Like ninety million other people my Facebook newsfeed is a mixture of posts from people I know, specific things I’d like to know about/from, and miscellaneous other “incidentals.” One such incidental on my newsfeed recently was a quote of the Buddha. I noticed it in passing – or, rather in scrolling. It caught my eye and as I kept scrolling it ended up catching my thoughts, too.

The exact wording I now forget, but it was something along the lines of “share your enlightenment with others,” but using more words and going very briefly into why everyone should do this. Instantly, I felt conflicted.

The role or idea of the boddhisattva came to mind. Someone is a bodhisattva who has attained liberation and also has vowed to return to a physical life, lifetime after lifetime, for the sake of helping others attain liberation, too. That seems to fit the quote. Fine. Dandy.

However, the bodhisattva clique is rather small – and probably smaller these days than ever. So what about the rest of us? Well, any reason-minded person could tell you that when it comes to something like enlightenment, as with virtually everything else, we’re all at different places. Some have more money, and some are in the process of getting more. Some have bigger families, and some are in the process of growing theirs. Some have already long been invested the intense labor of Self-realization, and some are just starting.

All of that is also fine and dandy. In fact, it’s quite perfect – and here’s why: Freedom. Because I am where I am, and you are where you are, we’re both free to tackle our respective “next step” in whatever way we think will prove most productive.

Occasionally, those who’ve already rounded one corner or the next are able to yell back to those approaching that same corner and offer advice or guidance to make that process smoother for those people. It’s not a matter of seniority, superiority, or ego. It’s a simple act of kindness, with potentially immense implications for the journey of those at a different place along the road. It’s that simple. And yet it’s not that simple. No one wants to feel like they’re “less.” The truth is, no one ever is, but that’s not always easy to see for some people. Priorities and perceptions are so easily – and so often – skewed. Suddenly, there’s a bit of a mess. Someone labels someone else egoic, arrogant, prideful, or bossy, when what’s actually at work is that those same qualities are well and alive within the labeler and are hoping to remain not only undetected but also fortified.

And so, on one hand, the Buddha is as right as ever. Enlightenment SHOULD be shared. Everyone on the journey has someone to their front and to their back. We can all help and be helped – often simultaneously. Thus, enlightenment should ALWAYS be shared.

On the other hand, though, things are a bit darker. Many won’t seek help or otherwise ask for it, perhaps because they don’t realize how much they need it and perhaps because they’re simply too egoic, arrogant, proud, or bossy to allow for the help. This makes sharing one’s enlightenment risky business. Everyone seems to frown on unsolicited advice, regardless of how incredibly warranted, practical, or even necessary it might be. At this point, I’m reminded of the passage in the Bible where the “casting of pearls to swine” is discouraged. This leads me to my next conclusion.

I’m feeling the need, and have been for around a week already, to retreat. Pull back. Introvert myself. To contract. There are a few things I need to nail down for myself, but there are also a few people who need to learn to walk a little more on their own – and actually walk. It’s like wasting one’s breath. You can share your knowledge (enlightenment) with someone all day every day, but at the end of the day if the one you gave so freely to never makes the effort to implement that goodness in their own life, and create/realize their own enlightenment, you might have been equally productive simply holding your tongue instead – and in the process would have spared yourself the sad frustration of knowing the potential, but unrealized, blossoming of that other soul with whom you shared.

Sometimes, too, absence makes the heart grow hungry. A post or two ago I shared a story from the Upanishads about a gamble the senses were having with each other. It’s a cute story with a deep lesson. You should read it. I’m about to enter a similar gamble with myself and others. I’m sure it will be a boon to everyone, and I’m sure the absence of what little enlightenment I have to share will be filled soonly. You’re about to prove me right and you don’t even know it.

All the grace that is mine to give, I gladly forward on to you!

Om Shanti and namastu te.



Dem Bones


About a week ago I thought I had my entire weekend planned out. I was to work all day Saturday. That evening would mean adult beverages and color hard-baked eggs festively. The following day, Sunday, was meant to be spent in Ohio at Ikea with only my beloved as we took our time wandering the immense place and gathered a handful of new display cases for his Masters of the Universe collection and my collection of Ganesha murtis.

Mother nature had other plans, though, and those plans included dumping a bunch of snow. Everywhere I looked and every new person I asked gave me a different answer as to the ETA of said snow storm. Hoping to play things safe rather than sorry, we postponed the egg coloring and moved up the Ikea trip. It was all the same, I suppose. And even better, it meant my best had his first trip to Ikea.

We get to Ohio that night and, with less time than we preferred, we made our rounds and got in line at the check out.

The crowds at Ikea are typically very mixed. I suppose Ikea has something for everyone. I recall noticing an unusually large percentage of Indians. Wearing a bright red t-shirt with nothing but a nice white Om on the front center, and with dharma tattoos visible, I assumed I’d catch some attention while we wandered Ikea’s acreage. But I didn’t really… until we reached the checkout.

Before us in the line were a small Indian man, only slightly older than myself and two female companions. We had been standing behind them for some time (the line was moving VERY slowly) before they actually noticed me. Then, the man turned around and began questioning me.

He asked about my Om shirt. He asked about the Om Purnam ink I have on my left wrist and the abstract Ganesha ink on my right forearm. He kept saying things to me as he questioned me and my response was always either, “I know” or to basically finish his sentences with the point he was assuming I didn’t already know.

I’ve said it before, and I suppose I’ll say it a million more times before this life is extinguished: Not all Hindus have brown/olive skin.

Everything this guy asked me or started to point out I explained I already knew. Eventually, he said something like, “In the fall we have a Ganesha holiday. It’s called Ganesh-”

And I cut him off, “Chaturthi. I KNOW.” I followed that with a very casual, but slightly annoyed, “I’m Hindu, too.”

His response? “No.”

I could feel my face reddening and my eyebrows being drawn toward the third eye. “What?” he asked soon after. As patiently as I could I explained, “I know those things already, sir. I’m also Hindu.” He virtually ignored what I’d just said and began to ask about the leg tattoo I’d referenced during his earlier questioning of me. To this, I turned slightly and exposed my calf where my newest Ganesha ink is located. He nodded (mind you, to the Western eye this nod is more of a bobble), flatly told me I could only have tattoos of gods on my arms, and then simply turned around and said not another word to me.

Me = floored.

Earlier today I messaged an Indian bahin (sister) that I have in Atlanta. She’s very very dear to me and my life has certainly been better since knowing her. In my message I asked her what that bit about my leg tattoo was all about. She explained that he wasn’t necessarily trying to be mean (I’m not sure I’m convinced) and that it IS generally frowned upon to have a god inked onto your leg – because the legs is connected to the foot and the foot is “dirty.” Knowing what I know about Hindu “protocol,” this sounds about right. My bahin wouldn’t lie to me and I know she wouldn’t say something to hurt my feelings.

But now I also know why religion often has a bad name.

For one, I think this points to an interesting …um, allow me to call it a double standard. It’s not really, but for now I’m calling it that. The feet are “dirty” and yet gurupadapuja is a heart-touching ritual that I, and many Hindus, adore. I understand that there’s an immense element of humility involved in padapuja… The feet are so dirty and the only part of my guru’s body I’m even “fit” to touch are his/her feet. I get it – I get it. But I don’t buy it.

For another, all things are connected and interconnected. I’m reminded of that old children’s song, “Dem Bones.” For your enjoyment, you’ll find the lyrics to that song here. Check it out and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

If my unholy foot can cause my calf to be “soiled,” then by extension my thigh, my hip, my waist and my torso are also unclean simply because “dem bones” are all physiologically connected. And virtually every other part of me branches out from there. Using that math and following that logic, it shouldn’t really matter whether Ganesha sits permanently on my arm or my leg (in my case He’s to be found on both!) because not a single square inch of me is fit to bear an image of god.

And forget the Ganesha on my leg. The “Om Purnam” shloka wraps around my left wrist. Traditionally, the left hand is also a no-no. Does that mean that this is also viewed as disrespectful? Please picture me rolling my eyes and tossing my arms up in resignation. That’s just about where I am by this point.

I once read a book titled, “What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America.” (Or something like that) It broke apart the essence of Islam, and also the essence of what America represents. In both cases, culture gets in the way. Islam offers great things to the world, but Arab culture has virtually ruined it. The founding principles of America are what has, since its beginning, made it an incredible world power. And today we see the culture of Americans ruining so much – in our homeland AND abroad. I think I apply the concept of that book to my expression of Dharma.

As a practicing white American Hindu I’m freed from many of the ridiculous, detrimental, and selfish aspects of the typical American lifestyle and culture. And as a practicing white American Hindu I’m simultaneously freed from the proportionate ridiculousness of Indian culture.

I’m never usually for “picking and choosing.” Consistency. Dependability. Predictability. Stability. Those are all super valuable words and concepts that all should strive to implement in their lives. But I also think as we move in life it’s necessary at times to pick and choose. True or not, the Buddha is often quoted as having said, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

To think that God would ever feel disrespected by this particular expression of my bhakti definitely does not agree with my reason or common sense. I understand the cultural/religious background involved… but I simply don’t agree with it. And you can bet I told that man in the Ikea checkout line, too.

I told him with my mouth.

Om Shanti

Hidden Glory

Last night I bought a book that, so far, has been a very mixed blessing. The book is “The Hidden Glory of India,” written by Steven J. Rosen and published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Recognizing the Book Trust’s background as from the Hare Krishna sect, I didn’t plan to place too much of my attention on the book, however, while it’s caused me to roll my eyes more than once, it’s simultaneously been an interesting read.

A pal of mine recently asked me about the source of my saying that I have Buddhist leanings. If you’re unfamiliar, you’ll have to invest the twelve years it’ll take you to read my last post. After that post, I’d debated removing the part of my bio that mentions having Buddhist leanings. However, after giving a few more minutes of my life to this Vaishnav book by the Hare Krishnas, I’ve come across something that I think is interesting, endearing, and that makes it fine for me to leave that part of my bio intact.

The Hidden Glory of India begins with some claims that I find to be a bit obnoxious, although not unexpected. Some Vaishnav sects (not all) place Krishna above Vishnu and then consider him essentially the same, or higher than, Brahman. For lots of different reasons I find this questionable, especially in the context of the bigger Hindu picture. But I can respect it, nonetheless. The Hare Krishnas are large proponents of that belief and I suppose with that in mind, I shouldn’t have been surprised to crack this book open and read that Vaishanvism is solely responsible for not only the preservation of Sanatana Dharma, but also its very creation.

Until I’m sufficiently educated in such a way as to conclusively prove that Vaishnavism is THE founder/foundation of Sanatana Dharma, I’m mostly likely to just giggle at the claim. However, as the “preservation” marg in Hinduism that principally worships the Preserver god, Vishnu, half of the claim does compute – at least in theory.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that He appears whenever Dharma wanes and Adharma begins to flourish. Depending on who you speak to, there have been at least ten officially-recognized avatars of Vishnu on our planet. One of these, again depending on who you ask, was The Buddha.

I’d mentioned briefly in the last post about Buddhism that after its birth, Buddhism eventually fell prey to the usual cycle of religion with man. Of course, what spawned Buddhism’s birth in the first place was the same drama occurring within Hinduism. This apparently, according to the Hare Krishnas, is why the Buddha came.

As The Hidden Glory of India states, “…The majority of India strictly followed the Vedic tradition until the time of the Buddha. By that time, there was rampant misinterpretation of Vedic texts. This resulted in the performance of outdated sacrifices (meant for previous ages)…To remedy the situation, the Buddha found he had to repudiate the Vedas in toto.” I’m not sure the Vedas needed repudiated “in toto,” but certainly the Buddha made his mark. The book continues, “In the 8th century C.E., however, Shankara, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, appeared. He reestablished the Vedic scripturs, albeit in a slightly altered form. Shankara taught that the Vedas were divinely inspired but were to be interpreted in a metaphorical and, ultimately, impersonalistic way. In other words, for Shankara, God was primarily an abstract force, and any personal reference to God in the scriptures was to be taken either in a symbolic sense or as a statement of God’s lesser nature. This appealed to Shankara’s predominantly Buddhist audience, who were trained to think in terms of abstract philosophy and psychology, and not in terms of recognizing a Supreme Being. In summary, Buddha’s appearance in this world served the function of distracting people from the Vedic texts because people were misinterpreting those texts, and Shankara served the purpose of reestablishing the Vedas in a way that Buddhists could appreciate. According to Vaishnavas, this was part of a divine plan to reinstate Vedic culture.”

This information comes thirty-six pages into the book, and is one of the very few things so far that doesn’t strike me as pompous. Beyond that, credit should be given where credit is due. I’ve read the Buddha’s story a number of times in my studies, but this slant is the first of its kind for me, and I love it. After all, it makes sense.

As an aside, in this context it might also be noted that the The Preserver coming in the avatar of Buddha could very nearly have destroyed what we now know as Hinduism. That’s probably pretty indicative of the condition Hinduism was in at the time. The involvement of Shiva in the form of Shankara is a nice lesson in balance that I’m also pulling from this chapter in The Hidden Glory of India.

Om Shanti

Out with the new, In with what never left


A little over four years ago, I was entering school for medical assisting. Truthfully, of all my educational investing this venture was the most questionable. That talk is for another post. But in preparation for class, I needed to find certain uniform attire and found myself in a uniform shop for healthcare professionals… the kind of place that sells scrubs and stethoscopes and all that goodness. The employee who helped me was a tiny Asian woman who was about as pleasant as someone could be. Her name is Cynthia and at the time she noticed that I had a little green prayering Buddha on my keychain. Her face lit up and she asked if I am a Buddhist. I view that to be a trick question.

If you blur your vision enough, asking a Hindu if he’s a Buddhist is a little like asking a Catholic if he’s a Christian. The answer given may likely be no, and that’s valid. But so would be an answer of yes. Very simply put, Catholics are Christians + much pomp & circumstance. (The use of the word Christian here is meant to be its widely understood meaning of Protestant, although you can surely see overlapping, as Protestants and Catholics are both Christians, thus the multi-layered answer to the original question.)

That same broadened vision would yield the same results when that question is posed in a Hindu/Buddhist context. I’m technically not a Buddhist, but as with Catholics/Protestants, much of the foundation is the same – it’s just a matter of how showy or not the externals are. It probably doesn’t do either religion full justice, but it might be said that Buddhism (Protestantism) is like Hinduism (Catholicism) without all the rules and ritual and stuff. Of course, over time, Buddhism developed more and more into a religion of man and also developed many of the very same externals that caused it to branch out from it’s parent religion to begin with. The same has happened with Protestantism. Some legs of the Buddhist family might as well be another sect of Hinduism and some Protestant denominations could just as well be another leg of Catholicism – and in fact, I’ve literally heard of denominations like the Episcopals and Lutherans referred to as “Catholic Lite.”

Let’s get back to my original thought.

The sweet, tiny woman from the Philipines asked me if I am Buddhist – and I answered in the negative, clarifying that I am indeed Hindu. Knowing a little about Hinduism and it’s birthing of Buddhism, she smiled widely and then proselytized. Actually, maybe evangelized is a better word. Either way, she shared with me her Faith, which is Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Japanese Buddhism, in hopes that I’d join the ranks. The act of doing this is known within Nichiren Buddhism as “shakabuku” or “shakubuku.” And so, I was shakubuku’d. She helped find what I came to her store for and later that evening I went to a district meeting and met other Nichiren Buddhists.

Now might be a good time to detail a little about the Nichiren Buddhist sect. Here goes: Some hundreds of years ago, after Buddhism had left India, it went into China and then the Koreas (back then only one existed I do believe), and then into Japan. Along the way, like the Hinduism that spawned it, it became more legalitarian and too “organized.” Consequently, it also became a bit distorted. Enter the Daishonen, who I’ll refer to as Sri Nichiren. Sri Nichiren was a Buddhist monk who sought to whittle out all the add-ons Buddhism had acquired over the years and ascertain THE truth of the original Buddha. At the finish of his various travels and studies, Sri Nichiren discerned that the essence and culmination of all the original Buddha’s teachings were to be found in the Lotus Sutra and no where else. Further, he “discovered” that one could attain/realize one’s own innate Buddhahood by chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” which is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters that spell out the original title of the Lotus Sutra. He then began to spread what he had learned and he also began to be persecuted. He was exiled and eventually died (or was killed), but not before he’d authored a body of work which is now known as The Gosho and exists as the scriptural body of the Nichiren Buddhists. He also came up with what any Hindu would identify as that religions central “murti,” which is called the Gohonzon. It’s basically a scroll of very nice rice paper with “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” written down the center and various other inscriptions surrounding it – many of which are actually names of Hindu gods. Time passes and like virtually all man-made religions Nichiren Buddhism becomes just as muddled as all the others, and like Catholicism the priests were among the greatest offenders. This eventually led to the greatest excommunication in world history. MILLIONS were excommunicated from official Nichiren Buddhism, which spawned the creation of one of the largest humanist lay organizations on the globe – SGI, or Sokka Gakkai International. To this day, SGI and the Nichiren Sho/Shoshu are not pals, although the SGI has busied itself with humanist and humanitarian efforts and seems to be doing very well. The SGI’s “guru” is a man referred to as Sensei, his name is Daisaku Ikeda, and I think he’s the third in the succession of SGI so far, after Nichiren and after the mass excommunication. The SGI is a religion, or isn’t, depending on who you ask (typical Buddhist answer, as Buddhism is also known as the religion of non-religion), and while their path has many elements, it mostly revolves around reading either the Gosho or the Sensei’s writings and chanting of some sort (they have two forms of chanting, “gongyo,” which is recitation of parts of the Lotus Sutra and should be done 2-3 times daily, and “daimoku,” which is simple and fervent chanting of the organization’s mantra, which should be done just about any old time.)

So, I started going to local SGI district meetings and learning more about this faith. Truth be told, there isn’t much to it. Chant and be happy. They truly are focused on “overcoming” just about everything. I can very much appreciate their emphasis on owning one’s karmas and transmuting the misery of life into joy. These people are where I got the notion of “turning poison into medicine” that I wrote about some posts ago. They are very gay friendly, very pro-women – truly the happiest and most humanitarian and humanist group I’ve ever known. Literally.

I went to meetings regularly all through the fall and winter that year. Cynthia and her husband, George, became my “mata cha pita.” (Sanskrit for momma and papa, although the grammar is jacked – it should be “mata pita cha”) In late spring of the following year I “received” the Gohonzon and so did my best friend, who’d started going too. I also purchased what amounts to an expensive cabinet for the Gohonzon, which is called a butsudan, as well as a very nice ritual bowl and mallet for ringing at appointed times during gongyo and daimoku. I bought very nice editions of The Gosho and subscribed to the group’s various publications.

But I think I might have been pre-tainted when I joined SGI. They never technically ask or insist that you leave your existing religious affiliation when you join. But I think you kind of have to, or you can’t really say you’re drinking their Kool-Aid fully. Truth be told, I never actually left Hinduism – after all, they said I didn’t have to. But I did rather put it on a back burner and really delved into the SGI. What hooked me was their claim that the practice of Nichiren Buddhism would help cultivate, uncover, and bring out one’s innate Buddhahood, which they rightly say we all possess. “Just chant,” they insisted. Sure, follow the other tenets of this practice, but mostly just chant, believe, and watch goodness and Buddhahood open in your life like a lotus.

Their district meetings contain a predictable element known as One-Minute Victories. During this time, anyone who wants can share something that the magic of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo brought them. Sometimes it’s something pretty fantastical, but mostly it’s along the lines of someone got a flat tire, they started chanting and five seconds later someone else stopped to help them. Fine. Dandy, even.

Please understand that in the 1,410 (or so) words leading up till now, I don’t take any real exceptions to the practice of Nichiren Buddhism. They truly accomplish amazing things. But the old saying that the proof is in the pudding kept bugging me the whole time. I saw pudding everywhere I looked, but very few buddhas indeed. It made me sad. All of the things people were chanting for were “stuff.” A new house. A new car. A new job. One woman even admitted to chanting with the intent that a certain plane would crash over the middle east because some harsh dictator was going to be on that plane and she knew that even if others die in the process, the world would be better with him gone. None of the One-Minute Victories I ever heard of was of anything not mundane. Most of these people never seemed to actually chant for Buddhahood or enlightenment, let alone exhibit It. They wanted cars, houses, easier lives, but not fundamentally “better” lives or selves. None seemed to be seeking transcendence.

These wonderful souls were full of devotion to The Mystic Law, as they referred to It, but very few of them possessed anything deeper than that zeal. Like I said, pudding everywhere but not much proof in it as far as I could tell. Or truer yet, none of the proof I sought. In their defense, it’s entirely likely that I entered that fold with different expectations than the other believers. I hoped that I had found an organization that not only managed to literally treat everyone equally, but also would progressively reveal the Self at my core. For me that never happened, not even a little. I did have some interesting experiences, but nothing to write about. There were many who seemed to be getting what they wanted from the practice, which obviously fueled further zeal on their part, but there were many others still who always seemed to be asking, “Why am I not getting what I chant for while others are?” And so, by and by, finding few Buddhas and few experiential realizations, I drifted away from SGI. Via Facebook I still stay in touch, but that’s truly almost the extent of it.

This past weekend, I began making preparations for some planned changes to my temple room. In the process, a stand that my butsudan had been sitting on was moved to the temple room’s closet. The butsudan, the bell-bowl, the Gohonzon… all will be re-packaged, nice and secure, and relocated to my attic.

Later today I’ll be getting out the ladder and making that transition final. This is a sweet good-bye, though. The closing of the SGI chapter of my life (at least for now) is indicative. As much as people might read into my words in this post, there’s nothing the matter with SGI or Nichiren Buddhism. For literally millions of people today this form of Buddhism is a valid and integral part of their current existence. It is absolutely a positive force on our planet. I can recognize the origin of many of its principles and practices and that makes me love them. As with any other critique one might find here on Sthapati, the true meaning of the critique is simply a detailing of why one shoe or another doesn’t fit me – and with that, as I say good-bye to Nichiren Buddhism I offer an honest and sincere Namaste and “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” to my Nichiren Buddhist pals. Certainly, all the grace that is mine to give I gladly forward on to your good selves.

Om Shanti