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.

Mindfulness of Chocolate

Earlier this morning (February 2, 2020) I attended the local Unitarian Universalist congregation where I am a member. I had the opportunity to participate in a meditative practice which left me with a takeaway that I’d like to share with those who check out our blog.

At the beginning of this practice we were invited to each take a piece of chocolate from a basket that was passed around the congregation, being asked to not eat it until directed to do so. Next, we were asked to unwrap our chocolate and to study it – examining its wrapper, its shape, its aroma and other aspects relating to it. A few moments later we were invited to take a tiny nibble from the piece without, allowing it to melt in our mouths without biting into it, being prompted to watch for any emotions or memories that may arise in our bodies and minds. Within a few minutes we had navigated through the guided meditation and were invited to finish our chocolates. I found myself quite moved by this practice, ushering in childhood memories that I ended up associating with chocolate.

How often do we rush through our food that is placed in front of us, neglecting to even fully take in the taste? When we consume with a sense of mindfulness in the manner found in meditations like this one, we can experience not only a greater sense of satisfaction for the food we eat but also a greater insight into how it connects us to everything else that makes up who we are as humans. Consider inviting a greater sense of stillness, of mindfulness into a food or drink item you will consume in the near future and find if it brings you to a similar sense of awe.

In Oneness

Public Domain image by Anna Langova .

A Dharma Glimpse: Right Driving

This is a Dharma Glimpse that I originally presented on 1/26/20 as a participant in the Lay Ministry program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

I’ve been a School Bus Driver for going on three years now. Prior to our relocation to Hagerstown, MD back in July, my wife and I lived in near Reading, PA in an area that had its fair share of rough terrain. Given the part of Pennsylvania that this is – the area is on the township/municipal-style school system for dividing up school districts, rather than a large county-based one. While I generally enjoyed this as I worked with a core group of people and lived in a “smaller world” when it came to the everything that comes withone’s workplace, there was one major difficulty when it came to this style of districting: Although not generally occurring there were times where one school district could close due to a weather emergency while another next to it remained open. I had to deal with this sort of conflict a number of times.

One morning last year I was driving to my company after a two-hour delay for the district I drove for. A different school district that I had to drive through had chosen to simply close for the whole day, opting to not take any chances. They were certainly wise to do so. While driving on a major state road the sun was reflecting off of any ice found in the area (mostly cleared off the actual road, resigned to the shoulder and side of the roads) and eventually obscured my vision to such an extent that I lost my entire view, leading me to rear-end a pickup truck pulled to the side of the road working on a disabled garbage truck. Thankfully – the extent of the damages was a “bumped” bumper for the truck which no one was in at that moment: On the other hand, I was quite lucky: I emerged with slightly skinned knuckles out of my Jeep Liberty which was totally destroyed at this point.

Despite one’s level of familiarity with Buddhism, one can often hear or read about the Noble Eightfold Path, an eight-sided guide to “right” and skillful living. In hindsight, I’m of the mind that I was not fully practicing these eight guidelines leading up to this ordeal. While I could write a short blurb out examining this scene from the perspective of each of the eight spokes of the wheel I will resign to using a brief summary: If I had I a greater sense of mindfulness of my circumstances at the time, I would have understood that this area was simply unfit and I would have chosen to simply call out of work for the morning, if not the whole day. As a result, I ended up taking a chance which could have easily ended with the loss of life – either on my part or that of other motorists. Thankfully, the worst part of this whole situation was my need to acquire a new vehicle.

As we go about our days, let us strive to bring to practice a greater sense of the Eightfold Path in our daily lives.

Thank you.

Eightfoldpath - Noble Eightfold Path Png (640x378), Png Download

Image from SeekPNG.

Naruto and the Ninja Way

Since the later weeks in the Fall I have been using some of my free time to go back and continue watching Naruto Shippuden on Hulu. I’ve been a major fan of the Naruto franchise since it first hit the Toonami segment of Cartoon Network around 15 years ago or so, to the point where I eventually migrated to watching subtitled Japanese releases that I would find on the internet. However, considering that anime imports and subtitling was much less structured back then, one can easily reason that this had its drawbacks and websites could at times be unreliable. Eventually, I “fell off of the hamster wheel” and stopped watching, returning from time to time over the years.

A major theme featured throughout the Naruto franchise is that each character often proclaims that they have a “Nindō”, a ninja way – their rule of life, convictions that they hold above all else. Characters often verbally recall their Ninja Way when they are on the verge of or in response to a failure. As the titular character, Naruto often recalls that his nindo is “I’m not gonna run away and I never go back on my word, that is my nindō! My ninja way!”, having first formulated the earliest version of this resolve within the first few episodes of the anime and chapters of the manga, using a kunai knife to remove poison from his own wound rather than returning to his village, conceding to failure Throughout the franchise Naruto (and others) stumble at times but they still recall their nindo and make the effort to better themselves going forward.

When looking at this concept, one might see that the “Ninja Way” bears an uncanny resemblance to elements of a training rule or precept. While watching an episode that dealt with a characters Ninja Way I couldn’t help but begin to draw parallels with the “Middle Way” as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha. While one will find that a number of different definitions exist for the “Middle Way”, I make reference here to the Buddha’s early teachings of moderate living, particularly when looking to the Noble Eightfold Path as a guide for ones thoughts and actions. Certainly we will stumble in our observances and need to bounce back and forth from time to time, recalling the various “spokes of the wheel” or principles that the Eightfold Path teaches but overall our resolve here to live more skillfully according to these training rules is what is most essential.

Let us all make an effort from time to time to remember that none of us are “perfect” beings, we all make mistakes. These various Buddhist concepts such as the Precepts, the Noble Eightfold Path and so on exist to help refine, not bind the practitioner. When we stumble in our efforts, let us make an effort to smile, recall our own “Nindō” or the Middle Way – and just keep going!

Namo Amida Bu.

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Image from Flickr

Happy New Year 2020 – A Brief Reflection

Today is New Years Day, the beginning of the civil year: a day celebrated by many as a holiday, observed by most schools and some workplaces opting to close for the day and for others marking the final day of an extended holiday break. Like most throughout the entire holiday season, the festivities for the day are dispersed throughout a few different days with observances varying based on location and demographic.

Around this time of year many of us choose to undertake some special discipline or practice (New Years Resolutions) with the hopes of bettering our careers, health, overall well-being, etc. While many of us benefit from these resolutions, I personally ceased observing them as a practice several years ago for a number of reasons. These vary but generally consist of:

I. We frequently forget and/or break them quite easily or early in the year.
2. We frequently do not have the right foresight or knowledge of what we would truly like to make a resolution for.
3. We don’t need to wait or reserve a particular period to work for a change in our lives! We can choose to begin to strive towards it here and now!
….. among others! This list could certainly go on for some time, but I do certainly respect the belief and practice of those who choose to observe them.

This year has seen many changes in my own life. My wife, myself and our two cats picked up our lives from where we’ve been living for a little less than five years and relocated to Hagerstown, MD for work, my wife having just graduated from college in May, freeing up our availability for me to return to school full-time while dropping down to working part-time. Both of our careers have continued to move forward in their respective paths. Things have been even busier from the spiritual perspective as I’ve transitioned from acting as a pastor to a small house church community to student in a structured Buddhist ministry program, partner to our work here at Jeweled Tree and a member at the local Unitarian-Universalist Congregation (where John and I first met), all while continuing to hold my Christian sacramental and prayer life at the center of my daily observances. At the beginning of 2019 while I expected a few minor career changes I had no idea that life would take us in these varied directions that it did! I did not set out to work this past year to return to school or advance in my career and yet the opportunities presented themselves: I have much to be grateful for. Sure, there were admittedly moments and periods which I felt less thrilled to have experienced but even in these does there lay a sense of gratitude for the experience.

As we begin this year, let us strive to enter it with a “beginners mind” as to what may open itself to us. While we are often prone to living as if we already know how our lives will transpire this is certainly not always the case! Let us work to live more mindfully of all that sprouts around us and accept each bit of it (the “good” and the “bad” with a smile and a gesture of gratitude.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Fireworks

Refuge: A Star Wars Teaching

Those who know me well (or even the smallest bit) know that I am a Star Wars fan. I was fortunate to have grown up watching the original trilogy films at home as a toddler, eventually wearing out my cousin’s VHS tapes as he likes to remind me! This interest would span out to me consuming everything from the prequel and sequel trilogies, spin off films and animated series, video games, novels and more! Eventually I got involved with the online fan community and you can see me these days on a few different podcasts and social media groups. I’ve made many friends through these endeavors over the years and have had the privilege of having had some of them there for me in times of need and vice versa. In some ways, it can be understood that I take refuge in the Star Wars fan community.

One major story element of the Star Wars universe is that characters are often placed at crossroads and forced to make major, life altering decisions. This is often (but not exclusively) when a protagonist is facing off with an adversary, facing the threat of turning to the dark side. The choice that this character makes in this pivotal moment will affect them (and often many others) for the remainder of their lives. For instance, in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the audience is offered a brief look at the life of Anakin Skywalker prior to being freed from slavery on Tatooine. Upon being freed, Anakin is forced to choose whether he would remain with his mother who was not able to be freed or leave with his new friends and pursue training to become a Jedi Knight. While from our perspectives this may seem to be a no-brainer, one must bear in mind that the refuge of his mother and home (no matter how poor the conditions) are all that Anakin had ever known and while he cared for and admired his new friends, he had not yet known everything about them, not having sought them out as his sole object of trust, comfort and protection. Had Anakin chosen to stay at home, the Star Wars timeline as it is known would not exist, given that he would go on to become first a renowned Jedi-General during the Clone Wars and later the villainous Darth Vader.

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Anakin Skywalker choosing to leave home, embarking on training to become a Jedi Knight.
Image from Wookieepedia

This choice of refuge that Anakin faced is quite similar to the choices of refuge that we are faced with throughout our daily lives. When we “take refuge” in something, we place our trust and hope in it in a variety of different ways. While we may know this concept best for religious reasons such as “Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha” or any other religious figure or matter, it can be applied to most anything and everything! This principle of refuge can be seen present in our relationships with our loved ones, our employers, organizations we support and so much more.

Regardless of the object of our refuge, our choice to take refuge in it is not a one-time, isolated occasion: Rather, it is a choice that we face and continually renew throughout our lives or the duration of our relationship with the object of refuge. For instance, while we may mark the beginning of a religious vocation or journey with a formal initiation service, this is not the “end all” decision for these paths: Instead, we are faced with the decision as to whether we wish to continue in both our individual and communal endeavors every day simply by choosing to continue with them. It can be understood that Anakin Skywalker ceased taking refuge in the Jedi Order and his friends when he chose to abandon them in order to pledge his allegiance (or refuge) to Darth Sidious in his desire to save the life of his wife, Padme, turning to the dark side as a result.

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Darth Vader in his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Let us reflect on what we choose to place our trust in. What do we choose to take refuge in each day? What refuge-relationships have we discontinued?

Wishing Happy Holidays for all in observance.

Tommy Manyo Bradshaw

A Dharma Glimpse: Empty One’s Cup

This is a Dharma Glimpse that I originally presented on 11/24/19 as a participant in the Lay Ministry program of the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down to dinner at a local Indian restaurant with a couple of other Buddhist-minded folks from the Unitarian-Universalist congregation that we each participate in. I must admit that in the back of my head there was a bit of reservation present about eating at this particular restaurant as in the past I have had minimal if any contact with Indian cuisine, this likely being the first time I’ve actually eaten food of this variety. By the time I had eaten a few bites I had decided that I had found a new favorite as the restaurant offered heaping portions (I got 3 meals out of my order) and the food was absolutely delicious, being spiced to such an extent that even my own eyes were watering quite a bit, something that came as a surprise as I’m a big fan of spicy food!

Its not uncommon for us to walk into a restaurant for a meal with pre-conceived thoughts about how the food, the atmosphere and the experience may touch us. I feel that we can identify that this line of thinking doesn’t end here either as I’m sure we can all agree that if we were to evaluate any typical day that we could easily find ourselves approaching countless different day-to-day scenarios and occurrences with pre-conceived judgments based off of the ways we think things will appear or transpire. How often do we walk into a meeting thinking we know the outcome, meet a new person thinking we already know something significant about them or assume we know what someone else on the roadways can and can not see, expects or doesn’t expect? (I’m particularly guilty of this one!)

My mind goes to a common Zen parable-story of sorts. It has several different presentations but they all hit at the same point: A Zen student-hopeful once approached a teacher and asked to be accepted as a student, to be trained in the ways of Zen. The teacher took a cup and began to fill it for the student, filling it until the small cup began to overflow. Alarmed, the student shouted “Stop!”. “Your mind is like this teacup, overflowing, come back when you have emptied it” the teacher responded.

May we each take this lesson to heart by placing our pre-conceived thoughts judgements to the side. May we experience daily life with open-eyes, as a fresh, clean cup.

Thank you.

Clear Glass Mug

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