A song where Buddhism and Christianity meet.

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An interest of mine recently is what contemplatives of different traditions have in common with one another. Those that follow what may be called conventional religion do not appear to have a heck of a lot in common with followers of other traditions. At least on the surface. Where that isn’t necessarily true for contemplatives. A Christian contemplative for example, can often see eye to eye with a Zen Buddhist better than a conventional Christian. Vice versa with the followers of some Buddhist schools. You end up with guys like Thomas Merton, a Catholic (Trappist) monk having a deep appreciation for, and engaging in meaningful dialogue with Buddhist teachers as a result.

This song, written by a Christian artist, that although no doubt interpreted little differently by Christian/Buddhists (we all tend to interpret our experiences through slightly different lenses) highlights where contemplatives meet. I tend to think anyway.

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A short blog blurb about those religious hypocrites among us.

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I love this! Broadly applicable, you could easily replace church with zendo, mosque, temple etc… I think what people forget is that spiritual practice (I still prefer that term over “religion”) when done right is ultimately about self-transformation. It’s not so much simply about belief.

In the zendo, people are actively working on awakening. To become more like Buddha. Or, maybe more accurately, to realize their already existing Buddha nature and manifest it more fully.

In a church people are ideally doing something similar. The word Christian actually means “little Christ”. Thats not a description of the individual person based on their beliefs, I don’t think. But more a call to action. Its something they are charged with actively aspiring too. To work on becoming more Christ-like. Its an ongoing inter-relational activity, its not passive.

I’ve personally never met someone that manifested their Buddha-nature, or the spirit of Christ all the time. If thats the stick we are measuring a hypocrite by, then I guess we’re all hypocrites. We all miss the mark from time to time. But I tend to think, once again when we’re approaching it from the proper perspective, we are all simply at different stages along a spectrum of becoming more fully human.

My thoughts around Bug splats

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I read a news article last week that was talking about a Pakistani artist that has placed a large picture of the face of a young child on the ground outside of a home. Its done so that American drones flying over head, and therefore the Americans flying them back home, will see an innocent face, humanizing the “target” and hopefully make him think twice before bombing them. It was a response, in part, to the revelation that American drone pilots often refer to the dead on the ground after they bomb as “bug splats”.

Personally, I’m dead set against drone strikes. I realize that they are considered essential in targeting “the bad guys”. I’ve heard all the justifications used for them, but I cannot support their use.

The reason for my position is fairly simple and can be demonstrated with a question to drone strike supporters. Would you find it acceptable for the U.S to use this same tactic on home soil? In the U.S or even in Canada? Would it be ok by you that because the U.S government thought a “bad guy” was in YOUR neighborhood, that they used a drone to bomb the house next door, killing innocent men, women and children. Possibly killing your own child? Because it happens regularly with these strikes. Collateral damage and all that. Innocents frequently die. Would your neighbors child, or your own child, be an acceptable loss to have in order to get the suspected evil doer (that has never been tried in a court of law by the way. But has been targeted for execution none the less)? If the honest answer is “no”, and I think its fair to say that most would answer no to that if they were being honest. So why on earth is it ok to do it elsewhere to human beings whose lives are just as valuable as your own? To a child, that is just as loved by their family as you love your own child. Is their life slightly less valuable because they’re poor? Because they’re a different ethnicity? A different religion? Or simply because they live in a different geographical location? I can’t fully grasp the disconnect.

To claim its ok elsewhere but not in your own backyard would be a double standard beyond my comprehension. They aren’t “bug splats” on the TV screen. They’re real people. No different from you or I. A child no less valuable than my or your own daughter/son.

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Would it be too much trouble to ask you to pray for me?

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imageThis is a post that I had originally made some time ago now on Facebook. The Jukai Ceremony that I’m talking about happened in July 2012.

I thought that I would share it here simply because it was one of the more profound religious experiences of my life up to that point. One thats impact is still reverberating nearly 2 years later, in ways I never would have guessed at the time. My take on the experience is a bit different now than when it was written. But I’ll save that for another time.

 

Judging a book by its cover. I think the memory of the day this picture was taken will highlight that for me forever. Of course in my day to day wear, I look a lot different, and as a result, may give a different impression, than in this photo. Especially in summer. I’ll often be strolling around, or going for a jog wearing a tank top. Tattoos all showing, shaved head, wearing wrap around sunglasses. Not that unusual of a look here in Victoria. So other than on the rare occasion where someone may give an un-approving look out of the corner of their eye, or give an unnecessarily wide birth when passing me on the sidewalk, most usually don’t give me a second thought. But never has a stranger approached me out of the blue to confide something personal and ask me for help. Never.
But on the day when this photo was taken I had just completed jukai. Or the “taking of the precepts.” Which for me, was the culmination of about 6 years of Buddhist practice and study with the Victoria Zen Centre. It was a bit of an emotionally uncomfortable day for me to begin with. Up until then, my activities with the Zen Centre, while certainly not a secret, were somewhat private in that it was largely separate from my day to day life. Kind of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. So it felt, as one Zen Centre member described it, like a “coming out of the closet” type of event. So I was emotionally wiggy about the whole thing to begin with.
Well, shortly after this picture was taken I was dropping off a fellow jukai recipient at home and helped him bring a few things inside. When on my way back to the car, having been in public in my robes for a for the first time ever, for total of maybe 60 seconds, a girl that I didn’t recognize was calling to me from down the block. I walked down to her and looking somewhat distraught, she pointed to my robes and the wagasa around my neck and asked if it signified something religious. So I said yes, and briefly mentioned that I was coming back from a jukai ceremony. She then preceded to tell me that she was going through a really hard time in her life right now, particularly in relation to her health, and asked if it would be too much trouble to ask me to pray for her….I was stunned. In my whole life, no one has ever approached me and asked me anything like that, certainly not while out and about catching some rays in the summer in my tank top , and here I am in public in these robes for just 60 seconds and look what happens!! I managed to stammer something along the lines of “no, of course thats not too much to ask.” She simply gave me a look of real relief, smiled and put her hands palm to palm and thanked me, then walked away.
That experience rattled me. I still haven’t been able to fully grasp why. Maybe because my own image of myself was at least temporarily shattered in that moment. I don’t really know. But I’m glad that if nothing else, she had at least some temporary relief knowing that this religious looking figure (covered in tattoos under his robes) had indicated that he’d pray for her.

A reality series on spiritual engagement.

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I’m not a fan of reality TV shows in general. I think I watched the first two seasons of Survivor and that’s been it. So when I stumbled across the  reality series The Monestary, I was pretty hesitant to even give it a chance. But since it was produced by the BBC, which tends to do a bit better of a job producing more honest and less pretentious programs than we tend to do in North America, I gave it a shot. I did end up really enjoying it.

The BBC had selected a group of guys from a long list of applicants to spend 40 days in a Benedictine monastery, engaging in Benedictine spiritual practice full time. They came from very diverse life backgrounds. One was making a living in the porn industry, another was in business, others where students and unemployed. They also came from a range of religious backgrounds. Atheist, agnostic, Buddhist and Protestant. Just no currently practicing Roman Catholics.

It was interesting to watch what happens when people are put into an environment that has them spend considerable periods of time listening to silence, no doubt for the first time in their lives for most. An environment that is also designed to foster introspection within a religious context. It can be a messy, uncomfortable and down right aggravating experience. But also transformative and immensely rewarding.

I’ve decided that I want to be more of a sinner.

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photo-26I saw a t-shirt recently that said across the front very simply and boldly, “Sinner”.  I immediately wanted it. Because you see, I really am making it a goal of mine to be more of a sinner these days. The word sinner is really very “sticky”. Most people, myself included, tend to have a lot of baggage around the word. Very understandably so too. In the common religious context as its generally understood, its a guilt inducing word, utilized all too often to maintain control of a religious population. I know that I still cringe a little inside when its used in everyday conversation. But I think that maybe it can be reclaimed as a positive label. Maybe.

In the Buddhist tradition which has held my focus for the last 8 years or so, there really isn’t a concept of sin as its generally understood in popular culture, and promoted through much of conventional Christianity. Which is generally that sin is something evil or reprehensible. And a sinner is what people are by birth. Someone born fundamentally flawed in some unacceptable manner. Theres a bit more to it than that generally speaking, but thats basically it in a nutshell.

But in Buddhism, Zen Buddhism anyway, the closest thing to “sin” is what is often referred to as “unskillful”. An action, or thought, or speech, that leads to a harmful or unhelpful outcome of some kind. Something to be aware of. Something to practice being more “skillful” with. Sometimes a wrong needs to be rectified if and when appropriate or possible. But its not something that makes you evil or fundamentally broken. A skillful action, or thought, or speech in contrast, is something that leads to a helpful or beneficial outcome. Not in the selfish “as long as it benefits me personally” sense, but in a broader sense, taking into account those around you. Yourself being included, but not the sole consideration.

The thing is, from what I understand “unskillful” may be a better way to view “sin” than the common every day one is. Sin simply means moral imperfection. You’ve missed the mark of virtuous behaviour in someway. Harm was caused, to yourself, or another. No harm, no sin. And a “sinner” isn’t even necessarily someone that has just made mistakes or has committed an unskillful act or is morally corrupt in any sense. According to the Gospels, Jesus appears to have viewed a sinner a little differently, a “sinner” was someone that RECOGNIZES that they have caused harm in some way and repents (ie. feels genuine remorse, accepts responsibility for their action(s) and seeks to make amends if appropriate or possible). Likewise if you did something reprehensible, but DIDN’T feel genuine remorse and  DIDN’T “repent”, then by this definition you are not a sinner. In this sense, a sinner isn’t at all a negative label. But something in fact to aspire too. Its part and parcel to becoming a more mature, caring and whole person. Its one aspect of becoming more fully human.

By this definition, I don’t know if I could rightly consider myself a sinner. Sometimes I am, but more often I miss the goal entirely. Walking around with that shirt labelled “Sinner” wouldn’t really be an accurate label of myself, or a boast. Just a reminder to myself of a goal I’ve set. One that I fail at more often than I get right. Its like when I wear my shirt “Meditate and Destroy”. Its a logo of Dharma Punx, a punk Buddhist group based out of California. The full logo being “Meditate and Destroy: Anger, Greed and Delusion”. Its not a shirt I put on to look cool. If anything, I think it looks a bit geeky. Its simply an occasional reminder to myself to be mindful throughout the day.

Maybe the word will forever have too much baggage associated with it now to ever be used positively. Perhaps “unskillful” is a better way to view our missteps in life in order to avoid an inappropriate stigma. But, one thing is for certain I think. This world needs more sinners. More people that are concerned with how their action impact those around them. Not less.

My blog

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I’ve decided that I would give my hand at blogging. I’ve noticed that many of my Facebook status updates are getting increasingly longwinded, and in many respects are functioning more as a mini blog than what they are really intended for.

My posts here will likely be fairly sporadic. Some will probably be long winded, while others will be brief little blurbs. My purpose is just to get my thoughts out of my head and (hopefully) into some kind of coherent format. More for my own benefit at this point in time than anything else, but if others enjoy reading them, thats great.

Currently whats of greatest interest to me, is my spiritual journey. So be warned in advance. That will likely be a regular theme. One that has gone the gamut, and has taken many twist and turns over the years. But it seems to have taken on a gradually more refined, and more rewarding direction over the last 8-9 years. But in addition to that, I may throw my thoughts up on a whole variety of topics, filtered through a spiritual lens no doubt however. After all, what isn’t? If you have a spiritual practice of any kind, that you take even moderately seriously, it tends to be a lens in which you view everything. Its informs your world view.