Sunday, 25 December 2011

Let the New Year’s Resolution Be the New Year’s Revolution

I know that if you are reading this that chances are that compassion is in your daily meditations and that living a good life is the first thing you think about when waking up in the morning. This is a reminder that each time you act on the compassion you meditate upon you are participating in a revolution.

The war on poverty, the social movement on poverty, does not have to start at the steps of the capital in Washington and we don’t need to wait for our next trip to the voting booth to do anything about it. We can engage today.

Below are some popular 2012 new year's resolutions from USA.GOV. Most of them I would probably fail at, as my friends and family would tell you, but I try.

• Drink Less Alcohol
• Eat Healthy Food
• Get a Better Education
• Get a Better Job
• Get Fit
• Lose Weight
• Manage Debt
• Manage Stress
• Quit Smoking
• Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
• Save Money
• Take a Trip
• Volunteer to Help Others

For today, I will focus on doing a better job of helping others in 2012 than I did in 2011.

In recent years for me, before a deeper change in perspective, this meant giving a few hours for a cause and maybe even a whole overnight weekend at a homeless shelter here and there, but as I began to dig in to what others were doing around the modern world from the comfort of my climate controlled living space in front of a modern laptop computer my perspective widened even more.

This might mean different things to different people here in the United States but what has it meant for Buddhists around the world in recent pasts to help others?

For some of our brothers and sisters it meant and does mean:

Owning only a bowl and a robe
Sacrifice of Freedom
Sacrifice of Life

Let’s start with an economic catastrophe in 2007 that was induced by a military controlled government in Burma / Myanmar. Here the government was oppressing through taxation and giving a little bit back through fuel subsidies. The economy adapted this and suddenly subsidies went away. This, of course, wrecked the livelihood of the common people and started a non-violent movement known as the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, where the proportion of military spending to the overall economy cannot be overstated.

Even though the populous revolution was non violent, people died and monks continue to be imprisoned and tortured.

People are equally suffering here in the United States outside of our front doors. When I look out my window I can see people sifting through the dumpsters and occasionally someone sits in the window seal outside of the Salvation Army operating hours to put their head in their hands.

We are in the midst of an economic catastrophe and we are empowered to change the impact. When I am short on money I try to invest in kindness.

Can I do more with my hands that fish for spare change to hand out on the streets after a walk to the grocery store? What can we do here in the United States between going to retreats and reading our quarterly journals?

The revolution has already started in kitchens and on doorsteps; it can move into our closets, our basements and garages. You might be shocked that it can even be started with your neighbors and co workers who are doing everything they can to keep from living on the streets when the next month’s housing cost is due.

We may not know each other, but we can do this together. Living by example, in unison, in the coming year can have a powerful impact and we may not even have to be in the same place at the same time to do it.

Consuming less and giving more can produce a social transition with the right numbers. For me, giving more also means also overcoming my fear of strangers so I can more effectively put in to practice what I put into blog posts.

Sean E Flanigan
Evanston, IL

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Engaged Means Engaged. Need Some Inspiration?

The human body is limited in time and space, but the human spirit may be another matter.

The point is, that a Buddhist need not only look to those that self identify as other Buddhists as a source for how enlightened and compassionate people behave. We can sit with our legs crossed and meditate, which is very good habit indeed, but we can always use our hands if our bodies are able. My hands are not well trained so I have to look at others no matter what their religious tradition for how to use them.

Need some Inspiration?

Here is the current mission statement for the Inspiration Café and a short history of who founded it:

“Located in Uptown on Chicago's north side, Inspiration Cafe provides restaurant-style meals, case management, support groups, life-skills training, financial assistance and other services to homeless men and women in a therapeutic community that promotes dignity and respect.

Guests of the Cafe have access to the full range of Inspiration Corporation's programs, including employment training and career services, voice mail, and subsidized housing. Inspiration Cafe's goal is to help men and women overcome the causes of their homelessness and find stability by securing income and affordable housing.

Inspiration Cafe was founded in 1989 by Lisa Nigro, a Chicago police officer who began searching for a personal response to the homelessness she encountered in Uptown. She began by loading up a red wagon with sandwiches and coffee to distribute to homeless individuals on the streets.”

I am a consumer of the Café, not in the sense that I frequent as a customer, but in the sense that I will use the lessons learned from selflessness in my own life. I am, in a sense, a consumer of the inspiration.

There is certainly suffering from the illusions of separateness we all embrace, and one way to relieve this suffering is certainly through our peaceful processes.

Make no bones about it, this is a call to action for self identified Buddhists to arise from the Zafu and get to work. If you can’t think of anything contact me because I know of a certain someone that is founding another mission based organization.

Here is a video (as requested from the moderator to liven things up) from Lisa’s blog

Sean E Flanigan

Evanston, IL

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mantra Meditation

In this guest post, Allison Brooks explores the history and power or mantra meditation. As always, we encourage your feedback. What is your experience with mantras? Do you think the science holds up?
A connected whole offers healing

Meditation is an old tradition that has many roots and many different types. It is way for a person to look within, concentrate, and reflect on oneself to relax the body and ease the mind. This type of self-hypnosis/medication helps one to de-stress and connect with the mind and spirit to achieve self-healing and balance the chakras, or energy points of the body. Meditation encompasses a broad spectrum of relaxation techniques spanning from clearing the mind of all conscious thoughts, to visual imagery, or focusing on one particular word. While typical meditation requires stillness, some like Tai Chi or Qigong involve various movements.

Mantra is a form of mediation that focuses on single thought. A continuous repetition of a word, phrase, or sound prevents any distracting thought to disturb the mind. Other forms of meditation allow the mind to flutter, acknowledging every thought without judging its importance.

The definition of mantra comes from a saying the Vedas which states that “Speech is the essence of humanity”.  During a Mantra session, words and/or phrases are chanted thoughtfully and with attention to bring a physical effect. Mantra meditation can be used to help ease the mind for any matter. For example, it can affect change to a certain incident, to regain a healthy state of well-being, or to improve health and healing. They are specifically created to produce a certain vibration and intent to promote a certain state of meditation. They are normally chanted until the mind, body, and emotions are transcended and the subconscious is revealed.

This form of meditation is used to bring the mind and soul for their wandering states to a more focused and relaxed one. Many people have sworn by the effects of Mantra meditation bringing the body back to normal and reviving the connection with mind, body, and spirit. People not only use this form to reconnect, but also to heal. Many people with a cancer prognosis use mantra to focus the body on healing and unblock an energy that would inhibit the healing process. Many have claimed to recover faster or that the symptoms of treatments are alleviated from these techniques.
Allison Brooks is a recent college graduate and a holistic health nut, aiming to enlighten people about the benefits of natural and integrative therapies.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Role of Engaged Buddhism In Victimization

This is not a koan, which is designed to bypass lateral thinking. This is a reasoning process given the long tradition of rational thinking in Buddhism. Siddhartha Gutama was a proponent of critical thinking.

The implied call to action of this post may not be to simply occupy Wall Street but to also abandon it by changing the way we consume, not only literally by what we buy, but also what we buy into. Recursively, we can change what we buy into by changing what we consume as Engaged Buddhists.

There has been a lot of talk about corporations and their role in our economic crisis. Corporations are social constructs. They exist as a result of social agreement, much like laws and money. This establishes corporations as objects in our thinking.

A lot of people give objects in their thinking, such as corporations, human characteristics. This is an example of anthropomorphism, where we take something and assign it human characteristics. We can give a deity a white beard and a robe, but in terms of the current economic crisis we assign corporations the characteristics of being evil. Once this begins, people can identify themselves as victims and certain corporations as oppressors.

How did it happen that a mere social agreement became anthropomorphized into an oppressor? Is this an example of a Mahayana illusion?

This begins the dialogue of how corporate leaders establish oppression in democratic societies without the use of the military force. One of the main arguments of this post is that unmindful consumption helped feed the economic crisis. Without unmindful consumption, at least some corporate greed is powerless.

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Some companies that are profit driven have to generate demand; not only by influencing us to buy, but also by influencing how we think and live through propaganda and advertising. Other companies, like the ones that control the water supply in third world countries, only have to enforce their control through the government via the military. Is the United States a third world country or are we in a powerless democracy?

The mortgage crisis may have been aggravated by a lack of compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act by individuals, which is certainly not being followed up with the Justice Department, but it may also have the result of consumer demand and even fraud among mortgage applicants.

Unmindful consumption not only refers to what we put into our bodies but also what we put into our minds which inevitably plays into how we live our lives. When some people purchase a mortgage they are not only purchasing an interest rate, but a lifestyle. Others may be purchasing a farm to grow food but since farmers only consist of 1% of the population that may not be the 1% we are concerned about.

The American lifestyle is promoted in all forms of media, some which did not even exist at the time that Thay wrote this precept.

This is not an argument that there are no victims and that there is no evil. Once we recognize certain economic dynamics, as the anthropomorphism of a social construction, understanding the role that consumerism plays into our own victimology can help us regain our own participation in the dialogue of how to recover from and avoid an economic disaster and allow us not to participate in our own oppression in a democratic society.

Sometimes the difference between the victim and the oppressor is a mere illusion. It enforces the illusion that we are separate from one another, yet we are all one. This is not an argument that there is no greed or excess, but the excess may also lie within us. At least part of this crisis is may be a projection of what was inside of us and what was placed there from unmindful consumption to advance consumer demand.

Sean E Flanigan
Evanston, IL