bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: beginner’s mind

here we go (again)

Lately in Buddha school, the idea of reincarnation has been popping up and I’ve been totally surprised to learn that there are a lot of western Buddhists who do not subscribe to this concept.  Honestly, reincarnation is the draw that pulled me into Buddhism initially.  I’d never felt so sure about anything before.  In this jigsaw puzzle of life, I considered reincarnation my four corner pieces.  everything else could be filled in from there.

I wrote this post 2 years and 5 days ago.  It’s the second post I ever published on my first blog, before I found Buddhism, before I started to feel snippets of real peace in my heart, before I axed The Real Housewives from my life completely, before I regularly bore my deepest-darkests publicly, online.  But it’s a pretty good description of one person’s discovery of life after death after life and I wanted to share it today.  With a few small edits, this was originally titled “Here We Go”…

Spiritually I’m coming from a place of I-don’t-know-how-I-got-here-but-I-have-some- pretty-good-ideas.  I believe in reincarnation – along with about 80% of the world’s population.  And it’s OK to believe in reincarnation and think Jesus is the heaven-sent Mack Daddy.  I think that, too.  I believe in GOD.  I also believe in MYSELF.

That said, my spiritual journey began a few years ago.  [Channeling Sophia from the Golden Girls now.]

Picture it.  The year is 2008.  I’m knocked up with baby #3, sitting on the couch watching Hollylwood’s Top Ten Best Bodies on E! with my stepdaughter CG.  For some reason I decide to share with her that I’m not connected to this lifetime.  Like I’m not sure I’m supposed to be here.  I’m feeling vacant while I say it.  A bit lost maybe.  It’s not an extraordinary moment in my life, but saying the words aloud causes a strangely physical effect.   Sort of like the weight of truth squashing my skull but my head is full of air.  Weird, I know.  I’m sure it was equally weird for CG.  Moving on.  Later that week I turn on Oprah and see my future hero Brian Weiss.  (Can you tell I watch too much TV?  Don’t even get me started on the epiphanies that occur while watching Real Housewives on Bravo.)   Dr. Weiss is an Ivy League educated, world renowned psychotherapist who, after years of practice, specializes in healing through past life regression.   I pick up Dr. W.’s book Many Lives Many Masters the next day and love every page.  Sigh relief.  And so the journey begins.

I have a few years of material stored up in my noggin now and am eager to share.  However, I will take it slow.  I want to start off with something we are all familiar with.  The feeling that we’ve known someone “before” or that we share a soul connection with another human being.

We experience life on earth time and time again so that we can learn lessons in love, compassion and acceptance.  Each of us is part of a larger soul family or soul group made up of many souls with a common purpose.  We travel through multiple lifetimes with the same souls so that we can learn and evolve together, and also so we can clear up any karmic debt that exists between us (more on that later).  These souls could be your family, friends, co-workers, you name it.

You may already connect with someone in a special way and call that person a soul mate.  S/he can be your wife, your son, a sibling, an old lady who lives on your street, the trash man.  Doesn’t matter.  Just don’t limit your idea of soul mate to your significant other because you are missing the big picture.  Example.  LM (hi LM) is my BFFFFFF.  We’ve know each other since we were 7 years old and I love her so dearly and deeply that there is not a speck of doubt we are tied together in this three-legged race called life.  The parallels in our lives are no coincidence.  We were meant to meet each other in Mrs. McGrath’s 3rd grade class, experience our journeys together and help guide each other through this lifetime with compassion.  She’s an easy soul mate to spot b/c our love is deep and obvious.

But our soul mates do not always spend 30 years by our sides.  Sometimes they pop up only for a moment but leave an enduring mark.  Another example.  I was in Paris last June with my kids and we stopped in a patisserie for sweets.  On the way out there was a gypsy boy begging on the sidewalk.  I do have a soft spot for the homeless in general, but this boy truly captivated me.  I gave him a raspberry yogurt and watched him gobbled it up with delight, my small gesture filling his belly for a few hours.  I couldn’t shake that boy.  I kept thinking about him – where he would sleep?  Did he have family?  Would he ever go to school?

His grubby little face haunted me while I walked back to our flat and 7 months later (2 years and 7 months now) I’m still thinking about him.  I wonder is he a soul mate who agreed to make a guest appearance that summer day?  Reaching out to teach me COMPASSION?  Maybe he was my baby boy in another lifetime.  Maybe my sister.  How could I ignore him?  How could I not help him?  We are all connected.

When you understand that the beggar on the street or the thief outside your window was your mother in another lifetime, you will uncover a layer of compassion and acceptance that you didn’t know existed before.  It’s really quite beautiful and powerful.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

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This is me with Dr. Weiss at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY.

don’t. yes. wait, stop. okay, go.

I’m going to apologize for this post before we even get started.  So.  Sorry.  But I chortled and snarked all the way through.  Maybe a bit of an Andy-Rooney-meets-George-Carlin moment for me.

I was in my bathroom getting ready this morning, examining the silver hairs streaking through my locks and thinking about expectations.  A lot of my friends (and one extremely close family member in particular whom I worship and adore) would look at me in this slowly-advancing state of salt-and-pepper and use the word, “hag.”  Besides the silvers (they’re not grey, they’re silver), my hair is probably a little too long. A little too frizzy.  Oh, I could take the time to blow dry, grease it with Moroccan Oil, dye it back to its original monotone chestnut color, but I’m not sure I care.  Anna Wintour says that any woman of a certain age should cut her hair above her shoulders.  Hmmmm…  yah, no.

thanks, DD, for a nice, demonstrative pic of my hag hair 😉

There are lots of rules like Ms. Wintour’s here in America – social norms we call them, if I’m remembering the term from 11th grade Sociology correctly.  Don’t wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day.  Don’t eat on public transit.  Greet people with one kiss on the right cheek (unless you are a New Yorker who pretends to be a European, then you deliver one kiss on each cheek while scanning for other more important friends in the room).  Do not invade a stranger’s 18 inch bubble.  Get married before you make babies.  Hold your tongue in an elevator.  Tip anyone in the service industry.  Etc, etc, etc.

And then there’s the cursing.  Oh, the cursing.

I know there are social rules about cursing, but I still go back and forth on how I feel about it.  Those who read my blog faithfully are familiar with my ease at dropping eff bombs.  Writing for me is a passionate release, a focused meditation – and often times my fingers fly over the keyboard so quickly that I barely know what I’m writing until I’m done.  If a few unclassified words end up in the mix, who am I to edit them?

Plus.  In real life, I quite enjoy the eff word.  I use it occasionally.  Maybe too occasionally.  But I don’t place any verbal value on it, except as a non-verbal verbal that lets people know that I am flawed.  (Though most wouldn’t need four letter word to see that.)

And then there’s always pressure to stifle the cursing in front of the kids.  Tell me.  When it comes to parenting, what is right?  Apologize for letting “shit” escape in front of the kids?  Don’t apologize for letting “shit” escape in front of the kids.  (Maybe they didn’t notice???)  Is hell a cuss or a place?  Is ass a donkey or a bum?  Is fart okay?  What about penis and vagina?  I think they’re good.  But not in school.  Boobs?  Butt?  Shut up?  How ’bout the modern alternative – Shut it?  Is it okay that my 7 year old knows all the words to “I’m Sexy and I Know It”?  Is it okay that my 5 year old sings “Red Solo Cup” and that I think it’s kind of funny when she says, “And you, sir, do not have a pair of testicles if you prefer drinking from glasses.”  (I mean, she’s almost 6, really, but that’s still pretty bad, right?)

I actually spend time pondering the spiritual repercussions of cursing.  Oh, yes, I do.  I mean, it’s about 49th on my list of priorities, squeaking in just after emptying my mom’s dog’s anal sacks, but the spiritual questions are there.

Is cursing an unmindful form of communication?  Is cursing offensive?  Yes, I suppose it is.  But why?  I guess I know why, but is it because God cares?  When I splatter searing hot bacon grease on my bare arm and shout, “JESUS!” does Jesus give a shit, ahem, I mean give a damn, ahem, I mean give a rat’s ass… oh whatever.  You know what I mean.  But really.  Does he?  And does he / He / HE care if I capitalize or not?  Honestly, I’m thinking no.  And if, by some small chance, I’m right and God doesn’t care, why do some people care so much?

(Whew!  Tangent.)

But, like I said, it’s not just cursing, it’s everything.  There are hundreds of social norms that differ greatly from culture to culture.  Wave with the back of your hand in Greece, cover your shoulders in Morocco, don’t be American in England, take off your shoes upon entering a house in Japan, wear thongs on the beach and bikinis to the grocery store in Brazil, wash your poopy bum with a communal bar of soap but only with your left hand in India, don’t write in red ink in China, stare at people past the point of awkwardness then let your dirty white lap dog eat off your plate in France.  What is acceptable changes so vastly from country to country, it just makes me laugh.  Because it’s all so funny, isn’t it?  All these rules about living.

The rules are all so particular.  And peculiar.  Are these socially acceptable (and unacceptable) behaviors cast offs from religious orders?

Don’t eat meat.
Don’t eat meat with milk.
Don’t eat meat with milk on Fridays before sunset on the fourth night of a Harvest Moon.
Sit cross-legged with your hands open on your lap.
Sit with your middle fingers touching your thumbs.  No, your index fingers.
Don’t sit.  Lay down.  Or stand up walk.  Just shut up and be quiet.
Wear an orange robe and only an orange robe.
Shave your head.  Let one piece grow.  Let two curls grow.  Let one long hair on your face grow.
Don’t cut your hair.  Don’t cut your beard.  Now hide it all in a turban.
Hide your hair, hide your shoulders, hide your ankles.  You know what?  Just hide your whole face.
Kneel down, stand up, cross yourself, repeat after me, say it again, say it again, one more time, say it again.
Eat this dry cracker.
Now return to your pew and continue with your dozing off.

Who made these rules anyway?  (Men.)  But seriously, who?  (Old men.)  Really, though.  We judge others so harshly when they don’t abide by the rules.  Meanwhile, the most important rules are often ignored – BE KIND, BE PATIENT, BE HONEST, BE HERE NOW.

Well.  Now that I have thought and pondered and assessed and analyzed the things we humans do and why we do the things we do, I have to go explain to my kids why they can’t say “fart” in the classroom.

From mine to yours,
Vanessa
*Reposted from my June 8, 2012 entry on Everything Old is New Age Again

with each breath we have an opportunity to start over

I love this concept:  the idea that with each and every breath there is a fresh opportunity to propel our lives in a new direction.  Just think.  We get to start over thousands of times  a day.  I apply this breath work to my eating habits – I’m a chocoholic and struggle with my will to hold back.  I know all too well that my body is a temple; I therefore have a very important responsibility to take care of it through proper diet, exercise and meditation.  That said, I woke up this morning and had my breakfast:

It’s bad, I know.  It was left over from a Saturday night campfire, complete with s’mores, and somehow at 8am this bar of junky chocolate was completely irresistible.  But, like I said, I know that every breath is a shot at a new beginning.  So I made a healthy choice for lunch:

And then came dessert:

Yep.  Looks like I’ll be starting over again tomorrow.  Wish me luck.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” 
Meister Eckhart

children’s lesson: breathing room

I’m reading a TERRIFIC book by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community called Planting Seeds, Practicing Mindfulness with Children.  It’s a compilation of teaching moments and mindfulness lessons that are suited for anyone dealing with children.

This is a book that every teacher or parent should read, though if you are new to meditation I’d recommend reading a book like Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes first to familiarize yourself with the science behind meditation and the benefits associated with a regular practice.  Those who are “in the know” can jump right in and get to work.  The lessons are easy and practical.

There were so many stand-out lessons for me in this book, so I decided to choose a few from the first half of the text and experiment with them on my children.  When the kiddos woke up this morning, I told them we were going to be having a “Lazy Sunday”.   Daddy was golfing so it was just us.  I kept the day a bit of a mystery but offered a few teasers to get them eager to participate.

  • After breakfast, we got dressed and prepared for our first Pebble Meditation by collecting four stones each.  I told them they could go outside and find stones in the garden or they could raid the tumbled crystal collection in my bedroom.  Of course they went straight for my stash.
  • Next we visited my sewing station.  We each selected a bit of fabric so that we could stitch up our own tiny pebble bags.
  • After that, we reinvented our sleeping porch by turning it into our very own Breathing Room.  (Sorry, CG, you lost your room again, but we’ll find you a worthy alternative. 😉 )  A Breathing Room is a space devoted to devotion.  If you don’t have a separate room available, just create a quiet corner in your classroom or living space.  We carried my altar into the room and talked about its adornments.  A Buddha statue, a bell and a vase of fresh flowers.  The Buddha reminds us that the Buddha lives inside us, a bell will help us engage in mindful breathing each time it’s invited and the vase of flowers remind us that we are alive and fresh.  We then scattered some cushions and rugs around the floor and stepped back to admire our work.
  • Then I showed them how to bow when we enter the room, creating a separation between the chaos of the house and the calmness of the Breathing Room.  We also talked about taking the time to bow to the great energy that exists within us, the Buddha within.  We tried some different ways of bowing – bending at the waist, prostrating our bodies to the ground, taking child’s pose.
  • When we settled onto our cushions, we sat criss-cross apple sauce, stretching our backs long and keeping our heads high.
  • The first thing we did was talk about the bell.  Every time the bell is invited, we stop whatever we’re doing and take 3 cleansing breaths.  I taught the kids to fist “wake up the bell” by tapping it lightly with the stick,wait a second, then “invite the bell” by striking it confidently one time so we could all listen to its sound and think about our breath.
  • We spoke about breath.  We felt the rise and fall of our bellies for 10 breaths, just paying attention to the changes in our bodies.  We held our fingers under our nostrils and took 10 breaths, noticing the temperature and humidity changes in the air we took in and out.  How does that happen?  Why is it warm?  What does breath do?  Where does it go?
  • When I felt the kids understood the calming effects of focusing on breath, we moved onto the Pebble Meditation.  You can download a worksheet created by the nuns and monks at Plum Village here if you’d like.  My kids are very young so I created a custom version of the meditation that gave them a little wiggle room.  Here is what we did:
  1. Lay out plain paper, folded in quarters, and a box of crayons.  Ask them to pick out a pebble from their bag and lay it to the left of the paper.  In the first box, ask the kids to color a picture of a flower.  While they color, talk about flowers.  How they grow, how the smell, how we feel when we see them.  Reference the book here, Thich Nhat Hanh provides a beautiful script for us.  When the kids are done coloring, they’ll want to talk about their work.  When they’re ready, ask them to hold their pebbles and sit up straight and tall.   They can examine the pebble, rub it, squeeze it while they sit.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.  Breathing out, I feel fresh.  Flower, fresh.”  Ask them to repeat the words.  Then one child invites the bell (they love that bell) and we breath in and out three times together, imagining ourselves as flowers.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  In, flower.  Out, fresh.  Then put the pebbles in their little homemade pouches and move onto the next picture.
  2. Reach for the next pebble and place it to the left of the picture.  In the next box, ask them to draw a mountain.  Again, refer to the book for just the right words.  But ask them what they think lies in the center of a mountain.  Is it loud?  Is it busy?  Is there life?  What happens to the inside of the mountain when it snows or when the wind blows?  Does it change with the conditions? (See where we’re going here?)  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.  Breathing out, I feel solid.  Mountain, solid.”  Then invite the bell and follow the same routine, substituting flower/fresh for mountain/solid.
  3. Place the another pebble next to the paper.  In the next box, invite them to draw a placid lake.  Read Thay’s words from Planting Seeds, then provide them with any extra interpretation that they might need, as this one is a bit loftier than the others.  Pick up the pebble.  Share the gatha, “Breathing in, I see myself as still water.  Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.  Water, reflecting.”  Then finish this portion in the same manner as the others, closing by moving the pebble into the pouch.
  4. Rest the final pebble next to the picture and encourage the children to fill the last box with a picture of space.  They might need some direction drawing space or even understanding what it is.  I chose to point out the space that separated the four of us sitting in the room, but even while it separated us, we were still very much together.  Everyone drew something different, my oldest left the box blank.  All of it’s okay.  Take this time to share Thay’s words then pick up the last pebble.  Share the gatha.  ” Breathing in, I see myself as space.  Breathing out, I am free.  Space, free.”  Take you breaths after inviting the bell then finish up that segment of the meditation.

  • When you finish the Pebble Meditation, take a few minutes to ask the children how each portion made them feel.  Ask if they were able to take three breaths without getting distracted.  Ask how they felt when they pictured themselves as a mountain.  Did they feel strong?  Can they remember that feeling next time they are scared or worried?
  • We ended our practice by bowing to each other with hands at heart center and saying, “Namaste,” or, the sacred light in me bows to the sacred light in you.

After this, we continued on with our Lazy Sunday by taking a walk downtown.  We had lunch on the town green then treated ourselves to a froyo at Swizzles.  Even Rufus was rewarded with a cool treat.

We then bought some poster board so we could create our very own Pebble Meditation poster  to hang in the Breathing Room.  But before heading back, we spent a little more time in the park to play.  We did a walking meditation that is suggested in Planting Seeds.  We started walking in circles around a raised bed flower garden in the center of the garden.  With each step, thought about how our feet felt each time they connected with the bricks.  We moved in slow motion.  As slow as we could.  Then we walked super fast.  Then we pretended we were walking through as swamp.  Then we were business men late for a meeting.  Then we were bunnies then moonwalkers then tightrope performers then superheroes.  This went on for five minutes or so.  And we all had a ball.

Once we got home, I suggested we work on the poster but the kids were done being BUBs and preferred to pull out blankets and sheets to built a fort.  It wasn’t long before they started screaming bloody murder and bludgeoning each other with their stuffed animals.  Ah well.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-curious word of the day: sangha

Sangha:  Pronounced “san-gah”.  This is a community of people practicing Buddhism together.

We very much need to share the path with others.  I’m still searching for my Sangha, though being a Mommy, I have a little head start.  This is a picture of the current (captive) members of my Sangha:

They’re a good crew of little Buddhas, tough to wrangle sometimes, but they have a lot of potential.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

alive & awakening

Our ancestors are alive in us.  Each lifetime is an opportunity for not only us to awaken, but our ancestors as well.

it’s all in me

We inhale our surroundings with every breath, literally internalizing the universe.  In return, we give ourselves back to the universe when we exhale.  With every rise and fall of the chest, we can be reminded that there is no difference between us and the cosmos, no difference between us and the trees, no difference between us and our fellow human beings.  We are connected to everything and everyone around us.  So it’s important to surround ourselves with goodness, and breathe goodness back into the world.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

bu-curious word of the day: mahayana ‘n more!

Taking some more baby steps today.  Here are a few more basic terms that I’ve come across often in my first months of Buddhism.

MAHAYANA:  Pronounced “mah-huh-yah-nah”.  This is the branch of Buddhism that originated in India and is believed to be the closest to the Buddha’s teachings.  Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan traditions are derived from Mahayana.  Through this vein of Buddhism, practitioners evolve for the benefit of all sentient beings.  Mahayanists treasure the contributions made by Bodhisattvas throughout history, whose compassionate and wise contributions are told in classic Buddhist stories and scripture.

BODHISATTVA:  Pronounced “boh-dee-saht-vah”.  The Bodhisattva is inspired through compassion to awaken through a committed Buddhist practice that benefits all sentient beings.

SENTIENT BEING:  This term can represent all conscious life, but it also refers to those who are not enlightened and are therefore trapped in Samsara.

SAMSARA:  Pronounced “sham-sah-rah”, this is the unending cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth.  Enlightenment releases sentient beings from Samsara.

BODHICITTA, “boh-dee-chee-tah”, this is the compassionate state of mind of the Bodhisattva that serves as primary motivation for all actions.

The Bodhisattva’s vow from the Avatamsaka Sutra:

Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,
So will I too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.

AVATAMSAKA SUTRA:  Loosely translated in English as the Flower Garland Scripture, this is 40 chapters of scripture about interbeing and the path to enlightenment as taught by the Buddha not long after he became enlightened around 500 BC.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

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bu review: deepak chopra’s buddha

I wrote a detailed book review of Deepak Chopra’s fictional novel Buddha about a year ago on Everything Old which, while it is embellished by Chopra’s imagination, is rooted in truth and a wonderfully colorful and soulful version of the life of Prince Siddhartha, the original Buddha.  I’m reposting the crib notes I recorded last year…

September 6, 2011

Do you know the story of Buddha?  Though over the years I’ve learned a bit of Buddhist philosophy, I never took the time to learn about Buddha himself.  Honestly, I didn’t even know if he really existed, which is funny b/c after reading the book Buddha by Deepak Chopra, I found out he did really exist, but then he didn’t really exist either.  This everything-is-nothing philosophy is complicatedly simple.

Here are some spirity crib notes on Chopra’s version of Buddha’s life…

It all starts with a warrior king, Suddhodana, viciously defending his kingdom called Sakya, India, 563 BC.  Though he’s a merciless soldier, he’s a loving husband and worships his wife Maya.  She was unable to conceive a child but Suddhodanna never turned to other women.  One night, Maya had a premonition she’d bear a son.  She rushed to the king’s rooms and 9 months later Prince Siddhartha was born.  Tragically, Maya died shortly after giving birth.

An old ascetic hermit named Asita predicted that this baby would be the Buddha, the One who returns light to the world of suffering.  He visited Mara, a nasty demon who lorded over pain and death, and told him his prediction.  Mara was pissed.  He tried to curse the baby but it didn’t really work.

Meanwhile, a group of high-caste holy men, Brahmins, presented Suddhodana with his son’s astrological charts.  All signs pointed to greatness.  The king was thrilled but there was more.  Siddhartha would rule the four corners of the earth but it was predicted that Suddhondana would disown him as a son in the process, as the boy had a very strong spiritual calling.  Asita confirmed the reports.

Suddhodana wanted his son to be a warrior king like him, so he and the kingdom’s high Brahmin, Canki, composed a plan to keep Siddhartha’s spiritual tendencies smothered by disallowing him to encounter any type of suffering until the age of 32.  Suddhodana banished every single old, sick, disfigured or ugly person in the the kingdom.  He sent them to a place just beyond the kingdom walls called “The Forgotten City”.

Siddhartha lived happily for many years but his pull toward heaven was strong.  He asked big questions and felt deep compassion.  His temperament was mild, not one of a warrior, which disappointed the king.  When his older cousin Devadatta was imported from a neighboring kingdom to teach the prince toughness, Siddhartha was in for a shocker.  This kid was an asshole.  He threw rocks at Siddhartha, teased him, threatened him, disrespected his best friend, a low-caste stable boy named Channa.  The demon Mara tapped into Devadatta easily and planned to use him to rub out the future Buddha, but Mara did not leave it all up to Devadatta.

Mara continued to shadow Siddhartha over the years, too, and crept into the prince’s thoughts formally, encouraging him to become his student.  But so did Asita, who appeared to teach him how to meditate like a yogi and find stillness.

On Siddhartha’s 18th birthday, Suddhodanna threw him a coming out party for the neighboring (enemy) kingdoms, complete with mock battles.  Siddhartha reluctantly participated.  He was an excellent athlete and well-trained warrior so he easily bested his opponents in all matches, and did so without armor.  In his last show of competition, he accidentally pierced his opponents neck with an arrow and the man died.  Devadatta publicly chided him and Channa stepped in to defend.  Siddhartha came between the two and forced the challenge back to himself.  He and Devadatta duked it out.  The prince won, sparing D’s life, and had a godlike moment when he envisioned himself jumping off a cliff in complete peace and heard the words Surrender and be Free.  Channa lived, too, but not without punishment.  Low-castes can be killed for even breathing on a high-caste.  The king whipped him brutally and spared his life.

So in revenge for complete humiliation, Devadatta, the total SOB that he was, found out that Siddhartha had a crush on this girl named Sujata.  Devadatta went to her room at night, raped and killed her, then secretly tossed her body in the river.  Thinking there was a chance she could still be alive, Siddhartha and Channa escaped the kingdom walls to search for her.  What they found instead was The Forgotten City.  Siddhartha couldn’t believe what the king had done to control him.

For the next decade, he spent his time helping the poor.  During this time he also got hitched to a woman named Yashodhara and had a son named Rahula.  He would not stay to watch his family grow, though.  His spiritual calling overwhelmed him and he gave up his worldly status, changed his name to Gautama and retreated to the jungles, forests and mountains of India.

He sought Dharma, gurus, wisdom.  He studied under an ancient hermit and learned to meditate for days on end.  He became frustrated by a monk named Ganaka who challenged his desire to serve others, he met gurus Alara and Udaka who taught him the wisdom of ancient scripture, but Gautama was still not enlightened.  Nobody seemed to be.

So he retreated to cave on the edge of the Himalayas with five ascetic monks who believed he knew the path to enlightenment.  They were in and around that cave for five years.  Gautama basically spent the entire time in samadhi, a deep meditative trance, and the fab five had to wash him, feed him, and keep him propped up.  The monks knew Gautama was someone special and were devoted to his teachings and promise of enlightenment, but the brutal elements and starvation wore them down.  One by one they left Gautama, who would’ve perished if not for a young girl named, get this, Sujata, who climbed the mountain looking for the god who lived there and could bless her upcoming marriage.

When she found him, she nursed him back to health in her dead grandmother’s old shack.  Once he recovered fully, he spent some more QT in samadhi under a pipal tree outside the shack.  There he met Mara and they battled through spirit.  At last, Mara tried to coax Gautama into his trap with an offer of marriage to his three beautiful demon daughters.  Gautama smartly accepted the girls on conditions that they never be desired by or lusted after by him, and that they must learn to love.  The girls turned into demons and disappeared.

Gautama emerged as the Buddha, a living god.

As Buddha, he could bring back the dead and right the wrong.  His powers were miraculous.  He found his fab five and returned to Sakya where a battle was raging beyond the kingdom walls.  He entered the gates and reconnected briefly with his wife and child, enlightening them with one embrace, then headed back outside to take care of the battle, which was in full swing.  The fab five were scared entering the battle scene but Buddha assured them that they could end war with words.  He beamed radiant light and awed the soldiers.  He told the people that they write their own futures, they just have to decide to live it.  The men put down their swords.  Miraculous.

He did, however, allow Devadatta and Channa to violently settle their long-standing personal battle.  The warriors nearly killed each other but because of Buddha’s grace and wisdom, both survived.  Suddhodana, though old and a little nuts, was still king.

Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching his Dharma.  He had a large following that included people from high and low castes, monks and royals.  Even Devadatta and Channa joined him.  He brought yoga to the world and released it to all levels in the social hierarchy of India.  His love knew no boundaries.  His story actually reminds me a lot of Jesus’ story.  The biggest difference being Buddha was able to live a long life and spread his teachings.  He died at 80 from eating bad pork.  (Huh?)

***********

Chopra brought Buddha to life beautifully.  What amazes me about this storyteller is that he presents dialogue and history and spirituality confidently and convincingly and without judgment; in order to do this he’s got to have complete understanding of his subjects and his spirit.  And he does.  He is an extraordinary man.  Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“This world is nothing more than desire, and every desire makes me run after it.  Why?  Because I believe that it’s real.”

“The dust holds its shape for a fleeting moment when I throw it into the air, as the body holds its shape for this brief lifetime.  When the wind makes it disappear, where does the dust go?  It returns to its source, the earth.  In the future that same dust allows grass to grow, and it enters a deer who eats the grass.  The animal dies and turns into dust.  Now imagine that the dust comes to you and asks, ‘Who am I?’  What will you tell it?  Dust is alive in a plant but dead as it lies in the road under our feet.  It moves in an animal but is still when buried in the depths of the earth.  Dust encompasses life and death at the same time.  So if you answer ‘Who am I’ with anything but a complete answer you will have made a mistake.”

“The fire of passion burns out eventually.  Then you dig through the ashes and discover a gem.  You pick it up; you look at it with disbelief.  The gem was inside you all the time.  It is yours to keep forever.  It is buddha.

My ultimate fave and the one I tell my kids every day:  “Winning and losing are the same thing.  Both are nothing.”

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

temple tour: boston ‘burbs & beyond

Aside from the occasional Jew, or more likely half-Jew, you could consider most of New England downright religiously homogenous.  Unless lucky enough to belong to a diverse group of friends, in order to experience any other religious or cultural traditions, one would have to consciously seek out opportunities.  Put it this way, until this summer, Madame Tussaud’s was the closest I’d ever gotten to a Buddhist monk.  And here I am a budding Buddhist.

And it is here in homogenous white bread suburban Boston where I begin my search for a Buddhist community.  Oy vey.

For the past months, I’ve been interviewing monks and nuns, visiting temples and Zendos, trying to find a good fit for my family and me.  There are challenges involved, but I’m feeling confident that I’ll find a match…  pretty much.

First challenge:  geography.

It’s hard to find a family-friendly Buddhist center in the ‘burbs.  I have tracked down a Korean Zen center in the People’s Republic of Cambridge (surprise, surprise, what can’t one find in Cambridge), but the commute on Mass Ave is a friggin bear, even at 7am on Sunday morning.  There is a Japanese Zen center in Brookline, which would be a total pain in the ass to get to from metro north.  There’s actually a very conveniently located Buddhist temple in Lexington but Mandarin is mandatory in order to join, so screw that.  A Tibetan center is down the street in Arlington, on the near side of Mass Ave for me, a place which I’ll expand upon later in this post.  And Worcester boasts a Buddhist center… way out in Worcester…  west…  really west…  ummmmm…  yah, no.  Besides those mentioned, we have a few yoga studios that offer occasional guided medies and Buddha-y yoga sessions, but as far as I know, no lamas or masters on site.  So I’m hoping I’ll find a home with one of these temples and feel an energy match to one of these strands of Buddhism.

Second challenge: scheduling.

Temples are not like churches where the majority of worshippers gather on Sunday mornings and, for the most part, disappear for the rest of the week.  Buddhist centers offer daily meditation hours and dharma talks for adults.  (No kids, please.)  Sessions are typically offered in the evening, witching hours to be exact.  Not ideal for house frau with tiny faces to feed, scrub and send to bed.  But even thought it’s not ideal, I’m happy to make it happen.  I make time to do plenty of other things, and I will just need to tweak my schedie to work in this commitment – for me, the utmost commitment.

Third challenge:  language.

Part of Buddhist practice is chanting.  Depending on which style of Buddhism one choses, the chants can be in Japanese or Mandarin or Indian or Chinese…  pretty much any Asian language.  So when I am chanting, I am chanting in a language that sounds, to me, like this:  as;dfja@*isejfa#liaj sdfjasdiv!$mafjiodcfjds klc&^#mlskdan(vfa.  But that’s only a moderate setback, after all, like Woody Hochswender says in his book The Buddha in Your Mirror, “We do not need to know how an automobile works in order to use it to get somewhere.”  So I chant and I receive, knowing that the Universe understands everything, even if I don’t.

Challenges in mind, I set out on my mission to find a Buddhist center that will be a nice fit for my family.

The first center I visited isn’t actually a temple.  Cambridge Insight Meditation Center is just that – a meditation center, not to far from Harvard Square.  They practice Vinyasa meditation, which is rooted in stillness.  You got an itch?  Fuh-gettaboutit.  You can scratch that bad boy after the bell.  No, really, they’re not that strict at CIMC.  It’s actually a great place to meditate.  I visited a few times and enjoyed every experience.  The meditation room is simple and clean, located on the top floor of an old house.  A  trained teacher offers insight on one topic or another then guides the group through walking and sitting meditations.  Afterwards s/he takes questions.  The room has a beautiful energy and the experience is wonderful.  But it is not the complete temple experience that I’m seeking.

The second center I visited was the geographically desirable one in Arlington.  Drikung Meditation Center, just off Mass Ave near the library, is funky and warm feeling.  The practice is a Tibetan strand of Buddhism, the same dharma practiced by fan-favorite His Holiness The Dalai Lama.  On the day of my visit early this summer, I joined their practitioners on a peace walk.  During this walk, participants carried Buddhist scrolls to spread peaceful energy and bless the sick and suffering.  I was a late arrival so I wasn’t able to grab a scroll, but I yielded with the group and started chatting up a nun with a loosely shaved head and flowing crimson robe.   I’d tell you her name but I can’t remember it – I think it was something she made up when she became a nun.  I must have asked her a hundred questions, the first of which was, “Are we supposed to be quiet during this walk?”  Thankfully, the answer was no.

So I told her briefly about my homespun mini-Bu practice and she told me at length all of the things that I can still do while being a Buddhist.  The two most important of which were 1) eat meat, and 2) let my kids celebrate Christmas.  She actually giggled at the second question and said, “Who doesn’t love Buddha Claus?”  Very cute.  The stickiest thing that she shared with me is that Buddhism is a practice that can be layered on top of every other spiritual experience that I have had.  The journey is about me.  So there’s plenty of wiggle room while I explore.

Once we arrived at the center, it was very…  ummm…  homey.  It’s set up in a house, I don’t know whose, but someone must live there because just beyond the reception room there was a twin bed with rumpled sheets which had obviously been slept in the night before.  On the left as I entered I saw a gift shop slash Dalai Lama shrine.  The overall feeling of this small room was orange.  And rainbow.  And sparkly.  And Lama-y.  There were framed photographs of other lamas, too, but I didn’t know who they were.

Once I got past my initial assessment of the space, I took a few steps in where the resident lama (lama means teacher of dharma), was sprinkling blessed water into people’s hands.  I cupped my hand for my dose of holy water and searched out my nun buddy’s eyes for direction.  She discreetly told me that I should sip a little then pat my crown with my wet hand.  Unfortunately, by the time I received the instruction, there was only a little sweat left on my palm to drink (it was a hot day, ok?) so I licked my hand and patted my head with a grateful smile.

Another super friendly Buddha lady, whom I’d met on the road, invited me to join her in the library where food was being served: Ruffles (with ridges), bagels and some rainbow-colored wet-looking things.  The room was quiet and small.  The people standing around were physically very diverse.  Lots of different languages being spoken in hushed voices.  I stayed and pummeled the friendly Buddha lady with questions for a few minutes, mostly about what I do with my kids while we discuss dharma.  The answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear:  “Oh, they can color in the library, I guess, but we’re not really set up for kids.”  Eek.  I finally decided it was time to make an incredibly awkward exit.  “Wait, have something to eat before you go,” the friendly Buddha lady said.  I pinched a ridged chip and excused myself, weaving my way out of the temple, holding the chip between my index finger and thumb, professing my thanks to everyone I passed with a little lift of my Ruffle and bow of my head.

I left thinking, What the hell am I doing????

The next place I visited is a Zendo in White River Junction, Vermont.  Close to our family’s mountain retreat, I figured I might as well try a taste of Vermont’s Buddhist menu while I was vacationing up north this summer.  I made an appointment with a nice Zen teacher (almost master, long story) named Allyn at a Japanese Zendo situated in a basement office space beside the White River.  I arrived with my 3 year old son XG (the realities of motherhood), and was greeted with a warm handshake and welcoming smile.  Allyn was barefoot, dressed in a simple black robe.  This guy has the a great face.  Tightly cropped hair with bushy bushy eyebrows and deep, bright eyes.  His energy was that of chilllllllllllllll.  So we entered this space, a room equipped with two long benches topped with black cushions and a simple altar at center.  We settled in opposite each other while XG got cozy with a messy tube of strawberry yogurt on a pristine purple floor pillow.  Allyn’s fuzzy brows lifted high and he quickly wedged a napkin between XG and the pillow.   Did I mention how grateful I was that Allyn is so chillllllllllllllll?

We sat and talked for 90 minutes, discussing basics of Zen and some deeper ideas, too.  I asked a gazillion questions:  “When we walked into the Zendo, you bowed.  Who did you bow to?  [No one, really.]  How do you enter the space?  [Straight lines and right angles.]  How do you sit on these benches?  [Cross-legged, knees rooted toward the earth, neck long, crown to sky, hands on lap, palms up, gaze down.]  Where are the chanting books?  [Under the pillows.]  How do I drink Japanese tea?  [It’s complicated.  Better teach you that next time.]   To become Buddhist, do I have to be invited?  Do I go through a baptism of some sort?  [You should have a teacher.  But there’s no ceremony, you just are.  I don’t even know if I am.]”  He sort of chuckled and said I have a beginner’s mind.  I actually think he enjoyed my questions.  So basic.  Probably things he takes for granted now.  What I was really excited about was the fact that Allyn was interested in creating a children’s Zen program and open to accepting my brood.  Amen!  I mean, Om?  Okay, I’ve gotta work on that.

After many more questions and slightly embarrassing disciplinary dealings with XG, I thanked Allyn and he sent me off with the book Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind.  He had a feeling I’d be back to return it.  I have a feeling I’ll be back, too.  I really like Allyn and his Zendo.  I like the simplicity of Zen, the near absence of statues and photos.  I like the cleanness of it.  There are more centers to visit still, but I can already tell this one is vibing with me.

Since steering my covered wagon away from Christianity, I must say, I’ve felt like a feather in the wind.  I don’t belong anywhere and I don’t know where I’ll end up.  But feathers in the wind are alluring.  They’re free.  They’re full of potential.  And when you find them, you say, “Oh, look!  A feather!”  So I’m confident that I will find a place where I can learn to fly.  Come to think of it, floating in the wind already feels a lot like flying.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.  Please share this blog with other Bostonian Bu-curious.