Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism.’

I found this via MetaFilter, it’s a great monologue about death. Part of what has always attracted me to Buddhist philosophy is the sort of existential belief that death is what makes life meaningful; that in order to live well, we need to meditate on dying well. Our lives are meaningful because they are transitory – every moment is precious and living in the moment is the only way to “escape” the future. By which I mean, that when we truly live in the moment and cherish every breath that we take, death is no longer a force to be feared. When I realize that I had no knowledge of the world before I was born, and when I die, I will return to the same unconsciousness, my life itself feels eternal because it’s the only life I will ever know – it lasts “forever” because when it’s gone, I won’t know that it was gone or that it ever existed. Every moment that I know is right now and since I won’t be aware that it’s over, it never truly “ends.” One of my favorite quotes is by Ray Charles: “Live each day as if it was your last because someday, you’re going to be right.”

I’m probably not making a whit of sense to anyone but myself, but this video is pretty fantastic anyway. Best part is that it’s narrated by performance artist Vito Acconci.


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Commodification of Buddha.

Photo by Flickr user Kaptain Kobold

Photo by Flickr user Kaptain Kobold

I feel like January 2nd is a pretty good day to buy a calendar. I usually fail at keeping track of the day to day by the middle of the year, resorting to jotting things down in a small regular notebook, but at the beginning of the year I always like to have a shiny new calendar. It seems like without a calendar, the changing of the year just feels kind of… arbitrary. Anyhow, I went to buy mine today. I always prefer the engagement books to wall calendars so I can carry it around (otherwise, nothing will ever get written in/on it ever). I was at Barnes & Noble and the selection was, of course, limited to what had not already been sold out, but still there were two (two!) Buddhism-related calendars: the Dharma Diary and a Zen themed calendar.

I had seen the Dharma Diary before at a small independent bookseller here in Boston and thought it was beautiful, but hadn’t yet decided on buying a 2009 calendar at that point. I was rather surprised to see it again in a major chain retailer. It made me think of the commodification of Buddhism that these calendars were being sold alongside more “mainstream” items (your typical Picasso, O’Keefe, images of Paris, etc.) with “inspirational” quotes and such as some kind of promise of daily enlightenment. I thought of the article in Apartment Therapy a while back on the use of Buddha as a decorational element; how images of Buddha have become a sort of cultural shorthand for “inner peace.”

I’m not sure how I feel about this, as a Buddhist. On the one hand, I do feel strongly that the Buddha is available to everybody and should be accessible without any kind of secret handshake. On the other hand, the same sort of items that I see of the Buddha (i.e. Buddha lamps) would never be made, say, of Christ without tremendous uproar. Then again, the place of Buddha in Buddhism and Christ in Christianity are quite different: Buddha is not the son of G-d or indeed an inherently divine being. He is a holy figure, for sure, but he is not venerated for who he was born as, but what he accomplished. We all have Buddha-nature, but do we all have Christ-nature? That would be an interesting debate. Of course, there are comical representations of Jesus, but they are certainly fewer and further between than “Buddha in a Box” and their ilk.

In a sense, I feel a bit disgusted with the money-making that gets done by American companies pandering to the consumer desire to appear “worldly” and “enlightened” by owning images of the Buddha that have no greater significance. On the other hand, I am a total sucker and bought the Dharma Diary. What can I say? My inner Buddha-nature is no better than anyone else’s and really likes pretty calendars.

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Gary Snyder is stalking me. First, this article in the New Yorker (link to PDF scan; article not available from New Yorker website. Oh, and page 2, a photo of Snyder and Allen Ginsberg was accidentally scanned upside-down. Let’s just pretend that was a bit of a dada touch.) and then, waiting for a friend in the Harvard Co-Op, I happened upon this book of Beat Generation photography which, naturally, featured a few shots of Snyder.

It’s interesting to notice once something (or someone) enters your world, how it/they kind of crop up everywhere for a while. I’ve long had a personal fascination with the Beat generation. Ok, that’s a bit of an understatement. I have a total obsession with Jack Kerouac. Previous to reading the New Yorker article, my familiarity with Gary Snyder was limited to his role as Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums; a book which greatly influenced my late-teens. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a Buddhist home, so it was only natural that reading a novel about Buddhism by my favorite author would send me on a bit of a spiritual quest in my adolescence.

(Incidentally, during this period, I once had a two hour conversation with some Mormon missionaries about Buddhism. That has nothing to do with much of anything, but I managed to get one of them thinking about how it’s all the same void, man, and that was good enough for me.)

Certainly Snyder, who is an ordained Zen monk, has a greater connection to Buddhism in America and Buddhism as explored by the Beats than Kerouac, and I really should take this serendipitous stalking as a sign to get more familiar with his work. I found this essay on Buddhist Anarchism, and though it was written in 1961, a lot of Snyder’s points still hold true.

No one today can afford to be innocent, or indulge himself in ignorance of the nature of contemporary governments, politics and social orders. The national polities of the modern world maintain their existence by deliberately fostered craving and fear: monstrous protection rackets. The “free world” has become economically dependent on a fantastic system of stimulation of greed which cannot be fulfilled, sexual desire which cannot be satiated and hatred which has no outlet except against oneself, the persons one is supposed to love, or the revolutionary aspirations of pitiful, poverty-stricken marginal societies like Cuba or Vietnam. The conditions of the Cold War have turned all modern societies — Communist included — into vicious distorters of man’s true potential. They create populations of “preta” — hungry ghosts, with giant appetites and throats no bigger than needles. The soil, the forests and all animal life are being consumed by these cancerous collectivities; the air and water of the planet is being fouled by them.

Substitute “War on Terror” for “Cold War” and this is still an all too accurate portrayal of modern life. Our current economic crisis was fueled by unbelievable greed. I’m not sure if anarchy is a better solution, but it certainly would be an improvement for government to keep in mind that we as humans are all interconnected – and that link extends to all human work, including banks and corporations. If one of us fails, we all may fail.

Anyhow, I digress. It’s interesting that Gary Snyder has popped up in my life, and I’m definitely interested in finding out more about what this Beat sage has to say.

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My own blog title being a very bad pun based on a koan, I thought it my duty to pass on [via MetaFilter] these Broken Koans.

I seriously LOLed.

[ photo by Jayel Aheram ]

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I’ve been trying to think about this for a week or so to try about what would be the best way to frame this so I don’t come off as a complete kook, but there I go, kook or not.

We tend to notice the most with kids the “bad” influences that are plentiful: violence, bad language, hyper sexualized characterized, reinforcing stereotypes, etc. On the other hand, “good” influences are largely ignored. This week with the little girl I nanny for, I watched a video that was absolutely buddha-ful. Seriously, the Buddhist message: accepting each individual as part of a greater family despite outward appearance, appreciation for the present moment in a limited life span, life as a great – but impermanent – gift.

And what masterpiece of cinema was this? The story of Siddhartha? Princess Barbie goes to Buddha Island? Oh no.

It was Charlotte’s Web. Just listen to this song and tell me if you are not one “baby step” closer to enlightenment.

Another popular children’s show espouses the view that all people sing with the same song, the same voice, and we sing in harmony.

I just thought to offer up some proof that the media is not, as claimed, saturating our kids with immoral influences. There are wonderful things for children to watch to teach about their own inner “buddha nature” and that of everyone on earth – they just tend to blend into the background for their subtlety. Perhaps I’m just biased a bit because one of the most played records in my own hippie childhood was “Free to Be You and Me.

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I suppose I’ve more than made up for my lag in shooting with the umpteen hundred photos (ok, 90, but not all of them were uploaded to Flickr) that I took today.  My parents were in town and my mama and I went to the MFA, which is always a wonderful place to have a camera.  I really feel that my camera helps me to view the art, that by framing it and capturing it with the lens, I’m paying more attention to it than I do just walking by.

Anyhow, while we were having tea afterwards, my mama and I were discussing spirituality and religion and Buddhism – like we do. (Honestly, I have these sort of intense talks with my mama on a near weekly basis.) And my mama shared with me a story from my childhood that is pretty remarkable, both in my insight and my mother’s realization that I was far more spiritually attuned than most children. (She said at this particular moment, I was her little Bodhisattva. And yes, I was raised in a Buddhist home, even though my mother is now Catholic.)

The story goes that one day my mother was particularly fed up with some existential crisis, and she turned to me – aged 3, at most – and asked me “So, Sonja, what is the purpose of life?”

And I looked at her with this very mature look, the sort of look that isn’t condescending but just indicates “I can’t believe that you don’t know this, it is so obvious.” And I very simply stated, verbatim:

“The purpose of life is to live it.”

Good job, self! I have always believed this to be true and it’s interesting to know that this sense of life as being a series of present moments to be inhabited is something that I’ve felt for, well, my whole life.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about really heavy stuff I’ve said as a kid (“I’m going to believe in Santa until I’m 9.” – said at age  4, and pretty deep for a kid, the implication that belief is a choice.), but this is by far my favorite.

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My previous M.O. with photo-blogging had been to post one photo per day that I felt was the “best” – either the best summary of the day or the technically “best” photo I took. The more I think about it, the less this practice gels with my idea of what I would like this photo-blog to be. I don’t want to be analyzing my photos trying to decide which one is the “best.” Of course, I aspire to be better as a photographer. Naturally I want to improve my skills, and I believe that this comes from practice. I would also like to improve myself as a person, and in my Buddhist practice, I think that trying to constantly analyze myself is counter to this effort. Analysis leads to self-flagellation for not meeting whatever “standard” I’m holding myself to that day. It’s better to just try to always improve. Always improve with my technical skills. Always improve with my personal skills. Just, always striving for enlightenment.

So, I’m going to post a selection of photos from each day. Perhaps the whole selection. Perhaps just what appeals to me most at that time, but I’m not holding myself to any rules. I’ll try to at least post one photo per day, but there may be exceptions. Today, for instance, I haven’t taken any photos because I’ve been extremely run down from a complicated week. I think it is better to allow myself some space to fail rather than feeling guilty about missing a day. So, I didn’t post anything today. I’ll try to do better tomorrow. It’s all I can do.

Anyhow, what I meant to write about is an article I read by Pema Chödrön in this month’s Shambhala Sun about “Pause Practice” how I feel that it relates to my photography practice. In it, she advises us to pause in our days when we feel ourselves getting caught up. Just stop. Take three deep breaths. Create a gap from whatever was going on in our minds to be actually present in the moment.

You get so caught up in the content of your life, the minutiae that make up a day, so self-absorbed in the big project you have to do, that the blessings, the magic, the stillness, and the vastness escape you. You never emerge from your cocoon, except for when there’s a noise that’s so loud you can’t help but notice it, or something shocks you, or captures your eye. Then for a moment you stick your head out and realize, Wow! Look at that sky! Look at that squirrel! Look at that person!

I feel like this is especially apt in photographic practice. Each photo is like a gap in the narrative of what we’ve seen. Look at that sky! There! I’m fully present in this moment, I’m framing it, and I’m clicking the shutter! Look at that squirrel! I’m watching him through the viewfinder and that moment is the only one for me right now! The best photos come from dropping your ego and simply allowing what is happening through the viewfinder to happen, and the photo finds you. Every time I drop my self long enough to pick up my camera, I’m creating a gap in my day. I’m creating that gap and recording it. Later, I can look back and remember these moments if I so choose, but the process is what’s important. Sure, some photos might be imperfect or not how we remember them, but it’s the taking of the photo – the putting the mind down and just seeing – that’s what connects us to our world, to our moment.

Pause practice can transform each day of your life. It creates an open doorway to the sacredness of the place in which you find yourself. The vastness, stillness, and magic of the place dawn upon you, if you let your mind relax and drop for just a few breaths the storyline you are working so hard to maintain. If you pause just long enough, you can reconnect with exactly where you are, with the immediacy of your experience.

When you are waking up in the morning and you aren’t even out of bed yet, even if you are running late, you could just look out and drop the storyline and take three conscious breaths. Just be where you are! When you are washing up, or making your coffee or tea, or brushing your teeth, just create a gap in your discursive mind. Take three conscious breaths. Just pause. Let it be a contrast to being all caught up. Let it be like popping a bubble. Let it be just a moment in time, and then go on.

You are on your way to whatever you need to do for the day. Maybe you are in your car, or on the bus, or standing in line. But you can still create that gap by taking three conscious breaths and being right there with the immediacy of your experience, right there with whatever you are seeing, with whatever you are doing, with whatever you are feeling.

The article is not available on Shambhala Sun‘s website – I’ve typed it out in a Word document if you are interested in reading the whole thing. The article is copyright Pema Chödrön. Waking Up To Your World

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