Lifestyle Gurus and Devas

Recently, I was amused to read this article by the New York Times about the business of lifestyle gurus. Definitely read this before continuing. 🙂

I have often noticed a trend where lifestyle gurus frequently and selectively borrow Buddhist teachings and incorporate it into their own, which is confusing for someone who’s not actually familiar with Buddhist religion, and thus conflating the two.

Reading the article above reminded me of the traditional Buddhist wheel of rebirth. Recently, I talked about people who in this live life as if they’re in one of the Buddhist hell realms, undergoing constant torment, or are the tormentors themselves, both doomed to find no peace unless the cycle is broken. Such hells do exist in a sense, for both humans and animals alike.

On the other side of the Buddhist spectrum of rebirth are the devas.1 These are the original gods in India that were worshipped through ancient texts called the Vedas, which researchers now call the “Vedic Religion”, since it predates all known religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.

Of these devas, early Buddhist texts mention gods like Indra and Brahma as protectors of the Buddha, and the Buddha explained how the devas dwelt in 33 heavenly realms, with the lower realms focused more on sensual pleasure, and the higher realms on more ethereal, cerebral delights.
Further, the devas live very long lifespans, as time flows differently in the heaven realms:

That which among men is four hundred years, Visakha, is one night and day of the Tusita devas, their month has thirty of those days, their year twelve of those months; the lifespan of the Tusita devas is four thousand of those heavenly years…

— Visakhuposatha Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an08/an08.043.khan.html

…but there’s a catch: even the devas die.

In Buddhist religion, the devas have extremely long lifespans, and live a life of ease and power that is well beyond humans, and yet even they are subject to decline. In one apochryphal story, the king of the gods, Indra (a.k.a. Shakra) forsees his next rebirth as a pig. As the king of the devas, he has nowhere to go but down, and greatly frets about this.

Thus, the heaven realms are not seen as a long-term solution on the Buddhist path. A person who lives an especially good life (regardless of being Buddhist or not) may end up being reborn in the heaven realms, but that is a double-edged sword because on the one hand you have a life of ease and great mental and physical powers, but on the other hand, it’s a distraction and a hindrance until it’s possibly too late.

Getting back to the original point of this post, I sometimes like to compare lifestyle gurus and people who aspire to follow them as devas. They live somewhat removed and oftentimes elevated lifestyles compared to the mundane lives of other people: a life of relative comfort and ease, sumptuous foods, health spas, nice homes, clothing and lively parties with their friends. But there’s something that will inevitably nag in the back of their minds, and that’s their own mortality.

You can eat the nicest organic foods in the world, drink the finest wines, have the best most satisfying sex in your life, or enjoy the taste of victory, but these are temporary things and in the end you will still face old age, decline and ultimately death.

How you face that death is really important, and may be the most important problem to solve in your life.

You can’t buy your way out of that problem, either. It’s something you must work out yourself, and the answer can be a bitter pill to swallow, but a bitter pill is good medicine.

So, it’s important not to conflate lifestyle gurus and their advice with actual Buddhist teachings. The two have little in common, and ultimately arrive at different ends if followed to fruition. One is focused on here and now, while the other is more forward-thinking.

1 Deva is cognate with English words such as “divine” and such.

Buddhism: Financial Advice from the Pali Canon

Hey all,

Hope you’re enjoying the spring weather (and the 3-day weekend if you live in the States).  I wanted to share an article online about managing finances the Buddhist way here:

https://www.urbandharma.org/udharma5/buddhisteco.html

This essay is a bit long, but does a great job outlining practical advice (summary: live within your means) while referencing important Buddhist sutras from the Pali Canon of the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

As I get older, and am now raising two kids, not one, I’ve had to make some adjustment in my life, including how I spend my money day to day. But while this is painful in the short-term, I’ve also come to realize that the alternative is a whole lot worse, so I am glad I am able to improve my financial situation now before it’s too late.

Enjoy!

Buddhism and Domestic Violence

I was originally going to make a different video tonight, but after hearing my neighbors two houses down fighting (with a toddler crying in the background), I decided to make this video instead.  I wanted to explore how the states of rebirth in Buddhism are real states of being, and that people undergo these states all the time.  Some of these people are living in a kind of hell now, and need help, even if they know how where to find it.

This is even more important where children are concerned because they have no control over their environment.  They are thrust into a terrible situation, and that is all they will know until it is too late.

So, while I don’t have any real concrete advice about dealing with domestic violence, I do want to address people who are tormented (or tormenting others) and tell them to get help.  It doesn’t always have to be like this, especially with children involved.  There is a way out, and it can begin by asking for help.

Thank you,

Doug

Learning Things The Hard Way

Sometimes you just learn things the hard way.  This video I made recently was kind of off-script, but I wanted to talk about some recent experiences I had with Zen.  My experiences so far have been fairly positive (besides the sore knee), but it’s also a matter of finding what’s right for you.

I’ve taken a break from Zen practice,¹ and have kind of dabbled in Jodo-Shu practices lately for various reasons outlined in the video.  I haven’t really quit anything, or committed to anything, but just seemed like the right thing to do for now.

Who knows where I’ll be next year, or even next week.  :p

P.S.  The photo above is one I took at Chion-in temple in Kyoto, Japan. The status is a young Honen, before he took tonsure.

¹ Which is kind of a shame since I had kept it up almost daily for 7 weeks.  Better than being a three-day monk.  ;p

Girls’ Day 2017 Wrap-Up

Hey Folks,

Just wanted to post a few pictures from our Girls’ Day celebration at home.  This is another doll set that Little Guy made in his Japanese preschool:

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Here is the sakura-mochi we had.  Lately, it’s been harder to find it around here, even at Asian-food markets, so we were happy to find this one.  It was delicious as usual.  I enjoy sakura-mochi once a year, but like the Thanksgiving turkey, or Christmas treats, it’s worth the wait.

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My wife also made a nice clam soup.  I can’t recall what kind of clams these are, but usually we get Manilla clams.  The small colored balls are fu, which are dried wheat balls (naturally colored) that expand in water.  The soup itself is made from shira-dashi, which is like a clarified fish broth (dashi).

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Finally the piece-de-resistance: a large plate of chirashi.  Chirashi is basically sushi rice garnished with sashimi and such.  This is mostly maguro tuna, egg, shrimp, and some boiled spinach on the side.  The rice itself is mixed with shiitake mushrooms and such.

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We played lots of karuta games with my daughter.  The particular game we played was a karuta game based on famous Japanese yojijukugo phrases.  Since neither my daughter nor I am that familiar with them, my wife read the cards for us, while we found the right cards to match.  My daughter won most games, though not without some serious competition.  😉

All in all, it was a great Girls’ Day and looking forward to Easter and Children’s Day next.

Happy Girl’s Day 2017

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It’s that time of year again!  March 3rd is “Girl’s Day” or hinamatsuri (ひな祭り) in Japanese.  Time to enjoy excellent sakura-mochi and chirashi, and spend quality time with the kids, especially my daughter “Princess”. My son made this in one of his activity books for the family by drawing in the faces (Mommy obviously did the rest). We are very proud of him.

To all the ladies out there, young and old, happy Girls’ Day!

P.S.  Past Girls’ Day posts for 2015, 2014, among others.

Setsubun 2017 Wrap-Up

February 3rd is a Japanese holiday called Setsubun (節分), which according to the old calendar marks the turning point when winter gives way to Spring (also called “risshun” 立春).

There’s a lot of traditions for Setsubun. One tradition is that people make special sushi rolls called ehōmaki (恵方巻き). The tradition is to eat the whole roll facing a specific direction, which changes yearly according to geomancy, without saying a word. If you successfully do this, you will have good luck. This year (2017) the auspicious direction was NNW. Here’s me stuffing my face in the process:

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Different areas of Japan have different ways of making ehōmaki. For example, people in Miyazaki Prefecture use lettuce with shrimp and mayonaise, while people in Yamagata Prefecture use roasted-chestnut paste.

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My wife made this one with seven ingredients to match the Seven Luck Gods (shichifukujin 七福神):

  1. cucumber
  2. carrot
  3. kanpyō (stewed Calabash Squash)
  4. shiitake mushrooms
  5. egg
  6. unagi eel
  7. takuwan (pickled Daikom radish)

Further, it’s fun to dress up as an orge (oni 鬼) so kids can throw roasted soy beans at you. This is called mamemaki (豆まき). The idea is to drive out bad luck and bring in the good luck.

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The mask I am wearing was made by my daughter when she was 6, so it isn’t very fancy but I liked it so much I use it every year instead of buying one. This year, my son made one too and got in on the act.  It was a daddy-son Oni combination!

Happy (belated) Setsubun to everyone!