Buddhism

What living as a Buddhist means for me

Photo by Cristian Escobar on UnsplashA while back I heard from a woman who seemed concerned that my life as a Buddhist must be very dull — just meditating and “being good” all the time, I guess. I think she thought I’d be a very boring person to hang out with, and maybe she was expressing her own fears about getting drawn in to Buddhist practice.

Tonight I just came back from a comedy improv show, where I was blown away by the humor and good humor of the performers. I had a blast: not perhaps what this woman had in mind.

I wrote and told her that for me, Buddhism is a set of principles and guidelines for living your life, not a set of rules. I said that I could boil down some of the guiding principles of my life as something like:

  • Be in your body so that you don’t get lost in your head.
  • Don’t believe everything you think. Not all the stories you tell yourself are true.
  • If your stories disempower you and make you suffer they’re probably not true.
  • Take responsibility for all your thoughts, actions, and feelings.
  • Realize that you have a choice in every moment about how you respond.
  • Keep asking: “Is there’s anything I’m doing that’s suppressing my happiness and wellbeing?” And see if you can stop doing that thing.
  • Remember: Life is short. Be kind.
  • There’s always something you can appreciate in any situation.
  • Stay in touch with your heart, but check in with your rational mind because feelings can be misleading.
  • Give yourself the same compassion you give to people you love.
  • Be true to your values; it’s not your job to please people.
  • To be honest is often the best way to be kind to yourself and others.
  • Apologizing when you’ve done something unskillful is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • Keep asking: “Is what I’m about to do conducive to my long-term benefit and welfare?”
  • Helping others is usually more conducive to happiness than focusing only on your own needs.
  • Don’t try and define yourself. You’re not definable.

Together, these principles almost amount to a statement of personal philosophy. Any such philosophical statement includes the principles by which you live — or at least aim to live — your life. I’m actually going to print this list out right now, because I need to keep reminding myself of how I aspire to live my life. It’s not about rules, or “being good.” It’s about living life in a way that brings a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, and connectedness.

What would your top three or four guidelines for life be?

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The meditation cure

Robert Wright, WSJ: A basic practice of Buddhism turns out to be one of the best ways to deal with the anxieties and appetites bequeathed to us by our evolutionary history.

Much of Buddhism can be boiled down to a bad-news/good-news story. The bad news is that life is full of suffering and we humans are full of illusions. The good news is that these two problems are actually one problem: If we could get rid of our illusions—if we could see the world clearly—our suffering would end. …

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Science and Buddhism agree: there is no “you” there

Lori Chandler, Big Think: Evan Thompson of the University of British Columbia has verified the Buddhist belief of anatta, or not-self. Neuroscience has been interested in Buddhism since the late 1980s, when the Mind and Life Institute was created by HH Dalai Lama and a team of scientists. The science that came out of those first studies gave validation to what monks have known for years — if you train your mind, you can change your brain. As neuroscience has begun studying the mind, they have looked to those who have mastered …

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Meditation brought us back together, say couple who traded in corporate lives to meditate

Sarah Catherall, Stuff: They gave the impression of having it all but Sally Lewis and Greg Hopkinson were stressed and cynical. When they broke up, they felt as though something was missing, both in their lives and in their relationship.

Today, they radiate happiness, frequently breaking into laughter. Lewis reaches over and touches her partner’s arm lovingly as her face beams.

Sitting in a Wellington cafe, they attribute one thing to their joyous connection. “Meditation saved our relationship,” smiles 57-year-old Lewis.

A decade ago, Hopkinson was a stressed out businessman who ran the Animates pet store …

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When does craving become addiction?

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Joan Duncan Oliver, Tricycle: Only two things have I ever craved as much as life itself: drink and a man. To save my life, I had to give up the drink. To give up the drink, I had to give up the man.

My desire for both was total, visceral: passion seeking its own DNA. The bond was physical, emotional, spiritual, chemical—drink, man, and I locked in a menage a trois.

It began, however, as a folie á deux. Alcohol was my first love: a constant, if feckless …

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The Conscious Couple, Day 1: The Dharma of Intimate Relationships

0e3ac93e-68da-481a-bb36-b481fcd5af21by Shelly Chatterelli and Bodhipaksa

Our intimate relationships are a vital area for practice. Each day, each moment, they offer us fresh opportunities to practice kindness, love, and compassion. They give us practice in forgiving and asking for forgiveness. They allow us to cultivate honesty and to become more skillful in our communication. They provide us with opportunities to give and to receive and to learn about ourselves and our partner.

Intimate relationships challenge us. They unerringly find our emotional weak spots, highlighting our insecurities and failings in ways that can cause great discomfort. Yet this too is spiritually beneficial; how else can we change, but by bringing into conscious awareness that which needs transformation?

Our intimate relationships can also be a source of aspiration and inspiration. The desire to live in love and harmony with another person, to know them deeply and to let ourselves be known, can give us a positive motivation to change and to become better partners, better lovers, better people.

Many people are aware that the Buddha described intimate relationships, and the desire for them, as one of the main distractions in the spiritual life! Fewer know that at the same time he often applauded lay practitioners for the depth of spiritual practice they manifested.

The Buddha praised married couples who practiced and lived harmoniously together, saying that they were living a divine life. We’re told, in fact, that many, many householders attained various degrees of awakening, showing that family life is hardly an insurmountable obstacle to spiritual progress.

There is no contradiction between the Buddha’s emphasis on relationships both as a hindrance and as a practice. The spiritual community had a monastic wing, which practiced simplicity of lifestyle (no work, no kids, no marriage) in order to focus intensely on meditation, study, and teaching. Monastics were therefore required to regard romantic and sexual entanglements as distractions. But there was also a householder wing of the community, consisting of people who worked for a living, who married, and who brought up children — and whose members could, as we’ve seen, be practicing deeply.

The purpose of this 28-day online course is to help us explore the ways in which our intimate and romantic relationships provide opportunities for us to deepen our practice, and how our practice can in turn help us deepen the intimacy we experience with our partners.

There are many different approaches we could have taken to structure this course. We could have had no structure, and just sent you a number of reflections! But we’ve settled on the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, since it’s one of the most important frameworks for exploring how to bring practice into daily life. In each post you’ll see a “map” of the Eightfold Path, with the current phase highlighted.

In the next email we’ll start with the cultivation of Right View, which involves looking at the ideas, opinions, assumptions, and models we use in regard to our relationships. In fact we’ve already begun with this exploration, since we’ve been discussing views about the relationship between married life and the spiritual life.

Cultivating right view means bringing our views into line with the Dharma. But this doesn’t mean blind conformity! It simply means that sometimes we have views that hinder the development of love, intimacy, and honesty. We may not be conscious of those views, or it may be that we don’t see the harmful effects they have. (We humans have a perplexing ability to keep doing things we are sure will make our lives better, when actually they cause harm.) Our views have to be brought into consciousness if we’re to avoid causing suffering to ourselves and to our partner. And we need to nurture views that lead to a deeper and more harmonious connection with ourselves and with the person most dear to us. We need views that allow us to be part of a conscious, thriving couple.

With love,
Shelly and Bodhipaksa

Homework: For the next 24 hours, just notice your interactions with your partner (or in other relationships), without trying to fix anything. Notice in particular times that you interact in a way that you perceive as kind or loving, and times that those qualities are absent. As best you can, make these observations without judgement: that is, don’t engage in self-criticism or ruminate about your interactions. Feel free to make notes, and to discuss your observations in the online community we’ve created to accompany this course.

Guided meditation: This brief guided mindfulness meditation can be done with a partner, or on your own.

Register: This article is taken from the first email of our 28-day online event, The Conscious Couple, led by teachers Shelly Chatterelli and Bodhipaksa. While both partners in a couple are welcome to participate, and it’s fine if you want to join on your own, or even if you aren’t currently involved in a relationship. To register, click here.

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The nourishment of mindfulness

Bryan Eaton, Newburyport News: About three decades ago I spent a year as a Buddhist monk in Thailand. It was a very austere life, dedicated to meditation and simplicity. One of the trainings I practiced was to only take one meal a day before noon from the food collected going on alms round early in the morning. I would arrange my monk’s robes, walk alone across rice fields to a nearby village, where humble folk would place various little bits of foods such as rice and vegetables in my monk’s bowl. I would silently …

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The neuroscience of suffering – and its end

Jeff Warren, Psychology Tomorrow Magazine: It was 1972, and Gary Weber, a 29-year old materials science PhD student at Penn State University, had a problem with his brain. It kept generating thoughts! – continuously, oppressively – a stream of neurotic concerns about his life, his studies, whatever. While most human beings would consider this par for the course, par for the human condition (cogito ergo sum), Weber wouldn’t accept it. He was a scientist, a systematizer, a process guy. He liked to figure out how things worked, and how they could be tweaked …

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The greatest philosopher you’ve never heard of

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Adam Frank, NPR: Let’s be honest. When most of us talk about philosophy — the hard-core, name-dropping, theory-quoting kind — we’re talking about a particular lineage that traces back to the Hellenistic Greeks.

But consider, for a moment, the fact that over the last few thousand years there’ve been a whole lot of smart people born into a whole lot of highly sophisticated cultures. It is, therefore, kind of silly that we limit “philosophy” to mean “philosophy done by dudes who lived in Europe a long time ago.” That gripe was the main point of a very pointed piece in The New York Times last month titled: “If Philosophy Won’t Diversify, Let’s Call It What It Really Is.”

Of course, given how much my field of physics owes to the rich philosophical tradition of “The West,” I do count myself as a big fan. From Plato’s Doctrine of Ideals to Spinoza’s Ethics, Western philosophic perspectives laid bare core issues that were transformed into really good things, like science and democratic political thought. But as The Times piece shows, it doesn’t do much good imagining that Europe cornered the market on creative thinking about being human.

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It’s time for Buddhists to address ableism and accessibility

Vidyamala Burch, Lion’s Roar: Following two accidents in my teens and twenties, I live with a serious spinal injury, getting around with the help of a wheelchair or crutches and with pain as a constant companion. When I am on retreat, I need to change position regularly, either by lying down or standing up. I need to do this. And at the places where I teach and practice, I can do this. Taraloka, a U.K. retreat center for women where I often teach, has a dedicated living space for disabled retreatants …

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