Posted in buddhism

Goodness

Basic Goodness


This is a term that was coined by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1980s. I really like this term. It was his reframing of the concept of Buddha Nature. He wanted to express it in a way that was easier for everyone to grasp. Buddha Nature might make us start picturing Buddha statues or spirits or something and that’s the wrong idea. If the terminology we’re using to talk about our own true nature that’s always present in us starts making us think of things outside of us.

The simple idea is that we’re good, that we have a kind of dignity and virtue that is fundamental to our being.

Our true nature is awake and free, all the things we want to be. Our struggles come, not from fundamental flaws in our being, but from attachments and delusions…ultimately things that are temporary. I like to think of the things we struggle with as clouds and our Basic Goodness as the sky. These things are going to come and go, although sometimes it sure seems like they stay for a long time.

 So, there are times in life when we know what the right thing to do is and we don’t do it. We all have that experience, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. What I want to encourage you to do is ask yourself, “Am I coming from my true self right now?” Once we realize that the way to be authentic is to make the right choices, then hopefully that can motivate us a little. Do you want to be real or fake?

That’s a tough question.

By the right thing, I mean doing whatever causes the least harm to ourselves and others. I’m going to talk about basic goodness in regards to ourselves because at times in regards to others it can be a little harder to see what the best choices are.

It’s with that in mind that I want to talk to you about a very simple thing. Flossing. We all know we’re supposed to floss, that it’s good for our personal care. It’s also easy and doesn’t take very long.  But most of us simply don’t do it. We just don’t. I have floss sitting on my bathroom counter and I don’t use it every day even though I know for certain that I should. When I do use it I’m doing the right thing for myself and my personal care. I’m coming from a place of Basic Goodness.

And I really want to compare flossing to meditation practice.

I was leading a meditation gathering and at the end someone asked me, “How often do you do it?” And I replied, “I wish I could say every day, but I can’t. I want to do it every day, but I don’t, it’s close to every other day.” And that was the truth. Meditation is something that I know is good for me. It improves my well being in all sorts of ways. But, for no reason, I don’t do it every day. I just don’t want to, like flossing. When I do go meditate, I’m coming from my true self. Making yourself meditate when you don’t really want to is coming from Basic Goodness. It’s doing the right thing for yourself

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Posted in buddhism

Another Way of Doing Things?

I went to St. Louis to sight-see with my girlfriend last year. It’s only a few hours away, really. It was the city my father came from. It’s the city where I was born. We moved when I was still very young, before I was old enough to start school.

I went there to try to visit my dad’s favorite places. And also to see a few things around the city, like the giant eyeball in the sculpture park (totally awesome). We tried to go to my dad’s favorite bar, where I remember playing shuffleboard as a kid. But it had transformed into a sports bar and, alas, the shuffleboard wasn’t there anymore. (is the table you play shuffleboard on called a shuffleboard? I don’t know.)

And we ate at one of his favorite restaurants, Hodak’s, where they gave us far too much food.

While we were there we visited the St. Louis Shambhala Center.

We wanted to experience something different, something not available here in Kansas City. We don’t have a Shambhala Center here.

And I was recognized there, for the first time, as a Dharma teacher. A woman from the center said, “Aren’t you Daniel, from Daily Dharma Gathering? I love your talks.” I couldn’t believe that happened.

Am I a D-list Buddhist celebrity?

That doesn’t sound right.

Anyway, that’s not really the point of this story.

The point is this.

I entered that room in the Shambhala Center and saw a breath of fresh air. First of all, the room. The “shrine” was a really simple table with some glass on it and water. It was not this big ornate thing. It was just simple and nice looking. The guy that led the meditation was just a dude in a sweater instead of robes. His name was Tobias.

He gave a little instruction and we sat. Then we did walking meditation and he talked to us about keeping our attention on what we were doing. He talked a little bit about what Shambhala is and who Chogyam Trungpa was. I remember him saying, “That’s a picture of Chogyam Trungpa, he’s dead.” with incredible emphasis on those last two words.

(My girlfriend remembers a little bit less emphasis, but still a weird amount.)

Then, we all sat in a circle and took turns reading aloud from “Turning the Mind Into an Ally” by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

And then we left.

Now, why the hell did I tell this story?

Am I declaring that I’ve become a Shambhala Buddhist? No.

But I am saying this. I spend a lot of time worrying that maybe we’re doing Buddhism wrong, that we’re focusing on the wrong things sometimes. I wonder sometimes, why isn’t this more down to earth? Why am I looking at an elaborate shrine and people in robes?

Does this help me relieve the suffering of myself and others?

And why are we bowing and droning in monotonous chants, sometimes in foreign languages?

What if there’s a better way of doing things and we’re missing it?

Not too long ago a friend said to me, in the context of how we practice Buddhism, “I’m really not interested in pretending I’m something I’m not.”

When we cling to these old forms, are we pretending to be something we’re not? When we take on a foreign name? Or wear robes?

I just want to be real.

I wonder if things would be different if a kind of homeless Buddhism had emerged in the west, as people like Alan Watts and Jack Kerouac envisioned. I imagine a Buddhism that isn’t tied to things like lineage and tradition.

I think we, as modern Buddhists, should be taking a good hard look at the things we are doing. Some things we’re doing because they help us cultivate compassion and wisdom. But other things we’re just doing because that’s the way it’s always been.

Are robes and chants and lineages and talks about rebirth and spirits helpful to us on the path?

If they are for you, that’s fine. They aren’t for me.

 


 

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Posted in buddhism

Basic Goodness

 

I like the Buddhist idea of Basic Goodness.

It’s a term that was coined by Chogyam Trungpa, who was trying to present Buddhist teachings in a way that would resonate with westerners. It represents the same thing, essentially, as the Buddha Nature concept. It’s about our true nature, who we really are.

The teaching is quite simply that you are good enough.

This contrasts with other belief systems that describe humanity as somehow broken or flawed, that teach that we’re rooted in sin and wickedness. This is not to say that we’re perfect, of course no one is. That’s not the point.

The point is that you’re good. I like to think of it like this:

You are the sky. All of your emotional baggage and neuroses and insecurities, that stuff is all just the weather. Regardless of how bad the weather is, behind all the clouds the sky remains untouched. We hold onto these delusions that prevent us from seeing our true nature, that keep us rooted in suffering. The core of these delusions is just not seeing ourselves as we really are, and not seeing the world around us as it really is.

Language is important here, because we tell ourselves all sorts of stories. You are not an angry person. You are a person who sometimes experiences the emotion of anger. See the difference there? I’m expressing the same point, but the tone is a lot different. I’ve shifted it by saying that your anger (or sadness or neediness, or even happiness, whatever) doesn’t define you. We aren’t defined by these things unless we decide to be define by them.

I can and do make all sorts of mistakes, but still, at the core of my being is basic goodness. No flaw, however great, can take away from that.

We all carry around emotional baggage, but it’s not who we are. We let our baggage define us too much. I can think of myself as two divorces, mommy issues, and social anxiety. Or I can think of myself as good, as someone who is simply experiencing this baggage, rather than someone who is defined by it.

 


 

 

 

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Posted in Uncategorized, vajrayana

I Don’t Do Visualizations

I attend a local Rime (nonsectarian) Vajrayana Buddhist Temple and I love it. I go to as many events and retreats as I can and I volunteer for a few duties, including teaching classes. My community means a lot to me.

This means I’ve been on retreats with Vajrayana teachers multiple times (sometimes Theravada and Zen teachers visit too). I like Vajrayana teachers, I really do. I find the bowing and chanting and bells and drums to be interesting and entertaining.

I have to admit the big focus on rebirth is something I don’t connect with at all. I am, by nature, skeptical of such things in a way that most of the people in my community are not. And that’s okay. That’s definitely on the list of reasons I give when people ask why I have trouble thinking of myself as a Vajrayana Buddhist. But that’s not what I’m writing about now.

I’m writing about visualization practices. I’m confessing that I don’t really do them.

A point comes where the teacher says something along the lines of: “Imagine a glowing ball of clear light directly in front of you.” or “Picture a Buddha sitting up here in front of you, looking upon you with eyes of compassion.”

These sound like lovely practices and they are. But I have trouble. And I wonder if I’m the only one. I sit there trying to picture clear light for 20 minutes. Sometimes I do for a little bit, but I always end up giving up and going to following the breath or zazen instead. And I often wonder, “Are the other 40 or so people in this room doing this without difficulty? Am I the only one?” and “When people say they connect with Vajrayana practice, is this what they mean?”

I have friends who are deeply involved in Vajrayana practice. They are engaged in dedicated study with a good teacher. They do visualization practices and I don’t think they struggle with them at all.

On a final note I want to say something about Trungpa. I almost consider Chogyam Trungpa as one of my teachers. I consider him a patriarch of American Buddhism. I’ve meditated in his stupa. I’ve studied his teachings a great deal. But there’s only so far I seem to be able to go with the training he set up.

Visualization meditations are a huge roadblock for me and at the higher levels of his teachings, that’s really not something you can get around.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

What’s the Difference Between Zen & Tibetan Buddhism?

Zen is my favorite Buddhist tradition and I think everyone knows that. But, I am part of a non-sectarian Tibetan Buddhist community, and I love this community very much. I volunteer there and I teach classes there.

But sometimes people—especially people who follow my writing—ask me questions about Zen.

An entire book could be written on the subject, I’m sure. But I will answer as briefly as I can so that it’s not so long that no one reads it.

Here in the West Zen and Tibetan style are the two most well known branches of Buddhism.

Tibetan Buddhism is really well known. This is largely due to the popularity of the Dalai Lama and the efforts of Chogyam Trungpa, and there are other factors as well. But worldwide, Tibetan Buddhism is actually not all that common. It’s usually considered the smallest branch of Buddhism, even with all of it’s different lineages. It only seems big here. There are branches of Buddhism like Pure Land that are really common in Asia, but have barely taken root here.

Zen, on the other hand, is common here and worldwide as well. It’s been here in the West longer (since the late 1800s at least) and it’s taken root in a lot of places.

So, here we go.

Zen really emerged as a distinct sect when Buddhism entered China and Buddhist ideas merged with some of the Taoist philosophy that was already there. Tibetan Buddhism emerged when Buddhism entered Tibet and Buddhist ideas merged with the religion that was already present—a shamanic religion called Bon—that included a lot of things like nature spirits and ancestor worship.

Because that’s what Buddhism does. It mingles with whatever cultures are there already. Buddhism adapts to local conditions in a way that other religions don’t always. It’s a very versatile spiritual path.  Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism both have several different lineages that emphasize different things, so I can only really write about this in broad strokes right now, although I may go deeper in a later article.

The really short answer is this: Zen Buddhism is minimalist and Tibetan Buddhism is much more elaborate.

Zen meditation is mainly about following the breath as well as emptying the mind. It also includes a few deeper things like meditative inquiry and riddles. Tibetan meditation often includes things like mantras and visualizations and concentrating on really complex thoughts.

Tibetan Buddhism is more what we would think of as religious. There are a number of divine beings and Bodhisattvas that are talked about, visualized, and even prayed to. There are also very complex rituals and prayers. Zen Buddhism has rituals too. Practitioners are expected to bow a certain way and enter the temple a certain way, but things are just a less complicated.

And how are they similar?

They both talk about lineage. Who your teacher was matters a great deal. They both emphasize Buddha nature—the teaching that we are Enlightened already—we just have to realize it.

I don’t think one is better than the other. They are both authentic forms of Buddhism. If you like elaborate ritual, then Tibetan style is probably right for you. If you don’t, then Zen might be a better choice.