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/

A Dharma Glimpse – Gratitude

Below is a dharma glimpse that I presented on 3/29/2020 as a participant in the Lay Ministry program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

Whether looking to the current crisis that this world faces together or even before it, one need not look far to find all sorts of talk, debate or rhetoric about what we deserve or are entitled to. It is a wide field of thought where even among us we are likely to find divergent answers: What do we deserve as humans? What about as sentinent beings? Living beings in general? Simple forms of matter on this one giant living rock? Of course, this isn’t a matter I am going to attempt to spark debate with here. Instead, I wish to offer a different perspective for looking at all of these recent fields of thought: One of simple thanks, of gratitude.

As the current pandemic situation continues to escalate in my state, our State Superintendent of Schools announced this week that our schools would remain closed for another month and declined to offer a definitive answer that they would reopen at the end of that time, citing that the situation needs to be monitored. The school district is the largest employer in my county and as a result countless people are currently out of work. Although we may be largely homebound with everything except the most essential stores closed, the majority of us have less to worry about than some others when it comes to the ability to “get by” financially, as we were assured that all regular, permanent staff would continue to be compensated for their “regular hours”, even if our position (such as a School Bus Driver) is unable to be performed during this closure. Rather than acknowledging this as a “right” or “something we deserve” as an employee, I have found a sense of comfort in simply trying to observe this occurrence with a sense of gratitude, knowing that things could be in a much worse position otherwise.

As I conclude this thought, I find my mind going through daily events or tasks that I take for granted. As we go forward, perhaps it would be in the interest of living a more skillful, happy life to strive to be grateful for more of “the everyday”, even if we wouldn’t normally think twice about whatever form it may manifest in our daily lives.

Brass Buddha Figurine on Black Surface
Image from Pexels.com

The Perspective of a Person of Faith During Social Distancing

If there was ever a time for us to seek out new or alternate ways to remain connected with each other, now is the time with the current worldwide situation with Covid-19 or the Coronavirus. One facet of change that is hitting close to home for many of us relates to our beloved houses of worship, prayer or fellowship as they are either choosing or forced to close their doors for the foreseeable future. Many areas are moving to allowing only grocery stores or doctors to remain open, some permitting restaurants to offer services to the public on a carry-out or delivery-only model. While the extent varies from individual to individual, it is an indisputable fact that human beings are social creatures. How do we respond to the social difficulties presented by the pandemic?

We are fortunate to live in a time with countless different social media platforms. We are able to have a video call with programs like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Skype with several different friends and family members at once. Some faith communities are choosing to adapt to the current situation by offering services temporarily online with similar methods, while others such as the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship, Soto-Zen Treeleaf Zendo, Jewish Sim Shalom, our own Jeweled Tree (albeit on a much smaller scale!), among countless others are pre-existing online faith communities geared to offer services and fellowship to those seeking an alternative faith community experience or are otherwise unable to participate in a traditional in-person community. As someone who has written a paper on the topic in the past, I believe that these online faith communities are a taste of the future of religion as a whole. Yet, more importantly, they are a model to remain more closely connected with one another than the level that one would be otherwise able to with a text-based message or social media post.

From my perspective, while as Buddhists we do not espouse attachment, it is completely safe and healthy to treasure these contemporary tools, particularly during these challenging times. Let us remember to remain socially engaged in the lives of one another, bearing the social health and well-being of all in mind for it’s true significance.

Two Stick People Holding Hands - Clipart library
Image from clipart-library.com

A Dharma Glimpse: One’s Caution is Another’s Suffering

This is a Dharma Glimpse that I originally presented on 3/15/20 as a participant in the Lay Ministry program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

At the time I am sitting down to write this, we continue to hear of various restrictions or regulations being set in place with the goal in mind being that COVID-19 or the Coronavirus will slow down in it’s transmission. Various large public events such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Emerald City Comic Con, the NBA Season, NHL practices and meetings have been either canceled or postponed. A travel ban has been put in place to heavily restrict further infection from the European fronts of the virus. Numerous institutions of higher learning have been shut down or are moving to
online classes, students being instructed to either “go home” or to simply “not return to campus after spring break”.

Many are certainly going to benefit by not being exposed to the Coronavirus as a result of these restrictions. However, there are certainly those who are going to suffer as a result of them. Countless employees across different fields and industries are going to miss opportunities to work due to these restrictions, potentially making their financial situations difficult in the near future. Many students will likely be “out” of a significant amount of money if colleges refuse to refund their room and board upon
closing campus. This doesn’t begin to address the fact that many students don’t necessarily have a “home” other than their college dorms or apartments. Where are these folks supposed to go?

The saying “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” comes to my mind here, although it is more accurately put “one’s caution is the suffering of another”. Let us bear the scenarios being created by this pandemic in mind as examples that while we may benefit from a course of action, that doesn’t necessarily mean another isn’t suffering as a result of it.

A Brief Thought from a Buddhist Who Eats Meat

Today at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, we heard a sermon that spoke to the various ethical issues that come with the treatment of various types of animals. Of course, a subtopic at the center here is the observance of vegetarianism and veganism, something which is espoused by countless people for varying religious or ethical reasons, including many (but certainly not all) Buddhists. Since taking up the observance of a Buddhist practice a few years ago, I have personally sought to cut out as much meat as possible from my diet, feeling this is an ethically “right” or skillful thing to do from a Buddhist perspective.

At the conclusion of the sermon today, the preacher offered a beloved Quaker story. This likely fictional tale briefly follows conversations between William Penn (Founder of Colonial-era Pennsylvania) and George Fox (Founder of Quakerism) I paste this story below, obtained from Friends Journal.

“When William Penn was convinced of the principles of Friends, and became a frequent attendant at their meetings, he did not immediately relinquish his gay apparel; it is even said that he wore a sword, as was then customary among men of rank and fashion. Being one day in company with George Fox, he asked his advice concerning it, saying that he might, perhaps, appear singular among Friends, but his sword had once been the means of saving his life without injuring his antagonist, and moreover, that Christ has said, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” George Fox answered, “I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.” Not long after this they met again, when William had no sword, and George said to him, “William, where is thy sword?” “Oh!” said he, “I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could.”

Many of us find ourselves at different places when it comes to the ethical questions and concerns of vegetarianism and veganism. As I reflect on this story, I find myself replacing the wearing of the sword with the consumption of meat. “Should I continue to consume meat”? “Do so for as long as you can”. While many may disagree with this understanding, I find this to be a compassionate, gentle way of treating oneself and others when it comes to life transitions of this magnitude.