Rebirth

Pumpkin with my cat.

Pumpkin with my cat.

It is Halloween, a day when the veil between this observable world and the vast depth that is not visible becomes its thinnest. Spirits and ancestors may come to us, come to others and share their worlds with ours.

In Buddhism, there is a belief in reincarnation. Well, not really reincarnation but rather the belief in rebirth. At first glance it may seem ‘semantical’, but there lies an important distinction between the two, reincarnation and rebirth. In the concept of reincarnation, when we die, we will be born again, in a new body. Well, in Buddhism there is no unchanging self, we are always a different person than we ever were before or will be. This is called anatta in Buddhism, which has been translated, rather negatively, as the concept of no-soul. Sounds pretty harsh! lol. But it is important. We all may feel we have a soul, a presence inside us that remains our ‘core’, never-changing. What else could we be, in fact, we may think to ourselves?

So in Buddhism there is no reincarnation, as we have no unchanging part of ourselves to be born into a new body. So, this brings us to rebirth. How is this different to reincarnation? Well, simply put, we can use an example. We remember what we did when we were a child, perhaps we played ice hockey on a frozen pond and used jackets as goal posts, or we went to the circus. We recall this as ‘ourselves’, we certainly aren’t remembering someone else doing those things! I have photographic proof it was ‘me’! lol. So, just as this was ourselves, so it is like this when we are reborn, or rebirthed.

Do I believe in rebirth? I am Buddhist, but that doesn’t mean I do. I keep an open mind about it. I have evidence both for and against it and I will ‘keep it under review’, as they say. lol.

So in Zen, we may use ko-ans, which, simply put, are paradoxical riddles, which are intended to exhaust the rational mind to see clearly beyond it. That may be too blunt a description, but there you go. One koan is: What was your face before you were born? Of course, our faces were created in our mothers womb, by millions upon millions of cells dividing, growing and moving into position. That is the scientific answer, so lets exhaust that and move on. Does the question want us to think who we were in a previous life? No, probably not very useful… interesting? hell yes, but probably not very useful in realising our true nature. Hey I used to be King Arthur! lol. I think lots of people used to be King Arthur! lol. But seriously, it is more an asking : Who the hell am I? If I was born, I must have been born out of something, what was that something? I must have always been existing, somehow, in some way, however disparate my atoms were, my consciousnesses were… what was going on? What IS going on? When our face is striped, what lies beneath? And I don’t mean cheek bones and blood! lol.

The questioning goes on and on, and can become relentless. This is good. It almost becomes an attack, like we are attacking our very core. Is there even a core there? When we end up in a state where we have given our brains a bad headache, we may then, out of exhaustion, let it go, drop it and give up. This is where our hearts perk up and look around. Our heart-minds think in a way that is beyond thought, well, beyond cognitive thought anyhow. It is wisdom thought. This is where wisdom is born and resides. And our hearts are born of love and compassion. When we hold ourselves with such love and tenderness, feeling sympathy for our own selves, true love, our hearts burst open and wisdom flows. Some of the stupidest people in the world are some of the wisest. Have you ever noticed that? Some of the smartest people in the world are not so wise at all.

So, I have rambled here, without any sort of goal or intent, to see where my words would end up. So, tonight, on Halloween, I think about that thin veil, and wonder and reflect on life, death, rebirth and what it all means. I have more to say about rebirth and I will talk about this next time, or so the plan goes!

Prostrations

Love, gratitude and faith.

Love, gratitude and faith.

The other night, after meditating in my living room, i looked up and my eyes caught the sight of a buddha statue I have on my fireplace mantle. I felt deep gratitude for his teachings, his love, his compassion for all beings, that I prostrated* before him, his image as a sign of my thanks, my love and my devotion. I realized it has been quite some time since I have prostrated last and I felt a sadness for this….as if I had been ungrateful to an old friend.

My cat took this action as some sort of bizarre unknown act and promptly started attacking my hands during each prostration! I simply let her do this, as it was not a real attack as her claws were retracted and her teeth didn’t dig into my flesh. It was if she was trying to figure out if I was having a seizure or something!

*Prostration is the placement of the body in a reverentially or submissively prone position as a gesture. Typically prostration is distinguished from the lesser acts of bowing or kneeling by involving a part of the body above the knee touching the ground, especially the hands. (from Wikipedia)

Mindful Yoga

What is our natural state? Is such a question unnatural to ask?

What is our natural state? Is such a question unnatural to ask?

What is our natural state? Is there even an unnatural state to discuss?

Humans increasingly are becoming more sedentary in the modern world. We evolved to be active beings, and this ‘natural’ activity keeps us functioning properly. We are not sloths after all! No matter how cool sloths are, our bodies don’t thrive this way.

Yesterday I did some yoga meditation, and was mindful of each movement and tried hard to focus my mind within each movement and also how my body felt in response to each movement. I felt my body feeling a deep gratitude, for lack of a better word, for my actions. It felt as though my body was weeping with joy with being treated with such correct function. An unexpected side effect of my movements was that in each position I would get a flood of vibrant intense colors within my eyelids. (I had my eyes closed the whole time). Each position produced a different color! It was like I was on some kind of drug! lol. When stretching upwards, deep burnt oranges and reds, when facing down, fully down, deep cosmic midnight blue, when my head was down but neck facing up, tropical neon greens. I found it very beautiful yet also distracting from keeping my focus on my movements… However, I also simply,for the most part, incorporated the realising of the colors into the meditation. I was mindful of them.

I was re-reminded how important it is to treat our bodies, not just our minds, with deep love and kindness. I hope to continue to further deepen my practicing, whether it is yoga or zazen. I am buddhist, but sometimes I am not a good buddhist, so I must continue to practice, practice and practice, building to the same intensity as if my hair was on fire. Thank you Dogen.

Human nature

Our blood flows... by who's choice?

Our blood flows… by whose choice?

The human body is a remarkably complex thing. It is amazing how everything knows what to do, when to do it, where to do it and how to do it. Yeah, sometimes our bodies make mistakes, but overall, they are pretty mind-blowing. Our blood knows where to go, what to do, we don’t even need to think about it.! Somethings we can control our bodies with our thoughts, like our muscles… we can decide to pick up a pencil… but some things we can’t control with our minds… like our blood… we can’t override, with our thoughts, the flowing of our blood…. it will flow no matter what you think! lol. Somethings we can take over control, like our eyes blinking…. it happens all the time without our thoughts, but we can also decide to blink if we so choose to. Perhaps we can control much more than we are normally led to believe…. like our blood pressure…. I think our brains have made access to very important things, like regulating blood pressure and heartbeats and temperature, very very difficult, for obvious evolutionary reasons. If we could easily think about stopping our heart from beating, well, that would not be a good thing in the long haul!

So whose body is this that decides for us to beat our heart, to make our blood flow, to breathe in air? Is our brain more a tool for our body than our body is a tool for our mind? That is a good thought meditation right there. Is there a right answer? Perhaps the question itself doesn’t even make sense when it comes down to it.

Mindfulness, or lack thereof!

Tree to trunk to leaves to green back to leaves to strength to focus to autumn to death to rebirth.... thoughts come and go .... but keeping tree as just tree.. how difficult for me!!

Tree to trunk to leaves to green back to leaves to strength to focus to autumn to death to rebirth…. thoughts come and go …. but keeping tree as just tree.. how difficult for me!!

One thing I have noticed is that I am awfully good at following my thoughts, how they arise and disperse and their origins and not becoming attached to them… However, I have realized that I am awfully bad at focusing my thoughts. I wasn’t always this way, I used to be quite good at it.

I recently began an 8-week treatment program to help manage my chronic fatigue syndrome. It is a ‘mindfulness’ course, which is right up my alley, so to speak. After the first session, last week, I realized how difficult it was for me to keep my thoughts focused. It was very interesting. We did a ‘body scan’ exercise, basically a body visualization meditation, where we slowly focused our mind on different body parts, starting with the toes, working our way up to our heads. I was surprised at how my brain reacted to this. I thought I would find it easy to be honest… but it wasn’t… But what was really surprising was how it wasn’t easy…It felt physically difficult to do, not mentally… almost painful to keep my mind focused on each body part… I realized that my brain chemistry has been affected by my condition(s) (I also suffer from sarcoidosis), to a much larger extent than I had realized previously. It was exhausting… draining… like holding up a big bag of potatoes over my head.. It was very odd, but also very illuminating. I think, just like physical exercise, that this mindfulness exercising will prove very beneficial. I think my Zen practice over the years has been much more of ‘no-mind’ practice than anything else… I need my mind back a bit I think! Lol.

This past week or so has been a very eventful one, which I may write more about in the future, but suffice to say it has been a very difficult one to manage. I think the timing of this treatment course I am on has been well placed. Not free will, not fate, but as if many compassionate bodhisattva’s have played their role in presenting it to me. In reality, it could be no other way, as we are all connected, forever throughout time, so I thank them with all my heart and I will try, try, try to guide my light with its correct function.

Solitude

Solitude

Solitude

Sometimes we feel we are all alone, in our solitude, within our own minds, our own hearts, interacting with the world from within our own shell, our own sphere. Sometimes, we feel like this separation is a good thing, it protects us, and hides us and lets us interact on our own terms, in our own time. Sometimes, we feel like this separation is a bad thing, and keeps us alone and cut-off from the world around us.

However alone we feel, regardless if we desire this or hate it, it is an illusion. ultimately, we are never alone, we are never separated from the world and the people we love.

Nothing can completely end, as nothing completely begins, but some changes are traumatic and some changes can never be reversed. Of course, nothing can be changed completely back to what was before, but there are degrees involved. Water can freeze and become ice, and that ice can melt and become water again. The water isn’t exactly the same as it was before, but for all normal purposes, it is the same. But some changes can not swing like water-ice-water. When you burn your piece of toast, that’s it, it isn’t coming back to bread. And these changes are the most difficult to navigate. Yeah, the bread that became toast, it is all still existing, but we cannot have the same relationship we had with the bread that we now have with the toast.

When we are faced in life with the loss of something we love, someone we love, our hearts weep…in this weeping, in this love-action, we may be able to begin to figure out a new way in our relationship with what we lost. Even though we may not know, or even begin to know perhaps, what that relationship is going to have as a foundation, we still can start it growing. Just as a seed can start to grow roots when kept in a damp paper-towel, no ground is yet required. We can start to begin to grow a new relationship without knowing what to hold onto.

Our love and not-knowing mind are our light and the Universe with all beings may smile.

Interfaith Kindness

Wonderful. Now this is news that should be highlighted!

Kindness Blog

February 2011, Egypt: Christians join hands to protect Muslims as they pray during Cairo protests [First two photos]

christians protecting muslims

Christians Protecting Muslims At Prayer During Egypt Protest


October 2013, Pakistan : Muslims form Human chain to protect Christians during Lahore mass [Next two photos]

Human chain formed to protect Christians during Lahore mass

200-300 people formed a human chain outside the St Anthony’s Church adjacent to the District Police Lines at the Empress Road

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Strength

Strength

Strength

Strength … It is expressed in many ways…

Sometimes it is part of the form, part of the design… A tree needs strength to reach for the sun, so it has a strong trunk, a strong base.

However, the most impressive strength sometimes comes from places not expected, from forms not designed, not intended to provide strength.

We all have a strength inside us that comes from somewhere not expected, something that only shows itself when faced with no other choice. Sometimes circumstances put us in this situation, sometimes we can guide ourselves to find this strength.

We can grow and emerge from the strength from deep within, down below.

We can grow and emerge from the strength from deep within, down below.