Friday, January 28, 2011


As a preface, I want to note that I added some links in the links section. Feel free to check them out: Sacred texts, Beliefnet, Cauldron Living, and Christian Forums.

Earlier today, I posted this article on my facebook. It discusses the fact that a growing number of American Christians mix elements of Eastern religion, such as yoga practices, into their beliefs.

This has, of course, caused some contention with my fundamentalist mother, who is also on facebook. She commented on the link:

Okay know I have to comment on this one. Whatever anyone wants to believe is their choice, however, if you believe in the Ten Commandments you are breaking a big one here.

Hinduism belief: Brahma=Creator, Vishnu=Preserver,
Buddhism: Worshipers of Buddha.

If and I stress "IF" someone professes to be a Christian, it is not possible to worship any other than the one true God. "Thou shalt have no other gods(little g) before me." There is no room for debate here. You either are or you aren't a Christian and it scares me when people mix other religions in with Christianity. It is so aggravating to hear people claim that they can worship all other gods but still profess to be Christian. Be careful what you dabble with. When someone joins a cult, it happens so gradually they do not even realize they are in it until it is too late. Stay in God's word and what He teaches and you will be much better off in the end (literally). Love you (Mark 4:15b).

To which I responded:

That's not really how I interpreted the article. I never read in there anywhere that they actually claimed to worship Buddha, Vishnu, whoever else, but that utilizing those Eastern spiritual practices (yoga, meditation, etc.) have brought t...hem closer in their own walk with God and strengthen their faith, as practices in addition to reading the Bible, going to church, etc. It's one reason a growing number of denominations have meditation sessions and such. My group therapy class this past Saturday even did some yoga when we had some time to fill. I took some yoga when I had that membership at the YMCA. Very relaxing and helped my stress. But I didn't become Hindu because of it.

In the midst of this, she sent me a message, which reads:
Hey Chad. Listen, I am really burdened by what you are posting lately about other beliefs. Are you beginning to question your faith? If you are, please let us talk to you before you get too deeply in these false beliefs. I cannot bear to think that you are turning away from what you have been taught. What is going on Chad? Really. I know this seems straightforward of me, but I cannot stay silent on something this important. Please get back to reading the Bible instead of all of this other junk out in the world. If those that have gone on before could come and warn you they would, but they can't so I will. It is not worth facing Jesus one day and being cast into hell with Buddha. Just because these people have good philosophies do not make them followers of Christ. Do you still believe in the Bible? If not, you have serious eternal issues to consider. I love you Chad and would do anything for you. You know that. All I ask is that you read God's word, commentaries, and anything else that will help you to see that all of these other beliefs are false gods. If you follow them, well, I think you know enough of scripture to know what will happen. My heart is heavy right now. Your mom loves you more than anyone in the world which is why I have to be honest with you about how I am worried about your christian faith right now. Please don't let other beliefs steal that from you....and it can very easily.

To which I responded:

I know my beliefs, and I'm secure in them. I think you're missing the point of the article. It's not talking about worshipping Buddha (which, honestly, most Buddhists don't believe they're worshipping him either for that matter, more like following his example - they never claim he's a god, and don't really have a specific required belief in God, which is why many Christians agree with their philosophies as well), or Vishnu, or whoever. But yoga and most other meditation techniques that have become commonly used in the US are from those Asian religions, and when people say they get a spiritual experience from them, they are meaning that those practices have made them feel more connected with God and relaxed, in the same way more traditional prayer (which they also practice) does. God never says we *always* have to use words to pray. If God indeed knows what we are thinking and what's in our hearts, then to me, the meditation and yoga, etc. mentioned in this article is just a way of praying without words.

Now, I obviously didn't go into my practice of Gnosticism or my connection to Paganism via Druidry. Or the fact that I'm still on the fence about whether I see Brighid and my other patrons as saints or deities. I didn't feel the need to. But inwardly, I did notice the almost total lack of emotion I felt during the whole exchange. This time two years ago - heck, even one year ago - I would've become frustrated and felt offended that I can't get her to respect my point of view. This time, I just didn't care. I just stated my points, clicked "send", end of story. I tried to be succinct, simple, and respectful, yet still standing up for myself. But at the same time, I didn't care either. Maybe I've finally realized that she's always going to be how she is, she's never going to understand me, and she's always going to try to force her views onto me. Maybe I'm just tired. Maybe I'm having a Zen moment, where for once I don't let the actions of others dictate my emotions. And maybe, just maybe, I've finally begun to mature as a person. And for that, I thank God. And Buddha.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rediscovered Ancient Text Tells a Different Three Wise Men Tale

This is an article I stumbled upon over Christmas break. It tells of an ancient text that had been discovered in the Vatican library, and recently translated into English, which tells the story of the Magi, the Three Wise Men, from the point of view of the Wise Men. Most notable about this version, is the fact that in this version, the star actually becomes the Christ Child once they arrive in Bethlehem. In addition, this Christ then tells them that this is just one of many incarnations to appear in the world, a similar belief held by many who believe that Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, and the other founders of the world's religions, are all incarnations of God, or are avatars, etc.

This is certainly a book I'm going to want to get my hands on. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Review: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living

Well, here it finally is. My book review of my most recent book to be completed from my reading list, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living . Although it took practically forever to finish due to life circumstances, motivation, etc., it was well worth the read.

The first section provides the basics of the history of Zen Buddhism, and a description of Buddhism in general. I find a lot of it appeals to me as a method of living day-to-day life. In all honesty, I think if I were ever to leave Gnosticism, it would be for Buddhism. Although, admittedly, there actually is a fair bit of overlap between the two, at least as Gnosticism is often practiced in modern-day form. In addition, many Western Buddhists, as well as many Western Zen practitioners, believe that Zen Buddhism can be practiced as a spiritual practice apart from religion, or in addition to one's professed religion. This book refers to those who practice Zen without religion, or as a spiritual component of their primary religion, as "Zennists"

In the first chapter, basic definitions are given. Zen is the Japanese word for "meditation". Zazen, the most common form of meditation in Zen Buddhism, is "sitting meditation". Nirvana is the term for "enlightenment". I found it interesting to learn that, contrary to what most Western non-Buddhists think, Nirvana is not the state reached after death, although it does typically mean that one will not be reborn in the cycle again, unless they do so to help others (which is basically what a "bodhisattva" is). According to this book, it is the state of enlightenment reached when one truly realizes the unity of all things. It is not exactly an end goal, so much as a catalyst for spiritual growth.

In Zen Buddhism, there are three sets of concepts. The first is comprised of the Three Treasures:
- The Buddha, and the concept that everyone has the Buddha nature
- The Buddha's teachings (known as dharma), and the recognition that these teachings reflect ultimate truth
-The Buddhist community, called sangha, which are either interpreted literally (the group of practitioners and those of like mind) or figuratively (the community of all sentient beings).

The second set of concepts, which I actually find to be very accurate and something worth adding to my own spiritual practice, is comprised of the Four Noble Truths:
- Living means experiencing dukkha - discontent and suffering
- Dukkha is caused by desire - "if only I had this, then I would be happy"
- By eliminating desire, we eliminate suffering.  I admit I struggled with this one. What does it mean to eliminate desire? Give up emotion? How does one do that? The book further gives clarification and discusses how the point is not to get rid of all emotion, but to be happy with where you are in life and the fact that in reality, you already have what you need at that moment in time, even while you may be working towards larger goals. The point is to work towards goals and have goals, but not to be controlled by the things you think you need.
- The Fourth Noble Truth is the way to eliminate desire, which is done by adhering to the Eightfold Path.

The third set of of concepts is the aforementioned Eightfold Path, which is basically a set of guidelines for living:
- Right understanding - recognizing that life is impermanent, suffering is linked to desire, which is linked to the idea that we are lacking something. This sometimes includes the concept of understanding karma (cosmic cause and effect, balance), and the unity of all beings.
- Right thought - thinking kindly of others, and refusing to engage in cruel thoughts. This follows the concept that "we are what we think".
- Right speech - refusing to lie, gossip, etc. Speak only when necessary, and speak wisely when we do.
- Right action - following the Five Precepts, or Buddhist morals: nonviolence or refusing to kill purposefully; refusal to steal(not only shoplifting, but also plagiarism and even stealing attention from others);control of the senses;talking sincerely and honestly; and refusing to alter the mind with intoxicants.
- Right livelihood - choosing a career that is just, honest, and upright.
- Right effort - making a conscious attempt to bring about positive qualities in ourselves while getting rid of negative qualities.
- Right mindfulness - being constantly aware of our feelings, environment, our bodies, our thoughts.... total awareness.
- Right concentration - working on staying focused. Ideally, if I were practicing this particular principle at the moment, I would be totally focused on writing this entry, instead of also (maybe ironically) watching Sister Act on my roommate's Wii via Netflix instant play.

The rest of the book, while it does get a little repetitive, goes into various techniques of meditation, how a Zen practitioner would handle certain situations - such as Zen and dating, Zen in the workplace, Zen and family members, etc. It gave me a lot of ideas that I'm trying to incorporate into my life. I do admit that I find the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path very appealing, a big reason I considered Buddhism as a religious option. Indeed, seeing as it appears to be very compatible with other religions (even in the countries where Buddhism is primarily practiced, many are practitioners of two religions - for example, most Japanese are practitioners of both Buddhism and Shinto, the Japanese native religion).

Now is just as good of a time to put these things into practice, as I feel I have some big things coming for me this year. For one, my internship supervisor has already made calls to her superiors to get approval to extend a job offer for part-time employment with them, and so I have to begin thinking about what decision I should make if I'm presented with an official job offer. Or maybe, according to Zen, I shouldn't be thinking about it at all. It's in the future, and in Zen concept, there is no future. Only the present. Also, as today was my first day of classes for the spring semester, I am getting back into the grind of school/work/internship.

In short, a great book, good introduction to anyone wanting to learn more about Zen, or Buddhism in general.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Year in Review

Coming soon, I'm adding a couple of more links, and I have a couple of articles I want to comment on. Also, I finally finished The Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living, and will be posting a book review. For tonight, however, I want to follow a bit of a tradition of mine and do a bit of a 2010 in review post.

The first two months of the year, I spent with a head cold-turned-sinus infection-turned-bronchitis. I took antibiotics, which of course made me worse. Easter weekend I spent in the Emergency Room with a horrible stomach virus, with a roommate who, as I heard whilst drifting in and out of consciousness, was a homeless guy who had supposedly been slipped crack. Surprisingly enough, I didn't really get sick the rest of 2010, aside from another head cold in August. My dad and sister are currently sick though, so here's a little *knock on wood* that I don't catch that before I go back to the real world on Tuesday.

School was hell. By the end of Spring Semester 2010, my GPA was down to a 2.9. I need a 3.0 to remain in school. I retook one of my classes that summer and brought it up to a 3.0 even. For the Fall Semester, I somehow managed to bring it up to a 3.1 - I made a B in the class I thought would be my easy A, an A in the class I thought I would do terrible in, and of course had no problems with my grade for the internship. My internship started in August of 2010, and it's been busy as hell, with a caseload that seems to me to be very large for an intern. I feel bad complaining about it sometimes, and try to work it out, since they seem to really like me, and my supervisor told me that she normally only gives interns a caseload 1 case because that's all they can handle, but I do so well, so she's given me the 6ish I have now. On top of that, the most recent incidence of changing my caseload/reassigning clients, she actually worked the caseload around 4 or 5 different times to keep from having to take me away from my cerebral palsy client, because she said I've connected with that kid and his foster family in a way that is very unusual for that particular family, who usually are kind of skeptical with the caseworkers that work with them. This unnerves me some, because it seems that when people start bragging too much about my capabilities, or complimenting me too much, that's when I start doing worse, because even now, I just don't know how to handle that kind of positive attention.

Work has also been crazy. One of the hardest decisions I made was quitting my part-time job in June 2010, to give more time for school endeavors. A few colleagues from that job also work at my current place of employment, and as recently as November, they have mentioned the kids missing me and asking about me. Indeed, on my birthday, a kid and his roommates called me and left me a voicemail telling me happy birthday. A month after quitting the part-time job, in July, I went part-time at the full-time job. This means I basically make my own calendar of availability, allowing for even more time for school and working just enough to pay the bills.

Socially, my life has continued to mostly be on hold. I didn't really interact with any of my classmates outside of group projects/assignments and an occasional lunch together between classes. Scheduling didn't allow me to see most of my work friends outside of work, and most of my closer ones have quit the job at this point anyways. I had a total of 3 dates during the year, all of which seem to have turned out to be what I call "one hit wonders" - having a date, and then never acknowledging my existence again, or at least only rarely doing so. On a positive note, I do have a very good work friend who has become more of a travel/activity partner, which makes things more fun. Also, I saw one of my best friends for the first time in six years.

Here's to hoping that 2011 continues the trend of actually having good (or at least, not devastatingly bad) years, something that hasn't really happened since 2006. Happy New Year's, everyone!