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Buddhism: A New Month Rises

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Good morning, my friends.

I have looked forward to this day, for Buddhism is part of the spiritual/philosophical tradition of the Indian subcontinent…a tradition that spoke deeply to me during my time with Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism).

To define Buddhism as a religion is inaccurate. Some believe this system is atheistic. Others, a non-theistic extension of Hinduism. There are many schools within Buddhism and therefore innumerable ways in which to interpret and practice the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni, the Buddha, the Awakened One. Buddhism is in fact a system, a technique taught by the Buddha to reach the state of Nirvana. Nirvana, which literally means “to blow out,” is not a place like heaven, but a state of being.

More on this later.

What makes this month both exciting and challenging is that from day one I must let go of any concept regarding the divine I’ve gleaned thus far. There is no room for faith, as we know it, in some divine existence. Buddhism is a method of living and existing based on empirical knowledge via the Buddha. Indeed, the oldest known teachings of the Awakened One says little to nothing in this regard. Our focus is on recognizing the Four Noble Truths and practicing the Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths:

1) The existence of suffering.
2) The cause of suffering: attachment due to ignorance of the fact that reality is impermanent.
3) The extinction of suffering by eliminating its cause: ignorance and therefore, attachment.
4) The way that leads to the extinction of suffering: the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path:

1)Right Understanding
2) Right Thought
3) Right Speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8)Right Concentration

To reach enlightenment and to release oneself from the bonds of suffering due to attachment, one must acknowledge the Four Noble Truths and in turn, master the Eightfold Path. It is here that we see the major difference between Buddhism and theistic practices. The Buddha, like a scientist or physician, has identified a clear problem (suffering), its cause, and offers a solution to suffering’s cure. The Eightfold Path is then the treatment of the cancer that is suffering. His methods are the result of six years of exploration via extreme asceticism, decadence, and meditation. Buddhism then, becomes the “Middle Way” of serene moderation.

The Buddha’s practice of experimentation will set the tone for my month with Buddhism. Many techniques exist for reaching Nirvana. I will adopt a few from different sources, however my practice of Buddhism will more closely resemble the Theravadin school, considered the oldest and most conservative of the traditions.

Here is a breakdown of my daily routine (at least in the beginning). The idea here is to discover what works, not to become stagnant with processes and rituals which produce nothing but pious habits.

Wake up- 5:30 a.m.

For me, the best way to wake up is with fresh air and a morning jog. Today I started out with brief study of the Four Noble Truths, strapped on some shoes, and meditated on these concepts as I took a quick 1-mile run with Toby, the family dog.

6:30:

After a nice run and a hot shower, my mind is clear and alert. I can now focus without becoming lethargic. Toby is also happy.

Many texts exist regarding the teaching of the Buddha, however all schools agree that the Dhammapada is the closest document to the original words of the Buddha himself. Dhammapada means the “path of dhamma (Dharma in Sanskrit)” and therefore the path of truth, virtue, and/or law. Because these are the words most closely associated with the Master’s teaching, I will rely on this text the most throughout the month and therefore the document (and Siddhartha himself) becomes my Mentor.

Along with the Dhammapada, other texts also will also assist in my training.

From top to bottom: "How to Become a Buddha", "The Dhammapada", "The Buddhist Bible", and "The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen".

Relaxed and ready to begin, I sit in front of my altar and prepare for study and meditation.

My highly adaptable "Altar-Shelf" has been many things thus far. This month, it's a Buddhist altar.

Altar-Shelf contents include: A miniature statue of the Buddha, candles, incense, a reed arrangement, mala beads, books, book stand, bell.

The Buddha statue is not an idol for worship. Though schools of Buddhism exist that offer prayers to different forms of the Buddha, the Theravadin tradition views the Buddha as the supreme teacher and guide. In this way, my use of the statue represents the Buddha sitting before me as I study and meditate as if he were present and instructing me in person. Lit candles represent the gradual burn of karma and attachment until the candlelight fades. Once the flame runs out of fuel and puffs out, that is the symbol of Nirvana, when all desire and ignorance is snuffed out. Incense can represent many things, including the smoke as a symbol of prayers offered up to the Buddha. Here the smoke and scent represent the sweet atmosphere of the Buddha’s teachings. Mala beads are a meditation tool to count chanting rounds or to simply relax the mind. The reed bundle reminds me of nature and life. A bell assists with announcing the beginning of any session of study or meditation.

Thanks to Stefin for lending many of these materials to me this month. May happiness fill your life in every moment, old friend.

Now, I begin with reading the first canto of the Dhammapada, “The Twin Verses.” The title of the canto references the style in which the canto is written. Each verse bears a negative or positive reflection of itself. For example:

The hatred of those who harbor such ill feelings as, “He reviled me, assaulted me, vanquished me and robbed me,” is never appeased.  -Canto 1, verse 3

Is immediately followed by:

The hatred of those who do not harbor such feelings…is easily pacified. -Canto 1, verse 4

After reading the entire canto, I return to the first verse and meditate on the words, the meaning, how they sound in my mind…how it resonates within. According to the book, “How to Become a Buddha,” the first step is to master one’s mind. Buddhism is about bringing one’s self to complete and present awareness in the moment; to let go of anxiety and dependencies. My mind is constantly racing, so using the first verse of the Dhammapada as a meditation helps give my mind direction. Those who attain enlightenment reach a state of “no-thought” where they are no longer bombarded by the idle wanderings of their subconscious mind. They are totally and utterly, still.

That is the goal of every Buddhist, and though I will only be with this tradition for a month, it is my goal as well.

My morning study and meditation session ends when the rest of my family wakes. From there, my day is filled with mastering the Eightfold Path and contemplating the morning readings. Buddhism is about being absolutely serenity despite outside stimuli and in turn spreading happiness to others. In this way it is a teaching that is to be lived, breathed, expressed, and shared at every moment and with every being, because the Buddha taught that all we have is this very moment.

Of course, there is more and I will explore these later. The most difficult part of this month will be detaching from my own daydreams. Much of my day (and dreams) are filled with far-reaching imaginings, so to bring those under control, still my mind, and live precisely now is no small matter. 

What are some of your attachments/habits holding you back from living in the moment? Is this a teaching you could use this month to free yourself from any mental, emotional, or spiritual shackles? I’d love to hear from you. This is a great opportunity to lean on one another and allow our experiences (the greatest teacher, according to the Buddha) guide us to enlightenment.

My teaching is neither a theory nor a philosophy, but the fruit of experience. Everything I say comes from my experience and you too can confirm it through your own experience. Words do not describe reality: only experience shows us its true face. –The Master, the Awakened One, the Buddha.



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Pennylg

posted June 30, 2011 at 2:59 am


I also have found the teachings of Buddhism very helpful in trying to figure out how to live my life.  I struggled for years with depression after the death of my youngest child, and it was actually a relief to come to an understanding that life is suffering.  I think these truths are common to most/all religions, but the Messengers of God emphasize different teachings at different times throughout history so that each Revelation responds to the unique conditions and capacities of humanity at a given time and place.  My sense about Buddhism is that the fact that the Buddha did not speak about God doesn’t mean He was a non-theist (although perhaps many people, Buddhists included, interpret it that way).  To me it simply indicates that there were more urgent matters that people of His day needed to learn, and perhaps theological debates and hair-splitting were distracting people from what they needed to do in order to live more fruitful lives. 



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Pennylg

posted June 30, 2011 at 2:59 am


I also have found the teachings of Buddhism very helpful in trying to figure out how to live my life.  I struggled for years with depression after the death of my youngest child, and it was actually a relief to come to an understanding that life is suffering.  I think these truths are common to most/all religions, but the Messengers of God emphasize different teachings at different times throughout history so that each Revelation responds to the unique conditions and capacities of humanity at a given time and place.  My sense about Buddhism is that the fact that the Buddha did not speak about God doesn’t mean He was a non-theist (although perhaps many people, Buddhists included, interpret it that way).  To me it simply indicates that there were more urgent matters that people of His day needed to learn, and perhaps theological debates and hair-splitting were distracting people from what they needed to do in order to live more fruitful lives. 



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:56 am


Good morning Syna,

Right now I simply use the technique the Buddha himself taught, which was a focus on the breath. He taught that slow, deep, conscious breathing helped to steady both body and mind, which in turn detaches ourselfs from the bonds of thought. I use the following mantra to prepare me for any study or to simply calm my mind in general.

Inhale: “I am present…”
Exhale: “In this moment.”
Inhale: “I exist…”
Exhale: “Above my thoughts.”
Inhale: “I control…”
Exhale: “My mind.”

This mantra is repeated as needed. I hope this helps.



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Anonymous

posted May 3, 2011 at 11:56 am


Good morning Syna,

Right now I simply use the technique the Buddha himself taught, which was a focus on the breath. He taught that slow, deep, conscious breathing helped to steady both body and mind, which in turn detaches ourselfs from the bonds of thought. I use the following mantra to prepare me for any study or to simply calm my mind in general.

Inhale: “I am present…”
Exhale: “In this moment.”
Inhale: “I exist…”
Exhale: “Above my thoughts.”
Inhale: “I control…”
Exhale: “My mind.”

This mantra is repeated as needed. I hope this helps.



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Syna -

posted May 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm


I’m curious: are you using any text in particular for meditation instruction? There’s a lot out there, and I’ve never actually looked at meditation from a Buddhist perspective– just from perspectives that borrow from Buddhism ;)



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Syna -

posted May 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm


I’m curious: are you using any text in particular for meditation instruction? There’s a lot out there, and I’ve never actually looked at meditation from a Buddhist perspective– just from perspectives that borrow from Buddhism ;)



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm


Thank you so much Ashley. I do in fact practice sitting/breathing meditation. The techniques are very subtle, however you are right that the results are amazing. I will spend the weekend at a local temple in a few days (Theravadin tradition) so I’m sure I will glean more insight from the monks there. I hope to hear from you again on meditation as I continue!



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm


Thank you so much Ashley. I do in fact practice sitting/breathing meditation. The techniques are very subtle, however you are right that the results are amazing. I will spend the weekend at a local temple in a few days (Theravadin tradition) so I’m sure I will glean more insight from the monks there. I hope to hear from you again on meditation as I continue!



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm


Hello Mr. Orr. I have in fact read material on this branch of Buddhism with great interest. Thank you for the information and for following along!



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm


Hello Mr. Orr. I have in fact read material on this branch of Buddhism with great interest. Thank you for the information and for following along!



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm


Nice hearing from you Kay. You bring up an interesting point here in your relationship with Buddhism. As I understand it, this isn’t a religious system that requires your conversion to practice. Buddhism is a method of living, a tool, that can be used by anyone. Because there is no god to declare alligence to, one is free to use the teachings in any setting.

So, you can be a Christian with a Buddhist toolbox and no worries ; )



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm


Nice hearing from you Kay. You bring up an interesting point here in your relationship with Buddhism. As I understand it, this isn’t a religious system that requires your conversion to practice. Buddhism is a method of living, a tool, that can be used by anyone. Because there is no god to declare alligence to, one is free to use the teachings in any setting.

So, you can be a Christian with a Buddhist toolbox and no worries ; )



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Ashley Sandvoss Okamoto

posted May 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm


Hi Andrew! I’m really excited about this month! I have been fascinated by Buddhism for a long time and many Buddhist teachings are becoming implemented in western spheres like medicine and clinical psychology (my field), so it’s a very applicable religion to explore and put into practice! And I’m saying this as a Baha’i (Well, we think Buddha is a Manifestation of God too, so it’s biased praise, but still!) I hope you’ll consider keeping a daily sitting practice in addition to whatever chanting, contemplation, and mantras you do. There are so many forms of Buddhism out there that you’ll only get a small lens into it depending on the mentor you chose, but I highly recommend Insight meditation – it’s a very humble approach, firmly founded on the teachings in the Pali canon (the Dhammapada is one small section of the canon, just as the Gita is one small profound section of the Mahabharata), the oldest and probably most reliable texts to what the Buddha might have actually taught. I try to sit every day and am blown away by how something as simple as sitting and breathing can be so challenging and illuminating; it has a profound effect on the way I experience life and make decisions. I don’t know where you live but you might want to see if there are any sitting groups around; a Sangha really helps! Let me know if at any time you want book recommendations from great western Theravadan teachers or anything else! Sending Metta your way for a fruitful month deepening in the Dharma.

“Better than a thousand statements composed of meaningless words is a single meaningful word which, having been heard, brings peace…

Though one might conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, the one who conquers himself alone is supreme in battle.

It is better indeed to conquer yourself rather than other people.”

The Dhammadapa, 8.100-104



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Ashley Sandvoss Okamoto

posted May 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm


Hi Andrew! I’m really excited about this month! I have been fascinated by Buddhism for a long time and many Buddhist teachings are becoming implemented in western spheres like medicine and clinical psychology (my field), so it’s a very applicable religion to explore and put into practice! And I’m saying this as a Baha’i (Well, we think Buddha is a Manifestation of God too, so it’s biased praise, but still!) I hope you’ll consider keeping a daily sitting practice in addition to whatever chanting, contemplation, and mantras you do. There are so many forms of Buddhism out there that you’ll only get a small lens into it depending on the mentor you chose, but I highly recommend Insight meditation – it’s a very humble approach, firmly founded on the teachings in the Pali canon (the Dhammapada is one small section of the canon, just as the Gita is one small profound section of the Mahabharata), the oldest and probably most reliable texts to what the Buddha might have actually taught. I try to sit every day and am blown away by how something as simple as sitting and breathing can be so challenging and illuminating; it has a profound effect on the way I experience life and make decisions. I don’t know where you live but you might want to see if there are any sitting groups around; a Sangha really helps! Let me know if at any time you want book recommendations from great western Theravadan teachers or anything else! Sending Metta your way for a fruitful month deepening in the Dharma.

“Better than a thousand statements composed of meaningless words is a single meaningful word which, having been heard, brings peace…

Though one might conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, the one who conquers himself alone is supreme in battle.

It is better indeed to conquer yourself rather than other people.”

The Dhammadapa, 8.100-104



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Ronald Orr

posted May 1, 2011 at 11:53 pm


Hi Andrew: please check out Nichiren Buddhism at http://www.SGI-USA.org and the practice of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (the essence of the Lotus Sutra – meaning devotion to the law of cause and effect to bring about harmony in your life – chanted with passages from the Lotus sutra in the morning and the evening). Also for reading check out The Buddha in Your Mirror, Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin and Ted Morino. I enjoyed hearing about you and your project on National Public Radio. Have a great experience this month, Ron Orr (North Beach, MD; rorr2060@yahoo.com)



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Ronald Orr

posted May 1, 2011 at 11:53 pm


Hi Andrew: please check out Nichiren Buddhism at http://www.SGI-USA.org and the practice of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (the essence of the Lotus Sutra – meaning devotion to the law of cause and effect to bring about harmony in your life – chanted with passages from the Lotus sutra in the morning and the evening). Also for reading check out The Buddha in Your Mirror, Practical Buddhism and the Search for Self by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin and Ted Morino. I enjoyed hearing about you and your project on National Public Radio. Have a great experience this month, Ron Orr (North Beach, MD; rorr2060@yahoo.com)



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Kay

posted May 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm


Although raised in the Christian tradition (and I would label myself as such, Buddhism has always held an attraction for me (yes, I see the irony of that) since studying it in college and on my own throughout the years. It is the thought system I go to when things are really tough. I also have done a little project of my own this year, where I am “giving up” something different each month, something I like, ie; sweets, diet coke, lattes, potatoes, etc. It has been interesting to observe how when I get edgy and out of sorts or bored, how I want (desire) these things, and to just sit with that feeling.

What keeps me back from fully embracing Buddhism is its non-theism…its impersonal yet universal feeling.

I am enjoying reading about your journery. Thanks for sharing with us.



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Kay

posted May 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm


Although raised in the Christian tradition (and I would label myself as such, Buddhism has always held an attraction for me (yes, I see the irony of that) since studying it in college and on my own throughout the years. It is the thought system I go to when things are really tough. I also have done a little project of my own this year, where I am “giving up” something different each month, something I like, ie; sweets, diet coke, lattes, potatoes, etc. It has been interesting to observe how when I get edgy and out of sorts or bored, how I want (desire) these things, and to just sit with that feeling.

What keeps me back from fully embracing Buddhism is its non-theism…its impersonal yet universal feeling.

I am enjoying reading about your journery. Thanks for sharing with us.



report abuse
 

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