Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bodhicitta and Beyond

This is going to be one of my most difficult posts write, at any rate.
[note: this post is intended mostly for my non-Buddhist readers who wonder what exactly is going on with me right now, and who are not familiar with what Buddhism teaches. I am not intending to "convert" anyone, just shed some light.]

Most of you know I haven't been a Buddhist that long, technically speaking. In fact, I am a newcomer to it since my recent exposure to Tibetan culture, and as per my previous post am only just beginning an actual study and practice of Buddhism.
However, even before taking refuge I already had Buddhist tendencies/leanings, I guess you could say.

The things which bother me (and have since my teens) most about Christianity (my own upbringing) are:
1) Lack of accountability for your own actions (it never ceased to amaze me that many who claim to be Christians really believe you can sin and simply say a prayer,likely half-hearted, and that makes whatever you did ok- at least in your own mind). Buddhists seem to me to tend to examine karma more least serious ones who are truly interested in a higher rebirth. I am actually more likely to behave properly, morally, as a Buddhist than I ever did when I was a Christian.

2) Seeing so many Christians NOT follow the teachings of Christ (which I guess ties in with the above). I hated listening to talk of converting heathens. I hated seeing politicians use Christian doctrine. I hated knowing that over the past 2000 odd years that more people have been slaughtered in the name of Christ than I care to think about. I saw that the church was not Christ and was shocked that no one else in my otherwise fairly intelligent immediate circle seemed to catch on to that, too. I lost friends when I tried to explain to them that Islam also teaches non-violence and that there are as many Christian radicals as Muslim terrorists.

Then I read today's post at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt, a blog by a Zen Buddhist online acquaintance, which actually prompted me to write this post.

So, as it IS related (ie the above complaints would be less of an issue provided everyone knew about the items below), I wanted to talk about bodhicitta...metta...and beyond. I honestly believe everyone can, and should, follow these guidelines, because the teachings are not at all limited to Buddhism (well, except bodhicitta).

Bodhicitta: the wish to attain enlightenment so as to reincarnate repeatedly to help all other sentient beings attain enlightenment.  (hey look! a wiki on How to Cultivate Bodhicitta!)
Of course I cannot claim to have total bodhicitta motivation. I'm not sure anyone can. We are not perfect. Every now and again ( we think of our own needs, our own comforts, in this life.
But I DO strongly wish for peace, and for permanent world peace to happen, all sentient beings must become enlightened.
So I endeavor to remind myself repeatedly and to practice...

Metta: loving-kindness...a pure selfless compassion for all other beings as based on the notion that, via eons of reincarnations, all other beings have at one time been our mothers (some say think "mothers, friends, lovers"). Meaning, we act kindly towards anything living (even insects) because we know we are intimately connected. Everything has its place and purpose. Harming any other beings is harmful to ourselves, to humankind as a whole, and to the planet.

Metta also involves Right Speech and Right Action, which fall under the Buddhist Precepts (or moral code of conduct, if you will).
Right Speech means that we are honest. We do not lie. But it goes far beyond that. It also means that we do not speak out of anger or with the intent of hurting any other living being. We do not gossip or talk about anyone behind his back. And we avoid "idle talk" about useless topics (and yes, these are really hard to follow, because if taken literally it would mean we pretty much shouldn't say anything at all...which is a recommended part of it, according to Buddha Sakyamuni).
Right Action means we do not intentionally kill (another person, animal, or insect). We do not intentionally cause injury or suffering to any other sentient being. We do not steal...interpreted as meaning never to take anything not freely given to you. We avoid sexual misconduct (and this is open to a wide range of interpretations which I won't go into in detail) mostly meaning not to cause any harm by our sexual deeds (ie no rape, no extramarital affairs, no sex with minors, no suggestive behavior w/monks or get the idea)

There are many places on the web to read much more about these concepts. I started with About Buddhism and followed links until I was satisfied!

I am really far from perfect. I eat meat. I have to try really REALLY hard not to kill ant colonies in my matter how hard I try, I can't envision them as my mother and do not feel loving-kindness for them! I get upset when I am attacked...but fortunately I am increasingly less likely to respond out of anger these days!
I hope I don't come across as preachy.
I have to remind myself through my own words on the subject that I need to think about these topics and try harder every day!

Wanna learn more about Bodhicitta?! (see left)

I also highly recommend reading any and all works by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Stuck at the Beginning

I have been feeling "stuck", the past few days.
After my recent life-changing travels through India, most of which I spent volunteering in the Tibetan exile community of McleodGanj, I came back to the USA feeling grateful for a chance to rest and recoup.
Almost immediately, I began reading everything I could get my hands on regarding beginning practice in Tibetan Buddhism.

Let me back track a wee bit:
Living in McleodGanj (aka Dharamsala, exile home of the Dalai Lama) was a daily immersion in Tibetan Buddhism, and yet I never "studied" or read anything while there. I floated around in various stages of "enlightenment", carried by the incredible vibes swirling around the Himalayan foothills...Chanting emanated from monasteries as I walked Kora and spun prayer wheels and learned how to use my mala and do my own mantras.
I sat, on different occasions, within a few yards of HH the 14th Dalai Lama, swept away by unseen unheard waves of energy.
I had amazing insights and grew, spiritually, in leaps and bounds.
Leaving the Tibetan community was heart-breaking, and I have vowed to get back ASAP to do whatever I can for them, as well as continue my own journey.

When I arrived back in America, after nearly 5 days recovering from jet-lag, I began ordering Tibetan Buddhism books, book-marking every Buddhist website I could find. 
At first it was more like intellectual learning, trying to get my head around what I had just experienced.
I wanted to know what all those red-robed monks knew that made them radiate pure light from their glowing faces.
I learned the Four Noble Truths, read and re-read the Eightfold Path, memorized The Three Pure Precepts and the Five Precepts... I read articles and essays on "metta", and pondered whether true "bodhicitta" is possible.

I froze, however, at the idea of "meditation". I am notoriously scatter-brained, have been called ADHD.
Mindfulness? On rare occasion.
Oh I SIT plenty.
I sit on my rear-end and my mind goes all over the universe.
Letting go of attachments? Ummmm...not so much. In fact, I happen to quite like my sentimental nature. I've been known to wallow in memories and longings. It has driven most of my creative work for the past 30 years.

Last night, as I was reading, I simply hit a wall. I could not grasp a single concept. Mind, no mind...self, no self...
I just kept thinking, "WTF?" Seriously.
And maybe that's the point. Maybe an intellectual study of all of this is not important. Maybe, at least for now, it's okay to simply follow the precepts as best as I can.

My own phrasing of what I learned in McleodGanj, written at the top of several journal pages:
It is what it is. It just is. Accept. Allow. Let go. Repeat.

I giggle to myself as I realize my own impatience for progress.
How can I measure "progress"? I have been practicing for less than 3 weeks, "officially". The fact that I am looking for progress may indicate a lack thereof!

The only progress I am sure of is that I am more likely to consider the karmic weight of thoughts before they turn into actions, whereas before I tended to act out of passion and think after doing so.
And that is pretty amazing in itself, really.

Yes, I am hungry to continue on the path.