Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Samsara And the Ocean of Tears


By Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Samsara literally means "wandering-on." Many people think of it as the Buddhist name for the place where we currently live - the place we leave when we go to nirvana. But in the early Buddhist texts, it's the answer, not to the question, "Where are we?" but to the question, "What are we doing?" Instead of a place, it's a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. As one world falls apart, you create another one and go there. At the same time, you bump into other people who are creating their own worlds, too.

The play and creativity in the process can sometimes be enjoyable. In fact, it would be perfectly innocuous if it didn't entail so much suffering. The worlds we create keep caving in and killing us. Moving into a new world requires effort: not only the pains and risks of taking birth, but also the hard knocks - mental and physical - that come from going through childhood into adulthood, over and over again. The Buddha once asked his monks, "Which do you think is greater: the water in the oceans or the tears you've shed while wandering on?" His answer: the tears. Think of that the next time you gaze at the ocean or play in its waves.

In addition to creating suffering for ourselves, the worlds we create feed off the worlds of others, just as theirs feed off ours. In some cases the feeding may be mutually enjoyable and beneficial, but even then the arrangement has to come to an end. More typically, it causes harm to at least one side of the relationship, often to both. When you think of all the suffering that goes into keeping just one person clothed, fed, sheltered, and healthy - the suffering both for those who have to pay for these requisites, as well as those who have to labor or die in their production - you see how exploitative even the most rudimentary process of world-building can be.

This is why the Buddha tried to find the way to stop samsara-ing. Once he had found it, he encouraged others to follow it, too. Because samsara-ing is something that each of us does, each of us has to stop it him or her self alone. If samsara were a place, it might seem selfish for one person to look for an escape, leaving others behind. But when you realize that it's a process, there's nothing selfish about stopping it at all. It's like giving up an addiction or an abusive habit. When you learn the skills needed to stop creating your own worlds of suffering, you can share those skills with others so that they can stop creating theirs. At the same time, you'll never have to feed off the worlds of others, so to that extent you're lightening their load as well.

It's true that the Buddha likened the practice for stopping samsara to the act of going from one place to another: from this side of a river to the further shore. But the passages where he makes this comparison often end with a paradox: the further shore has no "here," no "there," no "in between." From that perspective, it's obvious that samsara's parameters of space and time were not the pre-existing context in which we wandered. They were the result of our wandering.

For someone addicted to world-building, the lack of familiar parameters sounds unsettling. But if you're tired of creating incessant, unnecessary suffering, you might want to give it a try. After all, you could always resume building if the lack of "here" or "there" turned out to be dull. But of those who have learned how to break the habit, no one has ever felt tempted to samsara again.

Article source here
Image source unknown but greatly appreciated

Also of interest


Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

 Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, 1945
 Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, 1945

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for all those who have died in service for the United States of America. There are many stories about its actual origins, with over two dozen cities and towns claiming to be the birthplace of the Memorial Day celebrations.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No.11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May, though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

The image above is one of the most indelible images of World War II as well as a Pulitzer winner, this photo of U.S. Marines raising their flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima is widely used as a tribute to American heroism. Of the six men in the shot, three died in the battle. The image was used to create the USMC War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Leonora Carrington Dies at 94

Litany of the Philosophers, 1959 by Leonora Carrington (April 6, 1917 - May 25, 2011)
Litany of the Philosophers, 1959 by Leonora Carrington (April 6, 1917 - May 25, 2011)

 By Daniel Hernandez

Leonora Carrington, a leading figure of the Surrealist movement and perhaps the last great living Mexican artist, died on May 25, in Mexico City, the government said. She was 94.

She was best known for her eerie rituals with cloaked figures in forests, dancing deer with trees growing from their backs, and breathing buildings that shot planets and stars. 

Carrington painted, drew, made sculptures, and wrote fiction and plays over a career that spanned much of the 20th century and featured affairs and friendships with some of the greatest artists of her time. Surrealist painter Max Ernst was an early lover in Paris. Remedios Varo was a close friend and fellow female painter in the vibrant artist community of Mexico City in the 1940s and 1950s.

Surrealist Andre Breton and filmmaker Luis Bunuel were also among her acquaintances and contemporaries, and she sometimes brushed up against the tumultuous lives of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Carrington's style became recognizable worldwide, a combination of anthropomorphic whimsy and an undercurrent of shadowy darkness. Yet she often rejected the label "Surrealist," insisting instead that she painted what she observed in the magical space between the corporeal world and the subconscious.

Chilean filmmaker and actor Alejandro Jodorowsky, a later Surrealist, wrote of Carrington as one of his "witch" muses, yet she once remarked: "I didn't have time to be anybody's muse; I was too busy rebelling against my parents and learning to be an artist."

Carrington was born April 6, 1917, in Lancashire, England, to an upper-class family. She began smoking at age 11 (and appeared never to stop), was expelled from several schools and studied art in London. She moved to Paris in the 1930s and began exhibiting her work, joining the Surrealists. Eventually, as the Nazis marched across Europe, Carrington suffered a nervous breakdown and wound up in a psychiatric ward in Madrid, Spain.

In 1941, Carrington met a Mexican diplomat, Renato Leduc, whom she married in Lisbon. They traveled to New York and by 1942 the pair settled in Mexico City, divorcing soon thereafter. Carrington later married a photographer, Emerico Weisz, and with him had two sons, Gabriel and Pablo, both of whom survive her.

Carrington painted and wrote energetically in Mexico, inspired by the country's rich pre-Hispanic civilizations and the mythologies and occult knowledge of cultures from around the world. One of her best-known works is an enormous mural titled "The Magical World of the Maya," commissioned in the early 1960s for the National Museum of Anthropology. Her most famous written work, a 1974 fantastical novel titled "The Hearing Trumpet," includes an account of a feminist uprising in a retirement home for women.

Later in life, Carrington enjoyed accolades that in Mexico are reserved for the country's most admired artists. In 2005, she was awarded the National Prize of Sciences and Arts. In 2008, an outdoor exhibit of her large-scale sculptures along the stately central boulevard Paseo de la Reforma became hugely popular.

Elena Poniatowska, the Mexican writer and author of a novel based on Carrington's life, said in an interview with CNN's Spanish language service earlier this year that the artist maintained both a British and a Mexican sensibility throughout her life.

"Smoking, drinking English tea - in her kitchen there is a photo of Lady Di - you feel a bit like you're in England when you're with her," Poniatowska said. "But she loves Mexico deeply. Her son Pablo says she wouldn't be who she is without Mexico."

In a 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Carrington responded with a fanciful spell of words at the thought of returning to Europe: "There are places I'd like to return to. But not as I was then but as I am now. 'Cause I'm trying to understand. And I've understood nothing."

The artist added: "One is born, one lives, one dies. What death is, I don't know."

Daniel Hernandez is a news assistant in the Los Angeles Times' Mexico City bureau.

Article source here


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Race in Space

President John F. Kennedy speaking before Congress in May 25, 1961
 President John F. Kennedy speaking before Congress in May 25, 1961
If we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to us all, as did the Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere, who are attempting to make a determination of which road they should take. Since early in my term, our efforts in space have been under review. With the advice of the Vice President, who is Chairman of the National Space Council, we have examined where we are strong and where we are not, where we may succeed and where we may not. Now it is time to take longer strides - time for a great new American enterprise - time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. (...) I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. - John F. Kennedy
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade.

A number of political factors affected Kennedy's decision and the timing of it. In general, Kennedy felt great pressure to have the United States "catch up to and overtake" the Soviet Union in the "space race." 

Four years after the Sputnik shock of 1957, the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space on April 12, 1961, greatly embarrassing the U.S. While Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, he only flew on a short suborbital flight instead of orbiting the Earth, as Gagarin had done. In addition, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in mid-April put unquantifiable pressure on Kennedy. He wanted to announce a program that the U.S. had a strong chance at achieving before the Soviet Union. 

After consulting with Vice President Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb, and other officials, he concluded that landing an American on the Moon would be a very challenging technological feat, but an area of space exploration in which the U.S. actually had a potential lead. 

Thus the cold war is the primary contextual lens through which many historians now view Kennedy's speech. The decision involved much consideration before making it public, as well as enormous human efforts and expenditures to make what became Project Apollo a reality by 1969. Only the construction of the Panama Canal in modern peacetime and the Manhattan Project in war were comparable in scope. 

NASA's overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy's speech. Projects Mercury (at least in its latter stages), Gemini, and Apollo were all designed to execute Kennedy's goal. His goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the Moon's surface.

Article & image source NASA

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Improve Your Health with Goji Berries

 Lycium barbarum

Goji berries (Lycium barbarum, not to be confused with Lycium chinense), also known as Wolfsberry, are native to China, Mongolia and the Himalaya, especially Tibet. They are well known in the Oriental materia medica and were used therapeutically for more than 6,000 years.

Since ancient times, goji berries were used to promote overall health, protect the liver, improve blood circulation, enhance sexual function and fertility, and boost the immune system.

With the ORAC* value of 25,300 in 20 grams of fresh fruits, goji berries are an exceptional source of antioxidants, especially beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Since ancient times they were used by the Chinese to improve and protect the vision. This was ages before the modern science discovered that the central role of zeaxanthin in the body is to protect the eye from macular degeneration.

Goji berries are considered to be a super food that is rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Thiamine (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Niacin (Vitamin B6), and Betaine. They contain fiber and 19 amino acids, including eight essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body. Moreover, goji berries are a good source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus, as well as the trace minerals, among others iron, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, and the immune system supporting selenium and germanium.

The seeds of goji berries are a good source of the linoleic acid. Goji berries also contain the anti-inflammatory beta-sisterol that reduces blood levels of cholesterol in the body. The Lycium barbarum polysaccharide is a unique agent that is known for its potential to increase the production of the human growth hormone, HGH, by the pituitary gland, hence the rejuvenating potential of this power berries that was attributed to them by the ancient Chinese.

Goji berries also contain other active agents, such as cyperone and solavetivone, that have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, the ability to increase the activity of the white blood cells, or the ability to enhance the liver and digestive functions in the body. A compound called physalin has a remarkable ability to enhance the activity of the immune killer cells and to counteract leukemia and hepatitis B. Research also shows that the berries may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the liver and the prostate.

Goji berries have a very law glycemic index, GI, and are known to regulate the blood sugar and metabolism. They can also help reduce high blood pressure and protect the skin fro sun damage. People who consume goji berries on regular basis report increased focus and concentration, better sleep, and more energy.

Recently, the health industry launched products that not only promote the overall health, but also support weight loss and healthy metabolism. The claims are often very dramatic, but the use of goji berries as a weight loss formula is not very well documented and caution is advised, as the products may contain other ingredients and not much of the Tibetan goji extract.

Goji berries can be consumed just like raisins in your morning cereal or as a raw snack. They can be brewed as tea or cooked. But if you prefer, you may take the concentrated goji berries in form of capsules, as juice, or a tincture.

If you are struggling with your weight, you may want to explore the market for the goji products formulated specially for weight loss. Remember, however, that supplements cannot replace exercise and a healthy and balanced nutrition. Consult your health care provider before you begin supplementation with a product that you never tried before.

By Dominique Allmon

*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.


*ORAC or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity score is a chemical analysis that measures the antioxidant levels of food and other chemical substances. High ORAC value means that the food is high in antioxidants. The antioxidant’s strength is its ability to eliminate oxygen free radicals. The higher the score the better the ability to protect the cells from oxidative damage and to fight and prevent diseases such as heart disease or cancer. Oxygen free radicals are chemicals that are formed naturally within our bodies through the process of oxidation. Natural bodily functions such as breathing and digestion as well as our physical activities produce oxygen free radicals. Daily exposure to polluted air, processed foods and oxidizing radiation from the sun and electrical appliances also produce oxygen reactive species. The ORAC value of 27,600 was measured by the Brunswick Laboratories.

Creative Commons License

Improve Your Health with Goji Berries by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Has Roswell Missed the Boat?

Or shall we rather say... the disk shaped flying device that still remains unidentified?

In my brief tenure in this town I’ve noticed that there is an utter disdain for just about the only thing that makes Roswell famous. Whether you believe in them or not, UFOs and their little bug eyed occupants are it and many people around the world have a great time with the concept. That great time is easily translated into cash. Cold, hard and spendable cash. Sheckles. Moolah. Greenbacks. Wampum. Well… you get the gist.

The citizens of the Roswell community are, for the most part, totally embarrassed and chagrined by this facet of their history. They cover it up by claiming to be the Dairy Capitol, or some such nonsense. They seem inordinately happy about that dubious claim. Personally, I always thought that was Wisconsin. Anyway, what tourist in their right mind is going to spend their hard earned money to visit a place that touts such a yawnable claim? Especially in the middle of the desert, two hundred miles from anywhere.

Now, here’s a thought. When Walt Disney selected the area near Orlando as a place for his expanded vision do you think the local city council ignored it? Or more importantly thumbed their collective and oh so self righteous noses at it? I’m guessing they embraced the idea of an imaginary mouse and all his completely made up friends coming to town.

Not Roswell. Not even on a good day.

Gosh, even the stores that cluster around the center of town are shabby and in desperate need of remodeling. However, they either can’t, or won’t. It’s hard to be sure. There is one place at the intersection of 2nd and Main that should simply remove the broken signage and it would look a whole lot better. To me that’s either insane laziness or complete disregard to the idea of generating a revenue. I went into that store once to see what was in there. Once was twice too many.

Maybe they need a city czar.

Look. As I mentioned before, you can believe in UFOs and aliens or not. Who cares? But it’s an industry that stretches around the world. Don’t believe me? Look on the internet and see for yourself. We’re talking millions of dollars here.

But in this economy, who needs money anyway? Right?

I could go on and on, but this will probably be sufficient to get me lynched in this town.

For now… I’ll sign off this rant.

The mother-ship has left the orbit.

By James W. Allmon ©2011

Image source unfortunately abducted by aliens


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Discovery of the Universe

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened. -  Douglas Adams in "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Successful Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour!

Endeavour's final liftoff

Space shuttle Endeavour and its crew of six astronauts completed a successful launch today, May 16, 2011, at 8:56 a.m. EDT on a mission to the International Space Station. The mission will last 16 days.

This is the last mission of Endeavour which carries the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and a pallet loaded with spare parts to the International Space Station. The AMS is a cutting-edge physics experiment designed to look for anti-matter in the cosmos and perhaps unlock the mystery of what makes up most of the mass in the universe. 

Article source NASA

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Food for Enlightenment

By Sandra Garson

Buddhism began with a meal. Having abdicated the lap of royal luxury to seek the meaning of life, the Shakya prince Gautama Siddhartha wandered the wilderness with a band of ascetic extremists, wasting away until his limbs “were like the knotted joints of withered creepers” and his ribs pierced his skin. “Now I can claim to have lived on a single bean a day,” he later told a disciple, “on a single sesamum seed a day - or a single grain of rice a day... ” Yet, rather than glorify the success of this austerity, Gautama went on to report: “Never did this practice... or these dire austerities bring me to the ennobling fits of superhuman knowledge and insight.” The disappointing self-mortification brought him instead to accept a small offering of boiled milk with honey. As every biography emphasizes, reinvigorated by physical energy and a sense of well-being, he then sat down under the Bodhi tree and began the meditation that turned him into Buddha, “the awakened one,” a man who forever changed the world.

Because Buddhism has no savior gods but rather a path to enlightenment paved by personal behavior, Buddhism more than any other religion (except, arguably, esoteric Manichaeism) is concerned with what and how human beings eat. “Anyone who has tried to meditate,” the late Buddhist scholar Edward Conze noted, “must have observed that the weaknesses and disturbances of the body are apt to interfere with continuous meditation.” But the idea of purifying oneself of greed, anger, and ignorance through the willful control of behavioral impulses has always held powerful sway over seekers in all traditions.

Indeed, almost fifteen hundred years after Shakyamuni Buddha, the great Tibetan Buddhist yogi Milarepa lived in a cave and tried eating only scavenged nettles until he deemed such dire fasting a futile avenue to awakening. The only result was that his skin turned green. Horrifying bronzes of a severely emaciated Buddha still sit in Asian monasteries as warnings against despising or ignoring the fleshly body.

When Gautama began his spiritual quest by engaging in extreme forms of fasting, he was doing no more or less than following the customs of the wandering holy men of his day. But he rejected this in favor of “the middle way.” His subsequent teachings incorporated detailed instructions on diet, and appropriate etiquette for the taking of meals. This attention to the body, to the strength and physical well-being of the seeker, was a radically new approach at a time when the prevailing spiritual path demanded the subjugation of bodily needs to discipline and willpower. Introducing what we may now call a “holistic” view of body and mind, the Buddha’s view had far-reaching ramifications. It has been suggested that many aspects of Chinese herbal healing remedies, for instance, developed in part because Buddhist missionaries, like many missionaries since, found that they made more converts by helping the sick than by arguing fine points of theology.

Chinese and, equally, Tibetan medicine (the latter a specifically Buddhist study) are based on balancing the humors of the body - bile, phlegm, and wind - through the metabolic process. For example, particular mushrooms, concoctions of roots, or potpourris of herbs are used for the restoration of harmony, or healing. In the way Chinese medics in America recently prescribed eating a stew of almonds, lily buds, and a particular pear to combat my winter bronchitis, and in the way Indians ingest hot curries to cool the body through sweating, early East Asian Buddhists subscribed to a diet of steamed and boiled, spiceless vegetables because it was known to “cool” the body. Such simple meals were digested quickly without inflaming body temperature, which was deemed appropriate to calm a mind for meditation. In the fourteenth century, the Soto Zen patriarch Keizan Jokin described this method of restoration in his work Zazen Yojinki, “Precautions to Observe in Zazen,” which admonishes meditators to eat two-thirds of their capacity, consuming rice with particular pickled/acidic vegetables and alkaline seaweeds, foodstuffs that accompanied Zen’s transmission to America.

Abhidharma logic makes alcohol anathema to Buddhists because it dulls the mind; abstinence from intoxicants is one of the five major vows an ordained Buddhist must take every morning. On the other hand, the same logic makes caffeine the drug of choice for those committed to focusing the mind; a cup of tea is still the first thing a visitor to any Buddhist monastery is offered. “It could have been any beverage - examine the relationship of coffee to Islam, wine to Christianity - but ... it was tea that came to be most closely associated with Buddhism,” Rand Castile writes in The Way of Tea. Chinese legend traces the origin of tea drinking in that land to its Buddhist saint Bodhidharma, who upon discovering that he had fallen asleep during meditation, was said to have immediately cut off his eyelashes; falling to the ground, they sprang back up as tea bushes. Tea was a stowaway on Buddhism’s travels from the Middle Kingdom to Japan and, more recently, to the United States, where its consumption is creating new taste trends, especially for green tea and Indian spiced chai.

What we Americans know as tofu allegedly originated when Chinese converts to Buddhism tried to please their Indian teachers by catering to their eating habits. They had to solve the dilemma of how a lactose-intolerant people could produce dishes that appeared to contain yogurt and paneer, a curd cheese favored by Indians. Cleverly, they seized upon an obscure local invention, soy-bean curd, which ably imitated both. Dofu, as the Chinese call it, started its journey to our local supermarkets as a prized monastic dairy substitute and evolved into a monastic meat substitute when a new generation of Chinese Buddhists, more fiercely devout than their Indian forerunners, interpreted the Buddha’s admonition to do no harm as a mandate for absolute vegetarianism. The Japanese monk Ennin visited a Chinese temple in the 840s and wrote in his diary that wheat cakes and dumplings were the special fare cooks created to greet important guests or to serve as the fancy food at feasts, replacing meat.

It’s uncertain whether we therefore owe steamed buns and pot stickers to the Buddha, but we do know that during this period, Chinese monasteries doubled as inns for travelers and pilgrims and were thus the country’s first public restaurants.

So in the Sung dynasty, when real restaurants began to open inside cities, temple kitchens were all they had for reference, and their menus proudly featured what was called “temple food,” dishes cooked in the style of Buddhists. Buddha’s Delight and other vegetarian specialties, including many of the tofu variations found in your local Chinese restaurant, were on those menus a thousand years ago.

So in the Sung dynasty, when real restaurants began to open inside cities, temple kitchens were all they had for reference, and their menus proudly featured what was called “temple food,” dishes cooked in the style of Buddhists. Buddha’s Delight and other vegetarian specialties, including many of the tofu variations found in your local Chinese restaurant, were on those menus a thousand years ago.

The opposite of starvation is indulgence, and in the "Dhammapada" we read, “The man who is lazy and a glutton, who eats large meals and rolls in his sleep like a pig which is fed in the sty, is reborn again and again.” A surprisingly large portion of the Vinaya’s two hundred and fifty rules advocate a proper way to eat. “A lot of things are based on this idea of eating food properly,” the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught his American students, “which is how to behave as a basically decent person.” The Vinaya, for instance, proscribes such wanton behavior as eating out of turn, hoarding food, and putting in your mouth food that has not been offered.

The Vinaya is also responsible for the difference in the way Western and Eastern food comes to the table. The Buddha was a pacifist whose first precept, still the first vow made by every Buddhist, is not to take or harm life. A thousand years after his lifetime, new Chinese converts, taking his proscription seriously, created an auxiliary disciplinary code to the Vinaya, called the Fan Wan King, which added a ban in their country on owning or wielding swords, clubs, knives, or any object that might kill a living being. Still, they had to eat. By necessity a chef was permitted one knife, which was confined to the kitchen and used to prevent the need for any other implement of violence. It is for this reason that we find so much preparatory chopping involved in the making of a Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese meal; East Asian food evolved to bite-sized tidbits that could be nabbed with chopsticks. The absence of knives among people sitting down to share a meal signals not only the absence of aggression but also how unnecessary it is. Our Western way of serving a slab of meat or half a chicken is so frowned upon that even modern Thais, who have adopted silverware, do not set places with anything but a fork and spoon. Their unwritten cooking rule is that each morsel of meat or fish must be prepared so that when eaten with half a spoonful of rice it makes a complete mouthful.

The Vinaya also specifies when and when not to eat. The right time is when the day is light enough to see the lines on the palm of the hand; the wrong time is between high noon and dawn the next morning. A maximum of two meals may be taken during the right time. The supposed advantages of this schedule are a large block of time free from thinking about the next meal, a lightness of body that means not waking with a food hangover, and freedom for the laity from having to prepare extra evening meals for holy passersby.

Just as the Buddhist pursuit of self-control delineates right and wrong times to eat, it defines right and wrong foods. Determining the category of a specific food requires a simple test: does it promote pleasure in and thus craving for and attachment to eating? “For food, let them eat what they wish, but let them not taste the poison of enjoyment” is among the tantric sayings of Tibet. The practice of “one taste,” or nondiscrimination among foodstuffs, takes many forms: the happy acceptance of whatever lands in the begging bowl of South Asian monks; the Chinese practice of banning onions, garlic, chives, and leeks because these are “adored foods”; and the Japanese Zen instructions that the cook should not handle plain food carelessly and rich food carefully but should see the Buddha in a cabbage. As Zen Master Dogen said, “The many rivers which flow into the ocean become the one taste of the ocean. There are no such distinctions as delicacies and plain food ... just one taste.” All ingredients are thus generally equal in Asian cooking.

It is often presumed that meat is a “wrong” Buddhist food, but the Buddha, in his insistence on “one taste,” consumed meat when it was offered. The canon contains his response to his cousin Devadatta’s question about whether or not monks should abstain from eating meat: “The eating of flesh that is pure in three respects, that is to say, that the eater has not seen, heard, nor suspected that it has been killed especially for him, is allowable.” The Buddha also reputedly said that the evils of ill conduct are far more harmful than eating meat. Accounts of his death stress how the infirm and aged holy man saved the life of his disciples by reserving for himself the spoiled pork innocently offered by a nobly intentioned donor.

Shakyamuni’s only known prohibitions on carnivorism are for fish or meat that has not been cooked (purified), or the meat of dogs, snakes, tigers, hyenas, elephants, panthers, lions, horses, and human beings. The actual taboo he propagated - doing harm - was revolutionary at a time when new iron-weapon technology had increased tribal warfare, excessive animal sacrifice, and peasant cruelty. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this taboo during the lifetime of the Buddha was the Indian cow, for Shakyamuni’s doctrine of “no harm” called into question the orgiastic Rig Veda cow sacrifices occurring around him.

The brahmins’ ritualistic extermination of cows for their feasting pleasure had created widespread peasant famine by destroying the most productive agricultural tool in all of India. The Zebu cow was the best plow animal, the single source of dairy nourishment and dung for cooking fuel, and did not compete with human beings for food. Although we cannot say for certain whether or not the sacred cow policy began with the Buddha - some argue that it was a development of the Jain sect, a religious movement contemporary with the Buddha that also emphasized non-killing - the policy nonetheless grew in popularity so rapidly that it forced brahmins to reverse their practices from extermination to conservation in order to survive politically. To this day, Indian food does not contain beef.

The relative prosperity that followed India’s adoption of the “no harm” precept propelled the idea of the sacred cow abroad as part of Buddhism. The Chinese applied it to their bovines, which they viewed as indispensable agricultural servants, and the veneration of cows became so institutionalized in succeeding generations that even the most vociferous adversaries of Buddhism among the ruling elite of the late 1800s were vigorously opposed to slaughtering them for food. “Everywhere we went in Fukien,” a Dutch traveler wrote in 1893 in his diary, “we saw these admonitions (against killing cows) posted in cities and towns along the roads and on the bridges. Many have the characters arranged to form a buffalo surrounded by urgent warnings.” Killing cows was a punishable crime, and enforcement of the law was so energetic that an attempt to purvey beef to Western embassies provoked a major diplomatic scandal. A century later, Chinese cooking still centers around fish, pork, and chicken, although nowadays one can occasionally find Mongolian beef included. The sacred cow also accompanied Buddhism from China to Japan, influencing the latter’s meal preferences for a millennium, until postwar exposure to Western culture encouraged the imitation of Western ways, and beef was added, albeit tentatively, to Japan’s culinary repertoire.

Chinese Buddhists took the Buddha’s admonitions one step further, forbidding consumption of any meat or what the rulebook calls “the flesh of any living being”; even the act of encouraging others to kill or eat meat was forbidden. Perhaps this ban was a tempering response to the fact that the Chinese historically had no food taboos whatsoever. Liang dynasty edicts for the preservation of fish and fowl were revitalized during the T’ang dynasty, the very time new Japanese converts were busy importing Buddhism to their islands. Zen Buddhism thus started out associated with vegetarianism, a dietary regimen popularized in America after Zen Buddhism captured the counter-cultural imagination.

As the simple story of the Buddha’s newly full stomach indicates, without food we have no clear mind or strong body with which to perceive and understand reality. The central daily rite of lay Buddhism throughout Asia is therefore the offering of food to monks, Buddhas on a shrine, or lower beings in the wild. In Tibet a family ritually renews its links to the world of which it is a part: after a ceremony in front of its shrine, the family sits down to tea, and each member, upon being served, sprinkles a few drops in the direction of the four compass points as a symbolic offering to all beings. In Thailand, a pitcher of water is placed in front of the house for the benefit of thirsty travelers, and more rice than required is prepared in case someone unexpected should arrive. “Generosity,” a Tibetan Buddhist meal prayer says, “is the virtue that produces peace.”

Many, if not most, of Asia’s seemingly idiosyncratic food ways evolved from Buddha’s first meal, whether it is the Tibetan policy of subsisting on large animals so that it only takes one death to lengthen their lives, or the Burmese practice of selling only cracked eggs to gain the merit of saving a customer’s soul because truly virtuous Buddhists would never “kill” a potentially living being by breaking the shell themselves. With the world fast becoming an interconnected village, perhaps more of these food-related mores will soon take their place beside our tea, tofu, chopsticks, and curry powder, adding to the Buddha’s delight.

Article source here

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Magic of Movement

Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991)
Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991)
Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to paradise of the achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration, there are daily small deaths. - Martha Graham
Martha Graham was an American dancer choreographer regarded as one of the foremost pioneers of modern dance, whose influence on dance can be compared to the influence Stravinsky had on music, Picasso had on the visual arts, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture. 

Graham was a galvanizing performer, a choreographer of astounding moves. She invented a new language of movement, and used it to reveal the passion, the rage and the ecstasy common to human experience. She danced and choreographed for over seventy years, and during that time was the first dancer ever to perform at The White House, the first dancer ever to travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and the first dancer ever to receive the highest civilian award of the USA: the Medal of Freedom. 

In her lifetime she received honors ranging from the key to the City of Paris to Japan's Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. 

She said, "I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It's permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Beating Male Depression


Despite what you may have heard, depression affects men as profoundly as it does women.

Yes, we've all heard the jokes about the male mid-life crisis and the questions of self-identity that go with it.

But there's a darker side to depression in men. Over a million people take their lives world-wide each year. American men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than women. In fact, American men between 20 and 24 have a suicide rate seven times higher than women in the same age bracket.

While not all depressed men are going to commit suicide, symptoms of depression affect men's lives and can have a profound impact on their careers, health and their loved ones. Symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, guilt or helplessness, low mood and an inability to feel pleasure, lack of energy and insomnia.

Compounding the problem is the fact that men can find it difficult to reach out and ask for help with depression. Reaching out can make men feel unmanly and weak.

This article outlines how to reach out to men experiencing depression, either yourself or someone you know.

First of all, talk to people. While men often find it difficult to talk about depression, they're more likely to talk about depression-related symptoms they might experience, like insomnia or lack of energy. Talking to a doctor is a good place to start, as it may help diagnose the root cause of the symptoms.

Don't bottle up your feelings. If you've had a blow out with someone, tell someone about it. Alleviate the tension that can build up inside.

Stay active. Exercise benefits both the body and mind, and not only helps you sleep better, it's a great stress relief and an effective way to shed excess pounds. Recent studies are now linking depression to obesity. At the very least, you'll look better with regular exercise. Chances are, you'll feel better too.

Maintain a healthy diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables. Some of the best depression-fighting foods include brown rice, whole grains, leafy vegetables and oily fish. Salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines are all high in the omega-3 fatty acid EPA. In a 2002 clinical study, researchers found that participants who took a gram of fish oil each day experienced a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms, including insomnia, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Stay away from processed foods and foods that are high in fat and sugar. Also avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol, which can make depressive symptoms much worse.

Practice relaxation techniques and exercises like yoga. Have a massage, or practice aroma therapy. Lemon oil, for example, is a powerful anti-depressant and clinical studies have shown it can reduce stress.

Try to sleep between seven and eight hours a night. This can be difficult when experiencing depression, as insomnia is a common depressive symptom. Therefore, practice good sleep hygiene. Make your bedroom an inviting place to sleep. Keep it dark and cool and avoid coffee and stimulants before going to bed. Having said this, try not to get upset if you can't sleep. Avoid sleeping pills, and with enough healthy lifestyle factors, you'll eventually sleep better.

Don't forget to do something you enjoy! Spend time on a hobby or something you enjoy. Maybe it's golfing. Maybe you're a stamp collector. Whatever you enjoy, spend some time to do it. And if it gets you outside when the sun is shining, even better.

Review your lifestyle. Many men who experience depressive symptoms are also perfectionists. In some cases it can be wise to reduce expectations or workload. Or even explore the options of a new career.

If nothing else, take a break from your regular routine. A vacation can do wonders for your life perspective, but even a few days, or a few hours can help.

And finally try a good human growth hormone (HGH) releaser. These are dietary supplements that boost HGH production in men and women, which reduce the effects of aging, including fewer wrinkles, less body fat, increased lean muscle mass and enhanced sex drive.

An HGH releaser can reduce depressive symptoms in men and boost overall quality of life, including more sex, younger appearance and increased feelings of well-being. And because they're dietary supplements, they're available without a doctor prescription. Provacyl is a good HGH releaser for men, as it's specifically formulated with natural ingredients to address andropause, or the steady decrease of hormone production in men, and comes with no known side effects.

Depression in men is a serious issue that can have far-reaching consequences. But it doesn't have to. With the tips you've found in this article you're equipped to manage depression and minimize the disruption it can create in either your life, or someone you know.

Article courtesy of Provacyl website

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*Information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.

Friday, May 6, 2011


Once upon a time there was once a man who wandered through the wilderness. He was unfortunate enough to stumble upon a ferocious tiger. Not giving much thought to the situation the terrified man began to run until he came to the edge of a cliff. There was nowhere else to run. Desperate to escape the jaws of the tiger, the man caught hold of a vine and swung himself over the edge of the cliff. Dangling down, he saw, to his dismay, there was a tigers' liar below him with even more tigers waiting for him to fall. Worse even, two little mice began to gnaw on the vine to which he was clinging. He knew that there was no way out. Any moment he would fall to a certain death. And that was when he noticed a wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. Clutching the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other and put it in his mouth. He savored the fruit and realized that he never knew a strawberry could be as sweet as this one. 

The Zen parable of a cliffhanger is probably one of the most eye opening Buddhist parables. It teaches mindfulness. It teaches us to be present in the "here and now" and to savor the moment.

The vine in the parable represents our reality, the present moment that often goes unnoticed unless we are forced by some unusual circumstances to face it. The tiger symbolizes our fears and worries that make it impossible for us to enjoy our walk through life that is represented here by the wilderness. The tigers at the bottom of the precipice are the fears of the future, the disasters yet to come. The mice may be interpreted as symbols of our doubt and indecision constantly gnawing at the fabric of our being. The sweet taste of the wild strawberry symbolizes our awakening, a spontaneous realization of the true nature of existence.

A constant distraction and the unnecessary preoccupation with the past or the future makes it impossible for most people to stay really centered and "conscious". As their minds wander, they appear to be doing things almost unconsciously as if they were on an auto-pilot. They experience their reality as a projection from the past or the vision of the future and neither view allows them to enjoy the life for what it really is.

Fear and anxiety are strong emotions that prevent us from experiencing joy. We may think that this is an affliction of the modern mind, but it seems that people have always spent a lot of time wandering around with their minds. They wandered everywhere but seldom spent a moment in the now never really living their lives.

Nothing will change unless we consciously stop in our tracks and decide to stay in the present without wasting our time and energy on things that happened in the past and cannot ever be undone; without wasting our time speculating about the future that might never come the way we feared or hoped for. Some of us even manage to "write" a whole book about things that may never occur without realizing that our personal fiction not only prevents us from living consciously in the present, but that it stops us from taking any necessary action out of our imagined fear.

But just like in the parable, life sometimes forces us to face our worse fears. I moments of real or assumed danger we sometimes manage to open our eyes and see the things for what they really are. When we are desperate and think that there is absolutely nowhere else to go, we may unexpectedly gain a deeper understanding. Suddenly we are able to "see" for the first time and enjoy the beauty and value of small, insignificant things - a value that is not appreciated until we are forced out of our habitual blindness. This blindness, however, is acquired characteristic. As children, most of us were able to get completely lost in the the moment and forget the world around us. We could see magical things and were curious to explore exotic places even if they were only the backyards of our homes.

This childlike mind withers as soon as we grow older. Suddenly we are overburdened with our duties and there are things to be done and responsibilities to be taken. We become distracted and life is passing us by. Very often we are unconsciously busy, distracted, unaware of the beauty that surrounds us, unaware of the deeper sense that a single moment can carry. And unless we confront ourselves we will never be able to appreciate what the reality has to offer.

As someone once said: Enlightenment can be found in distraction from our daily distractions. Life happens now. And wild strawberries are delicious...

By Dominique Allmon


Image by Gregory Colbert

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Mindfulness by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quote of the Day

 Best cake ever!

Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal... There is a tendency (...) for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. 

The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious - because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority.

We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe - some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others - some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men. 

Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird

Image source here