Tuesday
Jan232007

Transformation Takes Time

956849-644374-thumbnail.jpgChanging our habitual ways of doing thing takes time. But in a a society that wants instant gratification, this is a tough concept to accept. We don't like to wait. We don't have the time to be patient. We have a lot to do, and we expect quick results.

But effecting lasting change takes time. Do not have expectations of achieving a lot quickly in your practice. In fact, do not have any expectations at all. Start from where you are, and learn gradually how to put the teachings into practice by starting with the things that are easier to change.

As you begin to improve in little ways, you will gain the confidence and experience to know how to change in more meaningful ways. This changing and improving of yourself will take time. Understanding this, give yourself the time you need.

Monday
Jan222007

Better Than Uncontrolled

Better it is to live one day
wise and meditative
than to live a hundred years
foolish and uncontrolled. 

Better it is to live one day
strenuous and resolute
than to live a hundred years
sluggish and dissipated. 

The Dhammapada
translated by Venerable Buddharakkhita 

Sunday
Jan212007

Is Buddhism a Religion?

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This question comes up periodically. I also discuss it periodically, but then something is said somewhere by someone and the question comes up again. For some, it's not an issue. But for those who have a religion, viewing Buddhism as one can become problematic. How can you learn to practice another religion when you already have one that is working for you? Others who do not have a religion may have made the conscious decision not to have one. Why should they accept one now ?

So how does Buddhism fit into such a picture? Is it or isn't it a religion?

Once, the Buddha was asked if he was a god. The Buddha replied that, no, he was not a god. Then was he an angel? No. A spirit? No. Then what was he? The Buddha replied that he was awake. So by his own assertion, the Buddha was not a god. He was a man who had awakened to universal truths—to the Dharma.

What about our meditating on a Buddha's name? Isn't that a religious practice? No, it is meditative concentration. In Pure Land practice, we chant "Amituofo," the name of a Buddha, to focus our thoughts on him, to become one with him. Whatever we are focusing on, we are.

For example, I could chant "peace," or "compassion," or "unconditional love." I wouldn't be worshiping peace or compassion, I'd be meditating on them—focusing my thoughts on them to quiet my mind and to develop these qualities. Whatever I think, I will become.

By focusing on the name of a Buddha, in this case on the name of the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life, I am focusing on perfect peace, compassion, unconditional love, and all the other perfect virtues of a Buddha. I am not worshiping these virtues, rather, I am trying to perfect them in myself by having them in my mind. 

So our practice is not the worship of the Buddha or his name. We practice to awaken to the truth.  

Saturday
Jan202007

Guilt and Regret

"I wish I had not said that to him." "If only I had made her go to the doctor sooner." "I could have been nicer and more patient with him." "Why didn't I tell her I loved her more often."

Perhaps you have had these or similar thoughts. After our loved one dies, we may find ourselves rethinking things we said or did not say. We may become frustrated and possibly feel guilty for what we did or did not do while they were alive. We can get entangled in "I should haves," "I could haves," and "if onlys."

Are we judging ourselves too harshly and unrealistically? Human beings are not perfect. No matter how hard we've tried, things may occur to us after the death that we wish we could go back and change.

It is important to understand the differences between guilt and regret. We feel guilty if we intended to hurt or harm someone. We feel regret if we did something we wish we could change, but we did not mean to harm or hurt our loved one.

Our guilt or regret can teach us to do better now and in the future. It can make us more positive and caring people. There are some things we can do to make amends and to make us feel better about what has happened:

  • Write a letter-to the-person who died to say-the-things­ that you need to say to them or to apologize.
  • Tell those who are still alive that you love them and care about them. Say "I'm sorry" when you need to.
  • Forgive yourself. Tell yourself over and over that you did the best you could at that time and under those circumstances. It is likely the person who died would forgive you for your unintentional mistakes and shortcomings. Say it as often as you need to.
  • Forgive the person who died. Our loved ones were not perfect either. Forgiving them allows you to find peace.
  • Do kind things for others in your loved one's name.

With time our guilt and regrets fade. Our burden lightens and we are able to put our feelings in perspective.

~ Reflections, Issue 2 2007, Publication of The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care 

Friday
Jan192007

They Do Work

956849-786785-thumbnail.jpgIn a new class this week, a young man asked how he could use Buddhist principles in daily life. After all, he wasn't a monastic. He lived in the real world, a world filled with deadlines, competition, and people who didn't agree with him.

What a wonderful ice-breaker!

Once I quit laughing, I explained that my life has many deadlines, human nature is rife with competition, and we monastics also have people who don't agree with us. I explained I had been working since 7AM and had eaten my meals at my computer. Actually, it was two computers since I was making CDs of a talk for the Amitabha Buddhist Library in Chicago on my desktop while doing my other work on my notebook.

With all this, I really did have a good idea of the world he lived in. And I also had a good example of how Buddhist principles can be successfully applied in the workplace.

A good friend recently told me of a situation where he realized someone had made a mistake in quoting a price on something. Instead of taking advantage of this situation and purchasing the commodities at the wrong price, he called the individual and asked if he had not made a mistake. The individual had and very grateful that my friend had called him, immediately adjusted the price so it was correct.

My friend could have made a lot of money for his clients. The price was there. He would simply be buying at the stated price. But he didn't because doing so would not have been "right." It would not have followed the teachings of the Buddha. My friend is trusted by this individual and has a position of responsibility that is unique in his company. He holds that position because he is ethical. He works in the securities industry in Singapore. About as real as the workplace world gets.

In this real world of deadlines, competition, and egos, my friend manages to do what is right. It hasn't hurt him. In fact, he is doing very well. He has a successful career and rests easy knowing that his success comes from both skill and character.

Even in the "real world" the principles in Buddhism work.