On becoming a Buddhist (thinking outloud)

English: The enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism

English: The enso, a symbol of Zen Buddhism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day I finally made it into a popular bookstore in Portland, New Renaissance. It’s a really cool place, full of what some would call “new age” books but others might call spiritual (as opposed to religious). As I was wandering around I had my antennae up and was gauging how different sections of the store resonated. I got to to the Buddhist section, particularly the Zen Buddhist section, and felt this deep sense of security. I felt comfortable and secure and at home. I felt like I was hanging out with an old friend.

This makes me wonder if I shouldn’t go through the process of becoming an official, card carrying Buddhist. It’s actually quite the serious undertaking, which is why I haven’t considered it before now. I love what I have learned so far about Buddhism. It really resonates with me on a level I could never get with Christianity. However, I fear the idea of putting myself in a box. Christianity was so psychologically damaging to me so that is where that fear comes from. In my mind I know that Buddhism is nothing like Christianity but still. The fear is still there.


The Realm of Hungry Ghosts


Buddhism’s Wheel of Life

A friend from my local sangha requested that I write a blog post about something I mentioned at our meeting last week regarding the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts.

I am  new to Buddhism (yes, this post starts with a rambly pre-amble). I have studied Zen Buddhism for around 5 years with varying degrees of enthusiasm. One thing that I know, after all of these years of being exposed to the Dharma is that it totally and completely resonates with me. One of the teachings that I have been recently enjoying  is the Six Realms. This is not a Zen teaching, it’s origins are based in Tibetan Buddhism. Regardless, it still has been very helpful for me. We have only discussed 4 of the realms so far (and in this order): Hungry Ghost, Human, Heaven, and Titans.

All in all there are six realms and taken together it is the Wheel of Life. The idea is that we are reborn into these realms. Some Buddhists  take this idea literally but it can be taken metaphorically. We are reborn moment by moment, karma and rebirth happens continually and, therefore, we can enter into one of these realms several times a day. This is definitely true for me.

So. Hungry Ghosts. The Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a realm of desire. It is the realm of unslakable thirsting. The ghosts in this realm are trying to eat but the food turns to fire. They have skinny necks so that food can’t get into their bellies. They are wanting but never satiated. I find myself in this realm often for a variety of reasons.

There is good news. There is a way out! In Buddhism, there is always a way out,  nicely laid out for us in very detailed steps. It’s actually rather simple, too. Each realm has a buddha (or teaching) that represents the way out of that realm. For the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, that “teaching” is simply gratitude. There is probably more to it but I can’t seem to find information online about the buddhas of each realm. But the big takeaway for me when this was taught to me a month ago is that gratitude is the way out of this realm. Guess what? It works!! like magic. I tried this as a practice this past month. When I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t be satiated, I would sit and think about all the things in my life I am grateful for and the suffering of that realm dissolved.

Last night we continued our way through the Wheel of Life. We learned about the Realm of the Titans. This is the realm of envy, competition, and obsession. I find myself here more than I care to admit. It was interesting and helpful to learn about this realm, as well. I want to write about my thoughts about it but I think I will save those for another post. I think I want to let the teaching sink in for a few days first.


Demeter of the library

Demeter of the library (Photo credit: Arenamontanus)

Last night a friend got out her Goddesses Knowledge Cards and we did an on-the-fly (not really knowing what we are doing) reading. We decided the first card we chose would be the past, the second card is the present, and the third card is the future. This is what I chose:

Past – Hathor.

Present – Etain

Future – Demeter

Nirvana and art


And it comes right down and lands on the ground and out comes a man from Mars..."

I haven’t taken blog-worthy photo all week and so I’m posting one I took at the end of March at Wildwood. I edited the photos I took that day while listening to music, something I don’t do. I found it an interesting experience. Music and photography are two forms of art that touch me very deeply. It was really interesting to see how the song I was listening to affected the way I processed the photo. Each song changed the way I looked at the photo and influenced the decisions I made.

This whole idea, the way another person’s art influences my art, is an idea I’ve been thinking about lately. Specifically within the context of Buddhism.

This week at my zazen group we talked about the Third Nobel Truth: the cessation of dukka (suffering). Otherwise known as nirvana. The text we read was “What the Buddha Taught” and was very interesting to me. I had always had this vision of Nirvana as a place where Buddhists go after they have completed their karmic lessons. And I always pictured it in my mind as a kind of gaping void, which never appealed to me. However, this is not at all what nirvana is. Nirvana is something that is always there and that we always have access to, whether we are Buddhist or not. Buddhism provides a path to help you find nirvana, but, from what I’m understanding, you don’t have to be Buddhist to find it. It is hard to describe but I think I kind of understand it a little bit. I think I’ve had glimpses of it in my life now and then. I think that moment on Mt. Hood was a brief glimpse of nirvana. I think that when I watch the sunset over the ocean and feel like I’m having a religious experience, because it is so beautiful, that is a brief glimpse of nirvana.

I think that when we create art we are working from that place. Or anytime we use our intuition, we are tapping into it. I have called it “that thing that connects us all together” for lack of understanding.

I think that when we experience art and are affected by somebody’s creation we are experiencing a glimpse of nirvana, too. During our discussion Wednesday night the analogy of a river was used and I think it’s excellent. Nirvana is like a river and when we are experiencing, and affected by, art we are dipping our toes in that river.

Honestly, I’m still learning about all of this and don’t claim to have the answers. But this idea has been rattling around in my head and I felt like sharing.

The past


A couple of years ago, when I started studying Zen philosophy, Raf was hired to illustrate a book. The book is a memoir called Leaving Parma. As he was brainstorming ideas for these illustrations he came up with this one: “Words create past experience.” He came up with this within the context of the memoir as “Creative Nonfiction.” The idea came to him when he read the prologue to the book. In that section Angie Sarich explains that when she had her family read the book they remembered things very differently and it made her question the past and what it was. So using this idea he decided to illustrate the book with words from the book. He used words to recreate images described in the story. The above illustration is an example of one of these final images.

I thought this was a brilliant idea and if  you ever get a chance to get your hands on this book take a peek at Raf’s illustrations. They are really unique.

When he was bouncing this idea off of me I was studying Zen and was kind of, in a roundabout way, thinking about the idea of past and what it is. And then it hit me. hard.  The past does not exist. We may think it does but it doesn’t. We are constantly rewriting it, whether it be in our minds, or on paper, or on a blog. We remember things about specific events that didn’t quite happen the way another person might remember it. So if I recall something one way and another person who experienced the same event recalls it another way, which way is the true way? See what I mean? The past is merely an imagining of what we think happened.  And our  recall of fact is tenuous at best.

That’s really all I have to say about that. I thought about it recently because the idea came up in my zazen group this past week. It was one of those rare,  mind-blowing “aha” experiences that don’t happen very often.