Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Questionnaire on Buddhism

I was asked to fill out this questionnaire about Buddhism. I didn't give it a lot of time but just responded with whatever came to mind.

Occasionally I'm asked to speak about Buddhist practices in a classroom or at an event. This questionnaire came after speaking at a college and one of the students needing answers for a final paper. I'm posting this up because I figured 1) hey, this is content 2) in case anyone asks me similar questions like this I can just copy these answers 3) it'll allow to refine what I'm saying.

1. Why did you choose to follow Buddhist practices?
After reading "The Diamond Cutter" I was stunned by how simple and practical Buddhism could be to the average American. I applied the lessons to my professional life, which then lead me to thinking about my personal life and my spiritual life (which was non-existent at the time). I started reading a bunch of other Buddhists books and the common theme -again and again- was practical compassion that could be done on a day-to-day basis. No saving old ladies from burning buildings or coming up with the cure for cancer. Just every day kindness.  I could have stopped just there and remained agnostic with a little Buddhist wisdom sprinkled into my life, and many people do stop there. But something told me to investigate further. 

As I looked at new-age spirituality I some times found the same 'loopy, magical thinking' that sounds Buddhist-like but isn't actually at all. And I suddenly realized that a lot of teachings had been influenced by Buddhism but -without going back to the practicality- would become that sort of 'fake positivity' that I find annoying. 

And after studying other religions I found Buddhism to be the only one that is consistently applicable, direct, and produces quantitative as well as qualitative results in my life. In other words it's something that's scientific because it's repeatable and is faith based on facts.

2. Is there a particular sect or path of Buddhism that you follow? If so, what distinguishes this sect or path and why did you choose to follow this particular one?

I follow the Gelupka tradition of the Dalai Lama or the clergy with the 'yellow hats.' Those are the reformists of Tibetan Buddhism and the youngest sect. Within that I follow Mahayana the greater vehicle as well as Vajrayana, which is the practice of the secret word.

What distinguishes Gelupka tradition is the amount of logic and debate involved. That's emphasized in our practice. The Nyingma (sp?) for instance emphasize meditation more than debate. And others sects focus on a particular part of the practice as the grasping point. 

Mahayana is the greater vehicle (which exists in several countries) and that just means logic and other stuff is included. Vajrayana is frequently referred to as Tantric Buddhism and that's secret and requires training directly from a Tantric Master along with a lot of rituals, requirements, and initiations. It's also considered a much faster path to enlightenment and you receive 'secret' teachings after studying the 'open' Mahayana teachings for a while and being deemed 'appropriate.' Studying Tantra without a teacher can be very dangerous because it's powerful so it's something to be treated  like a very powerful medicine.

3. What aspects of Buddhism drew you to it?
Practicality of it all like I said above. 

4. How and why is meditation used in Buddhism?
Like all things in Buddhism it's geared toward getting the practitioner to enlightenment and the end of suffering. Concentration is needed in order to set the mind in a place capable of gaining knowledge. The higher the knowledge the more concentration that's needed. But it's like learning how to play the piano or playing sports in that there's a zone the mind enters where it is completely focused. In that zone all things are possible and it's a very free feeling. When you look at a star pianists or a superstar basketball player you see that meditative focus and its amazing. Well every human mind has that same capacity for superstar focus but not for just basketball or pressing on keys. We have that potential to carry into our lives in all things. Meditation helps increase that potential. 

5. Why do you, as an individual, practice meditation and how do you practice it? Is there a particular way of meditating that you use?

I practice a combination of open Mahayana and secret Vajrayana meditation. The latter I can't talk about too much but the open meditation is very practical. You clean up your space, set up an altar, stretch the body and sit. In a seated posture you align the body, straightened the back and settle into meditation. You warm-up the concentration by focusing on your breath for a minute or longer. Then you go into an analytical meditation (or a problem), a review meditation (of something you're studying), mediation on compassion, or a meditation on wisdom. It's good to switch it up every once and a while, just like working different muscles in the gym feels good and adds balance to the body. Working different meditations balances the mind.

6. How does meditation make you feel?
Very clear and clean. Some times this isn't a pleasant thing because I'm forced to confront something that I would want to hide from or avoid. But if I do an analytical meditation on a problem, most of the time I can see where I err'ed. Meditation is like cleaning your house. Some times it's not fun but you always like walking around in a clean house afterward. You always like walking around with a clean mind after the sweeping and dusting is done. 

7. Does meditation offer stress relief or other health benefits?
I used to have really bad headaches and other ailments quite frequently. Those don't happen any more. And it's reduced stress by putting things in perspective. 

8. Has using meditation made an impact on your life or caused you to change in some way? Can you tell me some examples?
It's given me clarity and perspective. A lot of stuff that was so important to me I now find utterly silly. The 'accomplishment' patting yourself on the back stuff on Facebook or Twitter. It's funny because it's the same thing again and again 'love me, look at me.' So instead of just deriding them, I offer love. We're all the same. We want to be loved and accepted. 

My relationship with my parents has gotten more peaceful and has more compassion. I find old friends of the 'world' seem to fade into the background. They just drop out of contact. And new friends who are spiritually inclined appear to be popping up everywhere. Maybe my calm from meditation is attracting them. 

When a problem arises I can go somewhere in the moment. On Monday I was having an issue with a producer I'm working with and we began to have a disagreement. I knew I had about a few seconds before things would turn into accusations and conflict. I stopped it and the conversation was productive because of meditative focus and being able to see my mind and where my emotions were running. 

9. What is different or similar about meditation compared to other sacred rituals such as prayer in Christianity?
Buddhist meditation is concentration of mind. Prayer is more asking outside of yourself to something else. Both are helpful and Buddhism has both. If you want to get technical meditation is 'single-pointed focus on an object.' 

10. Is it possible to use and benefit from meditative practices without following Buddhism? Why or why not? 

Yes because meditation is just a practice of concentration. Imagine being able to move through my day with the concentration of Michael Jordan on the court or Bill Gates. And once I'm that focused, wisdom reveals itself and solves something that I was blind to before. Meditation is a gateway to getting those answers.

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