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…”

Three Practices to Shake Up Your Routine

On the daily grind, life can get bland—downright boring, when you think about it. Boredom is a sign that we’ve become habituated. When we get stuck on autopilot, we lose touch with actual experience—which can always be interesting if we bring our curiosity to it.

For a moment, stop thinking and drop into your senses instead. By helping us shift our state of mind from thinking to sensing, these practices invite us to rediscover interest, beyond our expectations.

Linger on each step for at least three minutes. Once you’ve got the hang of dropping into each sense in turn, try opening to all of the senses together at moments of so-called boredom in life, such as when washing up, standing in a queue, or stuck in a long meeting. Can you offer a full, embodied interest to the people and places around you, as well as what’s going on in your mind and body?

1. See with new eyes

Take a familiar object from your home (such as a mug you’ve owned for years, an old photograph, a piece of clothing, or furniture) and examine it as if you’ve never seen it before.

Let your thoughts about the object drop into the background as you offer it your full attention. Is there something you’d forgotten or never noticed before, or is your experience or reaction altered by your interest?

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Debating the Buddhist Masters

As a Tibetan growing up in small town Canada, I was always interested in Tibetan Buddhism and spirituality. Like most Tibetans, my amala (mother) and pala (father) used one bedroom of our house as a chokgang (shrine room). But I never rigorously studied the dharma until last year when I joined a Tibetan Buddhist philosophy class at Gajang Buddhist Centre in Toronto. Some friends of mine had started attending the classes while I was working as a journalist in Winnipeg. When I came back to Toronto last year, I joined them and was immediately hooked. And after about eight months of weekly classes, our genla (teacher) Geshe Gedun Dhundop broached the idea of debating to our small sangha, one of the first public debates in North America to feature lay people.

My first recollection of Tibetan monastic debate had to have been when I was young. I don’t exactly remember. Maybe the first time was during my childhood trips to Nepal to visit my momola (grandmother). I would always be taken to monasteries and follow my momola for kora (pilgrimage) without truly understanding why and would listen to my momola and popola teach me about the merits of the dharma. I remember peering through the cracks of a gate and witnessing monks, old and young, who seemed to dance as they debated. Arms raised, voices raised, hands clapping, rosaries clasped, crowds watching. I found Tibetan Buddhist debate to be a wonderfully intriguing and entertaining practice. But I had no idea what they were debating about, why they were debating, or that one day I would actually take part in one.

It’s hard to comprehend how much goes into a debate without practicing for yourself. I still haven’t completely wrapped my head around it. Buddhist debate is different from its Western counterpart. To debate is to extinguish ignorance and cultivate wisdom. It’s not only about winning but developing compassion by paving the path for your opponent to come to the same conclusion as you.

“The point of debating is to help one analyze. It’s a form of analysis,” says Geshe Dhundop. “Really there are three steps: first you listen to subject matter, then you go into a debate court and debate on the points you’ve learned, then you go back to your room and meditate on all of it.”

But despite its educational goal, the event was intimidating. 

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The Fearless Purpose Training Package: A System for the Uncertainty of Your Meaningful Work

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

Today I’m releasing a training package called Fearless Purpose that is the culmination of the last few years of my life’s work.

The ebook & training system are about fearlessly training in the uncertainty and anxiety that gets in the way of doing our meaningful work.

It’s about cultivating depth in our purpose, mindfully working with the habitual patterns that hold us back, and practicing a courageous willingness to be with whatever fears, patterns, and resistance that arise for us.

It’s about the groundlessness of our uncertain lives, and how we form habitual patterns to deal with that. These patterns include:

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Three Ways to Raise Empathic Kids So They Become Compassionate Adults

In this series of articles, we have been examining how mindfulness can sometimes inadvertently reinforce the self-centeredness and self-absorption of our current times and how we may counter this through compassion in action. We need to remind ourselves that the true roots of mindfulness and compassion are intended to relieve the suffering of others as much as ourselves.

In exploring the ways that we can direct compassion to others, what better way than to consider children. Endeavoring to raise an empathic child who is attentive to others helps build a better community and counters the “me” culture that is so prevalent today. Further, considering how to make the children in our lives better people helps us reflect on how we ourselves can be more compassionate.

Considering how to make the children in our lives better people, helps us reflect on how we ourselves can be more compassionate.

Michelle Borba is an educational psychologist and expert in parenting, bullying, and empathy, and author of many books on character development in children, the most recent being UnSelfie: why empathic kids succeed in our all-about-me world (Simon & Schuster, 2016).  In her  work, she outlines current research on empathy in children and how we might cultivate kindness and caring in kids at different ages. She cites studies that show teens score 40% lower in empathy and are 58% more narcissistic than 30 years ago. Along with this, research shows increases in school and internet-based cruelty and bullying along with more cheating and less moral reasoning. Borba talks about the “Selfie Syndrome” as a form of growing narcissism in children and teens characterized by self-preoccupation, entitlement, difficulty taking responsibility and criticism, and feeling above the rules. This syndrome appears to be at least partially tied to our high pressure, media-saturated, high-tech culture. 

Teaching Kids Emotional Literacy

If empathy is feeling another’s suffering and compassion is the desire to alleviate it then empathy is the gateway and what may be the antidote to the Selfie Syndrome (in our children and ourselves). And encouraging empathy begins with the development of emotional literacy: recognizing, labeling and managing both our own and others’ feelings. This core skill is especially important for boys who, in our hyper-macho culture, show lower levels of emotional literacy than girls.

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In Its Final Season, The Good Place Faces an Age-old Karmic Question

NBC’s hit series The Good Place is the Divina Commedia of the 21st century, where Western European ethical theory plays out on a cosmic scale. But as the show enters its fourth and final season on September 26, its central philosophical dilemma is strikingly Buddhist. 

For anyone who missed the past three seasons, a Summa Buddhologica of the plot follows:  Michael (Ted Danson) is a Mara-like demon architect who constructs an illusory utopian afterlife that is designed to make humans mentally torture each other for all eternity, much like Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist scenario where “Hell is other people” (“L’enfer, c’est les autres”). After deceased party girl Eleanor (Kristen Bell) meets the moral philosophy professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and tries to become a better person, she figures out Michael’s fake-heaven trick. So Michael hits the reset button. But with each new incarnation, Eleanor attempts to better herself and eventually sees through the deception. Thousands of reincarnations later, Michael begins to respect Eleanor, Chidi, and the other humans, and ultimately decides to help them get into the real Good Place, arguing that the method of placing people into the Bad Place is flawed.

Those Good/Bad Place decisions are based on the “point system,” a parody of our popular conceptions about how karma works. Cosmic accountants accurately “examine the action—the use of resources, the intentions behind it, its effects on others” and award or subtract points for good or bad deeds. But there’s a problem. No one has gotten into the Good Place in more than five hundred years. When Michael learns that not even the ridiculously altruistic poster-child Doug Forcett (Mike McKeon) will be able to accumulate enough points to get in, he investigates further and realizes that the culprit is the law of unintended consequences, which in an increasingly complex and interconnected world has essentially doomed anyone from earning a spot in the real Good Place ever again.

As Michael tells The Judge (brilliantly played by SNL alum Maya Rudolf): “These days, just buying a tomato at the grocery store means that you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, and contributing to global warming. Humans think that they’re making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making (Season 3, Episode 11).” Life has become “so complicated that it has essentially rendered the point system meaningless,” and we simply don’t have the time to “do the research and buy another tomato” even if we wanted to.

The karma-esque system raises important Buddhological questions. In a radically interdependent world, how can anyone gain liberation if we all don’t? It’s all or nothing, which seems like a rather unfair, unrealistic, and unsatisfactory soteriological system, all things considered.

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