Thursday, December 28, 2006

When you've seen beyond yourself
then you may find
peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come
when you see we're all one
and life flows on within you and without you

The Beatles

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hijāb and niqāb

Today, my husband and I were at Barnes & Noble and saw a woman wearing an abaya (loose, long-sleeve, full-length robe), ħijāb (headscarf) and niqāb (facial covering). It was, I think, the first time I had seen a woman in public in the U.S. wearing the full complement of traditional Muslim ħijāb.

I confess my first response was negative. First, I felt badly for the woman. She had a young child--perhaps a year old--in a stroller and the child was screaming, and she could not get the baby to stop crying. Would the baby have been more easily soothed if it could see its mother's face?

I wondered if she wore the ħijāb and niqāb by choice, or if she was compelled by her male relatives or community to dress in this way. I feel strongly that people should have the freedom of choice, and felt that if she truly chose this manner of dress freely, then I should have no reason to pity her. For a number of years I worked with a young woman (an Eastern European immigrant who converted to Islam) who wore loose-fitting long sleeves and skirts with her ħijāb, and I respected her choice to wear such garments as a reminder of the Islamic rules of modesty. However, to think that a woman might be forced (by custom or otherwise) to wear the ħijāb and niqāb bothers me.

I was also reminded of a Florida court case a couple of years ago in which a Muslim woman sued the State of Florida because they would not allow her to wear her niqāb in her driver's license photo. (She lost the case when a Florida appellate court ruled that the state could legitimately require her to show her face to a camera in a private room with only a female employee to take the picture, in exchange for the privilege of driving.)

As my mind filled with negative thoughts of the niqāb-clad woman, I reminded myself of the Bodhisattva Vow, and that my wish for her should be the same as my wish for all other beings: that she be happy and free of suffering, niqāb or no niqāb. I hoped that somehow she could sooth her upset child, and in whatever circumstances she lived, that she would be content, shielded from hatred and protected from harm, and warmed by feelings of lovingkindness.

With metta,


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saturday, December 09, 2006


We human beings are not separate from the universe.
Those galaxies are not merely distant--they are distant cousins.

Gerald Grow

I found some software that can be used to create mandalas. I have made several so far (all in a very convenient 1024 x 768 size, perfect for wallpaper) and will post my favorite ones on this blog.

Friday, December 08, 2006



(I made this mandala. I hope you like it. Namaste.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Letting go

Two monks were at the edge of a river they wished to cross when a woman approached them. She said that she probably wouldn't be able to cross on her own and would appreciate some help. The younger of the monks remained silent and let the more established practitioner speak - he said that yes, he could carry her across.

He did so without much fanfare and bid her farewell on the other side of the river. Then the younger monk exploded. The older monk had been defiled by touching her! He'd renounced sex and yet had his hands all over that woman! That went directly against his vows! The older monk calmly replied: "I put her down a long time ago. Why are you still carrying her?"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Introspection is the key to the door of wisdom

We lead a contemplative life, but that does not mean we sit in meditation all day long. A contemplative life means that one considers every aspect of what happens as part of a learning experience. One remains introspective under all circumstances. When one becomes outgoing, with what the Buddha termed "exuberance of youth," one goes to the world with one's thoughts, speech and action. One needs to recollect oneself and return within. A contemplative life in some orders is a life of prayer. In our way it's a combination of meditation and life-style. The contemplative life goes on inside of oneself. One can do the same thing with or without recollection. Contemplation is the most important aspect of introspection. It isn't necessary to sit still all day and watch one's breath. Every move, every thought, every word can give rise to understanding oneself.

Ayya Khema

I love Ayya Khema. She is, along with Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh and Lama Surya Das, among my favorite Buddhist teachers. She passed away in 1997, but she wrote twenty-five books during her eighteen years as a nun in the Theravadin tradition. I recommend her 1998 book Being Nobody, Going Nowhere. A survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, she speaks with a gentleness and compassion that could only come from one who understands the journey from suffering to acceptance.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cultivating joy

"How do we cultivate the conditions for joy to expand? We train in staying present. In sitting meditation, we train in mindfulness and maitri [lovingkindness]: in being steadfast with our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts. We stay with our own little plot of earth and trust that it can be cultivated, that cultivation will bring it to its full potential. Even though it's full of rocks and the soil is dry, we begin to plow this plot with patience. We let the process evolve naturally.

At the beginning it is just a feeling that joy is workable. We stop looking for a more suitable place to be. We've discovered that the continual search for something better does not work out. This doesn't mean that there are suddenly flowers growing where before there were only rocks. It means that we have confidence that something will grow here."

Pema Chödrön

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Bodhisattva Vow

The Bodhisattva Vow is the commitment to put others before oneself.

It is a statement of willingness to give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment, for the sake of others. And a bodhisattva is simply a person who lives in the spirit of that vow, perfecting the qualities known as the six paramitas—generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and transcendental knowledge—in his effort to liberate beings.

Taking the bodhisattva vow implies that instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in.

Chögyam Trungpa

(From The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa, Volume Three, edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian. © 2003 by Diana J. Mukpo. Published by Shambhala Publications.)

Friday, November 17, 2006


"Move beyond any attachment to names."

Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened because of some disagreement about names.

It's such an unnecessary foolishness, because just beyond the arguing there's a long table of companionship, set and waiting for us to sit down.

What is praised is one, so the praise is one too, many jugs being poured into a huge basin.

All religions, all this singing, one song.

The differences are just illusion and vanity. Sunlight looks slightly different on this wall than it does on that wall and a lot different on this other one, but it is still one light. We have borrowed these clothes, these time-and-space personalities, from a light, and when we praise, we pour them back in.

Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207—1273)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Four Immeasurables

May all living beings have happiness and the causes of happiness;
May all living beings be free from misery and the causes of misery;
May all living beings never be separated from happiness, devoid of misery;
May all living beings abide in equanimity free from prejudicial attachments and aversions.

- Buddha Shakyamuni

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The sacred lotus

The lotus appears frequently in Buddhist teachings. Why is the lotus such a powerful symbol?

The sacred lotus, nelumbo nucifera, grows in marshy areas. Its roots cling to the bottom of the pond or stream in which it grows, while its petals floats on the surface of the water and its flower sits atop the stem a couple of centimeters above the water.

The lotus flower, therefore, symbolizes purity of mind. By practicing the Eightfold Path, the practitioner can elevate her mind above the muddy quagmire of suffering. We should all seek to be like the lotus, remaining aware of the pain of existence and yet rising above temptation, hatred and greed to express the natural beauty of compassionate consciousness.

May each of you bloom like the lotus...


Sunday, October 29, 2006


How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.

George Washington Carver

Or, as the saying goes, there but for the grace of God goes I.

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Udana-Varga 5.18

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mindfulness and non-attachment

Don’t tire your mind by worrying about what is real
and what isn’t,
About what to accept and what to reject.
If you want to know the One,
let your senses experience what comes your way,
But don’t be swayed and don’t involve yourself in what comes.
The wise man acts without emotion
and seems not to be acting at all.
The ignorant man lets his emotions get involved.
The wise man knows that all things are part of the One.
The ignorant man sees differences everywhere.

Gatha of Seng T'san, Third Chan Patriarch

Monday, October 16, 2006

Marriage and non-attachment

Disclaimer: I was married before I began learning about Buddhism, and I am very happy as a married person, so perhaps the following analysis is biased.

Non-attachment is often spoken of as a Buddhist ideal. The Dalai Lama said once that attachment is the "root of suffering." If non-attachment and equanimity are the pavingstones of the road to nirvana, then how can it be beneficial to get married?

I think that non-attachment is too often interpreted to as indifference and detachment. Non-attachment does not mean that one must have no love or connection to any thing or being, but rather that such love or connection should be open, accepting and non-differential. It does not mean that you walk into the ice cream shop and tell the girl behind the counter, "I'll take anything." It means that one must be willing to enjoy a scoop of black cherry on a cake cone if the store is all out of mint chocolate chip and waffle cones.

So, what does that have to do with a marriage? A marriage relationship should be a partnership of equals who respect one another's space, physically and otherwise. It is OK if one partner likes tennis and the other does not, as long as the tennis-loving partner can go play a few sets without the other partner feeling bad. It's no problem if they do not share all of the same friends, so long as each respects the other and the couple can strike a balance in how they spend time with friends and with each other.

My brother boasted to me some time ago that he and his partner had been together every day over the course of their six-year relationship. He told me this with the expectation that I would be impressed by it, but I had the opposite response. I thought it was a little sad and unhealthy. I have asked my brother out to dinner, etc., only to have him decline or (worse yet) cancel at the last minute because his partner didn't want to go. This surprised me. I always thought that there is nothing wrong with a partner going out for an evening with a friend or relative without the other person. It does not make one disloyal and it does not mean the former is abandoning the latter. I believe my brother's relationship with his partner is one laced with possessiveness and unhealthy degrees of attachment.

My husband is going to Boston (we live in Florida) for the weekend to visit his father and a couple of old fraternity brothers. Ordinarily I would go with him, but I have commitments at work that I must keep. While I will miss his company while he is gone, I do not feel jealousy or sadness that he is going. I am glad he can go even though I cannot join him. I believe that this is good, because it indicates that I can love without possessiveness.

Anyway, I have wondered about the idea of marriage and its compatibility with Buddhist principles of non-self, non-attachment and equanimity.

I welcome comments - please!

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is not something that is done once, but something that all Buddhists should do as a matter of daily living. The Three Jewels--Buddha, Dharma and Sangha--are the cornerstone principles of Buddhist practice and in them, one finds refuge, an escape from the cycle of suffering called samsara.

Lately I have been very busy with my work, and while I never violated any of the precepts, I stopped my daily practice of mindfulness meditation and in general lived less mindfully. Exhausted by the stress of daily life, a couple of weeks ago I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I had moved away from the refuge of the Three Jewels. I had not been studying the Buddha's teachings, and I had ceased developing myself as a dharmasattva, a wise being. I had found myself disconnected from other dharma students who form my loosely-organized sangha.

Realizing the damage I was doing to myself physically, spiritually and mentally by neglecting my practice, I have come back to the refuge of the Three Jewels and assumed again the daily practice of mindfulness meditation.

So what I'm saying is that refuge is not something one does once, when one recites the three-pronged vow, but rather something one does again and again. One can stray and return, as I have.

At the foot of the Bodhi tree, beautifully seated, peaceful and smiling, the living source of understanding and compassion, to the Buddha I go for refuge.

The path of mindful living, leading to healing, joy, and enlightenment,
the way of peace, to the Dhamma I go for refuge.

The loving and supportive community of practice, realizing harmony, awareness, and liberation,
to the Sangha I go for refuge.

I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart, I vow to realize them.

I vow to practice mindful breathing and smiling, looking deeply into things.

I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, to cultivate compassion and loving kindness,
and to practice joy and equanimity.

I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon. I vow to live simply and sanely, content with just a few possessions, and to keep my body healthy.

I vow to let go of all worry and anxiety in order to be light and free.

I am aware that I owe so much to my parents, teachers, friends and all beings.

I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly, so that understanding and compassion will flower, and I can help living beings be free from their suffering.

May the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha support my efforts.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Nirvana and Vedic fire physics

I just read the most amazing book entitled The Mind Like Fire Unbound by Thannisaro Bhikkhu. It's available free online here. It's an essay (about 115 pages in print) that explains what the Buddha meant when he described nirvana as the extinguishing of a fire.

Thannisaro argues that it is misleading to interpret the Buddha's fire analogy using modern ideas about the physics of fire (ignition, fuel, oxygen, etc.). Instead, we need to look at how people in India understood the physics of fire in Buddha's time. The Vedic theory of fire held that the essence of fire never actually dies, but rather is latent and omnipresent everywhere, becoming active and visible to us when it is "agitated" and "attaches" or "binds" to a fuel source (dried grass, oil, wood, fat, etc.). A fire goes out when the essence of fire unbinds or detaches from the fuel source.

Thanissaro points out that the very origin of the term nirvana points to this interpretation. In ancient Sanskrit, the prefix nir meant "not" or "un-" and the word vana meant "bound" or "attached." Consequently, nirvana should be understood as the unbinding of the mind, which causes the fires of passion, delusion and ignorance to flicker and die out.

A more abstract aspect of his argument goes to the idea that the state of nirvana is not unlike that of inactive fire, latent and omnipresent, undescribable and indeterminate. When asked to describe the nature of nirvana after death, the Buddha consistently described it as undescribable.

Anyways, I can't do justice to Thanissaro's argument in a short blog entry, but I highly recommend that you check it out. It's nothing short of brilliant and excellent fodder for contemplative meditation.


May we all be unbound from the fire of samsara.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reincarnation (cartoon)

This is not, strictly speaking, an accurate statement of Buddhist principles, but it sure is funny.


"Suffering" and the Four Noble Truths

Most translations of the Four Noble Truths refer to "suffering."

Although I am hardly a scholar of Pali or Sanskrit, it seems to me that, at least insofar as these translations are targeted towards Buddhists in the English-speaking west, it might be better to use a different terminology.

In contemporary English usage, "suffering" has the connotation of physical pain or discomfort. Of course, the Buddha was referring to mental and spiritual suffering or anguish as well as physical pain.

The Sanskrit term dukkha connotes insufficiency, inadequacy, imbalance, uneasiness, impermanence and imperfection:

In classic Sanskrit, the term dukkha was often compared to a large potter's wheel that would screech as it was spun around, and did not turn smoothly. The opposite of dukkha was the term sukkha which brought to mind a potter's wheel that turned smoothly and noiselessly. In other Buddhist-influenced cultures, similar imagery was used to describe dukkha. An example from China is the cart with one wheel that is slightly broken, so that the rider is jolted now and again as the wheel rolls over the broken spot.

[from Wikipedia]

If one must translate dukkha into a single English word, perhaps it is better to think of "dissatisfaction" or "discontentment" rather than "suffering."

If I was trying to explain the Four Noble Truths to a non-Buddhist, I would explain it like this:

  1. Life is inherently unsatisfying. Nothing lasts forever. All things must come to an end. Even those things we believe are lasting are in fact fleeting. Everything around us (and within us) has a beginning and an end.

  2. There is a reason life is unsatisfying. Our dissatisfaction arises from our mistaken belief in the continuity of things around us.

  3. There is a way to overcome such dissatisfaction. If we can learn to live in a way that is mindful and accepting of the impermanence of things, then we will no longer feel so unhappy and unsatisfied.

  4. One can overcome dissatisfaction and achieve nirvana by living in accordance with the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is a set of practices that enable us to live more mindfully so that we feel at peace with the impermanent nature of the universe.

I think too many non-Buddhists hear the word "suffering" and immediately think that Buddhism is pessimistic and bleak. Perhaps by using a different, less negatively connotative terminology we can give English-speaking Westerners a clearer picture of the Four Noble Truths.

Or perhaps it is better not to translate dukkha into a single word and instead to try and define it contextually.


I'm back!

I let myself get a little too carried away by my work obligations and I have neglected myself spiritually.

I am back on the wagon (which looks a lot like a dharma wheel) and back into blogland.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

A voice of reason

Time out in the fighting

From Ha'aretz

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said yesterday that Israel will not allow Hezbollah to man positions close to Israel's border. This criterion is justified and logical, and it should be set as a goal for the current operation in Lebanon.

Israel cannot and should not come to terms with a blatant violation of its sovereignty, along either the Lebanese or the Gaza borders. The launching of Qassam and Katyusha rockets at Israeli citizens in Sderot and the Galilee is unacceptable; the sole question is, what is the best way of stopping them.

After the government has authorized the Israel Defense Forces to use massive force and marked dozens of targets for attack in Lebanon - the Beirut airport being only the first, according to Interior Minister Roni Bar-On; after Lebanon has been placed under siege from land, sea and air, and after dozens of civilians have been killed, it would not be a sign of weakness for Israel to declare a time-out in its military assault in order to allow the Lebanese to reach their own conclusions.

If the aim is really to drive the Hezbollah forces from the border, it is possible that an agreement on this issue can already be reached by the relevant parties. A time-out in the military operation, accompanied by the threat of continued action, could produce immediate results, before civilians on both sides of the border pay the price of escalation.

The operation in Lebanon must have a limited goal, and it should not aspire to alter the reality there and deter the enemy "once and for all," as Bar-On said - whether that enemy is Hezbollah, Iran, Syria or Hamas. It is easy to draw up exaggerated aims and spew statements filled with arrogance and valor, but once things have been said, it is very difficult to take a step back to more moderate and reasonable positions.

The army failed both at Kerem Shalom and on the northern border. Hamas' ability to dig a long tunnel and surprise an IDF outpost on alert, and Hezbollah's ability to surprise a patrol along the northern border two weeks later, should not spur a disproportionate operation that is meant to restore the army's prestige. The IDF must first learn its lessons at the unit and command levels, chastise itself for being overly complacent, and ensure that such failures, which have the potential to fundamentally alter the situation through possible escalation, do not recur.

Professor Eyal Zisser, an expert on the Middle East at Tel Aviv University, said yesterday that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is a reasonable man who can make a deal and stick to it, and that it is possible even at this early stage to ask that his forces withdraw from the northern border in exchange for a cessation of the military operation. Those in charge of assessments for the IDF, who misled the government into thinking that Hezbollah would not act against Israel after a soldier was abducted to the Gaza Strip, may think otherwise - but there is no guarantee that they are right.

Israel has a very powerful military, and everyone in the region understands this. But even when there are grounds for employing force, the military's full power should not be used, no matter how justified the action may be. If it is possible to achieve our security goals through diplomacy, a temporary cease-fire should be declared - and hopefully, these aims can be achieved without inflaming the entire region.

Israel, Lebanon and the cycle of violence

I and the people know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done,
Do evil in return.

W.H. Auden

Today my heart is sick and sad. How many more will die before the right of all people to live quietly in peace is respected?

In November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the British Mandate in Palestine into an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state:

"The vote on partition was taken at 5:35 P. M. Representatives of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, four of the six Arab member states, announced that they would not be bound by the Assembly’s decision and walked determinedly out of the Assembly Hall at Flushing Meadow. The Egyptian and Lebanese delegates were silent but walked out, too."

(From the New York Times, November 30, 1947 - article available here)

The Arab war on the putative Jewish state began immediately. Two days after partition, Arabs rioted in Jerusalem, killing two shopkeepers and attacking a synagogue and an ambulance en route to a hospital. Over the next two months, the violence escalated into a full-blown siege of Jerusalem: telephone lines between Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine were severed and because the roads into the city were unpassable, food, water and other vital supplies became scarce. (The siege was not broken until June 1948.)

So began a cycle of violence that has continued unabated since 1947, killing untold thousands of people, resulting in the destruction of countless homes and businesses, and leaving an entire people refugees in their own land.

Today I pray that someone has the wisdom and the strength to do what others could not do, and stop the cycle of war and suffering the has plagued the "Holy Land" for so long.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Carrie's Colorado-style Buffalo Chili

Okay, so I've not posted in a while. It's been really crazy the last few weeks, with visiting relatives and a crushing workload at the office, so I've been remiss, I know. I can't come up with any brilliant meditative thoughts tonight, but I did come up with a great recipe for chili.

  • 3 cans of beans (kidney, pinto, red or black), drained and rinsed in a collander
  • 24 oz of crushed strained tomatoes (Pomi makes a great product)
  • 1-2 cans of Rotel diced tomato with chiles, drained
  • 1 lb of ground grass-fed/hormone-free buffalo (or lean ground beef), browned
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Fresh cilantro (to taste)
  • 1 packet of Goya Sazón with Coriander and Annatto
  • 1 tsp chili powder

Mix all ingredients in a pot and simmer on medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes. Do not allow the chili to boil. The slow simmer will allow the chili to develop its own rich gravy.

Health notes: Rinsing the beans and draining the Rotel eliminates most of the salt from these canned products. I highly recommend using buffalo: buffalo meat has more flavor and less fat than beef, and grass-fed buffalo is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and iron than beef (and without the risk of BSE that exists with industrially-raised beef).

Namaste, and bon appetit!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Impermanence on a global scale


The Five Worst Extinctions in Earth's History

Here are details of the five worst mass extinctions in Earth's history and their possible causes, according to paleobiologist Doug Erwin of the Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of Natural History. Erwin said estimates of extinction rates are from the late John J. Sepkoski at the University of Chicago:

Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, about 65 million years ago, probably caused or aggravated by impact of several-mile-wide asteroid that created the Chicxulub crater now hidden on the Yucatan Peninsula and beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Some argue for other causes, including gradual climate change or flood-like volcanic eruptions of basalt lava from Indias Deccan Traps. The extinction killed 16 percent of marine families, 47 percent of marine genera (the classification above species) and 18 percent of land vertebrate families, including the dinosaurs.

End Triassic extinction, roughly 199 million to 214 million years ago, most likely caused by massive floods of lava erupting from the central Atlantic magmatic province -- an event that triggered the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. The volcanism may have led to deadly global warming. Rocks from the eruptions now are found in the eastern United States, eastern Brazil, North Africa and Spain. The death toll: 22 percent of marine families, 52 percent of marine genera. Vertebrate deaths are unclear.

Permian-Triassic extinction, about 251 million years ago. Many scientists suspect a comet or asteroid impact, although direct evidence has not been found. Others believe the cause was flood volcanism from the Siberian Traps and related loss of oxygen in the seas. Still others believe the impact triggered the volcanism and also may have done so during the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. The Permian-Triassic catastrophe was Earths worst mass extinction, killing 95 percent of all species, 53 percent of marine families, 84 percent of marine genera and an estimated 70 percent of land species such as plants, insects and vertebrate animals.

Late Devonian extinction, about 364 million years ago, cause unknown. It killed 22 percent of marine families and 57 percent of marine genera. Erwin said little is known about land organisms at the time.

Ordovician-Silurian extinction, about 439 million years ago, caused by a drop in sea levels as glaciers formed, then by rising sea levels as glaciers melted. The toll: 25 percent of marine families and 60 percent of marine genera.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


I found out last night that someone close to me is HIV+.

This person ("Peter") and his partner ("Sam") have been together for about 4 years, so presumably Peter acquired the virus before he met Sam. Peter is in his mid-40's, so he was a young gay man during the early days when HIV/AIDS was killing so many and the medical community was helpless to stop it. Sam, on the other hand, is not quite 30, so he grew up in the 1980s and became sexually active in the early 1990s, by which time everyone knew that HIV was transmitted through sexual activity and that the use of condoms could greatly reduce the risk of getting HIV. Sam told me last night that even though he and Peter had only had "safe" sex perhaps 5 or 6 times over the course of their 4+ year relationship, he is not HIV+, at least for the moment.

Horrible as it may be, my first reaction was, "How stupid could you be?" As a young gay man in the early 1980s, Peter had a front-row seat to the carnage of HIV/AIDS and knows first-hand what the disease can do. Sam, on the other hand, learned about "safe sex" as part of the birds and bees, and can't say he didn't know that the risk existed and how to reduce it.

When I asked if he and Peter were going to take proper precautions at this point, Sam said, "Well, it depends on what we're doing." Again, I was incredulous. I can't imagine doing anything to hurt my husband. If I knew that I could potentially expose him to an ultimately lethal virus, I would do everything in my power to keep that from happening. I do not understand why Peter would not insist as a matter of course that he and Sam use condoms so that Sam does not get HIV. And why is Sam so lacking in the instinct of self-preservation (never mind common sense) to insist on this for himself? I don't understand!

When my husband and I were dating, before we had sex, we talked about our respective sexual histories. In our case, each of us had been in only one other significant relationship and had only slept with one other person. Furthermore, as frequent blood donors, we had been tested for HIV and had always tested negative.

Are we unusual in this regard? Don't other people do this before they hop in the sack without a condom? I guess I am just naive, but I would have assumed that Peter and Sam (1) would have had some discussion of their past sexual histories and (2) used a condom until they had (3) both tested HIV-negative.

I know that what is done is done. The past cannot be unwound and rewoven into a new present. And the future cannot be known, so all we can do is mindfully and with lovingkindness live in the present moment, which is really the only moment we have. But that said, I do not believe that one should blindly and recklessly live in the present moment without regard for the consequences of one's actions. And in a way, that looks like what has happened, and is happening, for Peter and Sam.

I feel as if my reaction is compassionless, and I feel bad about it. But right now I feel less sadness and more of a swirl of incredulity and anger. I want the best for Peter and Sam. I love them both. I do not want them to suffer. But I cannot help but look at this situation and think that these two men have not done what they reasonably could to avoid the pain of this situation.

Any thoughts?

. . .

In my own experience, the period of greatest gain in knowledge and experience is the most difficult period in one's life. ...Through a difficult period, you can learn, you can develop inner strength, determination, and courage to face the problem.

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hejse til Danmark

I'm off to Denmark, everybody!

I'll be keeping a (handwritten) diary and I'll share my experiences when I return.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Buddha's Birthday

Today is Vesak Day – the day popularly celebrated all over Asia as the Buddha’s birthday.

Today, Buddhists all over the world commemorate three great events: The birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. As Buddhism spread from India to all parts of the world, the teachings were readily assimilated with the cultures of the people who accepted the teachings. As a result, Buddhist art and culture took on a rich variety of forms with profound gentleness and kindness as the Buddha expressly forbade the use of force. The practice of Buddhism was adapted in many ways to suit the nature of the various cultures that accepted it. As a result of this, Vesak is celebrated in many different ways all over the world. But in essence many practices have become universal. This sacred day is purely a religious festival, and not a festive occasion. On this day all Buddhists are expected to reaffirm their faith in the Buddha Dhamma and to lead a noble religious life. It is a day for meditation and for radiating Loving-Kindness.

Today, devout Buddhists are expected to assemble in various temples before dawn for the ceremonial hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Devotees may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction. Devotees are enjoined to make a special effort to refrain from killing of any kind. They are encouraged to partake of vegetarian food for the day. In some countries, notably Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for the celebration of Vesak and all liquor shops and slaughter houses are closed by government decree during the two days. Birds and animals are also released by the thousands in a symbolic act to liberation, of giving freedom to those who are in captivity. However, it is not recommended that birds be released in the heart of crowded cities, because by doing so we may cause harm to the poor bewildered birds which are unable to fly far after a long period of captivity. Unscrupulous bird dealers would recapture such birds for resale to well meaning devotees. If birds are to be released it is recommended that this be done in rural areas where the birds can achieve real freedom. Some devout Buddhists will wear a simple white dress and spend the whole day in temples with renewed determination to observe the observance of the Eight Precepts.

On this day monks will recite verses uttered by the Buddha twenty-five centuries ago, to invoke peace and happiness for the Government and the people. Buddhists are reminded to live in harmony with people of other faiths and to respect the beliefs of other people as the Buddha had taught.

Celebrating Vesak also means making special efforts to bring happiness to the unfortunate like the aged, the handicapped and the sick. To this end, Buddhists will distribute gifts in cash and kind to various charitable homes throughout the country. Vesak is also a time for great joy and happiness. But this joy is expressed not by pandering to one’s appetites but by concentrating on useful activities such as decorating and illuminating temples, painting and creating exquisite scenes from the life of the Buddha for public dissemination. Devout Buddhists also vie with one another to provide refreshments and vegetarian food to devotees who visit the temple to pay homage to the Blessed One.

The Buddha himself has given invaluable advice on how to pay homage to him. Just before he died, he saw his faithful attendant Ananda, weeping. The Buddha advised him not to weep, but to understand the universal law that all compounded things (including even his own body) must disintegrate. He advised everyone not to cry over the disintegration of the physical body but to regard his teachings (The Dhamma) as their teacher from then on, because only the Dhamma truth is eternal and not subject to the law of change. He also stressed that the way to pay homage to him was not merely by offering flowers, incense, and lights, but by truly and sincerely striving to follow his teachings. This is how devotees are expected to celebrated Vesak: to use the opportunity to reiterate their determination to lead noble lives, to develop their minds, to practise loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.

From Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Destination: Denmark

Sunday I leave for an 8-day trip to the western (Jylland) region of Denmark.

I probably won't be blogging very much while I'm gone, but I hope to have some interesting things to say when I get back.

Namaste, everyone.

Monday, May 08, 2006


The local college kids from the University of Central Florida graduated last week. I saw a group of them at a restaurant and it made me think of that song, "Everybody's Free," by Baz Luhrman, that came out a few years ago:

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be IT.

The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded. But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

You are NOT as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself, either. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance. Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings; they are your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography in lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Moussaoui: response to Tom

Thanks for your comments, Tom.

Regarding (1), the problem was that to prove conspiracy, you have to show an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. If I know that my neighbor is going to commit murder, legally speaking, that knowledge alone does not make me a co-conspirator. Now I agree, morally, I would have an obligation to step forward. However, our legal system protects due process of law by requiring more than immoral thoughts. Immoral actions (or, sometimes, inactions) make one legally culpable.

2) I agree that it was a jury that acted yesterday, but I believe that what the jury did is not an isolated incident. I do not think that one can impute the immorality of our government's actions upon the people as a whole. I believe the American people are starting to wake up to the immorality and injustice being carried out in their names. And I think the jury's actions might be an indicator of that.

3) I wear my seatbelt, too. But I think the "freedom" to go without a seatbelt is quite a bit different than the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, religion, etc. that are protected by the First Amendment. If given the choice between warrantless searches and preemptive, blanket wiretaps on the one hand and a graver risk of terrorist attack, I'd take the risk. But as the USA Patriot Act shows, we've invested a lot of energy in constructing a freedom-gobbling police state infrastructure to protect us from the risk of terrorism. The thing is, 45,000 Americans die in car accidents every year, well over half of whom are alcohol-related. But I don't see the kind of hell-bent enthusiasm about car safety and drunk driving that we see invested in the "War on Terror."

Thanks again for your comments, Tom.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

America, you won

Updated: 7:25 p.m. ET May 3, 2006

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui escaped the death penalty Wednesday as a jury decided he deserved life in prison instead for his role in the bloodiest terrorist attack in U.S. history. “America, you lost,” Moussaoui taunted.

After seven days of deliberation, the nine men and three women rebuffed the government’s appeal for death for the only person charged in this country in the four suicide jetliner hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

Three jurors said Moussaoui had only limited knowledge of the Sept. 11 plot, and three described his role in the attacks as minor, if he had any role at all.


Moussaoui was wrong. Today, as a result of the jury's decision to sentence him to life in prison, America won. The sentence is a triumph of compassion, integrity and restraint over anger, hatred and revenge.

I will not launch into a lengthy dissertation about the death penalty, which I felt ambivalent about for many years and now oppose.

But I will say that this was the right decision for three reasons:

1) It shows that we are a nation of reasoned justice, not mob justice. Executing Moussaoui for failing to step forward with knowledge of the 9/11 plan would have been a revenge killing, intended not to punish him for what he did but to avenge the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent lives taken in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

2) It prevents us from sliding farther down the slippery slope of giving up civil liberties in exchange for perceived security. Speaking for the moment as a lawyer (I can't help it), it is worth noting that, had Moussaoui been given the death penalty, it would be the first time in the history of American jurisprudence that someone was executed for an act of omission. Remember, Moussaoui was charged with six counts of conspiracy, and the basis of the government's recommendation of the death penalty was that had Moussaoui (who was incarcerated on September 11, 2001) stepped forward and told authorities about the plot, the attacks would not have occurred. He would not have been executed for what he did, but what he didn't do.

3) It shows the world that we cannot be shaken from our core principles, even in the face of danger. In Israel, the day after a suicide bombing, the markets are full of shoppers, the buses are full of riders, and the sidewalk cafes are full of diners. Israelis refuse to allow the risk of terrorism--which happens there every couple of months--to change their way of life. So, too, by adhering to the principles of due process and trial by jury, we have shown the other peoples of the world that we will not be driven to barbarity by the threat of barbarity. Our commitment to our principles should be unwavering.

I hope that the Moussaoui sentence is a bellweather, a sign that we Americans are finally waking up and realizing that, if given the choice, it is better to be more free and less safe than less free and more safe.

May freedom ring!


Sunday, April 30, 2006

Do no harm

"Do not take lightly small misdeeds,
Believing they can do no harm:
Even a tiny spark of fire
Can set alight a mountain of hay."

- Patrul Rinpoche

Carrie's baked crab cakes

These crab cakes are baked, not fried, and so are quite healthy, low in fat and high in protein.

Any kind of crab meat will do.

I used blue swimming crab (Portunus pelagicus, pictured here), which is widely available in U.S. grocery stores.

1-1/2 lb. crab meat
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
3 eggs, slightly beaten
5 Weetabix biscuits, crushed OR 1/2 c. bread crumbs

Combine first five ingredients in bowl and mix well.

Add enough Weetabix/bread crumbs to shape mixture into 3" diameter cakes.

Coat with additional Weetabix/crumbs, if desired.

Place on a baking sheet and bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden, flipping cakes over once during cooking. Makes 8-9 servings.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, Spain.

The Wikipedia entry says, "The bombing of Guernica was an aerial attack on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War by the German Luftwaffe squadron known as the Condor Legion against the Basque city of Guernica. It was the first aerial bombardment in history in which a civilian population was attacked with the apparent intent of producing total destruction."

Guernica was the first instance of the heartlessness of the modern air war. Sadly, such atrocities continue to this day.

So today, thinking of Guernica, Dresden, Hiroshima, Bagdhad and all the other cities and towns all over the world that have endured the horror of death from above, let us live mindfully that there may someday be peace in all of our hearts.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My little mindfulness frog

So this evening I was running around the house (which is still not quite completely unpacked, even though we've been in the house a couple of months now), looking for my purple fleece jacket which I need for a business trip to Denmark in early May. (Hva', because early May in Denmark could still be a wee bit chilly, ja?)

I went out the front door to look in my car, and was surprised to see a familiar little face seeking shelter from the rain:

He was just about where he was the first time I saw him, a few weeks ago, clinging with his (her?) amazing little feet right next to the latch on our wrought iron gate. He must like that little place.

For a few moments, he looked right at me as if to say, "Shhh...enjoy the rain. Denmark and the jacket can wait."

Sort of like a mindfulness bell, one glance at my little mindfulness frog and I snapped out of my hurried haze back to the moment.

What a beautiful frog! What a beautiful spring shower! What a nice cool evening! These things are real, but transient. I should appreciate them while they last.

So, whenever the harried haze comes over me, I will try to think of my little mindfulness frog.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Letting go, step by step

Don't cling to anything and don't reject anything. Let come what comes, and accomodate yourself to that, whatever it is. If good mental images arise, that is fine. If bad mental images arise, that is fine, too. Look on all of it as equal, and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don't fight with what you experience, just observe it all mindfully.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Can faith foster social justice?

"'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; I needed clothes and you clothed me; I was sick and you looked after me; I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25)

This morning's Meet the Press featured a fascinating discussion among a half-dozen religious leaders of various faiths talking about faith and politics. Of course, Buddhism was not represented, but several of the guests did speak about changing the focus of American spirituality away from the destructive politics surrounding issues like abortion, gay rights and genetic research and towards more basic principles of lovingkindness, compassion and social justice.

I was impressed by three of the speakers in particular: Rabbi Michael Lerner (Jewish), Sister Joan Chittister OSB (Catholic), and Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Muslim). All three encouraged Americans of faith to turn their attention to addressing poverty, social inequality, environmental destruction, corporate greed and the erosion of civil liberties in the United States. While all three declined to characterize the United States as "a Christian nation," they each argued in favor of reaching out to the less fortunate in ways that are more "Christlike."

I came away from the program feeling a little more hopeful that there are social progressives among all of the world's faiths. If people of all spiritual paths can come together out of love and compassion and treat others with lovingkindness and compassion, then perhaps we can begin to rid the world of the grinding poverty, ignorance and suffering that foments so much violence, injustice and disease.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Seeking stillness

"You tell me to stand still, but I am not walking," he shouted, "whereas you who are walking say you are still. How is it that you are standing still but I am not?"

The Buddha turned round. "My legs move but my mind is still," he said. "Your legs are still but your mind moves all the time in a fire of anger, hatred, and feverish desire. Therefore, I am still but you are not."

-Majjhima Nikaya

Stillness of mind does not come easy to me.

My husband says I am a bit of a "Type A" personality: goal-oriented, serious, etc. In my pursuit of doing the right thing and doing it well, I tend to think myself into a tizzy. "What if...? If only I had..." You know what I mean.

In the last two years I have learned to recognize these twitchy, anxious "habit energies" (Thich Nhat Hanh's term) and steer my thoughts towards calmer, more wholesome thoughts. I still feel the habit energies, and feelings of worry and self-criticism still bubble up from time to time, but I have learned ways to control my thoughts, rather than let them control me.

Interestingly, meditation is a way to practice calming my native habit energies, and the more I practice finding stillness, I improve my zazen sessions and the overall level of happiness in my daily life.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Freedom bracelet

Support Tibetan Buddhist nuns in exile in India and show your support for the plight of the Tibetan people ...

Buy a Tibetan Freedom Bracelet here!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Carrie's keema recipe

This is my variation of the traditional Indian dish of ground or minced lamb in a curry gravy.


1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced carrots
1 cup diced baby red potatoes
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 lb ground lamb
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 can young green peas
1 cup water
1 tsp Mild red curry paste *
1/4 tsp Thai green curry paste *
1 packet Sazón seasoning "con culantro y achiote" *

* Available in the "ethnic" food aisle at your local market


1) Add oil to hot skillet and coat surface evenly.
2) Add ground lamb and cook on medium-high heat until meat is just barely browned
3) Add onions to skillet, saute until onions are translucent
4) Combine lamb, onions and the rest of the ingredients in a large pot.
5) Cook on medium heat until bubbling, then turn heat down and allow to simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to boil.
6) Serve over jasmine or brown basmati rice.

Serves 4-6. (Makes great leftovers.)


Friday, April 07, 2006

Heard on the radio...

Lost in the sky
Clouds roll by and I roll with them

Arrows fly

Seas increase and then fall again

This world is spinning around me

This world is spinning without me

Every day sends future to past

Every breath leaves one less to my last

Watch the sparrow falling
Gives new meaning to it all
If not today nor yet tomorrow then some other day

(From "Pull Me Under," Dream Theater)


The one who wanders independent in the world, free from opinions and viewpoints, does not grasp them and enter into disputations and arguments. As the lotus rises on its stalk unsoiled by the mud and the water, so the wise one speaks of peace and is unstained by the opinions of the world.

(Sutta Nipata)
Comment: I don't think the Buddha intended that we live our lives without having opinions at all. I think the point is not to be stained (or constrained) by them in such a way that your opinions and viewpoints compromise your ability to live treat others with compassion and lovingkindness. I think of people being so consumed by the passion of their opinions that they are blinded by them, unable to think independently and exercise sound judgment. Opinions and viewpoints should be treated like other products of thought, and we should be in full control of them, rather than controlled by them.
Peace to you all. Love one another.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A teacher without a classroom

“Contemplate the workings of this world, listen to the words of the wise, take all that is good as your own. With this as your base, open your own door to truth. Do not overlook the truth that is right before you. Study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between the rocks. Also learn from holy books and wise people. Everything—even mountains, rivers, plants, and trees—should be your teacher.”

Morihei Ueshiba

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My dog in samsara

I was letting my dog out this morning and I had a bit of an epiphany.

I was watching him sniff around the backyard when he stopped and started nibbling on grass. Now, Jakey does this from time to time but every time he does—no matter where he is or what kind of grass he eats—he throws up. "Hey Jakey," I said, trying to distract him from his would-be nibble, "don't do that, you'll just throw up." He looked up, somewhat startled, then trotted over to me to be let back inside.

Why does he eat the grass when it makes him sick every time he eats it? Why do any of us humans do things that are unhealthy or unwholesome when we know we will reap the consequences later?

A few minutes later, back inside the house, I was preparing breakfast (Kashi with sliced strawberries and bananas). Jakey was doing his usual, sniffing around the kitchen floor, hoping to find something to eat, perhaps a morsel that a human dropped last night. He was grazing, even though he had a bowl full of fresh, tasty dog food right around the corner.

Don't we all do this? We graze, always looking for something, that special whizbang doo-dah, even if we have no need for it. There's a multi-trillion dollar retail industry out there that preys on our neverending desire for the next doo-dah. Perhaps because we feel incomplete, empty or unsatisfied psychologically, or perhaps because of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our habit energy. We spend our lives, sniffing the floor of the cosmic kitchen, looking for the next morsel, even though we don't need it and whatever loot we find may in fact be unhealthful.

The Buddha didn't say it this way, but the second and third Noble Truths could really be summarized thus:

"Don't be a dog! Quit nibbling and sniffing, let go of the wanting and live."


Monday, April 03, 2006

Set your compass to Buddha nature

Every sentient being is
Ready to be enlightened
At every moment.
The only hindrance
Is not recognizing
The purity and limitlessness
Of Buddha nature.
We may have inklings
Of our limitless quality,
But we don’t fully recognize it,
So we become focused
On the relative I, the self.

Tesshu Tokusai (?–1366)


I have read how other "new" Buddhists are overwhelmed by the principle of no-self.

There certainly is something intimidating if not downright frightening about being told that everything you always thought was central to a well-lived life—finding your "true self," maximizing your potential, achieving "self-realization"—was in fact an unhelpful and pointless distraction.

I have tried to think of it in terms of being a mindful, compassionate part of the Whole. I am not responsible to find my "Self" any more than I am responsible to find the Bermuda Triangle or the Northwest Passage.

My responsibility (as one who has been given this precious human life) is to treat all beings I encounter with lovingkindness, genuine concern and compassion, and to take joy in the lives of others. Through meditation and waking mindfulness, I can "remagnetize" my internal compass to steer away from defilements and unwholesome practices.

Go forth, brothers and sisters in the dharma - remagnetize!


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Loving one another

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Metta Sutra

I love the Metta Sutra but I find it difficult sometimes to act always with a loving, open heart.

I try to remind myself several times a day that I should try to treat others with lovingkindness as a mother would her only child.

That is a very powerful image for me.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

You've got mail!

I opened my mailbox today and happily found my first issue of Shambhala Sun waiting for me. This issue is the "Annual Buddhist Teachings Issue" with a special focus on the core principles of Buddhism. I would say more, but I am too excited. I have to go read my magazine now! I'll report back on what I learn...


Tuesday, March 28, 2006


As a newcomer to the study of dharma, one of the concepts I have struggled with the most is the notion of rebirth.

We are told that rebirth is like lighting a candle. Just before a candle burns out, one can light a new candle with the flame from the dying candle. The first flame then dies out and the other one grows strong. They are not the same flame, but it is the energy from the former that brings the latter to life. So it is, we are told, with rebirth. Although there is no unified "self" to be reborn (see yesterday's post), there is a certain continuity between one life and the next, a migration of energies from one to the other.

"But wait," I say, "what is it that is reborn? What is it that continues from one life to the next?"

Clearly, the body, the physical organism that we think of as "self," dies with us. It is cremated or decomposes, and is reconstituted into the environment. So, the body (rupa) is not reborn.

Our feelings and sensations (vedana), the sensory data gathered by our eyes, ears, nose and other sense organs, must also cease when the body dies. When the switch is flipped, the lights go out, and no there is no more data input for the mind to receive. So, vedana is not reborn.

Perhaps it is our thinking mind (samjna), the mechanism by which sensations become ideas, that is reborn. Without rupa and vedana, samjna is like a disembodied head, incapable of doing anything. So it seems that it is not our thinking, conceptualizing mind that is reborn.

What about vijnana, consciousness? This is what most of us think of when we think of our sense of "self." When something goes bump in the night, it is consciousness that says, "Hey, there's something out there." The ears (vedana) pick up the sound, the thinking mind (samjna) registers it, and consciousness identifies it as something beyond the body (rupa). Could it be consciousness that is reborn?

But what about the last thread in the strand: samskara, our habit energy, our motivations and volitions? It is samskara that gives our actions karmic significance. Without motivation or volition, an action may create ripples, but it does not resonate with karma. It is karma that follows us from the moment of our birth to the moment of our last breath, and even beyond. It therefore must be samskara that survives the death of the physical body, since it is to samskara that karma attaches.


Or so many teachers have taught.

But perhaps it does not matter what is reborn. Zen Masters like Seung Sahn would say there is no use arguing about such things that cannot be known. Accept it with a "don't know mind," they would say. They say it is best to give up such intellectual pursuits, wake up and let go of samsara and worldly suffering by living in accordance with the Eighthold Path and the Precepts. Perhaps they are right that I could make better use of my mental energies to practice mindfulness and selflessness, rather than get tangled up in the thicket of Buddhist logic and cosmology.