… perhaps during those impending college years that I was so looking forward to, I would decide “what to be when I grow up.”
When I was a kid, I naturally had different—and significantly simpler—assumptions about how the world operates than I do today. Based on my upbringing and education, I had the impression that at some point in my life, perhaps during those impending college years that I was so looking forward to, I would decide “what to be when I grow up.” Logically this decision would take into account things like enjoyment, aptitude, and economic factors. There were a few options that I was considering, mostly involving technology—maybe engineering or aerospace—but whatever my choice, I was confident that my grown-up life would be a great success.
In hindsight, perhaps I was just a bit overconfident. But I was certainly determined, and over the years I’ve found that determination counts for a lot. When my grandfather—a man of few words—dropped me off at college, he told me, “work hard.” So I did. I chose my path, and years later found myself with a Bachelor’s degree in Music (see enjoyment, above) and Physics (aptitude), working in an administrative position at Apple Computer (economic factors). And as my grandmother used to tell me, “you’ve made your bed, and now you have to lie in it.” So I did that too. Live and learn. Read More …
[This is the sixth in a series of posts reflecting on how I found myself drawn to monasticism despite (or perhaps because of) my upbringing in the Bay Area and providing insight into how the relatively secular environment in which I grew up prompted me to look deeper into the meaning of life.]
The sages have left these standards for being a student.
You first begin with filial respect and then learn to be careful and trustworthy.
Be kind and caring to all and stay near good people.
With any time left, you should devote it to study.
-Standards for Students
To be honest, I never thought about what it meant to be a “good son” until I became interested in Buddhism and the monastic life. It was an unexpected teaching that really sank in when I became a sophomore in college.
In hindsight, I was a typical callow youth, with an attitude of putting myself first and my parents second. I remember one story from when I was in pre-school. My mom gave me a chocolate bar and then asked me if I would share some of it with her. Reluctantly, I broke the chocolate bar in half, planning on giving her the smaller piece. To my dismay, I saw that they were both the same size, so what did I do next? I took a bite out of one half and then sheepishly offered it to her. Talk about filiality! Read More …
Although these figures may use different words to express their ideals and look after separate communities, they all share one thing in common. They do not live for themselves.
In the eight months that I have spent in India so far this year, I have encountered a number of modern day gurus. I stumbled across the Karmapa’s Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, served others alongside Swami Asimatmananda in Chapra, felt the warmth of Amma’s embrace in Delhi, and watched the transformation of Maharaj Yadneshwara in Beed. Although these figures may use different words to express their ideals and look after separate communities, they all share one thing in common. They do not live for themselves. The lives of the Karmapa, Asimatmananda, Amma, and Yadneshwara are dedicated to serving living beings and helping them to fully develop their humanity. Toward this end, each of them supports an educational institution: the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute, Ramakrishna Mission’s school for poor children, Amma’s Amrita University, and Yajneshwara’s traditional Vedic gurukula.
In December, his Holiness the Karmapa led the Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, where he taught about Bodhisattva Samantabadra’s prayer for excellent conduct. The event brought together people from all over the world who strengthened their resolve for awakening. After a couple from Germany guided me to the prayer site, Lamas came around with hot butter tea and steamed bread to make sure all the guests were comfortable. The ancient Mahābodi Temple came alive with color, lights, and hospitality. The merit generated from this practice is thought to pacify disasters and remove obstacles not only for those to take part in the Monlam, but for all living beings. Read More …
For the past several months, I’ve been part of a translation team that is working on the verses of the Lotus Sutra
. I think of translating as a practice; it contains a lot of different opportunities to learn about the Buddha’s teachings and about myself at the same time. I’ve been finding that translating verses in particular is a really wonderful practice, and like any Dharma practice, its benefits are gradually revealed as one delves more deeply into its subtleties.
The rhythm of a verse gets into your bones, puts a spring in your step. Its beauty inspires the heart.
A good verse can have some really wonderful qualities — it has its own rhythm, its own ways of resonating. A steady rhythm can be like a resting heartbeat, its regularity calming the mind. When chanted, regular line length regulates the breathing, which calms the body. The rhythm of a verse gets into your bones, puts a spring in your step. Its beauty inspires the heart.
I often chant while I’m translating, sometimes “working” for many hours a day, and I find that the rhythm itself has a way of inspiring creativity. Sometimes it is almost as if the translated verses appear on their own, without any effort on my part. I feel that I may be experiencing something described by many creative types, but also something that anyone who has spent time reciting a mantra, or has even gotten a favorite song stuck in their head, has probably touched upon. Read More …
… we are born with particular mental tendencies … and over time, certain tendencies are repeatedly reinforced, creating ever-deeper tracks for our minds to follow.
When the Buddha taught about the human mind, he put forth an idea that has been developed independently by psychologists and neuroscientists in more recent years: that we mainly interpret the world through deeply rooted habits of thought and perception, that we are born with particular mental tendencies – some that are universal to all humans, and others that are particular to each of us as individuals – and over time, certain tendencies are repeatedly reinforced, creating ever-deeper tracks for our minds to follow.
In some ways, these habits are very useful, and they probably developed to help us survive, enabling our ancestors in the jungle or the savanna to quickly learn the difference between a threatening tiger and a benign butterfly, for example. Thanks to mental habits, we do not have to start fresh with every tiger or butterfly we see, interpreting what it might be and how it might affect us. But in other ways, the limitations imposed by these habits can have profoundly negative consequences.
Recently, I’ve been confronted with this problem in the context of the criminal justice system. I have been working as a researcher and writer for the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE), a database that tracks cases in which an innocent person is wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all charges. In each of these cases, police and prosecutors constructed a story about how and why a particular crime was committed– a story that later turned out to be entirely wrong. Read More …
ATLAS under construction, Source
On July 13th, UC Berkeley physicists, including Professors Beate Heinemann and Marjorie Shapiro – collaborators in the ATLAS experiment, explained the discovery of what could be the Higgs Boson. Their explanation of the decades long search for the Higgs Boson serves as an interesting comparison to Buddhist practice – not as a comparison of ultimate claims about the nature of reality, but a comparison of deep and prolonged investigations in subtle, invisible fields. This deep and prolonged investigation is at the heart of Buddhism as a personal practice, in contrast to Buddhism as a set of philosophical or religious assertions.
One of the vexing problems in quantum physics has been that the standard model used by quantum physics can explain forces like light and magnetism, as well as short range fields that exist at the atomic and subatomic level. But common everyday phenomena like gravity and mass have no explanation in quantum physics. Quantum physics, a physics of invisibly small particles and intangible fields, is still trying to explain these everyday phenomena. Read More …