-some years, he left the big city behind, worked hard to learn his present trade, and was eventually able to set up his own shop. He had a certain charisma and soon came to be seen as the unofficial head of his neighborhood. Occasionally, young men who had been living too fast in Edo would show up on Roku’s doorstep and he never failed to help them.

Hachigoro showed up in somewhat worse shape than most. Not only had he parted with his last yen, but due to a bout of venereal disease, he had lost all of the hair on his head as well. Roku, though, saw this loss as a possible advantage and said, “I think I may have a job tailor-made for you.”

The nearby temple had been without a resident monk, without a bikkhu, that is, for some time. Gonsuke, the temple boy kept the place tidy, but he was too young to take over as head bikkhu. Hachigoro didn’t know a sutra from a koan, but he was old enough. “And besides,” added Roku, “you’ve got the look. Your head is pre-shaved! Come on, you can wing the rest.”

Thus Hachigoro was appointed head bikkhu. The original plan was to have Gonsuke give him a crash course in the basics of Buddhist ritual and, in fact, they did manage to pull off a funeral together. However, they also spent quite a bit of time over dice, with Hachigoro teaching Gonsuke the basics of gambling ritual. As a result, novice Head bikkhu Hachigoro was grossly unprepared when, one bright morning, a traveling bikkhu appeared at the gate and issued a mondo dialogue challenge.

Gonsuke met this real, bona fide bikkhu out at the gate and returned to the temple pale and short of breath. “Now we’re in trouble,” he told Hachigoro. “You can’t turn him away. In Zen Buddhism, and this is a Zen temple, you know, if a bikkhu is challenged to a mondo dialogue, he must accept. And if defeated, he must hand his temple over to the challenger.” Hachigoro rubbed his bald head and whined, “You mean he’s trying to drive me out of my own temple? That’s not fair. I don’t do mondo!”

The two decided to do the only sensible thing. Hachigoro hid in the closet and Gonsuke told the traveling bikkhu that his master was out of town. The bikkhu replied that he would return tomorrow, and the next day if necessary. In fact, he would come every day for the next year.

When the coast was clear, Hachigoro emerged from the closet, sneezed, and declared that they had better take the statue of Buddha and the other paraphernalia, skip town, and sell everything to an antique dealer. He and Gonsuke were busy packing when Roku came by to see how ritual practice was going. “Zen dialogue?!” he guffawed, “What are you worried about? That mondo mumbo jumbo, how hard can it be?”

“Harder than konnyaku, I’m afraid,” sighed Gonsuke.

“No sweat. I bet the guy’s bluffing. I’ll tell you what: tomorrow I’ll dress up as head bikkhu and we’ll see if he’s for real.”

The statue of Buddha was returned to its pedestal. Next morning when the traveling bikkhu arrived as promised, Roku was waiting for him in the main hall, seated in full regalia with his head freshly shaved.

After a deep bow, the challenger posed his first question: “When wind blows through a pine tree, a unique sound is made. Respectfully I ask, is it the voice of the wind, or the voice of the pine?”

Roku hadn’t a clue, so he said nothing and simply glared. At first, the traveling bikkhu was puzzled, but then it dawned on him that this was surely the advanced, deeply esoteric “silent mondo” technique. He nodded, closed his eyes for a moment, then glaring back, he placed both hands in front of his chest and made a circle with his thumbs and forefingers.

Roku shook his head and held up both arms in a big circle. Next the traveling bikkhu thrust out both hands with his 10 fingers spread. Roku responded by thrusting out his right hand only, fingers spread. The challenger bowed in acceptance, and held out his right hand with just three fingers raised. Roku threw his head back and, with his right hand, pointed to his right eye. With that, the challenger sighed, stood up, and walked out.

Gonsuke had been watching the entire mondo from a crack between the sliding doors. Still, he didn’t know what to make of the exchange, so he ran after the departing bikkhu and asked how it had gone.

“Well, I made a circle in front of my chest, asking your master, of course, about the state of the human soul. He responded with a large circle, meaning “as spacious as the spheres.” Then I inquired about the Ten Directions of the world. He indicated that the Five Great Laws would preserve them. When I asked about the Three Great Teachings, he pointed out that they are always here right before our eyes. That’s when I realized he was far too enlightened an opponent for me. I’ll return years from now, once I’ve attained a deeper understanding.”

Gonsuke was truly impressed. Who would have imagined that Roku, the konnyaku maker, was a Zen expert!?

But back inside the temple, he found Roku fuming: “That bastard must have passed by my shop and seen me working or something. He starts his mondo thing, but then stops, gives me a good looking over and a knowing little nod. I could tell he recognized me, dammit, because he made the shape of a konnyaku with his fingers. He was saying, ‘Your konnyaku’s about this small,’ so I made a jumbo konnyaku with both arms to show him how wrong he was. Then he asks, ‘How much for 10?’ So I show him, you know, 5 yen. Now get this! That bikkhu asked for a stinking discount — ‘Give ’em to me for 3 yen.’ Well, that’s when I told him to stick it in his eye!”

 

 

Achievement Unlocked: The Third Gem’s The Charm

Categories: Buddhism, Life
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Published on: November 13, 2011

My friend Jim has restarted the Buddhist meditation group at the local Unitarian Universalist church. I’d gone previously a few times when it was being run by James Ownbey (so many Jameses) but didn’t really stick with it. At the moment it’s being held at 10am in the office of the minister rather than in the main hall. The down side is that the office faces onto the foyer and the church is quite active before 11am services so concentration is proving to be challenging.

It’s pretty nondenominational in terms of the school of Buddhism. While the previous James seemed more involved with the local Tibetans, Jim is decidedly zen in his leanings. It’s probably best described as Reformed Western Buddhism.

The central UU webside still lists James Owenby as the primary contact and links to a URL that no longer exists. I’ll have to talk to Jim about getting that fixed at some point.

Starting Achievements

Categories: Journal
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Published on: September 9, 2011

Starter Diet (no fast food for a week):
Started: 9/9/2011
Days Completed: 1
Stay Away for Seven Days (no soda for a week):
Started: 9/9/2011
Days Completed: 1
Grasshopper (30min meditation a day for a week):
Started: 9/9/2011
Days Completed: 0
Nablopomo
Started: 9/9/2011
Days Completed: 1
Twitter Shitter
Started: 9/9/2011
Days Completed: 1

Is Buddhism Really That Depressing?

Categories: Buddhism
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Published on: September 9, 2011

I’ve been reading What Makes Me Not a Buddhist and although it’s a short book I find that it’s going very slowly. Not because the content is particularly challenging, the first couple chapters are essentially a rehash of the story of Siddhartha Gautama, but because on the surface it appears to paint a very drab and pessimistic picture of life, the universe and everything. This has to be confusing for the outsider because the general public image of Buddhism here in the west is that of smiling monks in maroon and saffron robes.

I think that things generally go awry when discussing two basic principles of Buddhism: suffering and emptiness.

Nihilists
These men are not Buddhists

I want to /facepalm every time I hear the phrase “life is suffering” uttered or written in reference to Buddhism because it is so pernicious a misstatement and so counter to our everyday experience of life. It’s no wonder that people unfamiliar with Buddhism reject it as some strange nihilistic philosophy. How can anyone accept a philosophy with the statement “life is suffering” as one of its basic principles when life so obviously can be pleasant, joyful, beautiful and even ecstatic?

Part of the problem is that the original word, tanha, doesn’t mean specifically physical suffering although that is part of it’s meaning. It also means unsatisfactory, unfulfilling, and incomplete so when we say that all emotions and pleasures are suffering it makes absolutely no sense to the casual listener and we sound like a bunch of pretentious emo douchebags.

Life is unsatisfactory and incomplete. We and yearn and ache and shop looking to find that sustaining joy or pleasure and always come up short. We know deep down that the new clothes will fade and go out of style, we know that the new car will break down and, in our honest moments, we know that we will age, sicken and die. We pursue pleasure and flee from discomfort. Our now isn’t perfect so we feel nostalgia for the past and look to the future, to the horizon, never mindful of where we are and what we are doing. Certainly everything has within it the seed of dissatisfaction but honestly, all life is suffering?

Emptiness is another phrase westerners run across with respect to Buddhism that seems to get thrown around and misunderstood. I’m not going to get into it right now but say what you like about the tenets of Buddhism, at least it’s an ethos.

One Day of Peace

Categories: Life
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Published on: August 17, 2011

Sometimes you look at a problem and it’s just too big. You don’t even begin to know where to start or whether any effort you make will make the slightest bit of difference. Quite frequently these are precisely the problems that most need a solution but any action you can conceive of would be like attempting to empty the ocean with a teaspoon. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems that afflict us at the personal level let alone on a global scale.

We forget the power of a single person armed with an idea and unshakable determination.

 “A man has an idea. The idea attracts others; likeminded. The idea grows. The idea becomes an institution.” — Top Dollar

The Game(rs) Plan for Fitness

Categories: Journal
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Published on: February 25, 2010

I’ve been thinking for some time regarding motivation and how to get my doughy ass into shape. I work in the computer industry and am a gamer which generally are not conducive to physical fitness in and of themselves. I want to be fit and healthy and strong so I can continue to enjoy life with my wonderful wife and see my daughter graduate college and move on to her life. So how do I map this goal onto my mmo mentality?

The answer came from an xkcd comic in which a stick figure was doing pullups to level up STR before running to level up CON. I’ll just map activities onto the D&D stats with the intention of “leveling them up”:

STR – Stronglifts 5×5 strength training
INT – Nonfiction reading, mathematics
WIS – Meditation, reading philosophy
CON – Couch to 5K running plan
DEX – Start TKD again once I’ve gone six months or so on the STR and CON.
CHA – Lose weight as a side effect of STR and CON, maybe moisturize more often.

STR and CON training will need to alternate days so I’ll probably alternate INT and the reading aspect of WIS so the initial schedule will look like this:

Mon – CON + INT
Tues – STR + WIS
Wed – CON + INT
Thu – STR + WIS
Fri – CON + INT
Sat – STR + WIS
Sun – Slack

Next up, the World of Chorecraft…

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