bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Category: definitions

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

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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

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bu-curious word of the day

In my spiritual-not-religious days, I remember reading a whole bunch of arma-asha-assina eastern religion blabitty-blab-vocab in my books and yoga mags.  I read the words over and over again, trying to commit them to memory, but nothing would stick.  I decided that a whole bunch of yogi words, when jumbled together, sound exactly the same.  And they all start with D, S or V.  It’s impossible to keep them straight.  I encountered arma-asha-assina over and over again in books and pamphlets and websites, but still, I could not decipher one from the next or remember what they meant.  I started highlighting and post-it-noting the words in books.  STILL, nothing.   But I want to learn.  I won’t give up.  So let’s do this together.  One word at a time.  We’ll start simple.

Doesn’t get much more basic than this, Bu-curious word of the day is dharma.

DHARMA:  Pronounced “darma”.  Simply put, dharma is law.  But it is so much more.  It is pure and divine truth, the divine order of the universe, the central teaching of the Buddha.

Feel free to use it in a sentence today.  If you’re feeling crazy, share that sentence here.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

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