Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Buddhism and Mental Illness

President Obama has declared May “Mental Health Awareness Month.” At the announcement the President said (thanks to Adrian Warnock for posting this):
“Today, tens of millions of Americans are living with the burden of a mental health problem. They shoulder conditions like depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder — debilitating illnesses that can strain every part of a person’s life. And even though help is out there, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment....

As part of this national awareness campaign, the whole of Patheos has been invited to write on the topic of Faith and Mental Health, you can see a few selections on the front page on the right.
So here I am, jumping in a little late with my own post on the topic.
Having faced mental illness, in a number of different capacities, it’s hard to know just where to start. Before I was born, perhaps.
What is the Zen koan? “What was your face before you were born?”

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Six Subjects of Reflection (and a short lesson on Pāli)

This post is a bit different; it's a 'back to basics' in a way and hopefully a helpful and quick introduction to Buddhism for those who could use it.
Anguttara Nikaya 6.9

Subjects of Recollection (as translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"Bhikkhus, there are these six subjects of recollection. What
six? Recollection of the Buddha, recollection of the Dhamma,
recollection of the Sangha, recollection of virtuous behavior,
recollection of generosity, and recollection of the deities. These
are the six subjects of recollection."

“Chayimāni, bhikkhave, anussatiṭṭhānāni. katamāni cha? buddhānussati, dhammānussati, saṅghānussati, sīlānussati, cāgānussati, devatānussati imāni kho, bhikkhave, cha anussatiṭṭhānānī”ti. navamaṃ."

Simplified Pāli Glossary of terms as they appear in the text (I have broken up the compounds, but left case endings as in the text):

Cha: six
imāni: these
bhikkhave: Oh Monks
anussati: anu (prefix here used to make sati transitive) + sati: mindfulness/recollection/memory
ṭhānāni: place, standing, cause, grounds, ways, respects [subjects isn't given in the PED dictionary, but one can see how it fits here]

katamāni: which
cha: six

Recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
#4 - sīla: ethics, morality, virtue, (good) behavior
#5 - cāga: generosity
#6 - devatā: divinities*

imāni: these
kho: indeed
bhikkhave: Oh Monks
cha: six
anussatiṭṭhānānī: as above,
ti: our equivalent of a closing quotation mark, indicating the end of what was said.

navamaṃ: ninth (indicating the number of the sutta in the collection)

* The PED tells us that this refers to those who hold the quality of being worthy of worship and includes ascetics, domesticated animals, forces of nature, as well as 'lower' and 'higher' gods/devas). This is elaborated upon in the next sutta, the Mahānāma sutta (AN 6.10), wherein only the various devas are discussed, but they are to be recollected with the understanding that the good actions that led them to their higher awakening is within the ability of the student.
A few words.

In Buddhism, mind is foremost (cf. Dhammapada 1). One could say that the mind is everything, but that can be taking it too far. Certainly what matters most is your mind, your mental states, and your intentions. This guide is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds of short lists or groupings of very important aspects of Buddhism. The disciple memorizes a list like this and then 'unfolds' them in commentarial form, often situated around further lists. For instance, beginning with the Buddha, one might frame his life in terms of his twelve acts, then move on to the Dhamma, which opens with the 4 Noble Truths, leading conveniently to the 8-fold Path, and so on. So lists are important, and memorization of those lists, as an aid to memory and to story-telling, should still be a goal of aspiring Buddhists. 

Next, we should all try to pick up at least a little bit of Pāli. We should also familiarize ourselves with the PED (Pali-English Dictionary), available in full at the U Chicago website. Accesstoinsight offers a great guide to getting started with Pāli here. For those looking to dive in with the help of an excellent teacher, see Bhikkhu Bodhi's introduction, which has hours of audio recordings as well as sets of downloadable charts. 

Getting into the canonical language (you can do the same with Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc depending on what area of Buddhism you are interested in) helps to put you in the thought-world (Gedankenwelt) of the text's transmitters, composers, and -one can usually hope- original author. As you can see, some words have a great multitude of meanings and while we can generally place our trust in translators when we are starting out, it quickly pays off to be able to look at the original. Nearly all of the Pāli words above have a half-dozen or more possible English translations; which ones the translator picks can often say as much about him/her as it does about the original author.

It's quite true that you don't need to learn Pāli or another canonical language to understand Buddhism - the language itself and the sounds it makes have no intrinsic power (although a belief in the intrinsic power of sound did seep into later Buddhism from early Hinduism). But it helps.
Justin Whitaker is a PhD candidate in Buddhist ethics at the University of London. He helps to administrate this blog and does his own writing mostly at American Buddhist Perspective.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Crowdfunding The Next Generation of Buddhist Activists: Youth In Action

I am partial to my root teacher, as always. They have a crowd funded project underway to provide hope to the next generation of Engaged Buddhism.

Notice the picture of MLK in the background. He nominated a certain Zen Mater for the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1960's. MLK is a model for Buddhist activists for non-violent, community centered solutions.

$10 can help fund the revolution. Please donate today.

If you are a member of Charlotte Community of Mindfulness, your donation will be matched for up to $1,000 in outllay, please donate!

Check it out here for more info.



Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Right Livelihood: An Interview with the President of New Wind Energy Solutions

Progressive Buddhism was recently granted the privilege of interviewing Stuart Wiston, who is president of New Wind Energy Solutions. Stuart spent over 20 years in commercial real estate before making a radical career switch to sustainability.

Today he is a recognized expert in small wind' and has taught Continuing Education classes for the American Institute of Architects.

He is on the board of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and lives out of Hendersonville, where he also served as board member of the Hendersonville Chamber of Commerce. As a member of the West End Synagogue, he uses his livelihood to contribute to our global welfare.

He and his wife, Debby, have four great kids from 2-7 years old. Stuart has somewhat of a passion for bourbon and has even recently started a blog about the subject. He can speak three languages, but he admits not as fluently as he would prefer.

Stuart, do you have any advice for Buddhists who like to sit around the camp fire and chat about the world’s problems but really don’t participate in any solutions?

“In Jewish tradition, we say 'every mitzvah (commandment or good deed) stands on its own'. If you only keep Kosher in your house but not out, it's certainly better than not doing either. Similarly, if people talk, but do much less, at least they are thinking about it and perhaps by voicing their concerns they are encouraging others to act.”

So, how does a smart guy like you earn a living?
"Our business model is fairly simple. We sell products that create renewable energy or that increase energy efficiency. We only represent products that are independent third party verified as, unfortunately there is a lot of snake oil in the sustainability field.

We recognize that sustainability is an admirable goal And that businesses must make profit to succeed. We specialize in products that have a return on investment of under three years.

Lastly, as a business we can be classified as a Social Enterprise. We have a preferential policy of hiring veterans. We judge our success or failure by the numbers of people we employ and the families they support as well as the amount of resources and money we are able to help our customers save or conserve."

Can you give us some background on how your spiritual tradition has shaped your way of thinking about sustainability?

“While most people know the story of Noah and the ark, Jewish tradition teaches that the world was destroyed because it was corrupt. But in Hebrew, the root of the word corrupt is the word for destruct. So another way to look at it was that the world was destroyed because it was full of destruction.
But Gd did not destroy the world immediately. He sent Noah with a message to tell the people to change And he commanded him to build an ark, a job that took 120 years. But despite the warnings and even with the time given, Man did not change. Many laughed at Noah and scoffed at his prophesies.

Today I feel we have also been sent a warning that we must change our ways of destruction. This time though, while there are still those who scoff, there are more and more who hear and are heeding the warnings.

A fundamental part of Judaism is Tikun Olam, or repair the world. We are taught "you may not be able to compete the task, nor are you free to abandon it."

What Is The Impact of Global Warming On Sustainable Energy:

As you may be aware, Global Warming is having a devastating impact in other countries where hydropower is critical to their energy systems. When I asked Stuart how he thought this will play out, here is what he said:

“Hydropower is not really in my wheelhouse, but climate change is creating all kinds of change. Some areas will see less rain, some more. Storms will get more violent as more energy is added to the earth's weather systems. Unfortunately, no one anywhere is isolated from these effects.

Solar farms may reduce carbon gases, but climate change means many of them will be subject to more frequent and more damaging hail storms. Studies have predicted that rising temperatures will reduce average wind speeds in many areas that now have wind farms. And changing rain patterns can leave some hydroelectric systems with too much or too little water, or even worse way too much for short periods, as happened in Nashville.

But perfect should never be allowed to be the enemy of good. If we do not use solar, wind and hydroelectric in place of coal or diesel power plants, then the change will be faster and worse. 100 year storms are becoming regular events. 500 year storms are not once in a lifetime events. Some of something is always better than all of nothing. Even if renewables don't fix the problems, they are important tools to help.”

Thank you, Stuart, for helping us get the word out on our blog about how you are making a difference!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

How to be your own role model: The Tiny Buddha

A little over a year ago I was in much grief and despair about what seemed countless and inescapable negative situations in my life. One day during meditation I realized that there was no light at the end of the tunnel because there was no tunnel and that the light I was searching for was inside me all along. Needless to say, I am feeling much better now.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Walkabout Problem and Joe's Story

It is part of my traditional community educational culture to foster a Walkabout of sorts for the very young adult. My Walkabout ended at 3:45 AM this morning, about 25 years later, because it was time to come home. I discovered that I did not need to travel the wilderness anymore in my narcissistic preoccupation with my own suffering. I donated all of my retreat money for the year to an unknown person in Chicago.

Joe's mother asked me to watch this video with her. It was inspiring but excruciating. His father waited outside on the front porch because he was working through his remembrances with my housemate.

All of our intellectual knowledge is gained from boiling down information. That information can then be consumed by other instruments, namely our sense organs and our cognitive processes. These are just instruments and they eventually die and it can hurt like hell to have all this stuff. That is why we do the Walkabout.

The Royal We tend to encounter people who travel great distances, read a lot of books and do some nice things for other people in the midst of an unfruitful preoccupation with ordinary life predicaments.

So I traveled great distances, read a lot of books and did some nice things for other people, but it wasn't really productive from a practice standpoint. In many ways my journey was drawn on a map by a 16 year old boy named Sean who couldn't get into the best prep school in the Southeast. That journey is winding down in the best interest of a 41 year old man with the same name who does a little blogging here and there because it is therapy.

Thursday night I got a call from a priest that I knew in high school because he was a fellow student in our chess club nerd factory and we were relying on each other for something. I told him I feed the homeless and then I go home. He told me he welcomes people into his life that have done some terrible things and that he has learned a lot from them, even though his parishioners sometimes object to the background of the people he welcomes . We are meeting in Knoxville in a few months. The home town feelings from Chattanooga were stirring in me by Friday morning and shortcomings of my Walkabout were surfacing and boiling over.

Friday night, last night, I met a couple here in Charlotte that had a son that I never knew growing up, but he was part of our community educational culture in my hometown. He had his Walkabout while he was dying of cancer before he got out of college. They describe his journal entries as bizarre but his final thoughts are remarkably gifted articulations. He had to make a pit stop while in Ireland where he was cared for because he was too sick to return home in good order.

It was humbling because I attended what constitutes a "backup plan" for prospective McCallie high school students who do not gain admission, or for current students who are expelled or drop out. My brother went to their rival school for a while and I really wasn't made of the stuff that these schools want.

Joe traveled to his high school campus and gave his last speech as an alumni of his school with six oxygen tanks in the back seat of his parent's car. In addition, he had to have his lungs aspirated by a doctor before his final speech so he could talk.

The slots to give these student speeches, for students by students, are highly coveted. This broke a sacred protocol because by that time Joe was an alumni and a student gave Joe his spot to make this final speech to his friends after his Walkabout.

The things he talks about here will resonate with you on a deep level. I sense that you may have traveled great distances, read a lot of books, and have done some nice things for people.

The video preview does not render well but please watch it. I can see the traffic on this blog and I know who are. Don't be a casual tourist today.

If you want to help Joe's friends help others: http://www.joedance.org/project/joe/


Friday, 19 April 2013

A Very Buddha Day

I am humbled by the kind nature of human beings. If I look into the mirror and I see a human being staring back at me, then I have had a good day.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A Very Buddha Thinking Hat

Today I heard a Dharma teacher say "The world needs the fruits of our practice."

I hope this means the seeds of our practice are in the fruits of our practice.  It is a lot of hard work on a day to day basis.

My thinking hat has grown old. Maybe it is time to start blossoming instead of designing the perfect practice.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

And Then One Day I Realized X

It is quite stunning that I get excited over so many personal revelations and live off the fumes from my inner glow, then things get dull or life gets bad. Then I seem to always renew the personal revelation that I really don't know anything and carry on.

I have managed to see life from several perspectives: affluent, broke, fat, thin, smart, ignorant... and at each perspective, I always came to the conclusion that I didn't know anything all along. Seeing this pattern is my latest revelation, and today is the day that I realized X.

So what now? I just bought a bunch of books from a fellow practitioner who is taking his practice out west to find some "real teachers" because he couldn't find any to his satisfaction here in Charlotte. Maybe I'll read his books until things get dull or life gets bad. If that doesn't work, maybe I'll move west too.

I've moved North a couple of times. That was kind of cool, but I seem to alienate people no matter where I move.....

Wow! Was that a new revelation? Maybe I'll keep the books in the trunk of my car today......

With Trust,


Friday, 29 March 2013

There is Urgency Among Us

Greetings friends and readers,

Unlike my other posts that have a sort of seriousness to them this one will have even more seriousness to it and may cover more than I hope.

For those of you who do not live in the United States there is a Supreme Court hearing currently taking place regarding same-sex marriage. Being openly gay I certainly have hopes that those trusted with the roles as judges realize that my dignity and that of my fellow lesbian-gay-bi-transgender-queer and even heterosexual allies will not be dismissed.
Yet this is not the only issue at hand that is taking place in this nation at the very least. There are food products that have been approved and are quite harmful, there are movements against the children of the nation in reducing funding for schools and other forms of education, there are pop icons who are being severely (and rightly so) criticized  for their lyrics regarding women, rape and drugs. There are LGBTQ youth who are every single moment of the day crying themselves in effort to comfort themselves because they have been beaten, bruised, neglected, punished for something they cannot change.

Each moment that we are on the meditation cushion or spend in silence, all of this is taking place. This sort of silence cannot be appropriate can it? How can we just sit comfortably while our fellow human beings and the planet itself is beginning to shake in agony as the loss of precious lives begins to rise in an age where we once believed this would no longer take place?

I strongly believe that meditation does not have to take place quietly while sitting, standing or even being alone. Meditation can take place in action, global action, that pushes forward equality, justice, peace, dignity and all those other things we value and have fought for in our own lives so hard. 

We have absolutely no right to sit while children next door may be calling out for help in some way. Our meditations can only be validated in our solitary practices or communal practices if we do something about all of this. 

Yes--this is yet another call to action that is incredibly explicit. I stated today in a philosophy class  that being a member of an institution of any sort that is responsible for the death of even one  with others walking along their own paths in that institution doing nothing is cowardice. 





I am fully aware that each and every single one of us have our own struggles that we must resolve including myself but is there a way that to resolve the plagues in our own lives is to first resolve the plagues in someone else’s life? 

Is a thank you or even an absent thank you from a good deed a fulfillment of all that we do not just strive to be....

but we already are.

This is the Buddhism that I fell for, a non-silent Buddhism that believes that each and every single human even the murderer, even the psychotic have a light shining from them. A black light, a light of Emptiness. I so strongly believe this that I had it tattooed on my chest in Latin: Lucemus non Incendemus which translates to:
My tattoo

We shine not burn. 

The irony, of course, is that we must burn to shine. 

“Everything is burning. What is burning? The eyes are burning, everything that we see with the eyes is burning.” This little phrase comes from many many different Buddhist traditions and can certainly be interpreted in a variety of ways. We burn with Desire and so everything around us is engulfed in flames. Yet how negative can this be? I am a fan of warmth and a fan of the Eight Fold Path which teaches that Desire, all together, need not be something negative. It can change the world in drastic ways.

We can begin to protest and maybe everything we know about Buddhism will change. 


Is not one of the most important teachings of Buddhism is that everything is constantly changing, shifting, molding, responding, bouncing back and forth and in all directions. So if Buddhism is to change because we do not sit for twenty minutes but for ten and spend the other ten in aid to somebody else. Even if that somebody else is an ant on our table that has lost his way home. 

We are capable of so much, I need not prove that since I am posting this on something called the internet. Wow. What a thing the internet is....really....just for a few moments...think about it. Isn’t is a spectacular phenomena? In sorts, even a miracle?

As this world becomes smaller and smaller we have less and less room for foolish error. It will take place and mercy has already been granted by me and hopefully by those around me as well on those foolish mistakes. Even the Earth is merciful but, too, has its limits. It cries for help. 

I am certainly among the guilty as is everybody else, even the child. 

But I do not believe this guilt is negative one. It is a lotus blooming and blossoming into the beauty and fragrant flower that it is and so then inspiring everything around it to come and taste its nectar. The shame that I feel from time to time is soothed by the bee which comes to me not caring about the shame and the guilt that I hold onto but joins with me in a celebration of life. 

It is because we are guilty that we must act.

It is because we feel shame that we must act.

It is because we feel humiliated that we must act.

It is because we are amazing that we must act.

It is because we are capable of such beauty and love that we must act.

It is because we can act that we must act.

I never leave the meditation cushion and perform Zen miracles every step that I take. The only wish that I have is that the breath that I take each step reaches the child who is contemplating suicide because she has been told that her being a lesbian is “wrong” “sinful” “disgusting.” There is no room for tolerating these situations in Buddhism. The most simple logic will show that:

We are all interconnected.

Buddhism teaches on the cessation of suffering.

Suffering and its cessation are both incredibly complicated.

To end our own personal suffering is to also end the suffering of another person.

To end the suffering of another person we must be in the world doing stuff.

It’s really that simple. I am not the first to have said this and I hope that I am not the last. 

There is an urgency among us that cannot be ignored. 

I invite all of you with your friends, with your Sanghas, by yourselves or with whomever to remember the children, adults, plants, animals that are beginning to shake in agony because of us. We are responsible and we must do something about this. 

What did the Buddha do after his Enlightenment? He went and he taught, inviting all of those around him to join in his teachings on theorizing on how to end suffering. Many forms of Buddhism teach that we are already Enlightened, so lets do as our Teacher did....go into the world and end its suffering because frankly, I’ve had enough of it.

With Love, Sincerity and Plea

Denis Kurmanov

Reluctant Zen Masters: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and The Guard At The Gate

One day I was pushed from an elevated subway platform in Chicago’s Loop down to street level. There were pain medications, surgical options, cat scans, and many visits to many different doctors and specialists.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a research based clinical practice. It is a one on one experience, face to face. There are workbooks, revelations, and my personal outcome helped me rescue my practice during a very dark time.

If I were to have designed a perfect life for myself before training the guard at the gate, it would be completely inferior to the life I have today.

A year after falling down flights of metal stairs in a reflexive fetal position and hammering my spine at every revolution, I was a complete basket case. One of my pain medications tackled pain by ratcheting down the entire nervous system, including the brain. In spite of being functionally brain dead, I was also full of anxiety and prone to being depressed and feeling hopeless about the entire situation.

As a result of CBT and as it applies to my practice, I not only meditate on my breath as I was taught in my beginning years by my kind teacher, but I now also check in on how the Palace Guard At The Gate is doing because I ask certain things of him as a result of my CBT.

When pain enters the palace of my perception, I might be working at my desk or looking at the sky asking myself which is a star and which is a satellite. The guard at the gate does not draw his sword or close the gate when pain enters the palace.

He greets pain and hands him a nametag that says “Hello, my name is Sean”. When the perception of pain leaves my palace he opens the gate for Sean and tells him to have a good day and that a lot of people love him and are rooting for him.  He no longer beheads the perception if it is negative because he now understands that it means he is beheading himself.

I still have the pain today. It has not gone away. I am on zero pain medication and I am alive and grateful to be in touch with reality on reality’s terms, connected to other people, and constantly evaluating how I treat people and the ripple effects of what happens when I do not respond compassionately. Less than compassionate responses still happen more often than I prefer.

My palace guard {1} will never be out of work because I have invested a lot in him and he has been given more responsibility, constantly meeting and greeting all sorts of perceptions and impulses. I am pleased with his performance, even though is he is a mere human being and freaks out when I lose my car keys and can be remarkably insensitive at times. When he is at his best, he focuses on the task he is given in the present moment with no expectations of the future and any delusions of changing the past.   

It was rather convenient that both the CBT office and the sangha of my root teacher’s tradition were both only blocks away from my apartment. It is also with a warm fuzzy feeling that I regard my former therapist as a reluctant Zen master.

I would point out to the CBT professional that many of the chapters in the workbooks began with  “This is section is about the research based concept of X in CBT, which is similar to the Buddhist concept of Y…”.

The CBT practitioner would respond, “We are not here today to talk about your religion, we are here to change the way you perceive things. How are you feeling by the way?”

At the start of my therapy, I would respond that when I entered the sangha I was but a shell of a human being that could not perceive anything other than physical pain. I considered myself as a ghost haunting a zafu cushion and could not connect with anyone on any level and that when I meditated my perceptions of my body were overwhelming.  

My therapy has ended.

Reluctant Zen masters can only carry you for so long if they are truly teaching you how to walk.

Dharma teachers don’t tire of carrying you because they point the way. When you are going the wrong way, they still point the way. When you are going the right way, they still point the way.   

Therapists tend to have too much baggage anyway.

With Love,

I turn 41 on April 1st and I requested the day off of work to avoid the April fool’s jokes and to go the farmers market when parking is easy. After that I am going to reread the parts of The Miracle of Mindfulness I have yet to underline or put in brackets. Perhaps some of those sentences will resonate with me on my birthday once I have experienced them for myself that day. When every sentence is underlined, I will be ready to give the book away. I may pass away first, so I recommend buying your own copy before the chronic pains arrive. Buddhism has long tradition of liberation from suffering; chronic pain has its place in my practice. In an ironic twist, the graphic comes from a trial attorney’s web site and it contains no solutions, only problems. I spit in the general direction of attorneys due to my employment as a trial consultant after a publication I was on in graduate school. I have two teachers that practice the dark art of law, so I do not spit on them but I remain cautious.

Reluctant Zen Masters: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and The Guard At The Gate

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Very Buddha Easter Egg Hunt

We all have Dharma teachers that leave an impression on us. The one that has deeply touched me the most leads the Chicago based Order Of Interbeing Sangha.

It wasn't really any deep thoughts or flashes of enlightenment I gained from being in his humble presence, which is probably what some of you expected me to say. It was his insistence on one principle. After some of the most beautiful Dharma talks and discussions he would always end with "Don't take my word for it, why not experience it for yourself?"

So I did. Sometimes it was quite painful.

My perspective has changed since then towards all of those brave souls who offer spiritual and practiced based guidance.

After treading through the wilderness on my own, I would emerge with little gems I had found that liberated me from suffering, but those gems are empty if unskillfully shared.

To others, they are mere Easter eggs. They are just shells, concepts and representations of life experiences, but they have no substance until they are filled with the yolk of experiences.

Sometimes the Buddhist with the smallest book collection can be the one who recognizes that Dharma teachings are like egg shells. They are fragile and empty.  The direct experience can seem abstract and intellectual when shared, which is why many of the most revered teachers keep it simple. Very very simple. The simplicity can help others from suffering so deeply that a few simple egg shells, no matter how empty and fragile, are of great value when in skillful hands.

Sean Flanigan
Charlotte, NC

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

An Inappropriate but worthwhile Shout-out!

Greetings Readers!

I am going to post two links to a blog that a close of mine just started. She and I chat very often regarding our "religious and spiritual journeys" and I am now happy to be able to be reading her posts!

She has experience in a variety of religious traditions and quite a story herself that I will let her share with you through her wonderful blogs!

So here they are! These are "Skeptical Witch" and "Solitary Witch"


telmarisgreen2.wordpress.com (Skeptical Witch)

telmarisgreen.wordpress.com (Solitary Witch)

Thank you for reading! 

Enjoy her blogs if you are interested and pardon me for this commercial interruption! 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A Very Buddha Festival Film

This is a cool indie film that parallels a the journey of a child with a strong Buddha nature. She has one conception about the nature of the universe and, through a tragic unfolding , she emerges as perceiving herself as part of the cosmic web and embraces impermanence. She also becomes fearless in the process. It is a coming of age story of consciousness and it is truly remarkable.

Being able to see films like this makes me glad that I don't own a television set. 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Fearless Practicioner

transitory - passing - fleeting - temporary - momentary

Selfishness and anxiety can arguably be rooted in fear. Fear is rooted in attachments. For example, one can be bound to attachments rooted to objects and mental formations that have existed in the past, exist in present, and are expected to exist in the future. This is driven from the ego and its attempt at self preservation.

One can have a present awareness without being attached to what is going on in the present. For example, one can value one’s livelihood, prepare for it for many years, and nurture it for many years, without becoming attached to it. In this way, we do not introduce fear into how earn our rice for the day.

You can treat the wonderful people you  have encountered along your journey through the wilderness with loving kindness without being necessarily attached to them. The journey, the people, and the wilderness are all transient. When we remove the fear we make room for compassionate expression.

This may be a reasonable explanation as to why many Buddhist activists have been applauded through the ages for being fearless when fighting oppression, even if it means sacrificing their lives.

It is also a reasonable explanation as to why people are often confounded when the impulses of the practitioner do not align with the impulses of those that surround the practitioner. Sometimes a non impulsive behavior is interpreted as a lack of awareness, a lack of interest etc. However, practitioners have many "gut instincts" that they bring up for vetting because they are aware that many of these instincts are a by product of the ego.

Human beings project their fears and impulses on others. In a way, the projectors witness traces of their own ego in others because they are projecting their fears and impulses and confirming their own delusion.

“Turn the other cheek” is a confounding methodology because it goes against our impulses for the self preservation of the ego. The ego is often in denial about the transient nature of objects, beliefs and other mental formations because of the ego's own transient nature and its attachment to itself.

When we are truly present and aware, we are not bound by such attachments that the ego uses to deny its transient nature and we leave room for compassionate expression.  

With Trust,

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Karma Conspiracy: Doing My Part

You may have seen my earlier post on Lisa Nigro, a former Chicago police officer who founded an organization, The Inspiration Corporation, that now brings in about $6,000,000 a year to serve the homeless. She is definitely Chicago’s most inspiring story. At least that's what the word on the street is. I had the privilege of making her acquaintance while renting some space at a start-up incubator in Evanston and she gave a talk on writing a mission statement for social entrepreneurs.

The streets of Charlotte have mission statements in the making with social entrepreneur start-ups in this series of posts ‘Karma Conspiracy’.

It is now my privilege to  introduce you to Mike Spencer, business owner and social entrepreneur.

I just had to give a shout out to Mike in the first installment. I had the privilege of meeting Mike after he pinged me on Meetup.com and asked me to volunteer, out of the blue, for his participation at a social entrepreneur expo at the Democratic National Convention. Of course, I was going to be there anyway trolling the exhibits so I couldn’t turn him down.

Mike is one of Charlotte's new breed of business and social entrepreneurs and he is making a big impact with a great organization he founded: doingmypart.com.
Mike Spencer

The site uses the concept of micro donations, as little as $3 a month, and pools them together to help fund projects for both doing my part and other charitable organizations.

Mike is a very impressive and outgoing character. Just this morning, we were out on the streets of Charlotte with other people he managed to corral together by just being who he is and we hit the streets after Charlotte's most recent, snowy Saturday.

What a great day to get off the zafu to participate in a flash mob for the street team with doingmypart.com!

Here is an impromptu video interview with Mike at the DNC. Turn up the volume, it was crowded and I had to filter out the background noise....

With A Bow,
Sean Flanigan
Charlotte, NC

Friday, 1 March 2013

Energy Percieves Energy, A War And A Head

If you look at the image long enough you will perceive a slight movement. Our eyes betray us. They are not the only senses that betray us and not the only things that betray us. This includes our introspection, our precious Dharma, and our beloved objective observations.

The suffering is inescapable, at least for a while, either way, because they both involve a war and a head because energy perceives energy.

Here’s how.

Our physical mechanisms of perception are made of matter. Our eyes and brain are made of solid stuff, which has mass. These mechanisms perceive other things made of matter, including other things that also perceive us as well. We see, feel, touch, taste, hear, and smell each other, our cats and our dogs are living together and sometimes when we are tired of perceiving each other we kill each other and our death anxiety may go up or down depending on what kind of war we consent to.

One big web of ‘things‘ perceiving other intersections of the web as ‘things’ sounds a little mundane. An elegant universe existed long before string theory. 

Mass is a property of all energy and energy is a property of all mass {1}. Even if we cant handle the idea that the 'stuff' that truly perceives is made of matter, then we trade it for the idea that the stuff that perceives is made of energy.

Does our death anxiety best explain invoking concepts such as the soul or an energy pattern being reborn, all in the name of retaining the precious ego that is somehow in the body and somehow Cartesian materialism-ish either way you roll the dice, cut your hair, shave your head, or release your mind, rot in the ground or float up to the stars when you die? Who knows? Who cares? Energy can perceive energy either way.  No problemo.

We didn’t have to even touch quantum physics or QED to get to energy perceiving energy part. We didn’t have to go gather ‘round Timothy Leary’s tombstone or pass the peace pipe to visit the Great Spirit. Nope, just good ole‘ Relativity and some ‘rules of play‘ for being objective, but all is not cool even if it seems like a really cool idea. How uncool, bad idea. It only reinforces the notion that objective observation  and introspection have no limits to their benefits.

Oh my.

If energy perceives energy and...

“All the evidence available from both science and introspection suggest that there is no continuous self which survives intact or unchanged even from one moment to the next. Instead we have continuously changing psychological processes, including the processes which produce that very sense of continuity. Yet this sense of self reappears again and again.” {2}


“Buddhism is not made up of eternal truths. Buddhism is a collection of methods and associated ideas which aim to produce a particular experience. The experience of seeing through (vipaśyana) and understanding (prajñā) the nature of experience itself. And in the meantime the exploration of experience is itself a fascinating area of inquiry. And the way we talk about the ideas that inform our practice must reflect the times and places we are in.” {3}


The transient self perceives the transient self, but there is no self if one truly finds one’s self using tools that are also transient properties of the self. The carpenter is not a carpenter without a hammer and wood, and the hammer is not a hammer without a carpenter and stuff to hammer together. If all that is left is wood, what is the point in naming it wood? Who cares? Except for the suffering. All three are not only objects, but they are a system. Without the system, these objects are undifferentiated on any substantial level.

This is close to Mereological Nihilism. If you don’t know anything about this topic, ask a philosophy major who might be one of the many baristas you see on your weekend visits to the “All things Buddha” outlet.  

The Buddhist uses the tools of introspection, like meditation, and also directly observes. The scientist uses various apparatuses and 'rules of play' for objectivity. These rules of play and their material trappings arose through culture from introspection and observation. Hooray! Now all the Buddhists were really quantum physicists and all the quantum physicists were really Buddhists all along! But not really, but maybe so.

Some of us use Buddhism as a methodology and science as a methodology in tandem.  Both research methodologies are often conducted by a false sense of self to find ourselves or go beyond ourselves.

Through the introspection of meditation and the seemingly objective methods of science, we may find that we are just ripples in the pond but not the pond. 

We may find that our beloved objective rules of play are also just a projection.

Perhaps objective observations are like a stone cast into the pond that is reborn as a small wave pattern just to understand the nature of the pond by casting the pond into the pond.

Our beloved introspection is the study of a temporary phenomenon, the self. When we use tools of the same nature for projection that we use during introspection we are throwing the same stones at the same pond and producing ripples of the same nature even if they look unique enough to be considered dualities: one that produces peace vs. the one that produces nuclear warheads and one that studies the war in our heads vs. one that produces a cure for AIDS.

The suffering is inescapable either way because they both involve a war and a head.  
Get it?

When we are still, we are the pond. When we are still long enough, there is no pond. Why even bother calling it a pond if that is all there is?  It is still useful as a metaphor.

When creating ripples, don't oppress, don't harass, don't be violent. When being still, be compassionate, walk for justice, and heal the victims, including the Earth and our future generations. Don't forget to offer a sip of compassion to the haters, the oppressors, and the murderers.  If you can't do that then offer them two sips of compassion.

Don't take my word for it.


{1} Mass-Energy Equivalence

{2} Rebirth, Reborn

{3}Emptiness for beginnners:

Image credit:
Just a cool image that looks like it is moving, even though it is not. It reminds us of how our perceptions betray us. I got this from Hippie Peace Freak on Facebook.

Buddhism and Psychedelic Experience

Greetings all!

This post is more so a question than anything else. I have heard various arguments regarding the use of psychedelic drugs in aid of meditation and emptying experience. I have heard the opposite that the use is “cheating” and it is “inauthentic” and not “truly Buddhist practice.” Buddhism as a whole, I believe, tends to lean towards mystical experiences whether with the use of these drugs or not. I will make a case for the general mysticism of all Buddhism in another post but my question is:

Are psychedelics harmful to one’s Buddhist experience of reality or are they a potential aid for a person who wants to “see emptiness” via the form of ‘tripping?’

That’s it! Comment away my friends. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

A Reading of the Bodhisattva Vow

Credit to "Psychedelic Buddha" search on Google Images

All beings, without number, I vow to liberate 

Endless blind passions I vow to uproot 

Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to penetrate 

The way of the Buddha I vow to attain
Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them. 

Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them. 

Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them. 

Buddha's way is unsurpassable; I vow to become it.”

Greetings readers.
As always it is a pleasure to address you and make your acquaintances. Today’s post is going to be focused on “the greatest of all vows,” “the vow made for those who are ready,” “the very vow that the Buddha himself took,” etc etc.

Are you noticing that there is some importance to this vow? We may all have heard the vow and read various versions of it, but how much do we really think about it beyond its obvious peaceful message?

My first encounter with the vow was being told that it was something that “I should do” as a “Buddhist.” I took the vow at a Zen Center and began my Buddhist journey. Yet it has only been somewhat recently that I have begun thinking about the vow a lot more.

What does it really mean?

Is it as peace-loving-hippie-mumbo-jumbo that so many people are led to believe?

Is this a vow of passivity or a vow made by a person for action?
Is it both?

What does this vow mean to the Buddhist who takes the vow and then in doing so, promises to live for the sake of others. I don’t mean to go on and on about such weird questions (which I will address) but we, like people in all other traditions, forget about the intensity of what we talk about, claim, and vow to do.

Before I actually begin talking about the vow I invite you to take a few minutes and read the vow a few times and just think about it. My words are the way that I read it and the way I believe it can apply to everyone, Buddhist or not, but when an individual vows to end the suffering of the world, the understanding must first be on one’s own terms. We must internalize what we are vowing to do before we can move forward because, although helpful in most cases, rationalization of something like this can only get us so far.

Silence, Thought, and Voice

After having taken a few minutes to think about the vow myself, I return!

“All beings without number, I vow to liberate.”

First, the vow states that the being who takes this vow will not attain Nirvana until everyone else has attained it first. That statement combined with the rest of the vow logically concludes that we will be around for a very long time. I believe it is important to note that this is not a literal statement but a hyperbole emphasizing the gravity of such a vow. These sorts of exaggerations are all over the place in Zen Buddhism, some of which can begin to make sense after reading a few times, but most of which take practice….practice….practice.

So how can I, one person, who is still so fundamentally a part of everyone and everything else, able to liberate anything? And even more so, what does this liberation mean?

Liberation has been understood as an intensive awareness of the present moment.


We’ve heard that done to death but what does that mean, “present moment” and “intensive awareness?” It is true that awareness in the present moment is attentiveness to one’s breath as it continues on its own. Yet just like our breath, when we begin to pay attention to our surroundings, we are able to influence them on a much greater level and even have results.

When we are able to be aware—which includes study of what is taking place in the world, within our homes, within our minds and hearts, we can be liberated. But just like our breath, awareness instantly brings another aspect to it, which I believe is often lost in Buddhism, action. The entire vow is a call to action and liberation cannot exclude that aspect. When we begin to pay attention to our breath there is a dynamic that is instantly born—it influences us as we influence it. We can’t possibly control it because it needs to continue somewhat on its own and it can’t possibly control us entirely because we can, for just a few moments, stop it, change its pattern and then learn.

This is the same way with the world and one of the most basic Buddhist principles, interdependency. Vowing to liberate all beings becomes a teaching opportunity for all people, in their own way, on their own terms but for the awareness of the whole. We move to action because we notice that world is not always a “liberating place” but that injustice does exist.

Endless blind passions I vow to uproot.”

My personal Dharma teacher always used the metaphor of picking weeds out of the ground when using any imagery of “uprooting.” It is a physical as well as mental task of reaching into the ground, becoming dirty and then pulling out the plants that are harmful to one’s garden. With each tug we realize that we are, in fact, destroying the life of one thing (to which we will return) and also focusing on this one task with our minds clear from other things. This is similar to Thich Nhat Hanh’s “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.”

The other irony in this phrase is “endless blind.” The common reading of this is that the passions that are ruling one’s life are “blind,” they have no purpose, no goal, and they have no substance to them. Where as this reading is not a bad one, it puts some pressure on the Buddhist to answer the following question:

“Are not Buddhists living for the moment? Isn’t the passion that is driving the Buddhist just as blind as the other passions that Buddhists fight against?”

This is a valid question and part of the answer lies within Buddhist practice. The question assumes that discerning these passions is as easy as pointing at them on a piece of paper. That’s just simply not the case. Each person is different and needs to pay attention to how passions (which are inescapable, thus being Endless) to which are blind and really create no difference.

A critique of Buddhism is that it does not offer sufficient reasons to act against injustice. This critique may hold true for some specific situations through out the world’s history and Buddhist reaction to it—however—recent decades has shown a new logic used by Buddhists all around the world (like Thich Nhat Hanh) to stand up against injustice, instead of just remaining on the meditation cushion.

The reason I bring that up is that both questions:

“Are not Buddhists living strictly for the moment?” and “Is there any really good case for Buddhists to act against injustice, according to their own sutras?”

is because I believe that this one statement “Endless blind passions, I vow to uproot” addresses both of them.

Not only are these questions asked in some ignorance, I believe, because the story of the Buddha himself is a story of fighting poverty, injustice, greed, and the status quo all in one. He left his caste to become a holy man, and then “after his Enlightenment” he opened the Sangha up for men and women. We can look back at the rules that the women had and how much harsher they were against the men but we must place this within its own time. There was certainly injustice in our own terms but really, instead of judging the past, can we not be thankful for the progress that we have made instead?  We can ask a question like this:

“What a beauty it is to see that justice was given in its own way to women back then and now be thankful for the progress that we have made?” This is not a question of passivity because our work is never done for we have not seen the Enlightenment of all sentient beings. We Buddhists see the beauty in our moment, now, but we see the work that needs to be done. There are a number of sorts of blindness in Buddhist thought and the one that I believe deals with this question is “the Blindness of Enlightenment.” This very old Dharma phrase is a teaching that focuses on the negative stillness that one can fall into when one is “Enlightened.” In fact, it means the opposite, that one is not Enlightened if such a belief is held. We constantly walk the middle way of Enlightenment and something else, never really knowing which one we are in but always knowing still that either side is just an arm’s length away.

The rest of the vow is a showing of how this amazing idea of uprooting the illusions that plague us can take place, and so we move on to the rest of the vow taken in all at once.

Dharma gates beyond measure I vow to penetrate 

The way of the Buddha I vow to attain
Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them. “

The teaching is so vast that I could never point at it directly but I vow to learn.
The way of the Enlightened One I vow to live
Life is numberless; I vow to awaken it within all things.

The Dharma now spans countless schools of thought, generations and now cultural divides. I have heard that American Buddhism is not “Buddhism” but only Eastern is. That is just simply not the case and we learn the Teaching (the Dharma) in our own contexts and our own vocabularies.

A Chinese Zen practitioner can look south and see the wisdom of Esoteric Buddhism who can also look south and see the wisdom of Theravada teaching. A Theravada Buddhist can look to another faith tradition and see teaching there. There is so much wisdom in the world that the Buddhist vows to access. To study the texts can get us so far but I believe that right action (a point on the Eight Fold Path) can help us penetrate the Teaching. A monk begs for food and then teaches. A student listens and then begins his/her own school of thought that also acts. We build homes for those who are in need of homes, both by teaching and by physical labor. The teaching can never be just written texts but also ethical experience.

With our realization that we are already Buddhas, each and every single one of us we vow to live the life as such. What are the Buddhas through the ages? One can look at a list of thousands of individuals who are the Bodhisattvas and see what they represent:

The list goes on

And on

And on.

The Buddha in this case can, of course, be Gautama Buddha but it does not have to be. The door is open for the practitioner to listen to oneself and see which of the Bodhisattvas impacts his/her own life the most and then begin to meditate, begin to act.

We return to the statement of the difficulty of this vow and the importance of it as well. Yet we do not wait here in the last statement of the vow but we grow just as we see those around us grow. We are constantly changing and with the change that is universally shared we continue on our paths of the rest of the vow by action, meditation, and the rest of the list of right actions, views, thoughts, etc.
This vow is central “non-negotiable” in that to separate action and spiritual growth would be an illusion. We, as Buddhists, cannot sit blindly as the world continues to be polluted by molten metal and even more dangerous than that, the melting of our own hearts. We simply do not have the time for that. We work as hard as we can to aid this world and that is the most simple of all Teachings, it is the most central of all Teachings and is “the most important vow one can take.”