Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Antidotes to Overwork

By Leo Babauta

Too many of us are overstressed, overbusy, overwhelmed, overloaded, overworked.

This leads to exhaustion, poor health, deteriorating habits, depression, burnout, unhappiness. Overloading ourselves and overworking ourselves is not a recipe for success or happiness.

There are a number of factors that lead to being overworked, but here are a few of the most common:

You are working a job that demands you to work too much, and have little control over your schedule or workload.You have to work multiple jobs to pay the bills, and can’t seem to do much about it.You overcommit and overload yourself, and always seem to be working and yet never seem to be doing enough.You’re always connected, always responding to messages, always checking email, always doing a thousand tasks. Always stressed and overwhelmed.

The first two problems are difficult to solve, because you don’t always have a lot of control. We’ll talk about the antidote to those problems first.

The second two problems are obviously related with a lot of overlap. They actually tend to be more common than the first two, in my experience — though sometimes it’s a combination of the first two and the last two factors.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Low-Caste Buddhist Converts Denied Affirmative Action in India

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

Buddhist Dalits Struggle for Affirmative Action

In order to escape persecution, Dalits, the lowest group in the Indian caste system, have been converting to Buddhism en masse ever since activist and scholar B.R. Ambedkar spearheaded the movement in the early 20th century. But now the members of the group sometimes referred to as “untouchables” are facing a new obstacle in their struggle for equality. In the state of Tamil Nadu, the Buddhist converts are being denied access to affirmative action, the New Indian Express reports. Under India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders Act of 1976, Dalits and other historically disadvantaged people receive an allotment of jobs, spots in schools, and higher education. But the state government in Tamil Nadu claims that Dalits who convert to Buddhism are no longer considered part of a Scheduled Caste and have rejected applications for community certificates granting the benefits to at least 20,000 Buddhist Dalits. Said K. Kalamani, who converted to Buddhism in 2010 with his family, told the New Indian Express that his daughter and granddaughter have not received any benefits under the Scheduled Caste policy. “It is true that we had converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, but it is also true that we are no different from other Dalits who, for years, have been subjected to economic and social oppression,” he said. In 1990, the Indian government issued an amendment to include Buddhist Dalits in the Scheduled Caste category at the national level, but the state of Tamil Nadu never implemented the change. Last week, Kalamani approached the National Human Rights Commission during an open hearing in the city of Chennai to ask the government to order the amendment into effect. The government’s director of Adi Dravidar [Dalits in Tamil Nadu] and tribal welfare has indicated that the order will be issued within a week, according to Kalamani. 

Stealing Gold from a Buddha

Four people have been charged in federal court with stealing cash and jewels from Buddhist and Hindu temples across the United States, according to a Department of Justice press release. A grand jury in Georgia indicted Valer Iazmin Varga, Robert-Auras Adam, and Ana-Loredana Adam on August 20. The three appeared in federal court in Atlanta on September 11, the same day that co-defendant Stela Patricia Varga was arrested in Louisiana. US Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said the alleged thieves posed as tourists at temples in New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, and while one person distracted the staff with questions, the others stole money and gold jewelry, sometimes removing pieces of gold directly from the statues. “They exploited their victims’ custom of receiving visitors with open arms in their temples and religious centers,” Pak said in the DOJ statement. Prosecutors added that the crimes were caught on video, despite efforts to tamper with security cameras. Upon their arrest, the three defendants indicted in Georgia had a combined $50,000, despite having no record of employment in the US. 

Democratic and Republican Lawmakers Unite to Protect the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation 

In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Democratic and Republican representatives recently introduced a new bill threatening sanctions against Chinese officials who interfere with the selection of the reincarnation of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, according to Radio Free Asia. Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, introduced The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2019 to the House on September 13. If passed, commission co-chair Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) will bring the bill to the Senate. The proposed penalties include freezing the assets of Chinese officials who tamper with the reincarnation process and denying them entry into the US. In recent years, Beijing has said that the next Dalai Lama would be chosen within China, while His Holiness has stated otherwise and even indicated that he may make this life his final rebirth. 

Buddhist Monk Makes Robes from Plastic Bottles 

Now you can earn merit just by recycling. A Buddhist monk in Thailand has created a formula for mixing recycled plastic with cotton and zinc oxide nanoparticles to create a fabric used to produce saffron-colored monks’ robes, according to Thai newspaper Khaosod English. The monk, Phra Maha Pranom Dhammalangkaro, is the assistant abbot of Wat Chak Daeng temple in Thailand’s Samuta Prakan province outside Bangkok. The robe-making process is quite labor=intensive: Volunteers clean donated bottles and press them into blocks, which are then shipped to a factory to be shredded and turned into polyester threads. The polyester is blended with cotton and antibacterial polyester zinc fibers to create the fabric, which is finally dyed a classic saffron color. One robe, stitched by volunteers, consumes 15 plastic bottles. Only bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be used. Working with a chemical company, the formula for the fabric took three years to perfect—but the texture is said to feel as soft as cotton or silk. Followers can make merit by offering this nanofabric to the monks (more fabric = more merit). Describing the Buddha as a “recycling role model,” Phra Maha Pranom pointed out that “[t]he Buddhist canon said [the Buddha] made robes from discarded fabric obtained from trash piles and corpses, which he then cleaned and sewed into robes. We have to use our wisdom to see the hidden value of things around us. If we can see their value, there will be no excess or dearth.”

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Mixing Meditation and Magic Mushrooms?

In recent years psilocybin has become the focus of a new wave of research. Neuroimaging and behavioral studies show that psilocybin-assisted therapy may help to ease mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and enhance forgiveness, acceptance and gratitude.  In the past, even Harvard University had a Psilocybin Project, where famed researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (more commonly known as spiritual teacher Ram Dass) conducted experiments (sometimes on themselves) to test its effects.

Now, in a new study from the University of Zurich published in NeuroImage, scientists explore whether combining meditation with psilocybin—the chemical in magic mushrooms—may impact brain function and alter self-consciousness even after the high is gone.

In the University of Zurich study, 38 experienced adult meditators were randomly assigned to either a psilocybin or placebo control group. They then participated in a five-day, silent group meditation retreat. On day four, each received either a dose of psilocybin or a placebo (lactose). 

Before and after the retreat, members of both groups completed questionnaires about their experiences and perceptions, and underwent an fMRI brain scan. During the scan they were asked to perform three different types of meditation with their eyes closed–resting state, focused attention and open awareness. Each type of meditation was practiced for seven minutes. Four months later they filled out a survey about changes in their attitudes, moods, behavior, and social experiences.

What is even more remarkable is that experienced meditators in the psilocybin group reported better social functioning four months later.  

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The Art of Creating a Ritual for What Matters Most

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” ~Joseph Campbell

By Leo Babauta

In this world where technology and consumerism have become our religion, we’ve largely lost something magical: the ability to elevate something into the realm of the sacred.

I’m not a fan of Catholic priests, but if you watch them perform the Eucharistic ritual in mass, it feels like a moment of true magic. If you watch a Zen priest performing similar rituals, it feels like a moment that is lifted into sacredness. Yoga practitioners before their altar, Muslims worshipping at mosques, Buddhists at their temples — they all practice this kind of sacred ritual.

What we’ve lost is this idea that there is an element of the divine in the world. I’m an atheist and don’t believe in God, but I believe in the divinity of every living being, every object, every breath. These aren’t just ordinary things to be taken for granted, but ordinary things to be deeply appreciated.

And so I’d like to advocate for the idea of ritual.

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The Buddha in your Wallet

This is a 97-minute dharma talk from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. This is the fourth talk on May 8, 2008 and the talk is offered in English. 

We begin with Thay offering a short guided meditation that encourages us to bring our attention to our father and mother inside of us. 

There is a school of Buddhism called “Mind Only” and that school studies our mind in depth. Another name is “Manifestation Only” school. No birth and no death. We are not a creation, we are only a manifestation. What does Thay mean by “manifestation” and how is it present in our lives? Before things manifest themselves they can be conceived in the form of Seeds. Bija. When the seeds manifest themselves, they become dharma. Samskara. This teaching of manifestation only could be easily applied in our daily life. And this is part of the practice of engaged Buddhism. In work. In family. In the May 7 talk, we explored the 51 forms of mental formations. Seeds. 

This is illustrated with the story of a young couple where the woman is pregnant with a child. Thay recalls her niece who was pregnant and how she used the Lotus Sutra to nourish her unborn child by reciting the sutra regularly. 

In Buddhism, we learn that understanding is the foundation of love. How do we practice this within our families? We can adopt loving speech. Concrete examples of how to do this is offered. We learn of the “Peace Treaty” used in Plum Village. And of flower-watering, or selective watering. It can be practiced in on our own. 

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