Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Royal Buddhist Diet: Guaranteed Weight Loss

A Slim King Pasenadi Thanks the Buddha
King Pasenadi of Kosala was very fat. He waddled around his kingdom, belly swollen, feet sore,  and short of breath. One day, after eating a whole bucket of rich food, he found the Buddha and sat beside him panting.
The Buddha commented "When you stay mindful you will know how much you have eaten and what is enough.  Then all your afflictions will become slender and you will age gently and protect your life."
Fortunately, a brahmin youth from the king's retinue was nearby. Pasenadi instructed him to memorize the Buddha's comment and recite it whenever the King was about to eat.
As soon as Pasenadi learned to pay attention to his food -- to savor it and become aware of tasting and chewing and swallowing -- he was able to delight in a single cup of rice.
In time Pasenadi became slim and strong, and as he sat stroking his slender limbs, he said "The Buddha has shown me compassion twice: for my welfare now and for my welfare in the future."

For lots more on the Buddhist Diet, click here

Best Buddhist Cartoons

The Practical Buddhist has been taking himself too seriously again, so here's a break:

Ashamed of Your Atheism? Come Out of the Closet.

Richard Dawkins in not some crank. He's one of the foremost ethologists and evolutionary biologists of our time. 

He is also a very intentional thorn in the side of religious people and their leaders. 

Dawkins has proposed that  the current pope be tried as a war criminal for many offenses including opposition to birth control in poor nations (where the alternative for limiting population is starvation.)

After 9-11 he was quoted in the Guardian:

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where's the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let's now stop being so damned respectful!

He's right.  We have no problem arguing public policy, vigorously and endlessly. Why is religion so, um, sacrosanct?  

Why are atheists more fearful of coming out of the closet than gays?  Buddhism has no god, and Hinduism doesn't require one, so apparently godlessness can be respectable. But for God's sake, don't tell my parents!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Aggressive Atheism: Buddhist Response

As I write I'm visiting in Chiang Mai province where our Thai friend is preparing a Buddha shrine for a newly-rented home. It's done with great and precise ceremony. 

There's proper placement of candles, flowers, small glass of water, incense, and above all, the Buddha image itself. 

And there's lots of bowing involved. How come?  The Buddha, who said he wasn't a god, only "awake," taught that gods in general weren't very useful on the path to self-realization and universal compassion. 

So why does a Buddha statue rate all this fuss?

One teacher told me that when we bow to the Buddha image, we bow to ourselves, not a dead guy from India. I still think about that. 

Here's a religion/philosophy that insists we look inside, not just outside, for beauty and completion. 

Buddhism isn't atheistic.  Its teachers aren't like Dawkins who rallies followers to heap scorn on believers.

Lacking gods, it's properly non-theistic, but that doesn't mean you can't have any God or gods you like.  You don't have to stop being a Jew or a Catholic to embrace the triple jewels of Buddha, dharma, and sangha.  You just have to be willing to look deeply inside too, and practice compassion and seek to relieve suffering in the world. 

Back to the new rental --- the shrine is installed, all reds and fake gold, and looks down from its high perch, candles ablaze and incense smoking, reminding me of 2500 years of dharma. As I bow to the gilt plaster statue, I realize that without the certainly of guidance by gods, I have to look deep into me for the meaning I seek.  But I'm not giving up Jesus or Mohammed or the Holy Spirit any time soon. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Am Not Trayvon Martin

Note in August, 2023. In March of 2012, Travon Martin was gunned down for being black and wearing a hoodie.  I forget the details.  There were lots of protests.

Some protestors are wearing shirts that read "I am Trayvon Martin."  They mean that they look suspicious and maybe dangerous, probably because they are Black.  Maybe they wear hoodies or walk too slowly on the way home.

I'm am not Trayvon Martin. I'm pretty old, and very pink-skinned. I wear glasses and usually walk in middle-class neighborhoods, when I walk at all. I drive an aging Toyota.  Cops always give me a pass. So does everyone.  I'm safe. No danger to anyone. I fit a no-threat, clean old white man profile. If I were female instead of male, I'd be perfect.

But remember this. Privileged old white men like me run everything. We drag our feet investigating hate crimes, or pursue them with vigor, all for political reasons. We start and stop wars. We oppress, and when convenient, liberate. 

The Trayvons of the world aren't dangerous. Old pink men like me are the ones to be feared. I am not Trayvon Martin.

Hunger Games and Buddhism

This teen-search-for-meaning flick is setting stunning box office records.

In case you've been in a coma -- Hunger Games is a tale of violence and corrupt power: The evil government picks 24 kid-gladiators to main and kill each other in high def until only one is left standing. It's a variation on a plot older than Greek mythology. And it has the obligatory love-triangle, but there's also a twist.

In this post-armageddon HG world, where the starring adolescents are adorable and noble, there's not a hint of a formal religion. The tale hangs on teen self-discovery and emerging virtues of courage, selflessness, and commitment to the common good. It also addresses the eternal question of whether violence is OK if you murder in pursuit of some higher good.  These ethical questions are the ones the dharma has explored for for millennia. 

By the way, they're the same questions raised in the Harry Potter franchise, and even in the Batman movies.

It takes more than sex, violence, and really cute actors to capture the attention of untold millions of teens, so fast. 

Like our ancestors, we're hard-wired for this story, and long to hear it again and again. We want reassurance that in the midst of horrible loss and suffering, nobility of spirit triumphs and in the end all will be well.  This is the core plot in all literature, including sacred scriptures, and when you can come up with a fresh presentation like HG (or Potter, or Logan's Run) it's a matter of build it and they will come.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sex, Drugs and Buddhism

Buddhism and Addiction

Buddhists like to talk about attachment, and how it messes with our peace of mind and ability to see clearly. 

Addiction is attachment gone crazy.  The addict can never really pay attention or be at peace. 

It can be sex or eating or cocaine or work or even extreme sports. Anything that gets me high can become an addiction.

While I'm high, my suffering is blunted or can even seem to disappear.  Problem is, the high never lasts, and most methods of  getting high cause troubles of their own.

The addiction cycle can be triggered by any kind of stress or pain. To dull the pain, I'll get high (acting out), then sink into shame. The remorse leads to resolutions and commitments, and things can go fine until I'm in pain again and it starts all over.

Buddhist philosophy can help at every phase of the addition cycle.  Stress and pain can be eased through regular meditation and the practice of compassion, reducing the craving for the high. 

Shame and depression can be less a problem when the addict begins to learn self-awareness and self-care. New commitments can be bolstered by healthy reliance on others for support. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Want to Smell Like a Pope? Buddhist Response

Pope commissions custom-blended eau de cologne

Fragrance, which mixes hints of lime tree, verbena and grass, was concocted by Italian boutique perfume maker Silvana Casoli

Pope Benedict XVI has commissioned a bespoke eau de colognePope Benedict XVI has commissioned a bespoke eau de cologne. Photograph: AP
He is picky about his robes and his red shoes are tailor-made, but Pope Benedict has taken the meaning of bespoke to a whole new level by ordering a custom-blended eau de cologne just for him.
The fragrance, which mixes hints of lime tree, verbena and grass, was concocted by the Italian boutique perfume maker Silvana Casoli, who has previously created scents for customers including Madonna, Sting and King Juan Carlos of Spain.
Casoli said she had a "pact of secrecy" with her most illustrious client to date, and refused to release the full list of ingredients that had gone into his scent – but she did reveal that she had created a delicate smelling eau de cologne "based on his love of nature".
The Practical Buddhist Responds
I couldn't resist. This 84-year-old pope may be infallible, but he wants to smell nice. He also wants a scent nobody else has, like a lady with a custom designer dress. 
Buddhist monks, even the Dalai Lama, are careful not to dress in anything but ordinary robes, or wear jewelry or perfume, because it could be distracting from their lives of reflection and meditation.  It's not that different for Catholic monks, actually.
But as you go up in the Catholic hierarchy, the outfits get fancier and fancier, until the pope-stage, where you get to wear very tall hats and scarlet slippers and monster rings. 
And exclusive perfumes.
Buddhist monks don't go that route, but aren't likely to pass judgment on it either. They'd probably tell the pope he looks great and smells really nice, and wish him well in his tough job.
I confess frequent frustration with this pope, but learning about this little vanity somehow makes him seem more human, vulnerable, and likeable.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gay Marriage? Buddhists Don't Even Believe in Marriage

 Buddhists Don't Even Believe in Marriage

If Buddhists don't get excited about homosexuality, they're even less concerned about marriage. Fact is, they don't believe in marriage at all, at least as a sacrament.

It's a civil union, a contract between two people. Monks don't officiate at weddings.  They do bless weddings, but monks will bless anything including bikes and beer-bar grand openings.

Over here, we're all tied up about the difference between marriage and civil unions. Many would let gays have all their civil rights, so long as they don't call it marriage, because marriage is "sacred."

For Buddhists, everything and everyone is sacred already. Including gay people and their love. And a commitment to love and fidelity between two people is just a civil union, but that's plenty. 

We're not going to see same sex marriage in Tibet any time soon. Most Buddhists live in countries that are conservative socially, and social norms are always stronger than religion. But no matter, they don't have sacramental marriage for straight people either.

Women and Buddhism? Just Give Up.

Women in Buddhism

A smart Buddhist will not fight pointless battles. Most battles are distractions anyhow. 

Young Buddhist nuns in Burma
There are many Buddhist women leaders who learn and teach and practice compassion joyfully. They are not militant. They know that Buddhism is an imperfect, ever-evolving, culture-bound tradition that still practices gender discrimination. They love the dharma, and can let go of worry and anxiety about Buddhist nuns being officially inferior to monks. They are experts in giving up, giving over, and letting go of peripheral concerns while clinging fiercely to core truths like the Four Noble ones.

There is plenty in Catholic teaching that is useful and beautiful and life-giving. The present Pope has issued stunningly incisive teachings on social justice, poverty and peace, but is dismissed because of his silly statements on birth control increasing AIDS in Africa. He is a great but very imperfect teacher. 

Just so Buddhism. It's discriminated against women,  almost everywhere it has blossomed. Buddhists, depending on where they live, are superstitious animists, rigid reactionaries, or (in the West) elitists. Sometimes.  So what?   Everyone I love has faults and imperfections.  Any religion does too.  Can a I learn from it and follow it's best teachings in spite of the warts?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Buddhist and the $5 Million Watch

$5 million dollar watch

Hublot's $5m watch
The white gold timepiece is encrusted with 1,282 diamonds, and will be shown to a small number of people at a corporate event in Basel.
It was created by Swiss firm Hublot and took 17 people 14 months to make, according to the AFP news agency. 
"We profit off the general growth of the economy in the region," Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Swiss Watch Industry, told AFP.
"There are many people who have the means to acquire a Swiss watch - they find our products very attractive."
The Practical Buddhist Responds
Let's just say you had billions. Would you have a watch like this?  How would you keep it safe? How would you keep yourself safe when wearing it? Would you get insurance? Would you worry about it being stolen? Would you be proud of it? Would you be embarrassed about if you wore it in front of poor people? Would you show your friends? Would you sell it? Would you give it to a lover? Would you give it to the poor? 
You know that's just the beginning of a long, long list. Every one of those questions would upset you mind and disturb your serenity and capacity for joy. 
That's why Buddhists, who try to enjoy everything, don't like to be too attached to anything. Little attachments distract us, and big attachments make us crazy and sad.
You can keep the watch.