Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is the purpose of life?

What is the purpose of life?
This story was submitted by a reader.
“Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.'

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - - like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.' “
This story, as simple as it looks, is very profound.  Many people spend endless time and effort in searching for the meaning of life, for its purpose. But, who really knows the purpose of life? Shakyamuni Buddha said that people would spend all their time debating and discussing those questions that lead nowhere. Actually, so did Socrates which is why Socrates avoided them altogether as well.

The Buddha added, "all this radical preoccupation on these questions, which they could not prove anyway,  was like a man shot by a poison arrow who — rather than have it removed as it’s killing him and time is of the essence — first demands to know what type of arrow it was, what poison was used, who shot it, why did they shoot it, how much force did they use, where did they come from  and all sorts of other interesting but useless questions to the main need of saving his life."
He further explained, "Look, you’re confronted with suffering in the human realm. That’s the fact in front of you. You know it. It’s real. Incarnation after incarnation you’re faced with this fact until you can attain enlightenment and escape, which is control of the process. This you know. This is in front of you. This is what’s real.” Simply stated, don’t waste your time in those questions, but focus on how to live this life!
Going back to our story, if a dog was the teacher, then you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.
The art of living is to live simply, to love generously, to care deeply, to speak kindly and finally,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The purpose of repentance

The purpose of repentance
Dennis Estrada

Serious practitioners of Mahayana Buddhism come to the temple twice a month and bow 108 times as we chant 108 different Buddha’s name. But do we really understand the real meaning of repentance? Why repent?

The practice of Buddhist repentance is very unique because we are not asking for divine forgiveness. It is the clear recognition of our own unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind. These are the result of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachments, aversions and delusions. We should never forget that we are the masters of our own destiny and responsible of all our actions, big and small.

After recognizing our misgivings, we make the resolution to be as mindful as we can, so as to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret, and to start fresh, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence. Living with a heart full of guilt and regret, which are negative emotions will never let you see things with wisdom and equanimity.

Traditionally, the practice of repentance is done through chanting relevant sutra verses and bowing before a Buddha image, which represents the presence of the Buddha bearing witness to our sincerity. However, if one has done wrong to someone, the correct thing to do is to apologize to him or her personally. If not, the practice of repentance before the Buddha would be rendered a hollow practice lacking in sincerity. Even if the other party is unlikely to forgive us, we should do our part in seeking forgiveness - this is also the practice of humility. Actual remedial action of making up for any physical or psychological damage caused to others is also important - or repentance would literally be merely saying "sorry".

Repentance should ideally be practiced at the end of each day. We should sit down and meditate as we try to recall the best we can, any misgivings we have done in the day. For repentance to be more effective, misdeeds should be recalled as specifically as possible, instead of vaguely generalizing. Doing this practice daily reduces our repetitive mistakes as it increases our mindfulness the next day. Repentance should also be practiced immediately in the moment, without procrastination, when we realize we have just made a mistake. If one's pride is too strong, one should still make a point to repent later, as soon as possible.

The stronger our sincerity is, the more powerful our repentance becomes. It is important to understand that repentance does not erases our negative karma, but it can dissolve its future effects, much like the addition of abundant pure water onto salt, which dissolves the otherwise unbearable saltiness we have to taste.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mindfulness and happiness

“A very smart monk wanted to be promoted to the rank of teacher. Feeling proud of his past accomplishments, the monk went to visit the temple Abbot. It was raining that day, so when he arrived; he took off his shoes and left them, along with his umbrella, at the front of the door.

The temple Abbot, knowing the character of this monk asked, "Tell me, when you removed your shoes, did you place them to the left or the right of your umbrella?"

Of course, the young monk didn't remember. When he heard that question, he realized that he still had a lot to learn. Why wasn't he paying attention to his shoes as he removed them? What was he thinking about? Why wasn't he being attentive in that moment? As far as he had traveled on the path, he still had farther to go."

Mindfulness or paying attention to all that we do, is not just about where you leave your shoes or your umbrella, it is a tool that can be used to lessen the suffering and loss that we bring into the lives of others by carelessness. We all know that accidents, problems, and catastrophes can ensue when we don't focus on what we are doing in the present moment. The Buddha said that our speech is one of the great sources of negative karma, since many times, we talk without thinking and hurt other in the process.

Even in something as trivial as a phone call, mindfulness can make a difference. Even in the distance, the other person can tell if you are interested in the conversation or tell how important you are in that moment. Can you recall that in your personal life?

Believe it or not, our ultimate goal is our never ending quest for happiness. On a subconscious level, we are continuously bargaining about what makes us happy: money, job, position, relationships, and power. We are led to believe that happiness is dependent on possessions, from outside of ourselves.

Unfortunately, we live in an instant gratification, fast food society. We don’t have time; we don’t make time to enjoy life. We make our jobs and money priority number one. Remember, we work to make money and used it is a tool to live a better life, not the other way around.

When you practice mindfulness, when you pay attention to whatever you do, you live a richer life. The food taste better, the flower smell better and the time spent with your loved ones is priceless. Because you live in the here and now, you accept yourself; you accept others and realize that happiness is a state of mind.
And we all want to be happy, right?


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On emptiness or Shunyata

 “According to the Mahayana teaching, beings and things have no intrinsic existence in themselves. All phenomena come into being because of conditions created by other phenomena. Thus, they have no existence of their own and are empty of a permanent self. There is neither reality not not-reality; only relativity.
Form and appearance create the world of myriad things, but the myriad things have identity only in relation to each other. Beyond identity, Shunyata is an absolute reality that is all things and beings, unmanifested.”
Understanding and internalizing the concept of Shunyata or emptiness is a necessary to attain enlightenment. Well this is the deal…you see a car, and you call it a car...but what is really a car? That thing that we call a car is an amalgamation of many different parts, it is made out of rubber, plastic, metal, glass, fluids, and then there are other parts, an engine, wiper motors, electronic parts, electrical cables, seats, cushions…just like a human being…but what are we? How about ourselves? This thing that we call man or woman is a compilation of flesh, bone, sinew, blood, collagen, vessels, lymph, hair…that’s what we really are!  If you want to go even further, we are just a composition of molecules mainly Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Nitrogen rearranged in different sequences, add a mind, and that is what we call a man. Confused yet?
The bottom line is, things don’t exist on their own, and they are co-dependent to another thing. That is the reality!
That is the importance of understanding the concept of emptiness. Nothing has and identity on themseselves.  You cannot say, I am a man or a woman and that’s it! We are part of this universe and our components are in a constant recycling mode. Today I am a man, in the future; I can become part of the soil or even pages from a book!
As wild as this idea seems to be, is important to understand the concept of emptiness, all phenomena’s, and all actions are empty of themselves, because they depend on something else to exist. Just like you came from your parents and your parents from your parents. Once you acquire the wisdom to understand the concept of emptiness, you will be able to understand reality because you know everything is interdependent, everything is connected.  We learn not to judge, not to be attached to anything. We now see all our actions have consequences and you realize things just don’t happen because, they happen because there is a cause, and then there will be an effect; that is what we call Karma.
Now you are probably still wondering, what is a human being then?
Welcome to the Five Aggregates!
According to Buddhism, a human being is a combination of five aggregates (skhandhas), namely body or form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations or thought process, and consciousness, which is the fundamental factor of the previous three. Basically, we are mind and matter, and according to Buddhism, apart from mind and matter, there is no such thing as an immortal soul, an unchanging “thing” separate from these five aggregates. 
Thus the combination of the five aggregates is called a being which may assume as many names as its types, shapes, and forms. According to Buddha Dharma, a human is a moral being with both positive and negative potentials.  We make choices concerning which of these potentials we choose to nourish thereby becoming a part of exactly who each one of us is, in terms of characteristics, personality traits, and disposition.  It is the potential of each human to gain wisdom and enlightenment. 
 Buddhism teaches that each one of us is the architect of our own fate, and we will reap what we sow, isn’t that wonderful? In other words, we do have choices, but beware the choices

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blind man builds cars, sheds, birdhouses

MOORESVILLE, NC (WBTV) - Jan 21, 2011. Impossible has never been a word in Ronnie Presnell's vocabulary. Back in 1998, a car crash left Ronnie without any eyesight, but you don't need eyes to be amazing.
Everything he did before the crash, he does today. He builds cars, he builds birdhouses, and most recently, he builds a 10x12 storage shed for a buddy of his who's down on his luck.
Ronnie never stopped doing the things that make him happy. That's why he's never gotten too down about the tragedy that took his vision.

Resiliency is a big buzzword nowadays but 2500 years ago the Buddha understood the human condition very well. He realized that every human being goes through different stages in life; we are born, we age, can get sick and eventually die.  No one can escape that, no one can change that! Human life is very frail and also at the mercy of uncertainty like accidents, weather and natural disasters.
The Buddha recognized  that under these conditions and under the uncertainty of the future, in order to be happy, we have to learn to be resilient and make the best of what we have.We have to learn to live in the present since the past is gone and the future is a mere speculation.  We have to learn to live in the here and now.
When somebody goes through a significant emotional event like the above story, after the initial shock, we have two choices. You can choose to be a victim of the circumstances and do nothing  or bounce back and learn to realize your full potential. Only then you can exploit the skills and abilities that you have but  never used before.
Don’t you find amazing that a blind man can build cars, a shed and birdhouses while normal people with full functional limbs and eyes feel that they can't do anything at all? It's a matter of attitude; it's all in your mind. Let's not forget that happiness and resiliency is our choice. We choose to be happy or sad. We choose to overcome obstacles, or get crippled by them.
Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, whose scientific books and public appearances have made him an academic celebrity. He has neuro-muscular dystrophy, a condition that has progressed over the years and has left him almost completely paralyzed. Even at this stage of paralysis, he still makes great contributions to the scientific world. Please read his introduction to the Steven Hawkins Universe TV series:
“Hello. My name is Stephen Hawking. Physicist, Cosmologist and something of a dreamer.  Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free.”
That is true freedom!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Your Precious Human Life

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it, I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama
What is a precious human life?
The term ‘precious human life’ actually comes from the Hinayana Buddhist tradition. A precious human life, however, is something very special – something different. The Buddhist masters say it is almost impossible to attain and once you have it you should not waste it because it is unlikely to come around again. Basically, a precious human life is where you attain a human body that is endowed with all the free and favorable conditions. These conditions include:
  • Living in a country where you are free to practice spirituality
  • Having all the human sense faculties
  • To be born where spiritual teachings have been taught
  • To be interested in those teachings
Simply put, a precious human life is a life where you are interested in changing your mind and your situation. Many people go their whole human life never realizing that happiness lies right in their own mind. They pursue money and fame and nice cars and when they grow old they realize they still aren’t happy. How sad.
The Buddha used this illustration in a teaching . A blind turtle lives in the bottom of the ocean and every 100 years he comes up for air. If that turtle was to rise for air and by chance put his head through a bucket that was floating on the surface it would be extremely rare. Attaining a precious human rebirth is even rarer than that.
So now the question is… Are you wasting your precious human life? Will you be happy in your old age because you have lived a full and meaningful life or will you be looking back bitter with regret? Remember the law of cause and effect … depending on how you live your life now; it is how you are going to live your next life.
How to easily waste your precious human life
In our society, we worry sick about money. We also associate money with happiness. The never ending quest to be financially secure will crush your chances of making something useful of your life. Imagine the horror of growing old and looking back and realizing you spent the better part of your life worrying about something that really was pointless. I think it would be quite difficult to bear.
Of course, you have to go to work, you have to pay the bills, you have to feed yourself. It is not the work I am talking about here. What I am referring to is the WORRY. The constant consuming mental habit of worrying about the future. It is pointless. And it leads me on to number two. Then not just you have to worry about money, but also in how to produce money.
Almost as bad as spending your life worrying about money is working a daily job that you hate. I can’t think of anything worse!
The big question we need to ask ourselves is: is a job a means of earning money or should it be more than that? Should it be something we are passionate about or interested in? For me it is the latter. I would rather earn $10 an hour working in a job I loved than $500 an hour in a job I hate, a job which continually corrupts my character.
Spending your life concerned only for your own welfare
It sometimes really amazes me how people can go through an entire lifetime of 80-90 years and be only concerned with themselves. I have seen it in a few of my relatives and it is really quite interesting to watch – their family dislikes them, they have no friends and they are on death’s door and yet they continue to look after only their own interests.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has a wonderful saying:
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
I think he is right. A lifetime spent working for the benefit of others is a lifetime well spent. People who work in charity or nursing or healthcare sleep very well at night and I am convinced they will be much more at ease when old age comes and death is near.
So, sit down for a minute and reflect, are you wasting your precious human life?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to be a Buddha

There is a simple way to become a Buddha: When you refrain from unwholesome actions, are not attached to birth and death, and are compassionate toward all sentient beings, respectful to seniors and kind to juniors, not excluding or desiring anything, with no designing thoughts or worries, you will be called a Buddha. Do not seek anything else.
-Eidei Dogen, "Birth and Death"
We all go through life seeking  and wanting…a good marriage, a good career, a good partner, money, power   and when you  finally  get the internal cue that there  is something  out there, something more that this life you are living, you start again seeking ,  searching and wanting…
The truth is that in order to find what we are looking for, you need to stop looking outside.
What? You mean enlightenment can’t be find, bought or ordered through
No, there road to enlightenment is very straightforward and simple. What if I tell you all you need is morality, meditation and wisdom.
Morality to do the right thing, meditation to provide you with mindfulness and wisdom to be compassionate with yourself and all the sentient beings in the universe...
Sure, that is so easy, even a child can do it…
True, even a child can do it, would you do it?
That is the question…would you do it…would you have the guts, the patience and the wisdom to shed all the greed, anger and ignorance that is part of our lives?
In Buddhism, you gain while you loose. When you shed your ignorance, you gain wisdom, when you shed your anger, you learn the meaning of true love.
Once you shed all the greed, ignorance and hatred, we reach Nirvana. Nirvana is the state of mind where you don’t desire anything because when you reach understanding of the nature of things, you realize you have everything you need  and you are never alone because you are one with the universe; yes, is that good!
Reaching Nirvana is like the analogy of the onion. The onion is you; the layers are your defilements, your ignorance and your attachments… When you peel all those layers, there will be work involved and even tears, but eventually the onion will disappear and you will have a core. That core can be stripped too in other layers and then you will have nothing left which is Nirvana. Nirvana actually means “extinction” from desire, and when you liberate yourself from desire, you attain everlasting happiness and liberation from this world, Samsara.
Remember, everything you need to become a Buddha, is within yourself. Don’t seek outside. Peel your layers of ignorance, anger and hatred and you will reach the bliss of Nirvana.
Dennis Estrada