A Dharma Glimpse: Taking Care of our Emotions

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 1/1/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

As a young child, I had a lot of issues processing and expressing “negative” emotions. While some of this could certainly be identified as a product of not having developed enough to process emotions in a positive or otherwise acceptable way, I tend to think that I had a more difficult time than others, falling into outbursts at times. As I got older, I learned to more skillfully take care of these emotions, and by extension, myself. Lately, I’ve been feeling really frustrated, agitated, even angry much more than usual.
I’m certain that I’m not alone with this challenge I’m facing with these emotions. We live in extremely divisive times, likely the most divisive in modern history. We may find that our values are extremely opposed by those of others, regardless of the topic in question. Through encounters – whether subtle or not – that arise out of the various current issues, what is one to do with the thoughts and feelings that arise? For a long time, I thought suppressing the anger, frustration and agitation was the best way. Now more than ever, I certainly feel that this is not the case.
I do not feel that attempts to simply suppress or “push down” our emotions are skillful in any way, shape or form. Although we might find thet this provides us some brief relief, I feel that this contributes to the likelihood of us having a greater outburst or backlash in the future, as our anger and frustration continues to build up. We might also recognize the fact that in attempting to abandon our emotions to that moment, we also seek to invalidate them, rather than seeking to treat them and ourselves in their time of need. Is this the reaction we wish to offer? Personally, I certainly don’t think so.
I feel that a challenge that all people have laid before them by religious traditions, and by extension daily life if they choose to accept it, is to learn how to effectively work with and process feelings and emotions which we might identify as being unpleasant in nature. After all, if we simply push these away, are we really striving to follow teachings such as the Eightfold Path, the path of the Bodhisattva, among others?

Image from Clipart Library

A Dharma Glimpse – Two Roads, One Life

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 9/27/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Just prior to my beginning to write this Dharma Glimpse, I submitted my final assignment as required for my Bachelor of Arts in Religion. This Sunday (the day on which this glimpse will be delivered) will be the official final day of my capstone course and bring my undergraduate education to a close, pending my actual conferral date. For me, this is an odd event in my life which I do not feel that I have fully grasped the significance of yet. In truth, it is an achievement which I at times never thought I would reach.
When we are in times of transition such as this, we often find ourselves contemplating impermanence. There is often a sense of grief that washes over us when a long-traversed road in our lives arrives at it’s end, whether natural or unnatural, expected or unexpected. I am certainly feeling some of this myself as this journey which I have travelled on and off for 6 or 7 years now comes to it’s end. Yet, this feeling is certainly not an end in itself; rather, it is flanked with expectations as I look to the future at what comes next, the new road! We might call this my connection!
Within Zen and other settings of Mahayana, we often come upon what is often called “Shoshin” or “Beginners Mind”. While explanations vary sect to sect, teacher to teacher, I like to draw an understanding out that “Beginners Mind” is about treating different situations or scenarios with life as if we are “beginners”. Rather than falling into a state of stagnation, one seeks to live with a sense of newness, striving for a constant state of renewal. In his writings, Rev. Gyomay Kubose described this concept as living a “fresh, creative life”. Bearing this in mind, I like to ask myself from time to time “Is my life “fresh”? Am I being “creative”? Am I living a “fresh, creative life in this moment, or have I fallen into a state or know-it-all stagnation?”
As I look to the future, I have a rough idea of what I hope will take place in the coming year in my life. For one, as I await the official conferral of my BA, I hope to begin graduate school sometime in Summer or Fall 2021. Of course, in these challenging times that we currently live in, we must take many things “day by day”. While this is the end of one road and the beginning of another, it is all part of the highway of life. As I look to the future, I smile in gratitude, and in gassho, continue to strive to live my own “Fresh, Creative Life” by living a life of “Keep Going”.

Image from Clipart Library

A Dharma Glimpse: Unheard Sounds

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 8/23/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Most of us are likely familiar with the timeless riddle that goes “If a tree falls in a forest but nobody is around, does it still make a sound?”. While there are sometimes different answers given, I typically say “yes” to this question. Lets change this a little; “If a tree falls in a forest with people around but nobody was listening, does it still make a sound?”. As I reflect on this, I still find that I would likely respond with an affirmative “yes”.

Earlier this week, I was out for one of my regular walks throughout the neighborhood. As I was walking through a parking lot, I was examining my thoughts. One of these just happened to be “What will I write about for my Dharma Glimpse this week?”. Suddenly, I find that I become conscious to the loud chirping and buzzing of various insects nearby, likely cicadas. Like many other sounds, this sound is often taking place around us, even if we aren’t conscious to it. We simply “hear past it”, sifting it out of our daily experience of life, unless of course we happen to be listening for it or other sounds in particular.

I find that a number of different teachings in Buddhism can be examined from this perspective. While I am certainly not an authority on the Mahayana, I find that I often associate this line of thinking with dharma teachings, the Buddha Nature in all beings, even the state of spiritual awakening.

What else do we often encounter, yet remain unconscious to in our daily lives?

Closeup Photo of Brown and Gray Cicada on Twig
Image of Cicada on twig from Pexels

A Dharma Glimpse – Light in Every Dark

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 8/9/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

We live in dark times. It is indisputable that there is much new and unnecessary suffering in our nation and the global community as a whole. All we have to do is flip on the tv, scroll our social media feeds or listen by word of mouth. The spread of the Covid-19, the neglect of safety measures, injustices being imposed on innocent peoples and the languishing of the unemployed and economically disadvantaged are only a few of the more prominent challenges that are currently being faced by all. Yet, there is hope. Perhaps it is a sign of privilege but all I have to do to find something to push aside a worldview of nihilism or pessimism is to look outside my patio door.

Interspersed on the small patio of our apartment, as well as several places around our apartment are numerous plants which have been cultivated by my wife, Amanda. These plants range in being big and small, vegetables, flowers and others, with even a miniature “tree” being found among them. While some of these plants were acquired in their adult forms, most were grown directly from seed since the beginning of the “growing” season. One might argue that this is an example of new life sprouting in a time where impermanence and death is on our minds far more than usual.

I view these plants as an example that we are never in a situation which is composed exclusively of suffering. In every example of suffering, there is a glimpse of awakening. In every dark, there is some light to be found. In every Hell, there is a view of the Pure Land. What aspect in your life do you feel provides a sense of balance to something which otherwise seems quite dismal?

A view from my patio, containing many of our plants.

Laughter

A few weeks ago, I was in a virtual class meeting where each classmate was offering a report on the text that was currently being looked at in this section of the course. At the conclusion of the session, one of my classmates briefly mentioned that they were confused as his page numbers and content were not adding up with the other members of the class. Seeing the cover of the text that my classmate was holding, I asked if it was another text, ultimately finding that my classmate was using the incorrect text. Being a somewhat socially awkward person, my reaction to this was the same reaction I have for a number of other social situations: Laughter. It’s not that I was laughing at my classmate, its just a reaction of mine to the sort of situation I found myself in.

A few hours after the class had ended, I decided to reach out and message my classmate, feeling that I might have chuckled a bit too much and have offended them. The night went on and soon it was the next class session and I had still not received a reply form my classmate. I became concerned that I may have left my classmate highly offended and that they had chosen to completely ignore my message. A couple of weeks later, my classmate had finally seen my message and not only expressed that they did not take offence to my chuckling but were apologetic that it took them two weeks to notice and respond to the message. Finding myself suddenly presented with a feeling of relief, I again smiled and let out some additional laughter, such an ironic result!

Laughter is truly a wonderful part of our human experience. Yet, it can certainly serve as a potential conduit for trouble from time to time. Going forward, let us strive to laugh merrily and wholeheartedly, while being mindful of it in our daily lives.

Picture of my small figure of Budai, frequently known as “Laughing Buddha”

A Dharma Glimpse – Who am I?

This Dharma Glimpse was originally presented on 7/5/2020 as part of my participation in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

This past week, my wife and I spent a few days in our hometown and wider area of South Jersey together, visiting her parents who both had a few days off. Amanda and I both grew up in South Jersey, where we met in high school and began dating shortly thereafter. We have now been together for nearly ten years and celebrated our second wedding anniversary last month.


Whenever I find myself in my hometown, I can’t help but feel that things look extremely different from what they did when I last lived here just six-is years ago. It is certainly true that my town and home region has changed as more stores have opened, more homes continue to be built and more people begin to move in the area. Yet, this isn’t the only thing that has changed; I have changed as well.


Recently, the Buddhist teaching of “Non-Self” came up as an article of discussion in a class I am taking as a closed-elective for my BA. In this teaching, we arrive at the understanding that as all things are impermanent, so too is there no permanent, non-changing “self”. Instead, we are also examples of results of the constantly changing causes and conditions that we interact with in our daily lives, both physically, emotionally, intellectually and so on. Bearing all of this in mind, the question comes to mind: Who am I?


Today, I am many things. I am a spouse, a college senior, a student in Bright Dawn’s LM program, among countless other roles. These positions, along with the collected amount of experiences I have had thus far in life, help guide me to be the “me” that I am right here, right now. However, this “me” is not static, as with each passing moment I am just the slightest bit different than I was in the previous one. It is even true that within the next year I expect to only continue to be in one of these aforementioned roles, that of spouse, having completed both my current degree program and our time studying together in this program.


As we go forward today, let us continue to ponder the question of “Who am I?” and relate it to the “Who am I?” of yesterday, last week, last year, and so on.

Buddha image from publicdomainpictures.net

A Dharma Glimpse – Ti Sarana

This is a dharma glimpse that I originallyed presented on 5/24/2020 as a participant in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

This month marks two years since I participated in a Ti Sarana Confirmation Ceremony with a Bright Dawn Lay Minister, Levi Shinyo Sensei. I initially stumbled upon Sensei through Bright Dawn’s Lay Minister directory and found that at the time he and my wife were attending the same university. After a period of dialogue and my expressing the desire to participate in a Ti Sarana Ceremony, Levi, my wife and I gathered early on a Sunday morning in the meditation/holistic shop space owned by a friend of his who I later learned is also a Bright Dawn Lay Minister.

The Ceremony itself was quite simple. It involved a brief period of meditation, reciting refuges in the three treasures, five lay precepts, a short dharma talk, a symbolic hair cutting/shaving, the giving of my Dharma name, Manyo (Myriad Sun), along with a few other verses interspersed throughout the service. While the ceremony was wonderful and is among my favorite memories of my Buddhist practice thus far, I have come to recognize over time that my past participation in this ceremony, which is often equated to the baptism of Christianity, is not what “makes” me a Buddhist.

Who is a Buddhist? It is often said that a Buddhist is one who takes refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. How do we do this? Is it participation in a Refuge, Jukai, Ti Sarana, etc. Ceremony? While these ceremonies and other ritualistic practices are part of the lives of many Buddhists (including myself) I don’t think this is the exclusively the case. From my perspective, I feel that the first time we “take refuge” is when we begin to strive to integrate the teachings into our lives in some way which we find meaningful. Perhaps this means our adopting a meditation or chanting practice, gradually making a change in diet, studying the teachings through sutras or other books, among other different practices. To me, participation in a class or discussion like this one is another act of taking refuge.

As we go forward this week, let us each ponder what we feel “makes” each of us a Buddhist. Let us consider what practices or actions we feel are expressions of us seeking guidance in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Nembutsu

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

In Buddhism, a major practice found throughout Mahayana is Nembutsu or the chanting, reciting or calling to mind the name of Amida Buddha. In Japanese, one way of doing this is “Namu Amida Butsu”.

When I sit in a serene state at a shrine or some other sacred space
Namu Amida Butsu

When I celebrate an excellent score on an assignment
Namu Amida Butsu

When I receive a parcel in the mail a few days early
Namu Amida Butsu

When I hear from a family member or friend that I have mixed feelings about
Namu Amida Butsu

When I crack an egg but shell falls into the pan
Namu Amida Butsu

When I feel burdened with exhaustion, plagued by fatigue
Namu Amida Butsu

When I feel numb to the constant horror and tragedy found throughout all forms of media
Namu Amida Butsu

When I feel anger or agitation arise from pinching myself while putting on a mask
Namu Amida Butsu

When I take a centering breath, calling to mind that this too shall pass
Namu Amida Butsu

Wherever we are, whatever has been presented to us by the causes and conditions of life, we can always stop, take a centering breath and bring forth the name of Buddha. Namu Amida Butsu!

A Brief Thought on Oneness

Tree clip art from Clipartkey

Throughout countless streams of Buddhism, spiritual practice and secular society in general, there persists an inclination that all are one, all is the same. At times, this leads to the desire for folks to repress whatever they may feel sets them apart as themselves, instead opting for a stone-faced demeanor out of the desire for some form of spiritual or social advancement or progression. While some may think this sounds all fine and well, I can’t help but take away an unpleasent perspective from it. While I certainly personally affirm that we all have a commonality about us – perhaps one may wish to call this our Buddha Nature – I could never fully wrap my mind around this practice in life, no matter what terminology or form it was presented.

Oneness is a major teaching in most if not all forms of Buddhism. In his celebrated book Everyday Suchness, the late Rev. Gyomay Kubose dismissed the aforementioned interpretation of this teaching. Instead, Rev. Kubose advocated for an understanding of Oneness that affirms the unique yet interconnectedness of all things.

During a recent conversation with a Facebook friend of a similar yet different religious group, I had offered the remark that “our divisions are our diversity”. At the end of the day, does it truly matter what pew, chair or cushion we sit on? As long as one is feeling nourished and progressing in their own personal journey, I think not.

Let us always strive to be the best “us” that we can be. Let us affirm each other simply for being oneself rather than striving to embody some other idea or image. Let us embrace the Oneness of all by cherishing the uniqueness of all.



A Dharma Glimpse – A Change of Perspective

This is a dharma glimpse that I originallyed presented on 4/12/2020 as a participant in the Lay Ministry Program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

At the time I was preparing to leave the couch in the living room to come and write this dharma glimpse, I looked at the clock and found myself disappointed. “What a waste of time” I said, surprised that I allowed such a large portion of the evening to slip away in front of the television. Normally, I don’t like to spend large amounts of time in front of the TV unless I am watching a specific film or series, finding this time to be near impossible to be used for anything else simultaneously. Yet, as I look to the news and my social media feeds, I am quickly reminded that home media consumption has suddenly become one of the most approved way of spending one’s “free time” as a good application of social distancing.

We all know why this “change of perspective” has occurred, given the current state of the world in the face of the pandemic. Yet, it is still quite astonishing to a certain degree. One day, the most useless waste of one’s time and resources suddenly transitions to not only being socially acceptable, it is strongly encouraged if not expected. I feel that this can prove to be a good lesson for all of us in the usefulness of the teaching of non-attachment, particularly when it comes to our own thoughts, feelings and conceptions of nearly all things in life. It is unreasonable to expect something to never change as life is change itself. Yet, these times will always have their way of appearing in life when we least expect them, upending closely-held conceptions we may not have realized we even had in our daily lives.

What other thoughts or perspectives do we hold closely in our lives as universal? What events could cause these to be upended? Let us strive to approach these thoughts with a greater sense of non-attachment as we go about our days, particularly in these challenging times.

Tv Clipart
Television clipart image from clipart-library.com/