Words

Thoughts of Thich Minh Tri

Research Method

Research Method

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September 09, 2020 at 10:32AM
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See Research Tools as well.
  1. Using primarily Feedly and Reddit, scan sources and capture to Evernote Inbox
  2. Review Evernote Inbox.
    • Is it a NOW, SOON, or LATER
      • If now, deal with it then either
        • Tag with Roar to publish to Web immediately
          • Then delete. It is on the website, no need to keep in Evernote
          • Or move to a specific notebook? What situation would I do this?
        • Or Edit then tag with Roar to publish to Web
          • Then delete. It is on the website, no need to keep in Evernote
          • Or move to a specific notebook? What situation would I do this?
      • If Soon, move it to the soon folder. BUT will that just be another collection I don’t act on? So leave it in Inbox?
      • if Later, move it to the appropriate folder. If worth it, add it to the appropriate To Do list

Research Tools

Research Tools

Tags: roar
September 09, 2020 at 10:04AM
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Summary

Using Evernote, IFTTT, and a wordpress site, I can capture anything on the web and save it for later review, edit it, or display it.

Goal

Find sources online that can be captured (storage state) for later review, sharing, site as a reference, storage, or editing. Sources include: 
  • article on a paid news site (example: Medium)
  • a Reddit thread
  • a website page or post (blog)
  • image and/or memes
  • Video (YouTube, Vimeo, other)

Parts

  • Capture, Editor,  Storage State, and Display 
CAPTURE
Evernote

Image result for evernote icon

Webclipper can capture all requirements. Article, Simplified article, Full page, Selection, or Screenshot. On pages with video, can capture video as well.
With the assistance of IFTTT, using a specific tag (in my case, I am using Roar) it will automatically put this on a website. See Storage State and Display

EDITOR
Evernote build in editor fulfills all needs.  But there are differences between the web, app, and windows versions.
Web –
App –
Windows –
Secondary editor after moved to Storage State/Website is WordPress/Divi. Note: Once published to website, further Evernote edits are not reflected by default.
STORAGE STATE
Evernote + Website
Ideal storage state is something I control, have minimal cost, and capable of displaying all types of media; should be as private or visible as I chose; should be fully editable. 
By using Evernote > Website, I am not dependent on Evernote plus everything has a backup. Branding has potential as well.
DISPLAY
Website
Although Evernote also works, the advantage of website is that it allows ease of reference (hyperlinks), sharing is easier, and categorizes/tagging has more options than Evernote notebooks/tags. And as noted in storage state, if Evernote is no longer part of my system, all data is maintained in the website that I control.

Great Dismal Swamp – Wikipedia

Great Dismal Swamp – Wikipedia

Great Dismal Swamp

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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For the area in central New Jersey, see Dismal Swamp (New Jersey).

Coordinates: 36°38′27″N 76°27′06″W

Map of the Great Dismal Swamp

The Great Dismal Swamp is a large swamp in the Coastal Plain Region of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, between Norfolk, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It is located in parts of the southern Virginia independent cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk and northern North Carolina counties of Gates, Pasquotank, and Camden. Some estimates place the size of the original swamp at over one million acres (4,000 km2), stretching from Norfolk, Virginia, to Edenton, North Carolina.[1]

Lake Drummond, a 3,100-acre (13 km2) natural lake, is located in the heart of the swamp. The lake, a remarkably circular body of water, is one of only two natural lakes in Virginia. Along the Great Dismal Swamp’s eastern edge runs the Dismal Swamp Canal, completed in 1805.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1973 when the Union Camp Corporation of Franklin, Virginia, donated 49,100 acres (199 km2) of land after centuries of logging and other human activities devastated the swamp’s ecosystems. The refuge was officially established through the Dismal Swamp Act of 1974, and today consists of over 112,000 acres (450 km2) of forested wetlands. Outside the boundaries of the refuge, the state of North Carolina has preserved and protected additional portions of the swamp through the establishment of the Dismal Swamp State Park. The park protects 22 square miles (57 km2) of forested wetland.[2]

A 45,611-acre (184.58 km2) remnant of the original swamp was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1973, in recognition of its unique combination of geological and ecological features.[3]

History[]

The origin of Lake Drummond is not entirely clear as there is no apparent network of natural streams emptying into the lake.[4]

Archaeological evidence suggests varying cultures of humans have inhabited the swamp for 13,000 years. In 1650, Algonquian-speaking Native Americans of coastal tribes lived in the swamp. In 1665, William Drummond, the first governor of North Carolina, was the first European recorded as discovering the swamp’s lake, which was subsequently named for him.[5] In 1728, William Byrd II, while leading a land survey to establish a boundary between the Virginia and North Carolina colonies, made many observations of the swamp, none of them favorable; he is credited with naming it the Dismal Swamp.[5] Settlers did not appreciate the ecological importance of wetlands. In 1763, George Washington visited the area, and he and others founded the Dismal Swamp Company in a venture to drain the swamp and clear it for settlement.[6] The company later turned to the more profitable goal of timber harvesting.[7]

Several African-American maroon societies lived in the Great Dismal Swamp during early American history. These Great Dismal Swamp maroons consisted of black refugee slaves who had escaped to seek safety and liberty.[8] Excavations reveal island communities existing until the Civil War.[9] Charlie, a maroon who worked illegally in a lumber camp in the swamp, later recalled that there were whole families of maroons living in the Dismal Swamp, some of whom had never seen a white man and would be terrified if they did.[10]

The swamp’s role in the history of slavery in the United States is reflected in Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s second novel, Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. The Underground Railroad Education Pavilion, an exhibit set up to educate visitors about the fugitive slaves who lived in the swamp, was opened February 24, 2012.[11]

The Dismal Swamp Canal was authorized by Virginia in 1787 and by North Carolina in 1790. Construction began in 1793 and was completed in 1805. The canal, as well as a railroad constructed through part of the swamp in 1830, enabled the harvest of timber. The canal deteriorated after the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal was completed in 1858. In 1929, the United States Government bought the Dismal Swamp Canal and began to improve it. The canal is now the oldest operating artificial waterway in the country. Like the Albemarle and Chesapeake canals, it is part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.[5]

Preservation[]

Forested wetland within the Great Dismal Swamp

In the mid-20th century, conservation groups across the United States began demanding the preservation of the remaining Great Dismal Swamp and restoration of its wetlands, by then understood as critical habitat for a wide variety of birds, animals, plants, and other living things. This area is along the Atlantic Flyway of migrating species. In 1973, the Union Camp Corporation, a paper company based in Franklin, Virginia, with large land holdings in the area, donated just over 49,000 acres (200 km2) of land to The Nature Conservancy, which the following year transferred the property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.[12] During this time, a 45,611-acre (184.58 km2) portion of the swamp was declared a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1973 due to its unique combination of geological and ecological features.[3]

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was officially established by the U.S. Congress through the Dismal Swamp Act of 1974. The refuge consists of almost 107,000 acres (430 km2) of forested wetlands,[13] including the 3,100-acre (13 km2) Lake Drummond at its center.

The refuge’s resource management programs aim to restore and maintain the natural biological diversity that once existed in the swamp, including its water resources, native vegetation communities, and wildlife species. Water control structures in the ditches help conserve and manage water, while forest management activities that simulate the ecological effects of wildfires are used to restore and maintain plant diversity.[12] Wildlife is managed by ensuring the presence of required habitats, with hunting used to balance some wildlife populations with available food supplies.

Today[]

The Great Dismal Swamp lies wholly within the Middle Atlantic coastal forests ecoregion.[14]
The swamp harbors a wide range of plant and animal species. Bald cypress, tupelo, maple, Atlantic white cypress, and pine, among other tree species found on the refuge, support the fauna within. (In a survey undertaken from 1973 to 1976, some 334 plants from 100 plant families were found.)[15] The swamp is home to many mammals, including black bears, bobcats, otters, and weasels, as well as over 70 species of reptile and amphibian. More than 200 bird species can be seen within the swamp throughout the year, including 96 nesting species.[12]

Lake Drummond is the center of activity in the swamp today, attracting fishermen, sightseers, and boaters. Camping is not allowed on the refuge.

See also[]

References[]

  1. ^ “Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge” (PDF). The Great Dismal Swamp and the Underground Railroad. Fish and Wildlife Service. September 2003. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  2. ^ “Dismal Swamp State Park”. N.C. Division of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
  3. ^ a b “Great Dismal Swamp”. National Natural Landmarks. National Park Service. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  4. ^ Grymes, Charles A. “Lake Drummond and Great Dismal Swamp”. Retrieved September 27, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Harper, Raymond L. (2008). A History of Chesapeake, Virginia, pp. 124–28. The History Press.
  6. ^ Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. (2002). George Washington: A Biographical Companion, pp. 86–87. ABC-CLIO.
  7. ^ Traylor (2010), pp. 165–66.
  8. ^ Kate Taylor, “The Thorny Path to a National Black Museum”, The New York Times, January 22, 2011, Accessed January 31, 2011.
  9. ^ Grant, Allison Shelley,Richard. “Deep in the Swamps, Archaeologists Are Finding How Fugitive Slaves Kept Their Freedom”. Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-06-25.
  10. ^ Redpath, James (1859). The Roving Editor: Or, Talks with Slaves in the Southern States. New York, NY: A. A. Burdick. p. 293.
  11. ^ Agnew, Tracy (24 February 2012). “Officials cut ribbon in swamp”. Suffolk News Herald.
  12. ^ a b c Yarsinske, Amy Waters (2007). The Elizabeth River, pp. 328-29. The History Press.
  13. ^ “Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge”. Great Outdoor Recreation Pages. Archived from the original on May 31, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
  14. ^ Olson, D. M, E. Dinerstein; et al. (2001). “Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth”. BioScience. 51 (11): 933–938. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2001)051[0933:TEOTWA]2.0.CO;2. Archived from the original on 2011-10-14.
  15. ^ Musselman, L. J., Nickrent, D. L. & Levy, G. F. (1977) A contribution towards a vascular flora of the Great Dismal Swamp. Rhodora 79:240-268.

External links[]

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September 08, 2020 at 04:11PM
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Live The Dream: What is Year Round Living Like in the Outer Banks?

Live The Dream: What is Year Round Living Like in the Outer Banks?

really two places:  the summer place where 250k visitors arrive (and leave) every week and the winter place where 35k residents enjoy the change of seasons. 

The summer and winters on the Outer Banks are very different.  Summers can be challenging due to the traffic and number of visitors.  Winters are milder than other nearby locations due to the proximity of the ocean and sound but tend to be very windy. 
Winters do tend to be sunny with a Carolina blue sky that can’t help but to make you smile.  This is contrasted with gray winter skies common in northerner locations.
Average temperatures in the Outer Banks are in the low to mid 50’s during the winter and go up to the high 80’s in the summer.  Ocean breezes in the summer are refreshing.  While northeast wind in the winter can be bone chilling. 
Some folks find winter long and boring.  It really doesn’t get cold until December.  January through March can be difficult for many folks once the holidays are over. 
However, the off-season is when residents get to spend time with each other.  Restaurants are uncrowded and sponsor events, activities, festivals and fundraisers.  The area has some of the best restaurants in the world and it is great to be able to enjoy them without a wait or being rushed.  Entertaining friends at home is fun and helps to pass the winter with lots of laughs.
We do occasionally get snow.  Usually, only a dusting or a few inches.  It is magical and transforms the island beautifully.  From viewing the ocean with snow covering the sand to seeing skiers on Jockeys Ridge or the forested areas covered in snow is just magical.  The snow doesn’t usually last long as the sun or salt makes it disappear within hours or a day. 
Although, I do remember one year when we got more than a foot of snow.  Most towns do not have snow removal budgets or equipment so school was closed for almost a week.  Even the kids were tired of the snow that time.  Generally, Outer Bankers are not good drivers in the snow (but don’t tell anyone I said so).
There are always a few teaser days in the winter where temperatures get into the 70’s and it feels like winter may be over.  They have to be seized when they occur as it is fleeting.  I can also recall a December day where temperatures reached the 80’s and I actually went swimming in the ocean.  These days are gifts to be cherished.
Many people that work and live in the Outer Banks year round do not get to the beach that often in the summer.  It is the busy season and most are busy working.  Even if you are not working, it is likely that your friends are working.  Living here and working here year round means you don’t get to enjoy the summer as much as you expected.
While you may not get to enjoy summer as much as you thought, you do get to enjoy and appreciate the other seasons.  A winter walk on a deserted beach is very peaceful in a zen sort of way.   Winter sunsets and stargazing is absolutely spectacular.  Being able to view and appreciate all the wildlife and beautiful scenery that is the Outer Banks is a gift that never fails to delight.
 It is the slower pace off-season where one can take the time to live in the moment, recharge and appreciate the beauty that is this barrier island.  There is a different rhythm to living year round on the Outer Banks.
Fall is a favorite time of year for many locals.  The weather tends to be warm without the high humidity with nights cooler.  I frequently turn off the A/C for the fall months and enjoy the moderate temperatures and gentle breeze.  The ocean temperatures are still warm enough for swimming.  Summer visitors have thinned and locals can take a breather from long summer working hours.  There are lots festivals, events and activities. 
Spring is a close second for a favorite season for most locals. There are a few days where the pollen becomes thick and will cover furniture with a layer of the yellow stuff if you keep your windows open.  I learned this the hard way after spring cleaning and throwing open the windows. 
Check out this post with 25 reasons to love living on the Outer Banks.

Working or Retired

Employment opportunities are limited in the Outer Banks.  If you are self-employed or can tele-commute than you are truly blessed. 
Many positions are seasonal.  As you can imagine, many jobs revolve around the tourism industry and related services.  Having a year round job is a privilege. 
If you are lucky enough to have a year round job, consider the location of where you live carefully to account for summer traffic and commute time. 
Most jobs here are not highly paid.  Many people will hold down 2 jobs to make enough to survive.  It is a tradeoff for quality of life.
Most year round residents live on the west side of the island.  Vacationers tend to prefer oceanfront so most of these are in a weekly rental program.  Many oceanfront or Oceanside homes are empty in the winter and full in the summer.  If you are living there year round, your “neighbors” will change each week and some may play music loud or have a party. 
Many residents prefer to live where other year round residents live for a community vibe and to get to know their neighbors.  Real estate and rents tend to be lower on the west side of the island with the exception of sound front locations.
If you are retired, you will have lots of opportunities to volunteer or be involved in the community.  No matter what your interest or skill, there are lots of volunteer opportunities in OBX.   Retirees also enjoy many tax benefits in NC; you can read more about that here.

Schools

If you are locating to the Outer Banks with a family that has school aged children, then the school system is very important to you.  The Dare county schools system is highly rated.  Students from Duck to Nags Head and Manteo attend Dare County Schools.  Families with school age children tend to reside in Dare County.
Corolla and Corova are located in Currituck County.  The County schools are located on the mainland and requires a very long bus ride.  There is a Charter School located in Corolla.  Water’s Edge Village School serves students in Kindergarten to 8th grade.  The school has just completed its 5th year and may expand to higher grades in the future.

Location

Location is an important consideration; not just for schools.  Some areas on the Outer Banks are more isolated in the winter than others.  Generally, Duck to Nags Head has more stores, restaurants and activity year round than does Corolla or Hatteras Island.  Manteo is the County seat and has a robust community and year round population.  

Cost of Living

Housing is the most expensive factor for the cost of living.  Oceanfront real estate tends to be most expensive.  Communities on the west side of the island are an affordable alternative and still places residents only minutes to the beach and the plentiful beach accesses. 
Year round rentals are sometimes difficult to find.  Some vacation home owners will rent their homes as a winter rental but this requires the occupant to move prior to the summer season.
Insurance is more costly than inland areas. Check out these tips for shopping for Outer Banks insurance.  Learn about the types of insurance policies needed for coastal eastern NC.
Property taxes tend to be lower than other areas.  Groceries, gas and other essentials may be marginally more expensive.

Shopping

The Outer Banks has some nationally known shopping available like Wal-Mart, K-mart, Home-Depot, Lowes and Belks.  There are numerous boutique stores for almost any niche.  Nags Head also has an outlet mall featuring top name brands. 
Of course, today in the age of the internet, shopping online and having an item delivered to your home is much more common. 
Some residents prefer to visit Norfolk/Virginia Beach area for shopping or a Costco run.  This is about 1.5 hours away but has a selection of stores and shopping that includes most anything you would need or want.

Healthcare

The Outer Banks Hospital is located in Nags Head and is part of Vidant Health and Chesapeake Regional Healthcare.  It provides urgent care services as well as practicing specialists.  It is also affiliated with the Outer Banks Medical Group which has facilities located from Southern Shores to Manteo and even Avon for convenient access to care.  For even more choices, Virginia is only 1.5 hours away. A list of healthcare service providers can be found here.  This list of healthcare providers includes telephone and addresses and veterinarians.

Crime

The Outer Banks has a low crime rate.  While many areas have a place where it is known not to visit after dark, there is no place on the Outer Banks that I would be afraid to visit at night and alone. 

Pollution

Most people who come to live in the Outer Banks have a love of the ocean and the natural environment.  We wish to protect this environment for future generations. 
Talk of drilling for natural gas, repealing the plastic bag ban or anything that will negatively affect the environment are a sure way to rally public opposition. 
There is not any heavy industry as a source of pollution.  Run off from farms inland has been a concern for the purity of the sound and measures have been put in place to reduce the run off and any negative effects.

Community

The community of residents of the Outer Banks is one of the most supportive I have ever been privileged to know.  Young and old alike are friendly, with a smile or a wave.  Once the crowds thin out after summer, most of the locals are familiar faces around town.  While not all year round residents know each other, I would venture to say we are probably only 2 degrees of separation between any locals with reference to the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.
It is common to see a post on social media or from a local restaurant sponsoring a benefit for a resident with a disease or who has suffered in an accident.  The community rallies and everyone does what they can.
The community is resilient.  Neighbors help neighbors without being asked.  After the recent power outage, folks in the northern beaches looked for ways to help the residents of Ocracoke and Hatteras recover their losses.  After a storm or other event, it is likely people will just show up to help.  They may provide labor in the cleanup, food for the workers or supplies. 
The Outer Banks is a small town with small town values.  If you are looking for cultural sophistication, the Outer Banks is probably not for you.  With that being said, there are plenty of artists and musicians that call the OBX home and their contribution to the community is immense. 
The Outer Banks still retains an innocence from another time; it still resembles Mayberry (especially Manteo) where the late Andy Griffith resided.  From the annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade to fundraisers like the Festival of Lights, there is an active and vibrant community that cares about each other.  I think this is becoming rare in most places. 
The Outer Banks of NC has a different rhythm and pace over the course of a year.  It is not right for everyone but it is perfect to us that call it home.  I am happy to have raised my kids here and I know the spirit of the ocean will always be with them. 
I know that no matter where they choose to live the sweet carefree days at the OBX beaches will always be pleasant memories.  I hope to stay here, retire and be able to provide the same kind of memories for my grandchildren. 
 If you are considering purchasing a retirement home, an investment property or a permanent move check out how OBX compares to other resort areasSchedule an appointment today to visit available homes or get familiar with each neighborhoods unique vibe to find the best place to locate for the good life!

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September 08, 2020 at 08:07AM
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roar test 2

roar test 2

some random stuff copy pasted but just bolding. But what about a table and an image?

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things in a misspelled colum
Row
your boat

tag added

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September 08, 2020 at 04:05PM

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the title is test

the title is test

just me writing here to start with but has to have a tag
large image removed for this first test – keep it simple 
done, there is no MEOW save option

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September 08, 2020 at 03:51PM
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Useful Emptiness

Useful Emptiness

I’d like to share a perspective on useful emptiness. To get there though, first a comment about judgement, and a sutra or two, and my favorite Chinese Patriarch.

 A few years back I posted a thought to a popular social media site that said: “What if enlightenment was as simple as becoming non-judgmental”. That comment was met by some skepticism but it was just a reflection of what I was thinking at that moment, not a thesis I was trying to establish. I really didn’t give it much more thought. I was not seeking to convince anyone of anything and I wasn’t seeking enlightenment.

 Time and practice continued. One of the things that comes up a lot in a study of Buddhism is the important of the Heart Sutra. I would see comments like Karl Brunnholzl’s “The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever” and that, per Shambala press, “the Heart Sutra stands akin in importance to the “Lord’s Prayer” for Christians” as well as “the Heart Sutra is considered …to contain the essence of instructions for the practice of an experience of reality permeated by wisdom and compassion”. So, seemed important. I started to study it. 

Reading the Heart Sutra alone didn’t help. Although the sutra itself is only a page long, it is a lot to try to wrap your head around. I read a book about it. I started to look at alternative definitions – some by friends in the Buddhist community, some by renowned teachers like Thich Naht Han. I talked to dharma friends and watched the Dali Lama on YouTube. I didn’t get it. It didn’t click.

If you are not familiar with the Heart Sutra, it includes text like “Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness is form; sensation, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this”. So it isn’t just a bit of text that I could just read and say “oh, sure, that makes sense” and move on. 

Part of the problem is that it – like anything else in Buddhism – isn’t intended to be learned, but to be experienced. The writings on the Heart Sutra were the fingers that point at the moon. I got stuck looking at the fingers and eventually, after feeling like it was simply beyond me, gave up.

I switched to a study of the Platform Sutra. This I greatly enjoyed. The Platform Sutra revolves around lessons and the dharma as explained by someone who started out as a poor illiterate peasant boy and became the great Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an, His Holiness Hui Neng. 

On an aside, it was really important to me to find out that not all Buddhist figures are ultra-intelligent people who memorize books and can name the ‘8 of this’ and ’16 that’ and ’32 these’. I struggle with retaining information and book learning due to some poor choices made in my youth and rely greatly on having information available to me via electronics.

 Early in the Platform Sutra, it says “One day, after he  delivered firewood to a shop, he overheard a man reciting the following line from the “Diamond Sutra” – “Depending upon no-thing, you must find your own mind.” Instantly, Hui Neng became Enlightened. The verse stated: “All Bodhisattvas (Compassionate Ones) should develop a pure mind which clings to no-thing whatsoever; and so he should establish it”. These were cool concepts and ideas to read even when they didn’t fully make sense to me at that time. Another concept that struck me deeply was when Hui Neng said “all  dharmas are empty”. I didn’t understand what that meant but here, unlike the heart sutra, I didn’t feel a need to understand it. Instead, that line, “all dharmas are empty”, sat in my mind and my heart, just kind of resting. At peace. 

Until, at some point months later, I attended a sangha that did things differently that I had seen them done before. What it was that was different isn’t important – if you hang around Buddhism any amount of time, you’ll see different influences in different traditions. The important part for me is that when I encountered something “different”, instead of following that with a value judgment regarding the way things were done, the idea and the words that “All Dharmas are empty” floated up to my consciousness. And the rest of the sangha was both easy and pleasant. I was released from ‘That’s not the way we do it’ or ‘real Buddhist do it this way’ or ‘I don’t like it when they do it that way’.  This ease, this peace that came from the idea of emptiness, lead me to once more return to the Heart Sutra. 

“Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness is form”. What is the Heart sutra saying here? The Dalai Lama teaches that “existence can only be understood in terms of dependent origination.” Dependent origination is a teaching that no being or thing exists independently of other beings or things. Or put another way, Red Pine writes that because all phenomena exist interdependently with other phenomena, all distinctions we make are arbitrary. 

All distinctions we make are arbitrary. We use distinctions to create judgements, never realizing that they are based on nothing more than our perception. Since our perception is only specific to us, it is flawed in a way, as we create our own perceptions based on what we experience through form, sound, smell, taste and touch. We can try to see things from another person’s  perspective. Some of us are very good at empathizing -and make no mistake- that has great value. But when you get cut off in traffic, you take not only present actual information such as, is it a truck or a car? A fancy expensive car or an older one with some wear and tear? Did it have NY license plates or was it Kentucky? We take that information, add it to our views of NY drivers or people who drive oversized trucks, and all of our past experience of driving and being cut off in traffic, and then add it to our state of mind and a number of other things. And we mumble to ourselves ‘asshat’ and think we know the truth of that person. When we realize that our entire perception of the event is based on a  story of what actually happened – instead of what actually happened – we can smile to ourselves and think ‘empty’. Empty of intrinsic value. Empty of truth. 

Once I realize this, once I really get it, then what is left of judgment? Since I know that my story about ‘those NY drivers who can’t be bothered to check their side view mirrors cause they are always in a rush, only care about themselves  and are probably laughing at me because they think Ohio people are bumpkins and …and …and…’ is at best incomplete, why tell the story at all? 

When someone angrily denounces a policy I agree with or rejoices in something that I dislike, instead of me trying to figure out what is wrong with that person, instead I realize my view and opinion are empty.  I don’t have to attach to an idea of agree or disagree, revel in or dislike. It is enough that I am me, and you are you. From this position, I am open to hearing the person and can seek common ground if need be – or maybe the skillful thing is to be ok with being different. 

When I realize that I don’t know the story – that Dependent origination tells me that things arrive in the context of other thing – this allows me to find compassion. Instead of me brushing someone off for not believing in something that is so obvious to me, I realize we believe what we do because of the conditions around us. Some of us can find freedom after  being raised in a toxic and unskillful environment; others might need to be heard and listened to and loving kindness to find a new path. And always we realize we too are empty – what makes us so sure we are smart and wise in all things? Maybe we are – but never just accept it. Always wonder, question, poke, keep your eyes open and looking. 

I will leave you with this quote by Dogen

 “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

 

Death and Dying

Many people join a religion as a way to deal with death and dying. Now, Buddhism makes no bones about the importance of dealing with death. It is part of the first of the Four Noble Truths and said that the Buddha began his journey once he recognized that everyone dies (as well as has to deal with old age and sickness). The rest of the Four Noble Truths talk about how to deal with the reality of suffering, including the suffering of recognizing all things that are born must die.

Many Buddhist and nearly all Buddhist traditions accept the idea of rebirth, based on karma gained/lost throughout life. The differences between Buddhist traditions, in general, have to do more with specific details of rebirth, such as whether or not there is an intermediate state between births.

Secular Buddhist, as a tradition, interpret things differently, of course, suggesting that the Hungry Ghost (one of the Hell levels) realm is a state we might find ourselves in here and now. Some Zen Buddhists as well as suggest discussions of rebirth and different levels of Hells and Heavens are methodology rather than doctrine. Others would disagree, saying that “you must make the utmost effort to accomplish you enlightenment in this life, and not to postpone it into eternity, reincarnating throughout the three worlds” (Wumen Huikai, a famous Zen master).

What do I believe? For me, the traditional view isn’t really important. Buddhism allows me to decide what makes sense to me. My teacher has never said ‘If you don’t believe this, you are wrong’. Instead, the question is what is skillful, what is aligned with compassion?

Specifically, my teacher says “As a Buddhists, I’m not really thinking about what’s to come or what has already taken place. It is the now – the being right here right now – that is the underpinning on why I do this practice. If there is truth in that, then at the moment of transition (death) the same will be true. So what does it matter to figure it out now?” (Thich Minh Thien). He also suggests that when wondering about death from a ‘what happens next’ perspective, to take a look at the “Heart of Great Wisdom” sutra.

Which leaves it to me; what do I believe? Well, I don’t know. I’ve had a few ‘to strange to be coincidences’ events in my life. And a few feelings of reliving something that felt like a past life resurgence. But it is also true that I believe in the scientific method. And that the entire ‘if you are good you go to a good place…’ sounds like a fairy tale told to keep people in line. I am pretty skeptical about the ‘gain good merit by donating to our church/sangha/temple’.

The question really comes down to do I believe I have a soul; an everlasting “self” that goes from body to body, lifetime to lifetime. Where would I find this soul? It gets tricky here because a core Buddhist belief is there anatman or no-self. No permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul. So what goes reborn? And anyway, where would I find that soul? It isn’t in my left arm, as if it gets chopped off, I’d still be me. The ego is a tricky thing and will do anything to protect itself, including creating the concept of a soul that continues on throughout all time.

So! To the question of ‘do I have a soul?’, I say – ‘I don’t know’. In other words, I have no proof one way of the other. This isn’t being an agnostic, it is simply being open-minded and realizing I don’t have all the information yet. Perhaps it is a bit more than that though because I don’t have all the info and I am ok with that.

So, if asked, I would say most Buddhist believe in rebirth, based on karma. But not all do, and that is ok, they don’t have to.

If asked what I believe, I’d say I don’t know, but my practice of compassion aligns with most of the worlds religions as being a good person, so maybe if one of those religions is correct I’ll be ok in the afterlife. If not, maybe I’ll be reborn a frog. But today, the focus should be today, being alive and living.

How To Meditate

Sit

You can use a meditation cushion (zafu) or meditators bench (Seiza Bench) or just use a chair. If using a chair (which I often do), make sure it is a solid one (no desk chairs with wheels). Sit toward the front edge of your chair. Once you are sitting, you’ll want to roll your pelvis forward, so you are sitting on the two bones in your bottom, sometimes called the sitting bones. Allow your back to be straight and dip your chin a bit. In your sitting, find a balance. You don’t want to be worried about being sitting ramrod straight, but don’t slouch either. Think of the string of a music instrument – not too tight or too loose.

Breath

Rest attention on the breath as it travels in and out of the nose. Just allow yourself to feel the breath. You may find it useful to count it – on the in breath, mentally say “in”, and on the outbreath, mentally count “one”. We will come back to the breath in a minute.
Hands. Do something with your hands. You may want to make a steeple, or “lions paw”, or forefinger and thumb touching, or prayer hands. Or something else. Regardless of which position (mudra) you pick, it is yours, and you’ll want to keep using it when you meditate.

Mind

Here is the part that people find the most challenging, both in getting over their own preconceived views of what meditation is as well as what they are supposed to be doing…and just sitting still with your self! As you sit and breath, with the intent to rest attention on the breath, counting away, you’ll find the mind wants to wander. Stories of the past, the future, what else you could be doing, are you doing this right, I took a right on my way to work when I meant to go left but I came across a nice little store where I found that vase that had oh right meditating. Your mind will wander. It is ok. If your mind wanders 10,000 times during your sitting, it is ok. Come back to the breath. I use a mantra I heard that, as I recognize my mind has wandered, I say to myself “Recognize, relax, return to the breath”. I am acknowledging that my mind has wandered, I am not allowing myself to be frustrated about it, and I am getting back to sitting with the breath.

Simplify

 
  • One thing that will make this practice easier are to be consistent in when and where you meditate (every morning, by this bookcase)
  • Start with a timer set for 10 minutes. When you are ready, you may find it beneficial to go to 20 or 30 minutes.
  • If you find yourself saying “I am not doing a good job at meditation!” then congratulate yourself on your sitting in one spot for 10 minutes practice.
  • When meditation is easy, then practice meditation when it is easy. When meditation is hard, practice meditation when it is hard.
   
 
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