A Buddhist, plain and simple

Bodhipaksa

Tim Brownson, a qualified Life Coach, NLP Master Practitioner and certified Hypnotherapist, interviewed Bodhipaksa for his blog, A Daring Adventure.

I’m not really a religious person as I’m sure you may have noticed. I struggle to get my head round the belief that there is a creator that thinks some of us have it right and some of us are just way off base. I suppose anything is possible, but I doubt there is a bearded one shaking his head in amazement and muttering under his breath and pointing to one area of the globe “These are my favorites, but what the hell (God in-joke) is wrong with those people (other part of the globe) can’t they get anything right?”

Having said that, Buddhism ticks a lot of the boxes that I personally like ticking. It is totally inclusive, anti-violence, pro-tolerance, peace loving and having a receding hairline really isn’t a problem because you can just shave your head and fit nicely in. About two years ago I stumbled on a book called Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steven Hagen. The title appealed to me because I’m fairly plain and somewhat simple and I decided to check it out.

The book opened my eyes to a religion (if indeed that is what it is) and more importantly a way of life, that seems to make perfect sense to me. I wanted to learn more even though I wasn’t quite ready to commit to spending the rest of my life eating veggie burgers and sitting cross legged on a mountain top.

At the time I was starting to get more and more into meditation and bought a number of guided meditations by people like Deepak Chopra, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wayne Dyer et al. I also bought one from Amazon by a Buddhist teacher named Bodhipaksa.

When I first put it on my iPod to listen I was somewhat surprised because the guy leading the meditation had a gentle Scottish accent. I’m at risk of admitting I can be as guilty of ignorantly stereotyping people as the next person, when I say I’ve never really associated Scotland, the land that brought us Kilts, bagpipes, The Glasgow Kiss, Trainspotting and the deep fried Mars bar, with Buddhism.

Within a few days of first listening to Guided Meditations: For Calmness, Awareness, and Love by Bodhipaksa, it was pretty much the only cd I was using. The gentle Scottish brogue and the fact that it didn’t rely on music to help the process, really resonated with me. I have been using is regularly ever since.

magine my surprise when recently I was on Twitter and saw the name Bodhipaksa. A Buddhist teacher on Twitter? Whatever next, Deepak Chopra asking me to be his friend on Facebook, Eckart Tolle raving about Digg or his Holiness the Dalai Lama Stumbling this post?

Bodhipaksa was asking people to review his latest cd ‘Still the Mind’. I’m not overly keen on doing reviews, but I did want to listen to it and I really wanted to do an interview with the man they call Bodhipaksa.

And so it has come to pass.

‘Still The Mind’ is as good a cd on meditation as I have heard. It contains different versions of the Breath and Metta Bhavana meditations that were on the previous cd, but it is much more than that. Bodhipaksa does a fabulous job of explaining in very simple terms the process of meditation whilst giving an insight into the Buddhist philosophies.

If you are a novice or even an intermediate meditator I HIGHLY recommend you go and buy a copy NOW! If you are open-minded and curious on the subject, I similarly recommend it as a great starting point.

What will meditation give me you maybe thinking? Not much really. Just reduced stress levels, peace of mind, self-awareness, improved concentration and clarity as well as a sense of well being. Only you can decide what those attributes are worth to you.

Now read on and find out what a Buddhist thinks of George Bush, Tolerance and Mosquitos…

Tim: My personal number one value is peace, although I sometimes get carried away and forget this. In fact, I frequently get carried away and forget this. I know you don’t pull any punches on your blog and like a good rant. Do you see any conflict between that and teaching meditation?

Bodhipaksa: I draw a distinction between anger and ill will, and try not to cross that line. Anger is just passionate energy in pursuit of some end, while ill will is a desire to hurt someone. You see ill will expressed in insults, name-calling, lying, willful distortions of what someone’s saying, etc. I think it’s fine to be passionate, but not fine to cross over into that kind of behavior.

Let’s face it, some of the stuff going on in the world is outrageous. There’s war, torture, deceit, irresponsible business practices, etc. I think it’s healthy to be angry about that kind of thing. Even the Dalai Lama says he gets angry with China, and I think that when you look at the Buddhist scriptures you can see definite signs that the Buddha himself was sometimes angry.

At the same time anger can be a bit addictive and I’m wary of falling into a pattern of writing “The Angry Buddhist Blog” (although that’s a great title). I also like to express appreciation and wonder.

And I can’t rule out that I sometimes cross the line. I do experience ill will and although I try to weed it out while I’m writing I’m not always sure I’m successful.

Tim: I get a lot of problems with my knees and it is the single biggest reason I don’t meditate more. Sometimes after 15 minutes sat cross-legged or on my haunches I’m in a lot of pain. I know there are meditations for lying down but the ones I have of yours specifically mention being seated upright. Do you have any suggestions?

Bodhipaksa: Have you tried a seiza stool? Most of your weight ends up being on your butt and not on your knees. It’s my standard way of meditating. I’ve sometimes had to meditate lying down when I’ve had back pain, but I find it hard to be focused. My body, not surprisingly, associates lying down with going to sleep and I end up doing more dreaming than meditating.

Which reminds me. I’ve never seen anyone using or even recommending the parinirvana posture, which involves lying on the side, the head supported on one hand (the elbow being on the floor) and the other arm along the upper flank. I think I’ll try it out next time my back’s bad.

Tim: I get a lot of mosquitoes barging their way uninvited into my home. The other night I had 8 bites on my body, most of which were unfortunately on my head and I looked like somebody had stapled a map of a mogul field to my face I’m going to spray the yard in an attempt to stop this unprovoked vicious assault on my body. What would you do under such circumstances?

Bodhipaksa: Ouch! Dealing with biting insects is a problem for me too. I’m badly allergic to insect bites, and sometimes a bite on the ankle will mean my foot swells up and I can’t walk for a couple of days.

Despite screens on the windows they do sometimes get into the house. I kill them. It’s not as if mosquitoes has a very developed form of consciousness. I doubt they can feel pain, and as a friend of mine once said, as he killed a bug, “He didn’t know he was alive, so he won’t know he’s dead.”

With other creepy crawlies, though, I have a catch-and-release policy. I’m pretty good with a glass and a piece of card, and I once caught six house flies in one glass at the same time.

Tim: I’ve just started gardening, so I may soon have to decide what to do about bugs that eat plants. One Buddhist teacher said something to the effect of, “You have to decide whether you’re growing plants or greenfly.”

Bodhipaksa: Presumably this is one of the reasons that Buddhist monks aren’t allowed to grow their own food or even to dig the earth. It keeps them from having to wrestle with these questions.

Tim: I once heard an interview with the Dalai Lama in which he said (paraphrase) that he thought there should be 6.5 billion different religions, one for each person on the Planet. What do you think he meant by that?

Bodhipaksa: Just try asking a bunch of Buddhists what karma is. Dig deep enough and you’ll get different answers from each of them. I think actually that if there are 6.5 billion people you’ll get slightly more religions than that. We often contradict ourselves.

Tim: I often use your Metta Bhavana cd on Loving Kindness. I got to the point where there wasn’t anybody I knew that I had an issue or grudge with. So I’d use George W Bush. Is this taking it a stage too far, even for committed Buddhists like yourself?

Bodhipaksa: Well it’s great news if you ran out of people you feel ill will for! If there’s no one you have personal contact with that you have a grudge or ill will towards, then it makes sense to shift the focus to people you know about second or third-hand. The main thing is you’re working with the forces of hatred that exist in your own mind. I imagine you’re not alone in cultivating loving-kindness towards George W. Bush.

Tim: Are you intolerant of intolerance?

Bodhipaksa: My head started to spin as I contemplated different responses to this question.

I don’t think “tolerance” or “intolerance” are very useful terms because they can be interpreted broadly or narrowly and it’s hard to know what sense they’re being used in at any given moment. Being “intolerant” can mean simply disagreeing with someone’s position or it can mean killing them out of hatred. And “being tolerant” can mean “hating people and the positions they take, but refraining from violence” or if can mean “being a decent human being who recognizes that there are great differences in opinion and in the choices people make.” And I’m sure there are other interpretations I haven’t even thought of.

I feel moved to criticize the actions of those who try to force their beliefs on others, for example, but in that case my “intolerance” is a very different kind of “intolerance” from theirs.

Tim: You do a lot of work with people that are incarcerated for serious crimes and believe that people can and do change. What is the most amazing reversal in a person you have ever seen?

Bodhipaksa:I know one inmate (now a former inmate) who moved from getting into fights for kicks, to becoming a nonviolent defender of newcomers to the prison. When he saw someone young and naïve coming into the prison he’d have a word — in a friendly way — with some of the other guys and ask them to cut the new guy some slack. It probably helped that people knew he was a fighter, because he’d earned respect that way.

Tim: Do you ever worry or get nervous?

Bodhipaksa: I experience the full range of human emotion! I get anxious about lots of things, and I’m grateful that I have tools like mindfulness and meditation for dealing with that.

Tim: The title of this blog post is obviously a play on words with the Steven Hagen book, Buddhism Plain and Simple, the first book I ever read on the subject. If you could recommend just one book as an introduction to Buddhism to a complete novice, which would it be?

Bodhipaksa: OK, now I do feel anxious! Just one book?

I really like “Who Is The Buddha” by Sangharakshita. However, there are lots of books I haven’t read and probably some I’ve read that aren’t springing to mind, so I’m not saying this is the best introductory book on Buddhism. But I think it’s clear and thorough and deserves to be better known.

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