Bad Day

Recently, I had a pretty rough day.  Nothing really unfortunate happened, but it was a constant series of small, frustrating events throughout the day, culminating in some bad news I got at work.  By the time I got home from work, I was just exhausted.

But, sometimes these days just happen.

The Buddha described the conditions of life as fluid, constantly in flux, changing, without anything to rely upon.  In the Lokavipatti Sutta of the Pali Canon (AN 8.6) he explains about eight conditions of the world:

“Monks, these eight worldly conditions spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions. Which eight? Gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure, & pain. These are the eight worldly conditions that spin after the world, and the world spins after these eight worldly conditions.

He goes on to explain that both the wise and unwise experience these conditions, but there’s a key difference: the wise know not to get attached to them.

Getting pulled around by the ups and downs of life lead to more inevitable frustration. Why? Because there’s no guarantee the Universe will always go your way.

Life is always one step beyond your grasp, so sometimes it’s best to just let it go.


Getting Ready for Bodhi Day 2017

It’s my second favorite time of year!  Christmas is coming up, as is Japanese New Year, or oshōgatsu. But there’s another holiday I am looking forward to: Bodhi Day.

Depending on which Buddhist tradition you follow, you might celebrate Vesak instead, but many traditions observe the Buddha’s enlightenment (bodhi) on the 8th day of the 12th month. For the solar calendar, that’s December 8th.

Bodhi Day 2010

This is a photo we took from when my daughter, Princess, was maybe 4 years old. We setup a fake Christmas tree as a “Bodhi Tree” and added a few offerings like satsuma-oranges and such. You can read more about it here.

A couple years ago we got a better, more sturdy mini-tree:

Bodhi Day 2017

We haven’t finished decorating the tree, but it’s a start.

Since the kids aren’t really actively Buddhist (nor do I really want to force it upon them), we keep things kind of simple. I usually read a story about the life of the Buddha on Bodhi Day “eve”, and also on the morning of, we give the kids some kind of wholesome gift, particularly books. Then we just have lots of fun family time.

The point is to just keep it fun and simple, not hit the kids over the head with too much religious stuff.

As for adults out there, a happy and peaceful Bodhi Day to all!

P.S. My favorite time of year is early November when Halloween is over and we can look forward to Thanksgiving.  That, and my birthday.  😉

Politics and the Parable of the Elephant and the Blind Men

Something I found in the Pali Canon particular the Udana 6.4 (Ud 66) which includes the famous parable of the blind men and the elephant:

Some recluses and brahmans, so called,
Are deeply attached to their own views;
People who only see one side of things
Engage in quarrels and disputes.

The Buddha’s point in explaining this parable is how people assert their own viewpoints even with just partial information and oftentimes wrong assumptions.

With all the political back-and-forth that goes on these days, we’re used to hunkering down with our “camp” of like-minded colleagues against an “other” who threatens us with their differing views.

But as the Buddha explains:

“The wanderers of other sects, bhikkhus, are blind, unseeing. They do not know what is beneficial, they do not know what is harmful. They do not know what is Dhamma, they do not know what is not Dhamma. Not knowing what is beneficial and what is harmful, not knowing what is Dhamma and what is not Dhamma, they are quarrelsome… saying: ‘Dhamma is like this!… Dhamma is like that!’

(trans. John D. Ireland)

Here in this context “Dhamma” means “the way things are” in an objective sense.  Instead, these people who cling to certain viewpoints becoming increasingly divorced from reality and thus bring misery and confusion to themselves.

This is a hard thing to let go of too, because it’s woven into our sense of self.  While Buddhism does teach “anatman” or “no-self”, nevertheless we construct our world from our lifetime of experiences, good and bad.  Thus, when someone attacks our views, it is an attack on our sense of self.

But so long as we cling to this sense of self, we suffer in myriad ways.

Thus, when the Buddha taught his son/disciple Rahula, he said:

And that should be seen as it actually is present with right discernment: ‘This is not mine, this is not me, this is not my self.’

(trans. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

The first step in avoiding a trap (even one you create for yourself) is being aware of its existence.  😉

What’s Old Is New Again

So, recently, I have started teaching Buddhism again back at the temple I used to go to; the same temple which I had left in a huff, and had sworn never to return.  Yes, that temple.

It all started this past summer, when I visited the Japanese Bonodori festival around here and ran into some old friends from the temple.  I heard that things had changed, and new minister was in charge and so on.  I kind of shrugged it off at the time, but then ran into some more friends later who said the same thing.

Finally, I decided to visit and see if it was true, and I had a chance to speak to the new minister.  We hit it off pretty well, and he asked if I would consider teaching introduction Buddhist courses again.  As much as I like making videos online and such, I admit I still miss teaching people in person,¹ and decided to send him my old course material.  To my surprise, not only did he read the material, but insisted I teach it.

In our last conversation, I expressed my reservations about getting involved again, but I did agree to teach once more.  So, now one Sunday a month, I teach my old friends and colleagues at the temple again.  It’s been fun, and I am glad I am doing it again.

In truth, my feelings toward Jodo Shinshu Buddhism and the Honganji remain unchanged, and to my own surprise, I feel no desire to try for ordination again since coming back.  All the chanting and hymns and talk about the founder does not resonate with me the way it used to.  It just feels hollow now.

I realize now that I like the teaching aspect of ordination a lot, but not the dogmatic/administrative part of ordination.  I already know how I would like to follow Buddhism based on my own journey, and I don’t want any religious authority telling me how to toe the line anymore.  By the same token, I don’t want to be responsible for telling other people who to live their lives either.  Empower people with information and letting them make their own decisions.  That’s my motto.

But in any case, I am happy to regularly teach again and content to do that.  The old robes I used to wear can stay in the closet.

Anyhow, we’ll see how the rest of the calendar year goes.

¹ I got to teach a few times in the past year for other groups, and I am grateful for that, but the opportunities were not sustainable.

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving here in the US is one of my favorite holidays of the year.  It doesn’t have the rampant commercialism of Christmas, with all the stress it brings, and it doesn’t have the blatant consumption of Halloween.  I like both holidays, but they are kind of exhausting.  Thanksgiving always feel a little more low-key, even though people just want to stuff their face with turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce.

But the idea of giving thanks and showing appreciation is of course very Buddhist.

The First Thanksgiving cph.3g04961

Buddhism teaches the (possibly poorly-named) concept of “no-self” or anātman (also called anattā).  This just means that we have no permanent, static self like a soul, essence or anything like that.  We arise through our parents, our environment, circumstances and so on, and none of that we can truly call our own.  Further, all that we are is fluid, subject to change like the seasons and so on.

But it also means that everything we are is due to the kindness and goodwill of others, even if it’s not always due to noble intentions.  The food we eat, the clothes we wear and so on comes from other living beings, their sweat and labor, or even their lives.  We tend to forget this for the sake of self-interest, but it’s still true.

When a person takes a moment to reflect on all the things that makes this life possible, then that person steps outside their own self-centered viewpoint and sees things as they are.  It fosters goodwill and compassion toward others, clarity of mind, and equanimity.

So, on this Thanksgiving day, take a moment to reflect on those things you are thankful for, and have a great holiday!