Friday, 23 October 2009

Buddhists Need Love Too: The Dharma of Dating

Dan Brodribb is a writer and stand-up comic. His misspent past also includes stints as a pro-wrestling announcer, substitute teacher, video store clerk, martial arts instructor, crisis worker, and heavy metal musician. He is a lay member of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. Learn more about him at

Buddhists need love too.

I mean, I realize I’m relatively new to the practice of meditation, but we can’t ALL be monks, right? Someone has to ensure the human race survives.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take training seriously. I’m always looking for ways to reduce suffering in my life while training myself to be a more compassionate, equanimous person.

Enter online dating. Or any kind of dating at all, come to think of it.

There's no question in my mind: dating is dharma in action. I remember reading a Buddhist book and thinking, “You know, you could substitute the word ‘dating’ for the word ‘meditation’ and you could have pretty much the same book.”

You learn surprising things about yourself when you go out with people. You are tested. And if you’re lucky, you get to practice some righteous smooching (Not to be confused with Right Smooching which isn’t part of the eightfold path, but at times I think should be).

But online dating comes with it’s own challenges, especially if you’re new to it or returning to the dating world following a long term relationship. It’s easy to get frustrated, either with the people out there, the LACK of people out there, or even yourself.

Love is a roller coaster ride. Here are four ways Buddhist training can help with the ups and downs.

1 - Stay Present
At first with online dating, it’s easy to get discouraged. happens. A clever, funny message appears in your inbox. You go back and forth a couple times, and have a couple of nice exchanges. Suddenly, you start thinking of the future. You imagine what he or she will be like when you meet in person. The next thing you know you’re flashing forward to a wedding, kids, growing old together…

Then you meet in person and are devastated to discover that not only is there no chemistry, they have horrible taste in shoes.

On the other hand, it’s equally easy to get caught up in all the things that went wrong on previous dates and in previous relationships. Some of us are tempted to relive every dating mistake we’ve ever made in our mind, or worse, pay bitterness from a former relationship forward to the next people we meet.

But that’s unfair to the other person. It’s also unfair to ourselves.

Be where you are. Live here, not some imaginary future. Pay attention to the person you‘re with, instead of comparing them to the person in your mind.

2 - Equanimity
Dating is an emotional business. There‘s exhilaration, there‘s despair, and there's everything in between. These feelings are normal. They also aren’t worth getting worked about because they will change.

In fact, even when you’re in a relationship, feelings are transitory. Sure, at first, it feels like your love is unshakeable and everlasting. Four months later, you are shocked to find yourself wanting to smother him with a pillow because you can’t stand the way he grinds his teeth when he sleeps. But fear not, that feeling too will pass.

In fact, this would be a good time to remind you that…

3 - Everything Changes
Sometimes, when you’re feeling single and frustrated and miserable, it feels like you’ll be that way forever. But situations change. Even feelings change. In fact, we've all heard the story about people finding peace with singleness (Singlitude? Singularity?)--and then meeting someone, throwing their entire world into disarray.

As one friend told me. "I can't fall in love with somebody now. I have too much STUFF to do!"

Romance reminds me of a quote by screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

Might as well get used to it.

4 - Actions have consequences
Dating is cruel, but fair. I’m not saying that people DESERVE to have bad dates, but there are folks out there entertaining the mistaken idea that the world owes them a boy- or girlfriend.

It doesn’t work like that.

If you treat people like they are out for themselves and will betray you at the first available opportunity…you will probably find what you are looking for. If you expect the best from people while being clear about what those expectations are, you have a better than even chance of finding someone who can meet them.

Tired of dating jerks? Learn to notice the warning signs and stop going out with them. Wondering why women never call you back after the first date? Time to take a look in the mirror and see what you‘re putting out there.

Dating is scary because rejection feels so personal. But that‘s an illusion. I‘ve never met anyone who WANTED to hurt other people. I know from experience one of the hardest things to do in dating is to stay true to yourself while minimizing the damage you do to other people. Sometimes people make mistakes. But it is never personal. Try not to take it that way.

After all, right smooching might not be on the Eightfold Path, but with the right person, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Conference on Contemporary Buddhism in the West

For those with an academic penchant and transportation to the west coast of the US, there is a conference next March that should be of interest (from here):

Buddhism without Borders: Contemporary Buddhism in the West

at the Institute of Buddhist Studies
Berkeley, California
March 18 - 21, 2010

Conference Schedule*

Thursday, March 18
Early registration and check-in 11:00 - 2:00

Panel I: Buddhist Experiences: Expressions and Subjectivities, 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Daniel Veidlinger, California State University, Chico
"From Indra's Net to Internet: The Effects of Social Networking Websites on the Acculturation of Buddhism in North America"
Ruth Fitzpatrick, University of Western Sydney
"Transforming Tara, Meanings in Motion"
Erik Braun, University of Oklahoma
"The United States of Jhana"
Kimberly Beek, McMaster University
"Telling Tales Out of School: The Fiction of Buddhism in North America"
Respondent TBD

Friday, March 19
Panel II: Buddhisms in America, 9:30 - 12:30

Jeff Wilson, Renison University College, University of Waterloo
"Regionalism within American Buddhism"
Charles S. Prebish, Redd Chair in Religious Studies, Utah State University
"Buddha in Mormon Land: American Buddhist Challenges in a Dominant Mormon Culture"
Duncan Ryuken Williams, University of California, Berkeley
Michihiro Ama, University of California, Irvine
"The First White Buddhist Priestess"
Respondent TBD

12:30 - 2:00 Lunch break

Panel III: Transnational Buddhisms, 2:00 - 5:00
Richard K. Payne, Institute of Buddhist Studies
"Syncretism and Syntax: An Examination of Yogi Chen's Christian Homas"
Chapla Verma
"Comparative Study of Zen Buddhism in Japan and North America"
Todd Perreira
"Beyond Americanization: On the Transnational Boundaries of Theravada America"
David McMahan, Franklin & Marshall College
"Buddhism and Multiple Modernities"
Respondent TBD

Keynote Address and reception, 5:00 - 8:00
The Keynote Address and reception will be open to the public. A catered reception will follow Prof. Tweed's address.

Saturday, March 20
Panel IV: Identifying Buddhists, Buddhist Identity, 9:30 - 12:30

Richard Hughes Seager
"Dharma Images and American Buddhist Identity"
Christine Walters, University of South Florida, Tampa
"Denominationalism in American Buddhism"
Mindy McAdams, University of Florida
"Finding Buddhism in Blogs"
Wakoh Shannon Hickey, Duke University
"Two Buddhisms, Three Buddhisms, and Racism"
Respondent TBD

Lunch break, 12:30 - 2:00

Panel V: Living Buddhism: Community and Family, 2:00 - 5:00
Helen Baroni, University of Hawaii at Manoa
"Zen at a Distance: Isolation and the Development of Distant Membership"
Jitka Cirklová, Faculty of Social Science, Department of Sociology
"Buddhism as Value Source in the Course of New Identity and Lifestyle Formation in the Czech Republic"
Eve Mullen, Emory Univeristy
"Care for the Dying: Innovative American Buddhist Institutions"
Zach Zimmerman, Princeton University
"Bringing Up Buddhists in America"
Respondent TBD

Dinner (on your own), 5:00 - 6:30

6:30 Special film screening: TBD

Sunday, March 21
Panel VI: Interpreting Buddhism in the West, 9:30 -12:30

Franz Aubrey Metcalf, The Forge Institute
Mira Nicelescu
"The Jewish Buddhists: The Upcoming Rise of a New School of Buddhism?"
Galen Amstutz, independent scholar
"Kiyozawa In Concord: Will Shin Buddhism Manage to Make a More Successful Contribution to American Religious Thought in the 21st Century?"
Jeannine Chandler, Siena College
"An Analysis of Western Involvement in the Dorje Shugden Controversy"
Respondent TBD

Conference closing remarks, 12:30 p.m.

* This schedule is tentative and subject to change

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Homeless Meditation Practitioners

I received the following request for help from Jon at Homeless Meditation Practitioners. Please help if you can.

Hi Dharma-Friends,

I recently went to work for a San Antonio Interfaith Ministry that provides services for the Homeless.

I have been volunteering there for years. But now I am on the Payroll, which means I can hang around more often, without having to run off and do something else to pay my bills.

So, as I look down the sidewalk at all the gentle spirits waiting for us to unlock the that they can come in and get a hot shower and a hot meal...I think about my own Buddhist Practice.

I think about Buddha, wandering the hills with his disciples....all renuncites...ascetics...homeless... wandering...wandering...and now... I see them here...right in front of me.

I see the Wandering Ascetic Renunciate Bhikkus and Anis (Monks & Nuns) of the Twenty-First Century.

Now listen, Jesus is very popular here. In fact, there are only a few open, random nights for me to offer meditation...because so many Churches are coming down here to minister to the Homeless. Which is wonderful.

But, like in so many other areas...Where is the Buddhist Community?

So, I wondered how many of my Meditative Friends I could get down here or to start a HMP in their area? Nothing big...just sitting and walking and maybe reading from the Dhammapada.

This website is dedicated to this. It is for all of encourage one other, to streach ourselves, and to practice better.

If you are a Lama, Roshi, Priest, Monk, Nun, Teacher, Meditation Center Director, average meditator like me, or currently living the Homeless Life....

I would love to get your help, advice, and posts.

So, Welcome to Homeless Meditation Practitioners(HMP) Website.

My plan is simple.
  1. Meet with the Homeless at the Downtown San Antonio Shelter... several nights a month.
  2. Bring in fresh flowers, incense, colorful alter-style fabrics, do walking and sitting meditation with them...and read from the Dhammapada.
  3. Ask all my Buddhist & Meditative brothers and sisters to join with me in this experience.


"Master your words. Master your thoughts. Never allow your body to do harm. Follow these three roads with purity And you will find yourself upon the one way, the Way of Wisdom."

jon clark

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Traditional vs Modern: My resolution

It was about 20 years ago that I was initially interested in Buddhism. I was drawn by the various tantalising nuggets of wisdom and the promise of inner peace. I was put-off by apparent tendencies towards supernaturalism, and preoccupation with faith-based metaphysical theories. After the teacher of our undergraduate meditation course went off to become a nun I didn't take it any further.

More than 10 years passed, in which I started a career and had a son, before I returned to Buddhism in the form of Zen. Zen suited me well. I was attracted by it's simple, down-to-earth emphasis, being relatively free of supernatural and metaphysical elements, although I still found it sometimes traditionalist and backward-looking.

Lurking around in online Buddhist forums with my tentative new 'Buddhist' identity, I was told repeatedly that those who did not accept literal rebirth as an article of faith were 'not real Buddhists' and was reminded of the more conservative and authoritarian aspects of the faith. In the light of our modern understanding of the universe and the mind, I grew weary of the narrow, backward-looking nature of much contemporary Buddhism and the tendency of some Buddhists to try to exclude people like myself and I wondered if the best solution was to find like-minded individuals and call ourselves something else altogether.

I felt that the teachings of the Buddha and his descendents should not be discarded but should be re-examined in the light of modern understanding - and vice-versa. The setting up of this blog as an area to discuss these things unmolested was part of that.

With a full-time job, family, a long commute to work, daily meditation practice and MBCT training I don't have a lot of time for blogging. But looking back, it also occurs to me that I no longer feel this tension in my practice in the way that I did.

I think this comes down to irrelevance of metaphysical theories to Zen practice (although in form it can still be very traditionalist), I think that my practice itself has helped and my MBCT training is helping too.

For me now, it seems likely that there will always be valid traditional forms of Buddhism and yet it is through mindfulness based therapies and similar secular approaches that the Buddhist methods will be (and already are) opened up to the mainstream. For those who wish to go beyond the great matter of birth and death, to realise the unborn, there is still Zen. And for those wish for a good rebirth or to end rebirth there is Tibetan or Theravada.

So now it seems to me that there is no need to 'reform Buddhism' since there are enough avenues for people of all persuasions to benefit from it, one way or another.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Know the Truth for Yourself

This seems to be a central mantra of many Western Buddhists. The idea is that we shouldn't accept things on mere faith (like those other religions do), but should instead evaluate how ideas and practices actually work for us. The idea is expounded in the much loved (in the West) "Kalama Sutta" - actually called the Kesamuttisuttaṃ if you ever want to look it up in Pāli (click here and scan down to #5, paragraph #66).

I'm no expert on the text or the tradition that follows, but it was the focus of (I believe) a full week of reading and discussion in my Intro to Buddhism college course and I have seen it used countless times by other Western authors and teachers. Yet I've also learned that it is traditionally an obscure text, rarely commented upon or used in teaching. And it has been suggested that our Western love of this sutta stems largely from our rejection of the other (Christianity for most of us).

The real impetus for this post, though, is a recent musing by Amod Lele, over at his wonderful blog Love of All Wisdom. There he describes his acceptance of "one and a half noble truths."

It makes me wonder:
  1. for Progressive Buddhists (if we so claim that label) - how do we approach such basic teachings as the Four Noble Truths?
  2. Do we need to accept them as a pretty basic starting point for our practice and understanding?
  3. Can/should we be skeptical as many suggest we should be toward karma and rebirth?
  4. Do we accept them with saddha (faith/confidence) for the tradition or our own teachers, or wait until we are fully awakened ourselves before we feel confident in endorsing the possibility of awakening?!
  5. When is healthy skepticism instead the fetter of doubt?
Too many questions? haha...