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That question appeared on my social network feed today, in light of recent clashes with White Supremacists. The question is really better stated as ‘does the Buddhist tenant of non-violence prevent action in the face of violence’.  My answer is that it depends on which Buddhist you are talking to.  There is a Buddhist Philosophy, which I believe mostly stems from the direct teachings of Gautama Buddha, and then there is the Buddhist religion which formed from several Buddhist institutions long after the Buddha’s death.

The leader of the Buddhist religion today is the 14th Dalai Lama – Lhamo Dondrub.  And he has made it clear, that though he and his followers have been violently opposed, he will not respond in kind.  Even though tens of thousands of monks and nuns have been murdered, temples raised to the ground, and he has been driven from his homeland, and the people there that looked to him for protection, he seeks a non-violent resolution.  And I totally agree.  But this is where our viewpoints may diverge.

I don’t think action, even forceful action, is necessarily violent, or unjustified.  I don’t know if you have followed the history of the famous Shaolin Monastery, but they train all of their monks in how to be lethal killing machines, and I have no doubt that they have utilized those skills in the past, and may continue to do so in the present and future, as the need arises.  So, how do some of the most lethal assassins in the world come from a Buddhist monastery?

In the history that I’ve learned (your mileage may vary), at one point in time (or many) China cracked down on the monasteries, because of their vast and desirable land holdings.  Many wealthy individuals gifted their land holdings to the monasteries upon their deaths to ensure a beneficial rebirth in the next life.  As the influence of the monasteries increased the State began to send troops to crush the temples and repossess the land.  The monasteries fought back.  And the monasteries won, because their fighters were not afraid of death, and their attackers could not shake them.

They totally un-nerved the soldiers sent to crush them.  In fact, they were enlisted to train the soldiers how to be better warriors. And eventually, a balance was achieved.  So, by their actions, the monks achieved their objective.

At another moment in history, around 842, Tibet was being ruled by a Tyrant King Langdarma.  Langdarma was bent on destroying the Buddhist faith in Tibet.  He had murdered monks and nuns, destroyed monasteries and outlawed Buddhist practices to the detriment of millions of local inhabitants.  There are a few versions told of what happened next, but the one that I like told of an accomplished monk who stepped forward and joined a royal dance troupe.  The troupe was called to perform for the King and the monk was ready.  He secreted a bow (I’m assuming a cross-bow) and arrows up one sleeve of his robe, and during the penultimate dance, loosened his arrows to kill the King, thereby restoring balance and order to the Kingdom.

Many years prior to that, during the lifetime of Padmasambhava, he was arrested for dropping a boulder off of a cliff and crushing a man.  His defense was that the man had acted against him in a prior lifetime, and had killed him.  His action in killing the man was actually a form of grace, in that it nullified the man’s bad past karma, and would allow him to achieve a higher rebirth in his next life.  The courts agreed and freed him.

So, this begs the question – is violence acceptable in the face of violence?  My answer is still no.  However, if you rephrase the question as – is action acceptable in the face of violence?  My answer would be ‘hell yes!’  And this is where me and the Dalai Lama disagree.

I watched the movie Kundun which purports to tell the life of the young Dalai Lama, and in this movie (which may not be historically accurate) there is a scene where the young (maybe 14 years old) Dalai Lama is summoned to a meeting with Mao Zedong.  In the meeting, they are alone, and Mao manages to successfully intimidate the young Dalai Lama, who then arranges to flee Tibet.

In that moment, while watching this film, I flashed to the scene of the monk killing the Tyrant King Langdarma, who was no worse, nor less so than Chairman Mao.  And it made me wonder if Lhamo Dondrub missed his chance.  If that encounter really occurred, and Lhamo Dondrub had killed Mao, how would the future of Tibet have changed?

Mao killed tens of thousands of people (maybe millions?), caused cultural sterilization, destroyed religions and cultures and historical artifacts.  What if he had been stopped 10 years earlier?  If you weigh the scales of ‘one man murdered versus tens of thousands’, it’s still hard to say.

This is where it comes down to the talk of violence.  I still agree, that violence cannot be used to counteract violence.  That will never end well.  But don’t confuse violence with action.  Violence is a state of mind.  It is action motivated by hatred.  But not all action is motivated by hatred.  Some action is motivated by self-preservation, some by a knowledge of what is ‘right’, some by pure love.  Some years ago, I had to put my dog down, because he was suffering from Lymphoma.  I held him in my arms, while they administered his lethal shot, but I did so with pure love in my heart.

When the monk killed King Langdarma, he wasn’t angry, there was just an injustice that needed to be stopped.

So, are Buddhists wimps?  It depends on which Buddhists you are talking about.  Historically, NO!  Buddhists are pretty bad-assed!

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I love the thought of outdoor showers. Possibly, maybe, because it presupposes that you live in a place where the weather is nice enough to shower outside on a regular basis, and that you have enough distance from your neighbors to preserve at least a bit of your modesty, and that you actually live in a house, and ideally that you’d have a good reason for having an outdoor shower, such as washing off the salt and sand from the beach you were just surfing at. When I think of outdoor showers, I picture something like this:

One of my few complaints about living on a boat is that I don’t even have an indoor shower. Every morning I shuffle off to the facilities on shore and shower there. But that’s not very convienient. And lately it has been hot on the boat… really hot. I get up in the morning and check my thermometer (a gift from the Topnotch Resort and Spa in Vermont), and even at 7 am, it reads 90 degrees, and it gets hotter as the day wears on. I begin to sweat even as I climb down my companionway stairs after just returning from the showers, so, you wonder why you bother! Then, if I do any work on the boat, sanding, varnishing, or painting, I end up sopping wet.

So, at the end of the day, I treat myself to my very own solar-heated outdoor shower:

Also known as a garden hose. Oh, I don’t have the privacy I would prefer, and have to shower in my swim trunks. And I don’t want to soap up and foul the water around the marina. And I can’t control the temperature, but it works out pretty well all the same. You see, the water is fed to the docks through a large black water pipe, and as long as nobody has been out washing their boat all day, the water in the pipe gets pretty darn warm, giving you a comfortable water temperature without wasting gas or electricity! And, if I stand over my rose bush, then I’m recycling my grey water and keeping the landscaping healthy. How ‘green’ am I?!

Who Are You?

Who are you…who are you. Are you Mukuru?

An aboriginal elder queries Richard Chaimberlain’s character David Burton in Peter Weir’s film The Last Wave (aka Black Rain). Burton thought he knew, but he had no idea!

Who are you? Do you know where you leave off, and where everyone else begins? When I took up the practice of meditation, I was instructed to pay attention to the thoughts that passed through my mind during the course of the day; to be ‘mindful’. It was a little overwhelming, discovering just how many thoughts I had, and many seemingly random. ‘I wonder what the price of gold is today’, (I don’t invest). ‘The Red Sox could use a good left-handed starting pitcher’, (I don’t follow sports). ‘Do these jeans make my butt look fat?’, (I don’t have much of a butt). Early on, in meditation, you learn that you are also psychic, and that many of the thoughts you think are not even your own. But which are which?!

‘Know thyself’ is an old saying, but it was a difficult thing to undertake. Most of my adult life, up to that point, I had been involved in close physical/emotional relationships and I couldn’t honestly separate their thoughts, emotions and energy (vibration) from my own.

So I had to make a choice. Do I keep ‘playing house’ or do I seriously give this practice of meditation my full attention? Oh, nobody was twisting my arm, and I wasn’t trying to comply with some ashram rules. It was just a choice that was clear to me at that stage of my life. I chose the latter, because I wanted to know who I was, all alone, when nobody else was around.

I spent three years outside of a relationship, and celibate (though I might have jumped at the chance to break that streak). And during that time, I learned what it was like to live in my own energy, to think my own thoughts; I got to know ‘me’. I found that many of my mundane thoughts were, in fact, my own. But many were not. But most importantly, I learned to like the person I was. I wasn’t perfect, but I tried hard and I meant well. With that knowledge, I could be perfectly happy alone.

Then something wonderful happened. All the fear and insecurity I’d had with me my whole life dropped away. If I was in a relationship, that was great. If I wasn’t, well, that was great too. I found this allowed me to love more deeply than ever before, because I didn’t have to hold back anything. I didn’t have to fear that my love wouldn’t last forever. I knew that it wouldn’t; nothing in this world ever does! I knew to appreciate it while I could, and when it was over, to wish the other well on their way. But the real beauty is that you don’t stop loving them, once the relationship is over. The love is unconditional; it’s not predicated on being in a relationship.

I enjoy being in a relationship. I love the sharing, the intimacy and the humor that springs from human interaction. You can be whole, all by yourself, but you can be even more with others. But I still take time to be alone with myself, to stay in touch with who I am. Because it is this feeling of ‘wholeness’ that makes that level of unconditional love possible.

Vanity

I think I finally ‘groked’ something that had been eluding me for the past several years.  ‘Grok’ if you are not familiar with it, comes from Robert Heinline’s classic sci-fi novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’.  It means ‘to understand something at the deepest level’.

My realization came while stripping the paint and varnish off of the gaff spar of my traditional sail boat.  This is a slow and painful process which can take days and days to complete.

On a wooden spar, they typically paint the ends of the spar with white paint, and varnish the center part.  I noticed that the varnish in the middle part had failed badly and that the wood was discolored and somewhat damaged by water incursion.  The sections that were covered by white paint were pristine.  Oh, there had been a few cracks in the paint, but very little water had gotten in, and the wood is in very good shape.

They paint the ends of the spars with white paint for precisely this reason… the paint holds up better, and longer, to protect the wood.  So, they put paint on the very ends of the spars, where the end grain could act like straws and suck up moisture, inducing the spar to rot from within.

So, why not paint the whole spar white?  Wouldn’t this protect the wood best?  Yes!  The answer, though, is vanity.  Nothing looks prettier than a large varnished chunk of wood.  If you have a boat with large wooden spars, masts, hand-holds, toe rails, hatch covers, a boomkin or a bowsprit, you want to show them off!  And so you spend hundreds of hours (or thousands of dollars) applying coat after coat of clear varnish, so that people can see the beauty of the wood underneath.

The problem is that varnish is short-lived.  Every six months or so, you have to touch it up and re-apply a few new coats.  And, if you don’t, then within a year or two at most, it will totally fail, making it necessary for you to take the piece back to the bare wood (which requires the painful stripping process referenced above) and start all over again.

Unless you have deep pockets, you end up doing most of this work yourself.  And given the amount of time it takes per year, it comes out to roughly ALL THE FREE SAILING TIME YOU HAVE.  So, either, you spend all season keeping your boat looking nice, or, you actually get to take it out sailing once in a while, but then it suffers from the elements.

All for what?  Vanity.  All because varnished wood looks so much better. It’s not better for the wood, or the boat, or your pocketbook, or your social calendar… but for the people standing around looking at your boat; for the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ coming from the assembled masses, and from yourself!

Vanity is one of the Seven Deadly Sins to the Catholics among us, and in Buddhism, it is recognized as a form of attachment, which ultimately brings pain and suffering.  Bingo!  If I were planning to keep my boat for a long time, I think I would paint every piece of varnished wood.  Then sail the boat for a couple of years without having to worry about it.  Touching up paint is a breeze, so I might not ever have to take the piece back to the bare wood again!

However, I’m planning on selling it… so, I won’t.  Some fresh varnish might appeal to someone else’s vanity, sigh.

All the ‘good’ books, tell you to live ‘in the present moment’, which sounds like a really great idea.  But, you can’t help but live in the present moment, because that is where you always are anyway, so, it is impossible NOT to BE in the present moment in ordinary attention.

Though, sometimes, in our present moment, we are reminiscing about the past, or dreaming about the future, you have to consider that this is just a quality of the present moment.  ie, ‘in this present moment I am reflecting upon the past’.  Since this comes so naturally to us, I have a hard time labeling it as ‘bad’.

Personally, I think we have to transcend the present moment.  Sort of fly up and look down upon it from above.  From that vantage  point, you realize that it doesn’t matter what is taking place in your present moment.  There is a larger context to consider.

The only analogy I can come up with is a book.  A book has a first paragraph, and a last paragraph, and several other words and paragraphs and chapters  in between.  As you are reading the book, you are focused in on a particular chapter/paragraph/word of the story (your present moment).  But, the story already exists, in a complete form; the beginning is set, the ending is known, it is sitting there, complete on your desk.  You are just temporarily indexed into a specific section of it.

If you could zoom out and see the book on your desk, you’d know that every word is important to the paragraph, and every paragraph to the chapter, and every chapter to the book.  And, there are all sorts of crazy things happening in all of these chapters, some good, some bad… but they are all part of the overall plot.

We can’t say that any behavior in the present moment is good or bad, because we don’t yet know the whole story.  It could be, that in Chapter 3, it is necessary to reminisce about the past, so as to fill in the back story of the plot so that Chapter 4 makes sense.

The really interesting thing is that this story we are living has an infinite number of endings.  At every moment, every decision we make branches down a different logic path and a different group of possible outcomes is selected.  This is ‘Free Will’ in action.  We’re choosing our path through the story line… but we can’t make a wrong choice.  Every possibility has already been factored in… simply put, some stories will end more happily than others.

So dream of the future, or reminisce about the past, or walk through the beautiful woods and smell the air in the present moment!  But whatever you do, pay attention to the story.  That is all that is important.  Don’t drift off and live life, like it is the TV, playing something in the background that you are not really paying attention to.

I’m continually amazed at the power of the human mind.  Its ability to process data and discern minute details is unparalleled.  Cray, the largest maker of super-computers (at least at one point in history), made computers that filled an entire room, took thousands of gallons of cooling fluids, all to process data at a fraction of the speed of the human mind.  Granted, their super-cooled CPU’s didn’t get bored.

I get bored sometimes, and when I do, I might play video games.  I’m not much into the violent stuff, but I like the stuff that challenges your hand-eye coordination. One program I liked (for the XBox-360) was Pro Gotham Racing.  I liked this partially because many of the race courses were modeled after neighborhoods in the 5 boroughs of NY that I know so well.  It’s an extra-special treat when you get to race an exotic sports car down a city street you have driven down in real life, in a regular car.

Sometimes, you’d be challenged with a race that would just kick your butt.  And so you’d restart, and it would kick your butt again and you would restart again, and so on and so forth for far too many hours.  But… if you stuck with it, that great little brain we have, would start to notice minute patterns.  In one race, I noticed that I got further, if on the very first turn, I crashed into the rear of the leading car (effectively taking them out of the race).  In fact, you couldn’t do well at all in that race unless you took out the front-runners on the first turn.  I don’t know how I arrived at those conclusions (lie, yes I do, trial and error over multiple restarts), but they proved to be true.  (full disclosure… I never buy the cheat-books… that would spoil all of the fun).

I find that this gaming mindset spills over into other areas of my life.  I program computers for a living, and the same faculty that helps me figure out what to do correctly, in a game, is the one that helps me figure out what is wrong with a computer program… or, my car, when it breaks down by the side of the road.  I don’t know how I do it, but its a little like those CSI videos, where you sort of ‘gaze’ inside to see how the bullet entered into the victim and nicked the aorta, you just know where the problem is coming from.

They say we only use about 10% of the capability of our minds.  I’m thinking it is maybe less!  Through the practice of meditation, I’ve learned that there is a way of directly ‘knowing’ something, without taking the ‘long way’ around through logical understanding.  There was a great book that I read several times when growing up called ‘A Wrinkle in Time’.  In the book, they gave this analogy… they said ‘imagine that you have a string stretched between the fingers of your two hands.  And, imagine that an ant walks across the string from one hand to the other.  It is a long way that the ant has to crawl.  But, if you were to bring your hands together, the ant could step from the start point to the end point without traversing the middle.’ (not an exact quote, I’m just remembering here).

We are used to the scenario where we start off not knowing something, then we get a bunch of books, do a bunch of reading, then eventually, we learn something.  But what if that wasn’t the only way to learn?  What if you could suddenly just know something, like in the movie, ‘the Matrix’, when they download a Kung Fu program, or a Helicopter Pilot program?

Well, in fact, it is possible!  The human mind is a much more capable beast than we give it credit for.  The only reason we don’t see this is that we don’t believe it is possible… we don’t test the envelop!  If you study with an advanced teacher… or study on your own, but seriously read the works of the advanced teachers, then you might experience this.  What happens is that they touch your awareness and download a ‘block of attention’ to your mind, just like downloading a zip file of some incredible research paper to your computer’s hard-drive.  In formal lingo they call this the ‘direct transmission of the dharma’.

By itself, that zip file sitting on your hard-drive is just taking up space.  If you don’t attempt to unzip it, or access it in some way, it’s not going to do you any good.  But, if you put your attention to it, you can gain access to the contents.  So, if an advanced teacher transmits a block of attention to you, you won’t immediately know what to do with it.  But, if they have at least given you an idea of the subject of the knowledge they gave you, then you will start to read the books, and do the background research on the topic… and then, this is when the magic kicks in… as you begin to acquaint yourself with the basics, you suddenly grasp the deep esoteric meaning of the topic… you unzip the zip file!  It is all plain as day!  It is as if you had always known this knowledge, but you’d forgotten it and had just remembered!

Wow!

People who learn how to harness this power of the mind may advance very quickly. It takes focus and hard work, but the payoffs are immense!  If you are not decoding the secrets of the Universe, then either you are not taking advantage of the power of your mind, or you are focusing it in the wrong direction.  I mean, it is nice to know the optimal way to cache the CBS video player’s content over a slow connection (Survivor/Amazing Race – hint, pause the player while it is playing, pausing while it has stalled will cause problems), but there are far more interesting things you could be comprehending!

Willpower

Why do some people accomplish more in life than others?  Why are some more adept at achieving what they desire?  Why do some people cause more change in the world?  Willpower.

Willpower is an enigma.  Everybody knows what it means.  They know how much, or how little they have.  They recognize it in others.  But it’s not something you can weigh; not something you can measure.

Willpower is exactly as its name implies.  It is Power, directed by the Will.  If you have little Will, or little Power, then you have little Willpower.  Those people who do have a lot of Willpower, have a tremendous desire that they want to fulfill (the Will). And, somehow, through the practices of their life, they have amassed a large amount of kundalini energy (the Power) to help them achieve that goal.

Perhaps they meditate, perhaps they practice martial arts, or selfless giving.  Maybe, they just lead a very tight life, without wasting a lot of energy.  They might have moved into a home located on or near a power spot.  They may have made friends with powerful people or teachers who could transmit their energy to them.  They may have been a powerful person in a previous incarnation.  There are many ways to gain power.

Ghandi had great Willpower, as did Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa. Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hitler and even Donald Trump have all had tremendous Willpower… the difference, of course, is the desire each wished to fulfill.

If your desires are for good, then Willpower will help elevate your spirit, and help you change the world in a positive way.  If your desires are for evil, then the opposite may occur.  And, if you are just ordinary, with selfish desires, then you will likely achieve what you wish for, but it won’t make you very happy.  In which case you join the ranks of what they call ‘the hungry ghosts’; beings with a huge appetite that can never be sated.

The navel chakra is the center for Willpower.  If you meditate on this chakra,  you will release a tremendous amount of energy that you may then use to achieve whatever you desire.  When you wish to apply your Willpower, you project a line of energy from your navel center to the navel center of others, and then direct the full force of your will into their energy body.  The stronger your power, the stronger your will, the easier it is to ‘push’ another being into doing what you want.  Don’t look so surprised… you already know precisely how to do this.

If you practice meditation and self-discovery, you are no doubt well aware of this. After beginning my meditation practice and becoming more and more sensitive to energy and chakras, I was shocked at how often people projected their Willpower at me, to control me in some way.  You’re driving down the road and someone pulls up on your rear bumper, and suddenly you feel them willing you to move out of their way.  You go into a restaurant and the waiter is pushing hard to sell you on the special of the day and your navel center starts to burn.  You want to do almost anything to make it stop.  So, what do you do?

Like anything, your reaction generates karma.  You could get angry and push back, hard. But then you end up angry, and someone ends up hurt.  Or you can summon your own power of will to match it, and remain unmoved, locked in a battle of wills… and while  you may win or draw, you’ll still lose a lot of energy in the process.  The best approach is to note what is occurring, decide if it is appropriate to respond and do so if necessary, but if not, then remove yourself from the equation; change lanes, excuse yourself from the conversation, or go ahead and order the special of the day if you don’t really care.  In this way, you’ve made your own conscious choice about what to do, and yet you’ve retained your energy.

When you become sensitive to the Willpower of others pressing in on you, you will also become aware of how often you press your Willpower in upon others.  We all do it to some degree, but it is a question of how much you do it, and what your ultimate intention of doing so is.  If it is for your own selfish gains, or to hurt others, the power will kick back at you and drive you into lower states of awareness.  But to use your power to help others achieve their goals, or just leave them alone entirely and focus on doing things for yourself, that will lead you into higher and higher states of awareness… and success, in all you do!