Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Atom Bomb

Every time I try and explain the process of coming around to the church again, I feel like I need a chalkboard or something. Seriously.

I guess the best imagery I can think of right now, aside from a noodle-work of thought processes drawn out on a blackboard, is what goes on inside an atom bomb. I'd ask you to imagine you were watching atoms split and collide with each other, and those parts in turn colliding with others... and we all know the end result, but in my analogy I would call it Enlightenment.

I have an affinity with this Buddhist term. I'm sure this is not the first time you've heard me use it. But, I feel like I have thrown this word around carelessly. Because it means much more than just a deep realization of truth. The concept of Enlightenment is one that endlessly intrigues me, but one that I feel inept to explain. My post/transcription on "Rousing Bodhichitta" doesn't mention the roots of the word, bodhi means Enlightenment, chitta means mind. The sense in which enlightenment in my last post is simply learning, gaining knowledge. But the deeper meaning of enlightenment requires much more than simply realizing a truth, it is attained after overcoming hate, greed, and delusion. This is not exactly what I meant when I said I was on "a path to enlightenment", because the thought of being greedy is not flattering; of being hateful, I felt relatively light on the scale; on being delusional, I was delusional--thinking I was quite possibly the ONLY one in my right mind.

Now I am realizing just how very hateful and delusional I have been. I'm not saying that I have attained nirvana, or "ultimate enlightenment", I realize that I have not overcome ALL hate, greed or delusion. So, I am still on my path to Nirvana. ;)

I guess I got kinda side-tracked there.... Back to my atomic bomb analogy-- with the warning that I am totally ignorant when it comes to chemistry and physics (or whatever else is involved). Misnomers aside, I'm trying to describe how a million different things--all happening simultaneously--resulted in the bottom line; the *BOOM*.

The atoms represent individual bits of concept. My own query for knowledge was the initial free neutron that collided with these concepts. The first atom with which I collided was the LDS church. having divided the church into concepts, two more free nutrons were formed, which represent the understanding I took away from my collision with the church.

Those free Neutrons then collided with other concepts, the theories of Buddhism, and then existentialism. Those, too, were divided into my understanding, and application of those concepts in my life.

At the same time as the string of events I just described were happening, I was also experiencing a few other things for the first time. I moved out on my own about this time, or a little after. I was experiencing freedom of choice. Before, my mother had, for lack of a better term, perfected the art of coercion, and any relevant choices I made were influenced by external motivation (If I wanted A, I would have to do B, or else C; or if I did A, then B, until C.) I suppose this is how parents operate. But I think my mom had become much more focused on getting her way, than the relevance of the issues at hand. It eventually became the coercion I am speaking of, because I was being made to do things that only served her purposes, and failed to consider the impact it would have on me. Looking back, I can't say as I blame her. I only mention it to give you some understanding of my new sense of freedom.
I was free to be dirt poor; to look for a job, or not; to call home, or not; to go to church, or not. I didn't have to answer to anyone. Kinda a interesting realization, knowing you can make your own choices. I was 17. I was living about 3 hours away from home, in the college town where my sister was living. I got my first cell phone, my first housing contract... etc.

I was going to church, but I wasn't participating (I actually had a calling as building coordinator) beyond a social perspective. About this time I was starting to take a look at what I defined as Spirituality. All my life, I had understood spirituality to include faith and testimony, or love of the gospel. all things which I didn't feel I possessed. I also investigated my concept of what it means to feel the spirit. The best I could come up with was that I was supposed to feel some physiological sensation. The closest thing I could compare it to was getting the chills, as when someone says something really profound. But when I thought more on it, I realized that I got the same sensation when listening to music, even instrumental rock like Jeff Beck - Angel(footsteps). I arrived at the conclusion that this was just an physical response to strong emotion, and had nothing to do with some external spirit "bearing witness", which explains the whole movers and shakers scene in religion pretty well. Logically, I guess there was really only degrees of this same phenomenon in all religions, depending on each one's perception of how it "should be". Mormons obviously are more subdued than protestants or seventh-day Adventists, and therefore their concept of the Holy Ghost is also more mild. Same with "speaking in tongues".

When I became keen on existentialism, it sparked a personal philosophy of total humanism. Although, generally, the philosophy of existentialism raises the question of the existence of God to practitioner (if the practitioner has not already arrived at a conclusion about it) I was and have always been pretty certain that God exists. I considered myself a "theistic existentialist", which most consider to be an oxymoron. It made sense to me though. I reasoned that whether god existed or not, I was going to be a good person based solely on the fact that I knew what was right and wrong. I wasn't going to be "god-fearing" because that was an external motivation; to please someone (god, or fellow man), or to avoid judgment(again, by God, or fellow man). I believed (and still do, to much extent) that "it is the thought that counts". In other words, if I behave a certain way, but feel differently in my heart, then no amount of performance will justify my thoughts.

This was pretty much the philosophy that I operated by for the past 5 years or so. I expanded it, and applied it in many different aspects of my life, but the theory remained much the same until last year. when I decided to quit trying to make sense of the LDS church. This led to an attempt to define my relationship to this God that I could not reason didn't exist. I decided that there must be a God, a source of knowledge, a creator, but that he was not an intervening God. In short, I decided that someone had started the top spinning, and He was content to let it play out without helping it along. I was now a Deistic Existentialist...

Just a few months ago, this was my mindset. And I was motivated by anything that inspired me to be a better person, as long as it was not external motivation. I had, at this point, rejected organized religions as support groups for people who could not make sense of their lives, or could not come to terms with the inconsequence of their existence, or rather, the absence of a grand scheme. I was looking anywhere BUT the realm of religion for attributes that I wanted to have--a humanistic approach to life that centered around understanding, and compassion. However, the religious crowd didn't fall under the category of people who I felt understanding or compassion toward. I felt instead that they lacked understanding (of "reality"), and I couldn't muster compassion for anyone who was that obstinate. Overall, I still had love for them as individuals, though this was a skewed perception of them, because my compassion was compelled by the idea that they were simple-minded.

Thanks for reading. I didn't say the tenth part of what I wanted to in this post, but I don't want to chase you off with my long-winded explanations. Next time I'll pick up right here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rousing Bodhichitta

This is a transcription of a seminar called Pema Chödrön. I think it has some good points, some that have become very true in my life lately. Here are a few excerpts.

"...It's very traditional at the beginning of teachings--especially for Tibetan Buddhist teachers to encourage their students to "Rouse Bodhichitta" SO I'd like to say a little bit about what that means....

"... it's main topic, actually, is how to work with you own mind, and live your life in a way that you develop and begin to open, so that you can be of true benefit to other people. it's how to live in such a way that with your actions and your words, you can help others. And just by the model of your life, that you could inspire other people. How to wake up yourself, so that you could support other people in finding their own ability to wake up from any kind of ignorance, from any kind of hard-heartedness, from any kind of self-absorption--to help people do that.

"And so it's said that, when you "wake up" like that, the path of the Bodhisattva is very connected with this subject of Bodhichitta.

"Simply put... it's said, traditionally, that virtuous actions have virtuous results. And one kind of traditional or classic, virtuous action is to "listen to the Dharma"--listen to teachings that resonate with a deeper part of you, that somehow inspire you out of, maybe some kind of narrow, small perspective, and resonate with a part of you that can stay open. resonate with your open mind--unbiased, unprejudiced mind-- and resonate with your open heart.

So, when we say "Rouse Bodhichitta"... virtuous actions such as listening to the Dharma have virtuous results such as less emotional upheaval, results such as being able to keep your heart open in increasingly difficult situations. It's said that when we act in an open-hearted way--what's called traditionally "virtuously"-- then the result of that is that we ourselves are becoming more compassionate; more sane; have a better sense of humor; are more flexible, these kind of things.

"...this really means that you have the longing to be able to share with other people, your good fortune. That rather than--- you know, when things lighten up for us, either outer conditions or emotional stuff, you know, we want to horde it for ourselves and we might begin to get very stingy about--not feeling all that generous. Arousing Bodhichitta is a sense of immense generosity where you actually wish for other people to have the same good fortune as you.

"...beginning to cherish anything good in your life, the warmth of a shower if, you like to take showers.... or you might have a lot of worries on your plate, but there's still some sweetness in every day of everybody's lives-- some kindness that is extended to you; some kindness that ,you extend to other people. Arousing Bodhichitta has the feeling of wishing that good fortune to be shared by other people. And sometimes the most powerful way to do that is to think of particular people that you know who are particularly messed up--or suffering extremely--and you wish for those people to have some of this good fortune that you have. Even these moments or seconds of good fortune, you wish for these other people to have it.

...Arousing Bodhichitta at the beginning of a teaching is making the aspiration that anything that you learn... any lightness of your load, or more "cheered-upness" or sense of inspiration, that you want to share it. You want to share it with the people who need it--who don't have the good fortune that you have. So that's the notion of Arousing the Bodhichitta; it's like a longing to want to share the wealth with other people, so he more you understand what the word "open-heartedness" means, then the more you want to share that understanding--not just the understanding, but the experience, you want other people to have that experience. Or the more you have the experience of an unprejudiced moment, you know, where you are engaged with someone, and you can drop your biases and just listen openly to them--the more you have an experience like that of open-mindedness the more you know the value of it.
and then Bodhisattva what is to want other people who don't have that, to have it.

"...this is the idea... rousing your longing to share with other people any kind of wakefulness; any kind of openness, actually an kind of inspiration, or tenderness of your whole life--wishing for it to spread out and benefit other people.

"So, that's a very very simplistic, non-intellectual description."