Monday, November 1, 2010


For the next couple of weeks posts will be slow, due some pressing obligations. I'm going to continue to moderate comments, but will not be doing much replying.


Monday, October 11, 2010

OMG! Mahayana Buddhists with Sharp Pointy Teeth!!

I was lucky enough to arrive at an article through a favorite blog, The Reformed Buddhist (adult content advisory). Thanks, Kyle for bringing up the topic and pointing to Murderous Mahayana, a blog article written by Barbara O'Brien.

This critique on critique rebuts a profoundly disturbing thesis by a scholar who asserts that Buddhism is inherently violent. As military or police Buddhists, we may face some the arguments put forth in the attached article. Not to fear, however, Ms. O'Brien's rebuttal is solid. Enough of me, go read the article.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ink, Budhism under cover

The movie is Ink.

One of the few examples in modern cinema of profound teaching.  Bai Bow

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Precepts for Warriors: Part IV, On Sexual Misconduct

"I will abstain from sexual misconduct and prevent abuse to others"

On the surface, once again, this Mindfulness Training seems obvious.  Specifically it is generally accepted that the training against sexual misconduct can be broken down into the following admonishments:

1.  No sex with children
2.  No sex with someone who is married (not to you)
3.  No sex with someone who is not your spouse (if you are married)
4.  No sex with someone who is unwilling

Essentially, we are not to cause harm through our sexual conduct.  These trainings do not advise against sex in general, but ask us to avoid conduct which can damage another person. 

I don't think it is necessary to explain how exploiting children sexually, or raping anyone for that matter is cruel and unjustifiable.  If this cannot be understood at face value, then just obey the law, period.

When we make a commitment to another person, a marriage for example, we commit more than just our sexual fidelity.  We commit our loyalty, honesty and integrity.  We commit our lives to this person so as a unit we are stronger and happier.  We do this so we can raise children in a happy and healthy home. Mindfulness during intimacy with our spouse generates greater trust, respect and love and is a great practice for us householders.

To violate the trust of our spouse is to create karmic consequences that will ripple through our lives, and the lives of our families.  We feel we have to hide the affair creating anxiety that we will be discovered.  This creates tension that intrudes on our presence in the home, and darkens our relationships with the ones we love.  If discovered, our betrayal is like a blow to our spouse and child. 


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Precepts for Warriors, Part III, On Stealing

"Avoid taking that which is not given."

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in The Heart of Buddha's Teaching:  "Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals.  I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy and material resources with those who are in real need.  I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth."

I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

Not only does this training proscribe the unethical taking of property, and not only does does this training teach the active practice of generosity, but in no uncertain terms are we exhorted to pro-actively prevent others from benefiting from the suffering of others.

In my very humble opinion, if there was ever any doubt that a Buddhist could fulfill his or her Boddhisatva vows as a police officer or as a soldier, this teaching dissolves that doubt.  This is the essence of the term "Fierce Boddhisatva," implying a warrior's commitment to the protection of rights and freedoms for all beings.  In the web of interdependence, if one being is oppressed, we are all oppressed.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Precepts for Warriors Part II, On Killing

I will refrain from killing or harming beings

This training by far has been the most troublesome, and the least discussed in all the literature I have been able to find.  From my experience, when I committed to undertake the precepts, I realized that I may find myself in a position where I might need to take one life to save another.  This is strictly pertaining to human lives, but might also be extending to address life in general to encompass all sentient beings. According to Webster, Sentient is defined as

1 : responsive to or conscious of sense impressions
2 : aware
3 : finely sensitive in perception or feeling

For the purpose of this post I will rely heavily on an article entitled Buddhism and the Soldier, provided with kindness at the The Buddhist Military Sangha .   This wonderfully written piece puts Buddhism into a perspective that is useful for those of us with questions on how to practice our way of life in very challenging circumstances.

At the core of this training and each one that follows is learning to be present and mindful in everything we do.  We may not always have the time to consider thoughtfully the ramifications of a suspected insurgent reaching for a cell phone, or stepping on the gas while he speeds toward your check point.  We have a duty to protect our colleagues and bystanders, and may not have the opportunity to weigh the Karmic consequences of applying deadly force, never mind the results of our actions if our target turns out not to be a threat after all.  In these situations quick action is required.

What meditation on the first training has taught me, is at the core of my action there should be compassion.  By this term, I mean the concern for others' safety, security and welfare.  This mindset is focused outward for the benefit of all beings. If I am hateful, or fearful, or careless, the fruits of my action will be hurtful, and will generate undesired results.  If I am mindful of the welfare of my charges, then the results of my actions will do less harm.  I do not dispute that the taking of life or the harming of dangerous persons will give rise to karma, and will result in suffering.  However, if I have trained to my utmost to carry out my duty effectively, if my intention is to preserve life, then my action will be just.  When the dust is settled, and the thing is done, I will say a gattha for the fallen, and hope for the recovery of the injured, mindful of my adversary's suffering.

Since it is my duty to protect others, it is also my duty to prepare myself physically.  How can I expect to be able to carry out my responsibilities if I am out of shape, overweight and generally unhealthy?  I must be mindful of what I consume, and conduct my physical training and skills training with intense focus and concentration.  I should avoid alcohol (this will be discussed in a later post) since it dulls my senses and harms my body, and I should eat a healthy diet whenever possible.

This brings to mind the topic of meat consumption.  I must admit that I am deeply torn over this topic.  Is it possible to become strong and fit on a vegetarian diet?  If not, then where does my duty lie?  I would like to revisit this later.

The training of avoiding the taking of life further opens possibilities, providing additional tools with which to protect the public.  Through mindfulness and compassion, by looking deeply into the suffering of an individual who has committed a crime one might see means by which to take that person into custody, for their own safety as well as the public's.  This requires a very skillful practice, and admittedly one that I fall short on but work hard to cultivate.  I try to apply this practice in these terms:  It is better to convince someone it is in their best interest to give up without a fight, than to forcibly subdue them.  Together, with right intention, and through skillful means, this is practicing the Dharma.

Edit 10/6/2010:

I read this  Post on SSG Robert Miller's Congressional Medal of Honor award today.  SSG Miller saved the lives of his men through great skill and courage, thinking not of himself.  Out of compassion for his men, he exemplified right action and skillful means.  I don't believe anyone needs the tag "Buddhist" to be a Boddhisatva.  May his family live in peace, and may his memory and the way he lived inspire us all to save beings.

Precepts for Warriors

     Initially I wanted to think about meat eating in the context of the precepts, but it occurred to me that there are many more challenges for practitioners who happen to find their dharma on the battlefield or on the street.  In the following posts, I would like to explore each precept in this context.

      I humbly submit that precepts as they are commonly known would be more accurately referred to as "Training Rule."  I have checked numerous sources and pañca-sikkhāpada appears to be accurately translated as training rule.  As most of us are intensely dedicated to our fitness, since that is directly related to our ability to save lives, we undertake a number of different trainings, exploring various techniques and finally adopting those that work best.  In my opinion, the same mental energy, inquisitiveness and criticism should be applied to our dharma practice.  In this spirit, I will be exploring the trainings, retaining that which is helpful, and culling that which is obstructive.

     In order to break the ice, I will be using the trainings as described below.  There are many translations and versions, and I don't care to quibble over which parsing means what.  The point is to focus on intent, and to thereby derive understanding followed by application of the trainings in the daily life of a warrior.

     Also, the order of the trainings may be a starting point for practice, but ultimately they are interdependent, and support one another.  So the common order of the trainings are as follows:

I will avoid killing or harming beings

I will avoid taking that which is not given

I will avoid false speach

I will avoid sexual misconduct

I will avoid intoxicating substances

     If anyone would care to share their experiences related to the "Trainings" in the context of conflict, your comments would be most welcome.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Resurecting the Buddha!

It is important to remember that a dead Buddha is Buddha.  I made that momentous head slapping discovery this weekend. After a long time study of the diamond sutra, coupled with the attainment of original nature, and being a fool in general, I came to the conclusion that the Dharmas are all empty, and that doing anything mindfully was the Dharma in action.  After all, when you read a sutra, where is the Buddha?  Why read about it, when you can just be it?  Why abide in the rain when you are saturated?

Spending a month avoiding dharma talks, sutras and formal practice in general, mindfulness craftily over time slipped into the shadows, yeah, like a ninja!  It lay in wait to ambush me for the moment I would do something unmindful and incur some karma.  Well, the inevitable happened.  It was a difficult day, and I was feeling grumpy and egotistical.  I said something offensive (I'll spare the details) and wound up immediately regretting it. Karma is a wonderful teacher, like the divets on the side of the freeway.  When you drowz behind the wheel andwander off the path, those wonderful little bumps bring everything back into focus.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

To Kill the Buddha

There is an old Koan, its over-use becoming cliche', "If you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill him!"  The reference of course is metaphorical, and goes something like this:  The Buddha is your perception of what a Buddha is, your feelings about enlightenment, forms it can take, impressions, the mental residue attached to non-existent things, making them seem real.  The road is your path, or the stream you enter on the way to awakening.  So, while in the process of waking up, you attach yourself to anchors of dreams, you will stay in your dream state.  Until you remove those obstacles, enlightenment will never happen.

I have had a long and twisted journey on this path, and still sometimes return to dreaming, emerging after a short time, or after a lengthy indulgence, I am by no means done. Skeptical of religion as a general rule, I was attracted to Zen by virtue of its focus on "practice." There is direct experience, one achieved through individual effort, devoid of dogma that I so intensely hated (obstacle).   After experiencing a deployment, and several resulting tragedies, I looked for a refuge, a place of healing because I could no longer find the strength to do it alone.  I used to go every once and a while to a beautiful Mahayana Monastery and back to that place I returned.  It was a cold and icy day, and the roads were treacherous. It seemed that I was the only one who made it out for the Sunday service, so the Abbot, a kind a learned monk, invited me into his home to talk by the fire.  He spent several hours with me, mainly just listening to my vent my spleen over recent events and the toll the mental damage did to myself and by extension my family.  This total stranger felt like a respected a honored uncle, and I decided at that moment to take refuge in the Sangha.

As the healing continued, my heart softened, and aversion to unwieldy Dharma (the 7 this, the 6 that, the 32 otherthings) turned to intellectual curiosity.  Studying these lists and meditating on them served to induce a calmness of mind and warmth of spirit that before seemed lost to me forever.  I once only maintained one or two choice Dharma books (although I would read anything and everything Thich Nhat Hanh ever wrote), my library began to grow.  I started reading translations of Pali, delving deeply into canonical tomes, looking for wisdom, hungering for knowledge.  I went to multi-day retreats, getting up hours before anyone else, putting in many extra hours of meditation  in all day meditation retreats.

And then one day (LOL fairy tale reference) I was sitting with everyone else, in deep meditation, the snap-out-of-it bell rang and something clicked, actually I could feel something click or pop in my brain, like a light switch being flipped on.  One of our senior lay practitioners was about to give a detailed lecture on the 72 something something of Nagarjuna. 

It was a sunny warm day outside so I quietly got up, bowed to the Sangha, and loped out to the garden where I spent the next hour, just being present.  Not being especially gifted and talented, I took me the rest of the day to realize that I had killed my Buddha.

So, here is the dilemma with I currently wrestle:  of what use are sutras?  Why should I ever pick up another Buddhist text, or listen to another Dharma talk?  Things have come back around full-circle and here I stand again at the beginning, I take refuge in the beginning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thich Naht Hanh on the Fierce Boddhisatva

Taken with gratitude from: La Yoga Magazine

This article outlines a path for the Military/Police Boddhisatva. There are many Buddhists who believe that it is a contradiction to serve in the military or in law enforcement while being a Buddhist.  With loving kindness, I would direct them here.  Anyone care to debate this Boddhisatva?

Skillful Means In Any Path
The bodhisattva, the ultimate master of skillful means, is not limited to one way of doing things, but takes many forms: child, adult, man, woman, artist, politician, musician, teacher, police officer, CEO. In practicing skillful action, we need to be ready to emerge in many guises, able to adapt to whatever the circumstances require.
Buddhism speaks of the four skillful means of a bodhisattva. The first skillful means is making the three kinds of offerings: material gifts, the gift of the dharma and the gift of non-fear. When you offer good things to people, they have sympathy with you, they regard you favorably and their hearts are open. Giving someone a book on the dharma, or a CD of some beautiful music that can help them relax – this is the practice of giving, dana. But the offerings of a bodhisattva should not be only material things or dharma teachings. The best, most precious gift we can give someone is the gift of non-fear, abhaya.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh
People live in fear of death; they are afraid of losing their selfhood, their identity, afraid of disappearing and becoming nonexistent. So when you offer the kind of teaching, practice and insight that helps someone touch their ultimate dimension and get free of the fear of being and nonbeing, that is the greatest gift you can offer them.

The second skillful means of the bodhisattva is to practice loving speech. You can be very firm and uncompromising, but you can still use loving speech. You don’t have to shout or become hostile to get your idea across. Loving speech can convey your feeling and idea to the other person in a way they are able to hear it and take it in more fully. The third skillful means is to always act to benefit others. You do whatever you can to help the other person in any situation. That is the action of the bodhisattva. The fourth skillful means is the practice of “doing the same thing.” This has to do with the bodhisattva’s ability to take on the appropriate form in order to be able to approach others and help them. You look like them, dress like them, do exactly what they do; you become one of them so that they will trust and accept you and have the opportunity to learn the path of understanding and love. These are the four skillful means by which the bodhisattva embraces and serves living beings.

The action of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, is to be present everywhere at all times and manifest in innumerable forms. In many Asian Buddhist temples, there is a statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva with a thousand arms. Each arm holds an instrument or object that represents a different sphere of activity in which the bodhisattva can manifest compassion and understanding. In one hand he holds a book – it might be a sutra text or a book on political science. Another hand holds a ritual instrument, such as a bell. Another holds a musical instrument. A modern version of the thousand-armed bodhisattva might hold a computer in one hand. Perhaps the bodhisattva holds a gun in one of its thousand hands. Is it possible to carry a weapon and yet remain deeply a bodhisattva? This is possible. At the gates of temples in Vietnam, you often see two figures: on the left is a statue of a very gentle bodhisattva, smiling, welcoming, while on the right is a figure with a very fierce expression, brandishing a weapon. In Vietnamese the name of this figure means literally “burning-face bodhisattva” – his face is burning, his eyes are burning, fire and smoke are coming out of his nose and mouth. This is the archetype of the fierce, guardian bodhisattva, one who has the capacity to keep the hungry ghosts in check. When we offer ceremonial food and drink to the hungry ghosts, we evoke this bodhisattva to come and help, because the hungry ghosts bring so much noise and disorder with them. We need the burning-face bodhisattva; we need his ferocity to help establish order, because only he can tame the wild hungry ghosts. He is a kind of police chief bodhisattva.

You can be very firm and uncompromising, but you can still use loving speech. You don’t have to shout or become hostile to get your idea across. Loving speech can convey your feeling and idea to the other person in a way they are able to hear it and take it in more fully.

Yet this fierce-looking character is a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, who takes various form – as a gentle, motherly bodhisattva, or as a fierce guardian bodhisattva, even as a hungry ghost – in order to better understand and communicate with those he or she has come to help. Some of these manifestations may not look to us like our usual idea of a bodhisattva. If we look for Avalokiteshvara only in a nice, gentle appearance, we may miss him. We have to look deeply in order to recognize the bodhisattva of compassion in his or her many forms – as a child or adult, as a man or woman, as an artist, politician, musician, judge, gardener, police officer, dharma teacher, the head of a big corporation, or a gang member.
In order to approach others to help them transform, you have to become a part of their world so that they will recognize and accept you. Then you can begin to help transform their hearts. This is the fourth skillful means of the bodhisattva, the practice of “doing the same thing.” In a gang, you may look, act, and speak like any other gang member, but really you are a bodhisattva. In a prison you manifest yourself as prisoner and become a bodhisattva among prisoners. This is the action of Avalokiteshvara.

Just as burning-face bodhisattva carries a weapon and is a manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion, when we see someone who carries a gun we cannot automatically say that he or she is evil. Society needs some people to serve as guardians, because there are those who will behave in harmful and destructive ways toward others if there is no one to embody discipline, security, and order. So someone who carries a gun, such as a policeman or prison guard, can also be a bodhisattva. He or she may be very firm, but deep within there is the heart of a bodhisattva. Our task is to help prison guards and policemen, as well as prisoners and gang members, recognize and cultivate their bodhisattva nature.

I have learned a lot from a friend, a police officer who took the mindfulness trainings some years ago, about the suffering of members of the police force in America. It is very difficult for them to do this job. The constant exposure to threat and violence, and the negative way many people react to them, cause the hearts of police officers to harden day by day. They feel isolated, disrespected, and uncared for by society. If police officers do not have skillful means, if they don’t have enough understanding and compassion, then a lot of anger, frustration, and despair build up in them. They feel that no one understands how difficult their work is, because they are seen only as oppressors. Communication between the police and the community they are supposed to serve becomes stifled. And in such an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust, some members of the police abuse their authority and actually do become oppressors.

So you can manifest yourself as a policeman or policewoman, and play the role of bodhisattva in order to bring about better communication that will lead to more understanding and compassion. A police bodhisattva might help organize a community meeting and invite people to come and hear what the life of a police officer is like. When officers go to work in the morning, their families do not know if they will return home safely. Their task is to protect others and preserve order, but they know that they might also become the victim of violence. So the job of a police officer is filled with fear and uncertainty, and when you do your job with fear and anger, you cannot do it well. We should understand the immense suffering of members of the police force, prison guards, and others who serve in this capacity. Many people in these professions don’t enjoy their jobs, yet they continue. Avalokiteshvara must appear in their midst and try to open their hearts.

A police bodhisattva can work to reestablish communication between the police and the community, so that they can talk to and listen to one another with understanding and compassion. Communication is possible. Police officers can help non-police officers, and non-police officers can help police officers. There can be collaboration between them. There is a way through any situation, no matter how difficult. And the way that is prescribed by the teaching is to practice deep listening, listening with compassion and using loving speech, one of the skillful means of the bodhisattva. Once communication is restored we have hope, and suffering will be lessened.

Avalokiteshvara shows us that even if you must be very firm, even when you have to carry a weapon or impose authority, at the same time you can be very compassionate. You can serve as a fierce burning-face bodhisattva with a tender heart and deep understanding. This is how you can be a bodhisattva in that form. But to serve as any kind of bodhisattva – a tender, motherly bodhisattva or a fierce guardian bodhisattva – you have to really be a bodhisattva. You can’t just act the part, merely appearing to be a bodhisattva outwardly while inwardly your heart is closed. You must have real understanding and compassion in order to be worthy of being called a bodhisattva.

If you look closely at the figure of the thousand-armed bodhisattva, you will see that in the palm of each hand there is an eye. The eye symbolizes the presence of understanding and wisdom, prajna. We need both compassion and wisdom to progress on the path. Understanding and wisdom help to bring about love, kindness, and compassion. Avalokiteshvara has so many arms because love needs to express itself in many different forms and through the use of many kinds of instruments. That is why every arm is holding
a different instrument, and in every hand there is the eye of wisdom.

Sometimes we may believe that we are acting from love, but if our action is not based in deep understanding, it will bring suffering. You want to make someone happy, and you believe very strongly that you are doing something out of love. But your action may make the other person suffer very much. So even though you believe you are acting from love, you cause your son or daughter, your partner or spouse, your friend or coworker to suffer deeply because you do not have enough understanding of that person. That is why you need the eye of understanding, of wisdom, to be an effective instrument of compassion.

If you don’t understand the suffering, the difficulty, the deep aspiration of another person, it’s not possible for you to love them. So it’s very important to check with them and ask for help. A father should be able to ask his child, “Do I understand you well enough? Do I make you suffer because of my lack of understanding?” A mother should be able to ask her child, “Do you think I understand you? Please tell me so that I can love you properly.” That is the language of love. And if you are sincere, your daughter or son will tell you about their suffering. And when you have understood their suffering, you will stop doing things that make him or her suffer, things that you believed you did only for her happiness and well-being. Deep understanding is the substance of which true love is made. The hands of the bodhisattva symbolize action, but our actions must be guided well by the eyes of understanding.

Some of us serve as bodhisattvas with several arms. We take care of our family, and at the same time we are able to participate in the work of protecting the environment and helping others in the world. All of us are capable of being present in many places in the world. You can be here and at the same time, through your compassionate action, you can be in a prison, or in a remote country where the children suffer from malnutrition. You don’t have to be present in those other places with your physical body, because you have many transformation bodies that can serve everywhere.

When I write a book, I transform myself into a multitude of forms – the ideas and words in the book – in order to go everywhere. Every book I offer is one of my transformation bodies. I can go into a cloister in the form of a book or inside a prison in the form of an audiotape. Each of us has many transformation bodies, and that is why it is so important to learn to recognize our transformation bodies. Being a bodhisattva is not abstract but is a very concrete practice that we can do – just like Avalokiteshvara, we manifest ourselves in many bodies, many forms, in order to help as many people as possible.

You have to be very awake to recognize the bodhisattva in his various forms. Avalokiteshvara may be very close to you right now. You may be able to touch him just by reaching out your hand.
Compassion does exist, understanding does exist. It is possible for us to cultivate the energy of compassion and understanding so that Avalokiteshvara can be with us at all times, in our daily life, and we will be well protected with understanding and compassion.

Excerpted from In the Face of Fear, edited by Barry Boyce, © 2009. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston:
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who is a prolific writer, artist and compassionate teacher. Deer Park Monastery (, in Escondido, California and Plum Village (, in southern France, are inhabited by monks and nuns in his lineage.
Many of his books are published by Parallax Press (

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

H.H. The Dalai Lama's message to the troops

With heartfelt thanks to Navy Chaplain Shakyu Yuinen for posting this on her blog, The Buddhist Military Sangha!

"I have always admired those who are prepared to act in the defense of others for their courage and determination. In fact, it may surprise you to know that I think that monks and soldiers, sailors and airmen have more in common than at first meets the eye. Strict discipline is important to us all, we all wear a uniform and we rely on the companionship and support of our comrades. Close

Although the public may think that physical strength is what is most important, I believe that what makes a good soldier, sailor or airman, just as what makes a good monk, is inner strength. And inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation. The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you want only wish to do them harm.

Naturally, there are some times when we need to take what on the surface appears to be harsh or tough action, but if our motivation is good our action is actually non-violent in nature. On the other hand if we use sweet words and gestures to deceive, exploit and take advantage of others, our conduct may appear agreeable, while we are actually engaged in quite unacceptable violence.

The ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit humanity, therefore I believe that what is important for Buddhists is the contribution we can make to human society according to our own ideas and values. The key to overcoming suffering and ensuring happiness is inner peace. If we have that we can face difficulties with calmness and reason, while our inner happiness remains undisturbed. The teachings of love, kindness and tolerance, the conduct of non-violence as I have explained above, and especially the Buddhist theory that all things are relative are a source of that inner peace.

It is my prayer that all of you may be able to do your duty and fulfil your mission and in due course when that is done to return to your homes and families.”

~ Dalai Lama

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Addiction... Path to enlightenment! No, Really

I have been using tobacco (Copenhagen specifically) since I began serving in the Army about 15 years ago. The Oh-My-Buddha! early mornings, unit PT on top of the 2 hours of "extra PT" I put myself through, combined with my wife's pregnancy, new children, etc etc, I grasped for my crutch, anything to keep me alert for another hour or two.

When I left the Army and got a "real-job," I continued with this learned habit.  I used rationalizations similar to the ones described above, and further more ramped up my intake of alcoholic beverages.   I was like a hungry ghost, looking for the wrong fuel to keep a nuclear chain reaction of work-sleep-work going for as long as possible.  I made myself impervious to my "soft" civilian co-workers' disgusted looks as I spit brown crap out of my mouth.  Alcohol, combined with "Crackenhagen" is a potent combination resulting in a dangerous cycle of consumption.  The more I dipped, the more I could drink, and the more I drank, the more I wanted to dip.  Since I loved both, and honestly believed that no-one suffered as a result of my behavior, yay for me!  Party-on.

Alcohol was the first to go.  I took the Bodhisattva vows and have been working on how to apply them in life and through my job.  I always believed in physical fitness as a gateway to better living, but after taking the vows and studying them, I realized that in order to save beings, I had to be strong, both physically and mentally.  One look in the mirror was all it took for reality to hit.  I had allowed alcohol into my body and it wreaked havoc.  How could I presume to be a protector of all beings and still be forty pounds overweight?  Since I really had no physical dependency on beer, leaving it behind was more like burying a beloved pet.  It would be tough for a little while, but I could get past it.  The precept to abstain from intoxicating substances used to make me laugh a little.  Now, after of month without even a sip of wine,  every aspect of my life has improved.  I've lost fifteen pounds and am getting back into great shape.  I no longer lose days to headaches and hangovers.  I sleep a hell of a lot better.  Meditation practice has gotten much much deeper, and I'm better able to face all the challenges of the day with equanimity. I'm not laughing at the precept now :)

The tobacco however,  wow.  How many tries, how many times?  I've tried a number of times to quit.  I've done cold turkey, gum, even drugs.  In the end I always fell off the wagon.  Yesterday, as I saw, really saw with Buddha mind, my youngest son.  In a flash of light all at once I realized that in poisoning myself with tobacco, I was also poisoning my children.  Every time my kids saw me pack a can, or spit into a cup, they got the message that "this is what grown men do"  Over and over and over again.

To be continued...

So, it's been about a  week without tobacco.  Here are my observations:  Mindfulness training has helped a great deal.  Cravings inevitably appeared.  By observing them arise, acknowledging their existence and letting them go their own way, I have been needing to concentrate very deeply, often while doing things like driving, reading, teaching working out.  Cravings have become a mindfulness bell... Thank you craving :)

One Month Later...

It's no big deal, but I fell of the wagon this week.  In my weakest moments,  "the wagon"  reminds of the corpse wagon in Montey Python's Holy Grail, and I feel like the guy saying : I'm not Dead Yet."  In my attempts over the years to master myself, I have learned a few things.

1.  Being angry with one's own failure's is counterproductive. It only reinforces attachment to craving and quitting.

2.  Cravings get worse as time goes on, not easier, but one's ability to cope with them gets better.  This leads to a tenuous balance, like walking a razor's edge between craving and release. Only constant meditation keeps one from falling over.  The more consistent the meditation, the easier it is to resist nicotine cravings.  This time, I found less time to meditate and as a result, became unbalanced.

3.  Once one succumbs, the way out again is to go through the quitting ritual again, without judgment.

4. Repeat as necessary.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Crescent Moon Bear.

THERE ONCE WAS a young woman who lived in a fragrant pine forest. Her husband was away fighting in a war for many years. When finally he was released from duty, he trudged home in a most foul mood. He refused to enter the house, for he had become used to sleeping on stones. He kept to himself and stayed in the forest day and night.

His young wife was so excited when she learned her husband was coming home at last. She cooked and shopped and shopped and cooked and made dishes and dishes and bowls and bowls of tasty white soybean curd and three kinds of fish, and three kinds of seaweed, and rice sprinkled with red pepper, and nice cold prawns, big and orange.

Smiling shyly, she carried the food to the woods and knelt beside her war-weary husband and offered to him the beautiful food she had prepared. But he sprang to his feet and kicked the trays over so that the bean curd spilled, the fish jumped into the air, the seaweed and rice spilled into the dirt, and the big orange prawns rolled down the path.

“Leave me alone!” he roared, and turned his back on her. He became so enraged she was frightened of him. And finally, in desperation, she found her way to the cave of the healer who lived outside the village.

“My husband has been badly injured in the war,” the wife said. “He rages continuously and eats nothing. He wishes to stay outside and will not live with me as before. Can you give me a potion that will make him loving and gentle once again?”

The healer assured her, “This I can do for you, but I need a special ingredient. Unfortunately, I am all out of hair from the crescent moon bear. So you must climb the mountain, find the black bear, and bring me back a single hair from the crescent moon at its throat. Then I can give you what you need, and life will be good again.”

Some women would have felt daunted by this task. Some women would have thought the entire effort impossible. But not she, for she was a woman who loved. “Oh! I am so grateful,” she said. “It is so good to know that something can be done.”

So she readied for her journey, and the next morning she went out to the mountain. And she sang out “Arigato zaisho,” which is a way of greeting the mountain and saying, “Thank you for letting me climb upon your body.”

She climbed into the foothills where there were boulders like big loaves of bread. She ascended up to a plateau covered with forest. The trees had long draping boughs and leaves that looked like stars.
“Arigato zaisho,” she sang out. This was a way of thanking the trees for lifting their hair so she could pass underneath. And so she found her way through the forest and began to climb again.
It was harder now. The mountain had thorny flowers that seized the hem of her kimono, and rocks that scraped her tiny hands. Strange dark birds flew out at her in the dusk and frightened her. She knew they were ‘muen-botoke’, spirits of the dead who have no relatives, and she sang out her prayers for them: “I will be your relative. I will lay you to rest.”

Still she climbed, for she was a woman who loved. She climbed till she saw snow on the mountain peak. Soon her feet were wet and cold, and she she climbed higher, for she was a woman who loved. A storm began, and the snow blew straight into her eyes and deep into her ears. Blinded, still she climbed higher. And when the snow stopped, the woman sang out “Arigato zaisho,” to thank the winds for ceasing to blind her.

She took shelter in a shallow cave and could barely pull all of herself into it. Though she had a full pack of food, she did not eat, but covered herself in leaves and slept. In the morning, the air was calm and the little green plants even showed through the snow here and there. “Ah,” she thought, “now, for the crescent moon bear.”

She searched all day and near twilight found thick cords of scat and needed to look no farther, for a gigantic black bear lumbered cross the snowfall, leaving behind deep pad and claw marks. The crescent moon bear roared fiercely and entered its den. She reached into her bundle and placed the food she had brought in a bowl. She set the bowl outside the den and ran back to her shelter to hide. The bear smelled the food and came lurching from its den, roaring so loud it shook loose little stones. The bear circled around the food from a distance, sampled the wind many times, then ate the food up in one gulp. The great bear reared up and disappeared into its den.

The next evening the woman did the same, setting the food in the bowl, but this time, instead of returning to her shelter she retreated only halfway. The bear smelled the food, heaved itself itself out of its den, roared to shake the stars from the skies, circled, tested the air very cautiously, but finally gobbled up the food and crawled back into its den. This continued for many nights until one dark blue night the woman felt brave enough to wait even closer to the bear’s den.

She put the food in the bowl outside the den and stood right by the opening. When the bear smelled the food and lumbered out, it saw not only the usual food but a pair of small human feet as well. The bear turned its head sideways and roared so loud it made the bones in the woman’s body hum.
The woman trembled, but stood her ground. The bear hauled itself onto its back legs, smacked its jaws, and roared so that the woman could see right up into the red-and-brown roof of its mouth. But she did not run away. The bear roared even more and put out its arms as though to sieze her, its ten claws hanging like ten long knives over her scalp. The woman shook like a leaf in high wind, but stayed right where she was.

“Oh please, dear bear,” she pleaded, “please, dear bear, I’ve come all this way because I need a cure for my husband.” The bear brought its front paws to earth in a spray of snow and peered into the woman’s frightened face. For a moment, the woman felt she could see entire mountain ranges, valleys, rivers, and villages reflected in the bear’s old, old eyes. A deep peace settled over her, and her trembling ceased.

“Please, dear bear, I’ve been feeding you all these past nights. Could I please have one of the hairs from the crescent moon on your throat?” The bear paused and thought, This little woman would be easy food. Yet suddenly he was filled with pity for her. “It is true,” said the crescent moon bear, “you’ve been good to me. You may have one hair of my hairs. But take it quickly, then leave here and go back to your own.”

The bear raised its great snout so that the white crescent on its throat showed, and the woman could see the strong pulse of the bear’s heart there. The woman put one hand on the bear’s neck, and with her other took hold of a single glossy white hair. Quickly, she pulled it. The bear reared back and cried out as though wounded. And this pain then setlled into annoyed huffs.

“Oh, thank you, crescent moon bear, thank you so much.” The woman bowed and bowed. But the bear growled and lumbered forward a step. It roared at the woman in words she could not understand and yet somehow words she had somehow known all of her life. She turned and fled down the mountain as fast as she could. She ran under the trees with leaves shaped like stars. All the way through she cried “Arigato zaisho,” to thank the trees for lifting their boughs so she could pass. She stumbled over the boulders that looked like big loaves of bread, crying “Arigato zaisho,” to thank the mountain for letting her climb upon its body.

Though her clothes were ragged, her hair askew, her face soiled, she ran down the stone stairs that led to the village, down the dirt road and right through town to its other side, and into the hovel where the healer sat tending the fire.

“Look, look! I have it, I found it, I claimed it, a hair of the crescent moon bear!” cried the young woman.
“Ah good, ” said the healer with a smile. She peered closely at the woman and took the pure white hair and held it out toward the light. She weighed the long hair in one old hand, measured it with one finger, and exclaimed, “Yes! This is an authentic hair from the crescent moon bear.” The suddenly she turned and threw the hair deep into the fire, where it popped and crackled and was consumed in a bright orange flame.

“No!” cried the woman. “What have you done?!”
“Be calm. It is good. All is well,” said the healer. “Remember each step you took to climb the mountain? Remember each step you took to capture the trust of the crescent moon bear? Remember what you saw, what you heard, and what you felt?”

“Yes,” said the woman, “I remember it very well.”

The old healer smiled at her gently and said, “Please now, my daughter, go home with your new understandings and proceed in the same ways with your husband.”

from _Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype_ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD


The wind had been gathering all day and I knew a big system was about to roll through.  I didn't mind though, since my favorite part about any thunderstorm has always been the slow broil of darkening clouds, the coolness of the rising wind, and the smell of rain, the promise of life.  I feel truly united with nature, like a gnat caught in a twisting nether of coffee, about to be consumed, unnoticed, one with the milky blackness, and then one with the body consuming, gone and still eternal.

The rain began its slow probing volleys against my window, taps for a tired mind. I drifted off into slumber.  Then, like 500kg car bomb, a searing brightness ripped through my forehead, pulling behind it the slap of a blast wave and the instant recognition of my own impermanence.  In my mind, I was momentarily a fine pink mist, gently alighting upon my bed, forming a red angel on the sheets.  Again, impermanence blasted me back from formlessness into a body, pulsing, mist returning to blood and bone, my heart echoing the thunder outside.  Duck and cover drill pasted itself on my reflexes, and found only emptiness where a bunker should be.  A grown man, curling up like a fetus, I reached for my wife and pulled her bodhisattva peace into my belly and I entrenched my head between her shoulders, finding life, until the war passed away.

Meditating on this experience, it occurs to me that even still, even after a long and deep immersion in the dharma,
I am still mending, still processing.  What practice has taught me is to respect the process of healing.  I used to feel physical pain at any unexpected loud noise.  It was like getting hit in the head with a sledge hammer.  Over time, these episodes diminished in intensity, and now only appear in space separated by long intervals of time.  I have learned to address them now as bodhisattvas of impermanence, doorways to awakening, like a zen master holding a big stick, they point to my true nature.

With my palms together, I bow three times.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What is a "Fierce Boddhisatva?"

Ordinarily, one's conception of a Boddhisatva indicates a radiant being glowing with compassion.  This can be problematic for anyone confronted with a situation in which a bad guy is about to harm some one or many other people and you alone have the ability to stop him.  To whom then do you owe compassion, the bad guy, or his victims?  Is it possible to act as a Boddhisatva to both?

Hmmm.  Looking at the karmic consequences of the bad guy who is about to take a life, it is quite likely that he will spend many reincarnations in one of the hell realms if he is allowed kill another being out of anger or fear, or with any of a variety of criminal intents.  An awakened person with a gun, should not hesitate to do the appropriate thing.  It has been my experience that most law enforcement and military folks are trained to "stop the threat."   In other words, your "intent" in firing your weapon is not necessarily to kill the person presenting a threat, but to stop them.  They are about to commit some heinous act that will have devastating karmic results for all involved, and for many people involved in relationship to the victims and the bad guy.  If he is allowed to commit this act, karma will ripple through generations.

An awakened mind sees this, and it is with the intent of stopping this promulgation of very bad karma, they act in accordance with their training, to stop the threat.

One of the few teachings I have come across on this topic, I heard on Speaking of Faith, on National Public Radio.  Here is the link to Krista Tippitt's interview of Thich Nhat Hanh, in which he mentions the "Fierce Boddhisatva,"  and subsequent interview of Cheri Maples, a Buddhist Police Officer.

Here is the link:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

To begin with, an apology

For writing about the Dharma.  A Boddhisatva is exhorted by Nagarjuna not to cling a particular Dharma, so I hope to examine Buddhism as practiced by the Police and Military through the eightfold path, but without clinging too much.  I will propose some ideas that will likely be controversial, especially for those Buddhists who may not have experience with the shocking reality with which we are often confronted.  The fact is, we go through our daily work faced with the immediate prospect of our mortality, and that of our colleagues, and by extension, our family and loved ones.  To honor this state of being, I beg Manjushri for a sword, so that we can cut right to essence of our practice.

There can be no doubt that our practice is different from non-Police/Military Buddhists, but not special.