The e word. Enlightenment. It’s a pretty polarizing word. Many folks are getting rich off of selling the enlightenment experience. Others are using it as part of their blog’s title.. Ahem.
Brad Warner recently wrote a post titled ‘ What is Enlightenment?’ which resonated with me and I wanted to share some thoughts on. While I can attest to having a few ‘awareness’ experiences in my life, I don’t really hoot on about them, go off writing books like ‘The Secret’ or crafting pithy blog posts about how realized I am. I think there’s a fine balance between the humility that I hold my practice with combined with the strength that’s required to pursue being a functional Buddhist in today’s modern world. It truly is a balance- much like one can become that annoying person on the airplane that doesn’t shut up about their wife, kids, peanut farm for 20 hours non-stop or the glassy eyed stranger that doesn’t even smile or engage after you accidentally bump their table tray. There are some out there in the world that just get off on selling enlightenment and there are many that are just craving the possibility that comes with meeting an enlightened being.
The movie ‘Kumare’ really got to me as it was one of the most genuine portrayals of the spiritual seeker that I’ve seen in some time. The ability to see the perspective of what people were looking for when they chose to follow this learned man was a precious one for those who work in spiritual communities because it shines a light on the need for absolute care that has to be taken when individuals enter a spiritual center seeking – whatever it is they are seeking… answers, relief from suffering, community, meditation instruction or any of the reasons one walks through the door of a Buddhist/spiritual community.
So back to enlightenment. I think in many ways it’s seen as a goal. An attainment. Similar to how my Pentecostal family would herald when someone received the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues or rolled around on the floor or ran around the perimeter of the church. Sometimes the idea that it can take several zillion lifetimes for enlightenment is lost on us. We want it NOW, but we don’t even really know why.
Do go over to Brad’s site and read his post as it is a great read and worthy of discussion related to the topic of spiritual masters and spiritual seekers.
After being fully stoked over my chat with Miguel from Teenage Bottlerocket last week, I careened into a set of weekend talks from Nalandabodhi’s dear Lama Rabten who is visiting our local centre for this auspicious month of May and offering teachings on Lojong. It has been lovely and incredible to be together with my local sangha to study, practice and be present and also the dual opportunity for me to practice my French skills as there is translation from English to French for each talk.
So on my radar as a few items that made an impression lately:
- Check ins and being present from @Mindonly
- Day 219: The Banana Stand
- Pouzza Buddha image from their upcoming Montreal punk festival
- iMeditation – by David Allen McKeel
- The Unborn a blog post by 108 Zen Books is just wonderful. You must read it.
How to sit without the hope that some intense curiosity or vibrant joy will infiltrate, breaking our shell, opening us. If only to see that what we were intended for is no longer possible. And yet, what we are is immense in its possibilities.
- I have to thank dear Fitri for sharing this most meditative cake baking sequence that I’ve ever seen.
Last week while flipping through my RSS feeds to keep up to date on the goings on in the punk rock world, my beady little eagle eyes spotted a ‘Meditate and Destroy’ t-shirt on Miguel Chen, bass player for pop-power-punk group Teenage Bottlerocket.
Now I fangirl adore Teenage Bottlerocket. Hailing from Laramie, Wyoming, they are pure in your face, three chord harmonious, snotty punk that’s hooky, tight and just done ever so right.
I was really curious to find out more about Miguel’s connection with Buddhism so I dropped him a line and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about how he discovered Buddhism, details on his personal practice and a bit of information on how BDSM figures into his life. He’s very open in both being a Buddhist and his participation in BDSM and I found it both interesting and important to find out more about his perspective on something that I quite honestly have not really read or heard many Buddhists speak of aside from that filthy Brad Warner fellow
How did you discover Buddhism? Describe the circumstances.How long have you been interested?
About 7 years ago we went on tour with The Epoxies. I was kind of going through a rough time in my life and their lead singer Roxy gave me a copy of ‘Dharma Punx’ by Noah Levine. At the time the book helped me relate to someone who had been through similar suffering to my own, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I revisited it that the Dharma really made it’s way into my daily life. When I revisited the book I was going through a really dark time, doing lots of drugs and generally being depressed. I knew that when I played shows and connected with people I wasn’t depressed, but that was only for an hour a day, I needed to find a way to be happy the rest of the day. And so I revisited Dharma Punx. This time around it made even more sense than before and it lead me to many other Buddhist authors including Tai Sheridan, Charlotte Joko Beck,Thich Nhat Hahn, Brad Warner, Lodro Rinzler and many others. Over the next few months I read every book on the subject I could get my hands on and my life really began to transform. I started meditating every morning and finally began to feel like I’d found what I was looking for.
What school of Buddhism do you follow?
My initial reaction is to say I relate most to Zen Buddhism. I believe in keeping things simple and Zen offers a lot of that. I basically sit every day, then spend the rest of my day trying to do my best. There’s not a lot more to it as it applies to my life, people are often surprised when I tell them that. For me, Buddhism boils down to realizing we are all connected, we all suffer, and we all want to be happy. Those simple lessons have had a major impact on my life. Noah Levine once said he considers himself and American Buddhist, a combination of several schools and I might agree with that. A lot of the schools that work in the East don’t translate so well into our day to day lives over here. I really like that. Maybe I’ll say I consider myself a Mexican-American Buddhist.
Are there any specific teachings that resonate with you?
I’ve read the Dhamapadda, The Art of Living, The Lotus Sutra etc, however I find the teaching I relate to the most is of course the 4 Noble Truths. I interpret them to be first that all living beings suffer. Secondly, the reason we suffer is attachment to a self and that this self creates differences in the way things are and the way we think they are. Third there is an end to suffering and that can be found by following the 8 fold path. When I’m asked about the 8 fold path I generally tell people it’s just about trying to do what is best for each situation we are presented with, and to focus on living now, not in the past or the future.
Do you have a teacher?
I wish! Again, there are not a lot of Buddhists in Wyoming, so finding a teacher has yet to happen. I do have some friends around the country I will talk to when I get the chance, but no formal teacher.
Do you have a meditation practice? How is that going for you being on the road touring?
Every single morning I wake up and sit on a cushion for 20-45 minutes. On tour it’s usually on the shorter end of that spectrum because we have so little free time. I will spend the first part of my meditation calming and clearing my mind, and the second part working on metta concentrations. I also wear a mala on my wrist that I will use to count my breaths or go through mantras whenever I get a free moment on tour.
You are open about being a member of the BDSM community and see a tie in (ha ha) between BDSM and Buddhism. How so?
As far as letting go of your ego and becoming truly present in the now, few things will get you there as quickly as being tied up and beat with a paddle. Nipple clamps are a great tool as well because they will put your focus on one thing and keep your mind from wandering. The feeling I get after a good BDSM session is very similar to the feeling I get after a good meditation. There is a lot of power in just being present, for whatever we are doing when we are doing it. BDSM allows me to let go of control, to just exist in one exact moment in time. It’s really very Zen-like for me!
In his book ‘Sex, Sin and Zen’ , Brad Warner wrote about some misgivings he had about BDSM but overall spoke to the responsibility involved with all who participate. He mentioned trauma and power exchange and how it’s can be somewhat similar to cult-like behaviour within some Buddhist communities. How would you respond to this?
I would say there is definitely potential for that sort of abuse of power, but I have never had experiences like that. When done properly BDSM is a good way for people to really connect. There is a big stigma over BDSM but I think really a lot more people might like it if they went in with an open mind. Again it’s all about giving yourself completely to the moment and if you are doing these activities with people you can trust to care for you it can be a very rewarding experience.
How do you relate to desire and attachment as a BDSM Buddhist?
All humans have desire and I believe that is okay. The problem becomes our attachment to it. If you can work on accepting things as they are over how you think they should be, then desire isn’t much of a problem. It’s okay to desire something as long as it doesn’t consume you and if you can’t have it, just let it go.
Do you feel that the Buddhist community is open enough about sexuality as a whole?
One thing that really stuck with me about Buddhism is that it’s not necessarily a religion. I forget who wrote it, but I once read something along the lines of “Don’t practice Buddhism to be a better Buddhist, practice Buddhism to be a better whatever you already are.” With that in mind there are Buddhists of all walks of life, some are monks who perhaps aren’t open enough about sexuality, others are Dominatrixes and punk rockers. My Buddhist friends tend to be pretty open, but that might be because they are also punks.
Is there anything you’d like to share relating to anything I haven’t asked? Advice. Questions.
I can’t really think of anything. Thanks for the interview. May we all be happy and free from suffering!
I am so very happy to share this information with you as it is quite exciting…
Tergar Montreal is delighted to present two teachings by H E Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche
- Path to Compassion: Essential Teachings on Training the Mind ~ August 9, 7 – 9 PM, August 10, 9 AM – 5 PM
In these turbulent times, it often seems that uncertainty and challenges surround us in every direction. Meditation is not meant to remove us from the world, but to open our hearts and minds to the beauty of what we already have. In this teaching, renowned Buddhist teacher Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche will share her insights in this journey, showing how we can generate compassion and train our mind even in the midst of our busy lives.
For more information on how to register, click here.
- Teaching and Empowerment of Yeshe Tsogyal ~ August 11, 9 AM – 5 PM
Yeshe Tsogyal was a direct incarnation of Dhatvishvari Vajra Yogini in the form of a woman. She was one of five dakini emanations of Vajra Yogini and, in essence, also a manifestation of Guru Rinpoche himself. She appeared to assist Guru Rinpoche in spreading the Vajrayana, especially the terma teachings, in the Snowy Land of Tibet. Yeshe Tsogyal is also considered an emanation of Arya Tara, Vajra Varahi, Prajnaparamita and Samantabhadri — all enlightened buddhas.
For more information on how register, click here.
H E Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche
Born as the eldest daughter of Kyabje Mindrolling Trichen Gyurme Künzang Wangyal – the 11th Mindrolling throne holder of the renowned Mindrolling lineage, Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche, as a Jetsünma within the Mindrolling lineage and a Tulku within the Kagyu lineage holds both the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions. Rinpoche speaks fluent English. For a full biography please see http://www.mjkr.org/biography.
Yesterday my friend Martin passed away. This is a photo which was on the dust jacket of a novel he had written. It was shared with me yesterday and I think it best personifies who he was. An intellectual. Deep. Probing. Don’t be fooled though. He had a laugh like lightening cracking through the night sky. It would shoot out and cut through any tension in a room. It was a generous and hearty laugh.
We came to know one another through Buddhist studies as he opened up his house to a rag tag crew of us to sit, study and discuss the dharma. Each week, he’d have us over for tea and cookies and for about 5 years, this was our regular way of being. I’m not sure of his interest in the dharma but he was deeply philosophical and a man who ‘rolled his own’ spirituality which I admired him for. I also admired him for his steadfast questioning of the teachings. He was to me, one of those people that questioned everything (and I mean everything).
He drove me nuts.
Oh the debates. Oh the roughness. It was like a wrestling match. I think he loved being able to dismantle and deconstruct what we were studying so that it wasn’t just blindly accepted and re-quoted. He forced me to explain why I felt the way I did. What experiences led me to the beliefs or assumptions I was making. All of this made me dig deeper, read more and truly explore what I was reading.
He was one of the best non-Buddhist, Buddhist teachers I’ve had.
Recently he had fallen ill. Quite suddenly. I’d come to know this from a friend and gave him a call. A bit week but in good spirits, we spoke for a short time and then radio silence until yesterday when I was reading over some teachings on the Bodhisattva Vow and thought of him. We had the great battle of the Hinayana vs. Mahayana once in our discussion group. A staunch “Hinayanaist”, Martin dug his heels in and there was no moving towards the territory of the “Mahayanaist regime”.
Reminded of this, I sent him an email thinking that maybe he’d prefer this to a call. It wasn’t long after that I had reconfigured an email address that I rarely use. I had removed it from my ipad last week as it kept re-retrieving messages from the server so I wanted to see if I could fix this somehow. It was then that I saw a flood of emails with his name as the subject from people I didn’t know. The first one being ‘Martin in the hospital’ and then moving towards yesterday morning with just his name as the subject and the body copy told me the news of his passing.
What continued to follow were emails with stories and photos. Tales of his great generosity. Students who mentioned how he built up their confidence in their writing or acting. Stories of his creativity and artistic flair. Emails piled up from around the world who came to know and love him. Mentions of his compassion. His wisdom.
Take a bow Martin. You were magnificent.
There’s been a few changes to the schedule of events / topics for Lama Rabten Tshering’s upcoming teachings in Montreal. Consult the poster for full details.
9:30a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4:00 p.m.
Red Tape Parade vocalist Wauz Kenobi passed away last week after a battle with cancer. He was the founder of the Berlin chapter of Dharma Punx and left quite an impression on the German punk scene.