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We’ve all got some Buddhist in Us

In the contemporary world, dozens of factions compete to declare their version of Budddhism to be correct.

In fact, each of us carries a mixture of beliefs based on our experience of the world, things we’ve read, and what we had for dinner last night.

Here, I supply a summary of my findings, so you can locate your position in the land of the Buddha.

It begins

The Dhammapada, or the “Virtuous Path According to Lord Buddha,” probably written by Buddha, is considered to be the manual of Buddhist teaching. 423 verses divided into 26 chapters. The three main parts of Dhammapada are:

  1. Karma Yoga or the Philosophy of Action
  2. Sadhana or Spiritual Training
  3. Nistha or Faith

The four noble truths: There are many ways to express these 4 truths. My favorite comes from Plato, Not Prozac! : Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems by Lou Marinoff, HarperCollins, (New York), 1999

  1. All life is suffering
  2. Suffering is cause by wanting things to be different than they are.
  3. There is a way to end suffering.
  4. Accept what is, and move on from there.
Lou Marinoff

The eight-fold path: A convention started by early translators of Buddhist texts into English, found within the 4th noble truth.

  1. Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
  2. Right thought (Samma sankappa)
  3. Right speech (Samma vaca)
  4. Right action (Samma kammanta)
  5. Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
  6. Right effort (Samma vayama)
  7. Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
  8. Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

After the death of Buddha – about 400 to 800 years before Christ — two schools of Buddhism emerged. One was Theravada Buddhism, the original deal. Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts. The other was Mahayana Buddhism — we’re all in this together. Then, various cultures, various teachers split things up.

Xuan Zang, a 7h century scholar who traveled the Silk Road to India, where he gathered Buddhist texts and translated them into Chinese, said that Theravada is like a kayak; it carries the individual.  Mahayana is like a boat that carries a tribe. Mahayana is like an ocean liner; it carries the entire community.

The Major Schools

Theravada: “The School of the Elders.” Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts. The fundamental principle of Theravada Buddhism is that an individual must rely on his or her analytical power to understand the world around him. Although a rational man is self sufficient with his logic, yet he needs a guide or a wise man to guide him. In order to break the cycle of misery and agony, man needs to free his mind from the defilements of the temporal world Theravada Buddhism is the oldest school of Buddhism. It was popularized in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China and other Asian countries. An individual needs to abide by the basic principles of Buddhism strictly. Moral conduct, meditation and wisdom are the three basic principles of Theravada Buddhism. all worldly phenomena are subject to 3 characteristics.

  1. They are impermanent and transient;
  2. unsatisfactory and that there is nothing in them which can be called ones own.
  3. All compounded things are made up of two elements – the non-material part and the material part.

They are further described as consisting of 5 constituent groups, namely

  1. the material quality
  2. sensations
  3. perception
  4. mental formatives
  5. consciousness.

When the perfected state of insight is reached, that person is a worthy person, an Arhat.

Mahayana School of Buddhism: The main idea behind Mahayana Buddhism is that anyone can reach the stature of the Buddha by following Buddha Marga. Mahasanghika sect is believed to be the source of the Mahayana Buddhism. This school of Buddhism had a huge impact on China, Korea and Japan. Mahayana school is a huge umbrella under which a number of philosophies and principles are included.

Madhyamika Buddhism, literally meaning the middle path, was founded in the second century, during the early stages of development of Mahayana Buddhism. It was developed by the great Indian scholar and philosopher Nagarjuna who wrote the ‘Wisdom Sutras,’ a total of about 40 texts which have been collected under the title of Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom). All phenomena are devoid of intrinsic nature, and exist only due to the conditions created by other phenomena. It is referred to as the middle path because it rejects the two extreme philosophies of eternalism and nihilism. It is a dialectic school which, according to Nagarjuna, was founded by Lord Buddha himself. In the 11th century, Madhyamikas divided into 3 distinct schools:  Prasangika, Svatantrika and the synthesis of later Yogacara and Madhyamika, referred to as Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamika.

Vajrayana School of Buddhism: Indian tantric master Padmasambhava, the 2nd Buddha, founded Vajrayana in the 7th century. AKA The tantric school, a part of the Mahayana School, called Lamaism because at the center of the school lies the Lama. By practicing Vajrayana, a Buddhist follower can achieve enlightenment easily. Vajra is a symbol for thunder, diamond and lightning. The most prominent features of Vajrayana include the use of mantras; gives much importance to the teacher or guru; the significance of meditation, which also includes concentration techniques like; the visualization of bodhisattvas. The followers of the faith are brought in to these practices by initiation called empowerment. One of the salient features of Vajrayana is that it considers Mahayana and Theravada as the base on which the tantras could be practiced. The knowledge of these two earlier branches is absolutely essential to practice Vajrayana. It is more popularly used in Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese Schools of Buddhism: An integral part of the Chinese culture, this school of Buddhism is further divided into 10 more Buddhist schools. Their way of expression may differ but the basic doctrines of Buddhism, such as the Eightfold Paths, Four Noble Truths and others are the same. The Chinese monastic community is an extension of the order of the monks that Buddha had established. The Arahants here are known as Lohans. The 10 Chinese Schools of Buddhism are:-

  • Reality School. Also known as Abhidharma School or Kosa School
  • Satysiddhi School or Chengse School
  • Three Sastra School or Sanlun School
  • The Lotus School or T’ientai School
  • The Garland School or Avatamsaka School. Also known as Huayen School
  • Intuitive School or Chan School or Dhyana School
  • Discipline or Lu or Vinaya School.
  • Esoteric or Chenyien School or Mantra School
  • Dharmalaksana School or Fasiang School
  • Pureland School, Sukhavati School or Chingtu School

Japanese Schools of Buddhism

  • Nichiren Buddhism: Nichiren propagated the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren was a Tendai monk but he left the establishment to pursue his own path. Followers need to recite the Lotus Sutra to realize the Buddha nature in them.
  • Pure Land: Amida Buddhism. It teaches the salvation tradition of the Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is an incarnation of Buddha. He refuses to accept his enlightenment unless he has achieved it for his followers. Pure Land Buddhism gained popularity in Japan during the Kamakura Period. This school opened Buddhism for the lower classes as well as for women.
  • Shingon Buddhism: This school was established by Kobo Daishi. This is the tantric school of Buddhism in Japan. During the Heian Period it came into prominence. Till date it is one of the popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. The main doctrine of Shingon Buddhism was to realize one’s own nature with the celestial Buddha. This is can be achieved by following a secret doctrine that is transmitted orally fro the teacher to the disciple.
  • Tendai Buddhism: This is probably the most important Japanese School of Buddhism. This school is based on the Lotus Sutra. This sutra is considered to be the supreme mixture of Buddhist doctrine. It became popular in the Heian Period.
  • Zen Buddhism: This is the most popular Japanese School of Buddhism. It is closely associated with the art and culture of Japan. The origin of Zen Buddhism is in India. All the traditions of Buddhism are followed in this Japanese School of Buddhism.

Wake-up Call

I’m out of coffee. I grab a can of artificial buzz juice from my prepper stash in the fridge. The label touts 120 grams of caffeine. I wonder how that compares to a cup of coffee? By the time I feel the buzz, I have discovered 5 things about coffee.

1) There are over 100 different coffee species in the world. Two types stand out: Arabica and Robusta . Arabica tastes better. This is the Arabian coffee first discovered by by Kaldi, a 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd, when he noticed how excited his goats became after eating the beans from a coffee plant. Robusta, or Coffea canephora. has more caffeine. But, it can taste nasty. Robusta is typically used for instant coffee, esspresso, and as a filler in coffee blends. Biohazard Coffee, a top brand of Robusta, has 928 mg of caffeine per 12-oz cup.

2) The amount of caffeine in a cup depends upon how you make it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supplies generic guidelines. Note that this varies with the type of roast. The rule of thumb: The longer you roast the beans, the more caffeine gets burnt off. Light roast has more caffeine, dark roast has less.

3) Different brands have different amounts of caffeine in a single cup. I didn’t know this when I talked to my riding buddy Ren Doughty when we met up with a bunch of hooligans to view the solar eclipse. Look up your favorite brand here.

4) Chlorogenic acids and caffeine shape the flavor of coffee. Chlorogenic acids, like all polyphenols, are biological antioxidants. The acids control the “tang,” or the level of metallic taste. Caffeine controls bitterness.

5) Coffee is good for you. Yes, mamma told us coffee was bad for you, but modern research proves the opposite. Today, coffee is considered a functional food with antioxidant properties. It reduces the incidence of cancer in certain organs, diabetes and liver disease, protects against Parkinson’s disease and reduces mortality risk. My Doc told me that three cups of coffee a day will flush my liver better than milk thistle or Carters Little Liver Pills.

Oh man, I need a cup of coffee.

The Difference Between a Novel and a Short Story


First, a passage from a the novel:

The old man kneels down on one knee. He bends over the ancient machine and tugs on the bent paper clip that used to bind a sheaf of papers from the Department of Agriculture. He slips the bend over the latch where the throttle cable used to nest. He tests the tension on the throttle spring. “That’s going to do her,” he mutters. He leans across the engine, probing with his index finger. He finds the priming pump, and fondles it like a beautiful woman’s belly button. A puzzled look steals across his face. For a moment, a cloud covers the sun. Then it drifts away. Or has the Earth rotated? He cannot be sure.

The old man rises to his feet and smoothes the wrinkles from his trousers. He turns toward the open door of the garage and marches forward. To an observer, his stride has purpose. What the old man feels is a marshaling of his separate joints and muscle groups, a conscious effort to control the pain that has settled into each of them. He smiles. “It’s working,” he says.

His eyes scan the concrete floor and he sees it. The red gas can with the jimmied spout. For five years he wrestled with that spout, sloshing gas everywhere. The 2 part safety lock required two hands, but the old man needed one of his hands to hold the can and tilt the spout into the opening of the tanks of cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, and cans full of Japanese beetles. The safety lock had the net effect of creating danger. Once, the old man saw an ad for an open spout that claimed to be a solution for dangerous safety spouts. The price on the open spout was $11 plus shipping. “I paid $10 for the fucking gas can,” the old man said. “Why the fuck would I pay more for a fucking spout?” The old man remembered two poems by Ernest Hemingway. The poems cautioned readers to save the “f” word for circumstances where no other word would do. “Fuck Hemingway,” the old man laughed.

He unscrewed the cap from the rusting tank, tilted the spout, and poured. When gasoline ran down the outside of the tank onto the mower’s deck, he stopped pouring. He fastened the cap, and turned toward the garage. He took half a step and turned it into a pirouette. He bent over the engine and reached for the oil cap. There was some resistance to the twist, but it popped off. He stared at the dipstick and was satisfied. The gas can went back to its place under the work table. His eyes scanned the high shelf and he saw the green container with 30 wt oil. He would not need that today. “Now,” he say, wiping his hands one on the other, “Let’s see what we got.”

He poked at the primer and felt the resistance of fluid forced though the line and into the carburetor. He pumped 6 times, for that was the effective measure that he had discovered the first time he got his engine started, after replacing the spark plug and dumping ancient clots of debris from the carburetor bowl. He could not recollect how many years ago. It did not matter. Now is now, as it always is. He grasped the fading black handle and twisted back, pulling the rope in an easy, measured stroke. The engine sputtered, then roared to life. “First pull,” he smiled.

Now,, the same passage from a short story:

He started the lawnmower.

If this were an essay, I would belabor you with structural theory. I would insult your intelligence by pointing out, in minute detail, the richness of the longer passage. I know you are busy, so I’ll let you go with this:

Make you life a novel, my friends.

How the Self Constructs Itself

Anyone who has contemplated the nature of being knows they’re making up a story when they answer the question, “Who are you.?”

The story we make up depends upon who is asking the question. During a job interview, we deliver prerecorded messages about our work habits. At a cocktail party, we trot out some version of the most interesting man in the world. If we are speaking with a potential lover, we dim the lights and play romantic music.

An existentialist would say, “You are what you do.” In turn, we ask, “Why do we do what we do?” The thing that makes us tick, the mainspring that runs our clocks, is a collection of inherited traits, ideas, values, feelings, and accumulated magnetism that comes from mental operations evaluating our past experiences. The Tibetans know how to have fun. They call it bag chags. Hindus call it Vāsanā, and psychologists call it the accumulation of habitual tendencies which predispose us to particular patterns of behavior.

My particular bag chags predispose me to go on at length to set up a context in which my thoughts can be understood by others who may have had the same thoughts but cannot understand what the hell I’m saying. I suppose this trait is the result of frequent constant hammering by academic committees who were themselves hammered by other academic committees. It’s a cruel world.

Running Away from Home

My cohort, the collection of people who operate on their suffering in the ways that I do, comes from the materialistic West, a collection of cultures conditioned by the belief that reality is concrete, that the world is made of “things” called atoms which behave in a predictable manner described by a belief system called “science.” This mindset underlies our suffering. *See bag chags above.

Somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12, when we begin to realize that mommy cannot fix our suffering, we begin to rely upon the mind. So begins the journey. When we strike out into the world on our own, we may choose academic disciplines like philosophy or psychology to “figure things out.” When our suffering becomes acute, we pursue religious experience. When our native religion fails, we find it useful to run away from home.

Eastern paths become attractive. We fly trial balloons painted with “I’m, like, into…Aztec Toltec Buddha Hindu Cabala Mormon Sufi Zen.” Some may delve into western forms with eastern origins – Christian mysticism, or a variety of Pagan forms from ancient cultures. Others find solace in derived forms like astrology, the enneagram, numerology the I-Ching, Tarot Cards. Eventually, we return to our capitalist roots and rent a guru who has distilled a variety of religious and philosophical systems into a cohesive commercial package like A Course in Miracles, Avatar, Scientology, EST, and on and on from Bryon Katie to Zig Ziglar.

When these “other culture” fixes stop working, those of us who survive begin to meditate on the nature of Self.

The Big Bang

Image result for the big bang theoryThe problem of “self” began with the Big Bang. Physical science sees the Big Bang as a massive explosion where a Single Big Thing – literally everything in the Universe – went KA-BOOM and separated into zillions of things. As these smaller things traveled away from each other, the notion of space came into being. Because it takes a while for these separating pieces to get from point A to point B, the notion of time came into being. If you ask a science type how that Single Big Thing got there in the first place, he will begin to mumble. Chances are he is actually saying something, but most of us feel like a dog listening to a person speak. “Blah blah blah primordial potential blah blah.” Ms Oddi, my 5th-grade teacher, told me that God put it there.

Here is why The Big Bang is a Problem: In order to experience “being,” the “I” must separate from “The One.” There can be no “self” without this separation. Speculation on the nature of “self” is, therefore, a flawed narrative spoken by a first person narrator with a limited perspective. When my “self” thinks about my “self,” it is purely subjective.

We believe The Big Bang happened a long time ago because The Big Bang itself created time. Recursive self-generation contrives to create obvious facts that are, strangely enough, not facts. Each time you reach that timeless state where you are one with everything, you know, somehow, that time and space are contrived notions. The Self, however, rails against such an idea, because a separate, distinct individual can exist only after the Big Bang. All life is suffering because our notion that we are separate and distinct entities hurling through space at high speeds is a contrived notion. And yet, the tools our minds have for becoming conscious of existence, the very stuff of awareness, depends entirely on being separated from the one place we really want to be. What a pain in the ass.

Wu Li Masters

Physical science does not bother with the idea of self. In strict materialism, we are just bags of fluids with electrical pulses running through us. The best way to end suffering is to get a good job and buy a big truck.

People who have run away from home see the Big Bang as a metaphor signifying the separation from unity, creating the duality necessary for consciousness and awareness.

Please take a moment to adjust the contrast in your thought bubble.

Matter, or stuff, is made up of increasingly smaller units. All matter, from a galaxy right down to an atom in your fingernail, obeys the Laws of Physics. The good orderly direction of the Laws of Physics provides us with a measure of security. We feel safe, knowing that everything will be there when we wake up in the morning. Life is good. Then something terrible happens. Anarchy. An outlaw gang of sub-atomic particle physicists shows up. The Wu Li Masters (Teachers of Physical Essence) dance with The Merry Pranksters, and suddenly the Laws of Physics don’t work anymore.

Image result for the wu li mastersProblems of duality did not arise in the field of science until quantum physics came into being. Until these guys started dissecting the atom, the laws of physics were a Fact. The solid, predictable nature of existence, heralded from the time of Aristotle right up until the Beatles made us start thinking about it, got blurry. Yes, there were smart people who understood what Albert Einstein was talking about way back when Henry Ford started up his assembly lines in Detroit, but most of us didn’t get it until we dropped a hit of acid. The Philosophers among us have come to terms with the anarchy by taking a cue from Einstein’s notebook. We know that everything is relative. It’s all about perception. The guys who work on sub-atomic particles feel the same way. They know that the observing system modifies that which is observed. It all depends on how you look at it.

Like the Self, which depends on its bag chags for a picture of reality that either promotes a nice, secure, safe feeling, or a churning nightmare of insecurity, the guys who cannot live with the contradictions between Newtonian Physics and Quantum mechanics have been scrambling for decades to explain why things ain’t what they’re supposed to be. Like a brilliant neurotic who cannot rest until he or she “figures it out,” they have come up with increasingly complex calculations that have rocketed out of the 4th dimension. We now have a calculus that can handle 11 dimensions. The secret formula for a unified field theory is hidden in the Tower of Babel.

The arc of descent

The Big Bang Happens. We are separated. We find our soul in a body, and we scramble to make sense of the world. We accumulate experiences and our mind incorporates these into evident truths, so we develop habitual tendencies – bag chags – that predispose us to particular patterns of behavior. Our personality, the mask we wear to navigate the world, colors our experience, and our bag chags cause us to behave in ways that accumulate something called “character.”

Most models of “self” hinge on duality: It’s all One, but here we are, separate from the one. We’re all in this together, but each of us is separate and distinct. Unless you’re one of the Three Musketeers, it’s every man for himself, which generates a trinity. In the egocentric world, it’s I, myself, & me. In society, it’s I, you, he/she/it. We take this for granted. Therein lies the rub. When Sri Maharishi Ramana followed the notion of “self” all the way to the end, he found nobody there.

Our notions of “self” are largely bound by culture. By culture, I mean a group of people who agree on a particular interpretation of archetypal myths. This unified interpretation makes things easy, in that there seems to be a hard, fast reality. It makes it difficult if that hard reality is difficult to accept. We become outcasts and we run away from home to find ourselves in alien cultures. The American experiment created a culture of outcasts united by the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For most of us born in the USA, culture is a quaint notion, an organizing principle enjoyed by our ancestors, but celebrated as little more than a nostalgic notion in our lifetime. As a result, we are confused. We have shifting notions of who we are, what our function is in the larger community. We adopt artificial roles that work for a time, then become dysfunctional as reality shifts.

Our interpretation of the myths that explain human existence alter with each film, with each novel, with each trend that comes along. We are barraged by images of who we should be, calculated to sell us laundry detergent. We find that we fall short. To cope with that, we have adopted post-modernism, a form of phenomenology that accepts everything as relative to a point of view. This works fine until we decide that we need to control reality in order to feel safe. We try to find security through romantic relationships, membership in clubs, professions, work, money, possessions, positions, status. Unless we are in denial or outright sociopaths, the quest for security, the attempt to control reality, results in fear, grinding anger, frustration, a sense of hopelessness. This is an arc of descent.

There is a hole in the doughnut and we seek madly to fill it with work, fun, love, booze, ice cream, hobbies, avocations, new shoes, a bigger boat, a faster car, fame, art.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements, describes the fog we operate in. The Toltec term is the mitote. This fog is created by the false agreements we accepted – first as children in order to survive or to obey our caregivers, then as adults when we found we could get what we wanted, that we could feel safe by making false agreements. Ruiz describes these false agreements as the source of our pain. The arc of descent takes us ever farther from our true nature.

The arc of ascent

Image result for doughnutThe hole in the doughnut is our desire to reverse the Big Bang, to be reunited with The One, The Divine, the Spirit of the Universe. God. Rumi describes the yearning song of the reed flute that is torn from its bed. That is our yearning, that is the hole in the doughnut. But we are human, separate, and everything we have learned is a result of this separation.

But there is something else, a quiet whisper, an intuition. We begin to understand that there is a lower self, that part of us that operates in the world beset with desires and fears., and a higher self, something or some part of us that is closer to the heavens. We begin to follow the bread crumbs that will take us back to the source. This is the arc of ascent. Often it begins when we run away from home and become seekers. For some, it starts in church or temple. For others, with the birth of a child, a magical experience in nature, a stroke, or a brain injury. The communication with the hidden part of ourselves, that vast connection we knew as children before the world jaded us, begins to open and we discover a different way of being in the world. We become free.

The range of Self starts at the lower end: complete self-absorption, and extends to the higher self: ecstatic awareness of the Unity of all Beings, which Ranger Bob calls having “both feet firmly planted in The Absolute.” We, all of us, experience the full range. At the low end, we suffer. At the high end, we feel joy. Our notion of self may be colored by the particular position between lower and higher self that we typically occupy with our mind and feelings. As we practice, in our daily lives, this movement from the lower self to the higher self, we embark upon the arc of ascent.

Thomas Carlyle presented the theological model for the arc of descent and ascent in his “Apologia pro via sutra, ” His attempt to master life through pure self-will plunged him into shades of Tartarian Darkness. After a long period of inquiry, he surrendered his agnostic logic. He emerged into the light by accepting Faith.

Gautama, born a royal prince, embarked on the arc of ascent by denouncing his birthright. He saw that life was suffering, that suffering was caused by wanting things to be different than they are.

Mohammed took a tour of the Seven Heavens with the Archangel Gabriel. When they reached the end of the seventh heaven, Mo was excited. At last, he thought, he would see God. But, there was nothing to see. Only a tree, the lote tree of the limits. There were symbols in the tree. “We cannot see God,” Gabriel told him. “Only symbols of his existence.”

The realization that the higher self is real, and that the lower self is an illusion, is called “enlightenment.” An old Zen proverb says, “After enlightenment, the dishes.”

Life goes on until it doesn’t. You never know what delightful surprise will come beyond the drudgery.

What we do for each other hearts

Chances are you’ve worked your way through the problems of existence in your own way. Most of us arrive at the conundrum of the dual nature of reality, that we are somehow all one, and yet each of us is separate. Many of us have become enlightened. However, life is like a yo-yo. Sometimes it spins up. Sometimes it spins down.

When a friend gets stuck in the fog down at the bottom of the yo-yo string, we give him or her a nudge to bounce back up from the bottom. Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.”

When we get stuck in a rut so deep that we move in and furnish it, it’s time to run away from home. Try something new.

When the chaos of tumbling shards from the Big Bang gets overwhelming, we learn to enjoy the ride. That’s why God invented motorcycles.

The simple fact is, we were born knowing. But we need to be reminded of what we know from time to time. That’s why friends will tell us the same stories, the same parables, maxims, memes, jokes, the same truths time and again. We forget when we get lost in the fog of the day-to-day, and those same old things that we’ve already heard are like a signpost to remind us. It’s what we do for each other.
In the end, the true answer to the question, “Who are you?” is, “I am everything.” This sounds like a cop-out to most people, or, at least, a supremely egocentric answer. For those of us who have chosen a mystic’s path, the honest answer is “I don’t have any idea.” Anything else is just a story.