Monday, July 21, 2008

Letting Go of Unnecessary Attachments

[This is a copy of an article I wrote for our ship's Ombudsman newsletter and the NW Navigator, a regional Navy chaplain publication]

There is an old Zen story about two traveling monks who were preparing to cross a shallow river. A young and beautiful woman was also traveling in the same direction, but she was in tears because she had injured her foot, and no one was willing to help her across the muddy and rocky riverbed. The older of the two monks said, “I am willing to help you across the river.” Picking her up in his arms, they crossed the river safely; the monk set her down, and the young woman thanked him with a smile and went on her way. The younger monk was shocked that his master had carried the woman across, since as a monk he was not supposed to even touch women. Although he said nothing at first, the incident kept replaying itself in his mind throughout their day’s journey until they reached their destination, the monastery. Finally the young monk could not bear it any longer and blurted out, “Master, why did you do that at the river?”
The older monk replied, “Oh, you mean that woman? I put her down a long time ago. Are you still carrying her?”

The moral of the story is that we sometimes we dwell unnecessarily on things that belong in the past. Whether they are positive or negative actions, we can develop unhealthy attachments to them that eventually hurt our lives in the present. We think too much about how we were wronged by others, which may turn into long-standing grudges, or we think about past accomplishments too much, which then turn into “resting on our laurels.” Another moral is that we can also worry excessively about how our actions may look to others, even if it has good results; we think, “What will others say? What will they think of me now?” This may cause such worries that we forget the original intent of our act, and become discouraged from doing anything that may cause such worries.

All these worries cause stress and depression in our modern society. Often, we try to forget our worries through self-medication, or alcohol, or other diversions, but ultimately they only provide temporary relief. However much we try to forget unpleasant things, they always come back to remind us. The best way to relieve our pain doesn’t lie in the act of forgetting but rather in the act of letting-go. Others may define this as forgiveness, or we may also call it letting go of attachments. Much like cleaning out the garage and home of unwanted and unnecessary material clutter, we need to clean out our emotional and mental home of unneeded burdens that only serve to create obstructions.

Whenever we volunteer our help to others, we should also remember that volunteerism should be done out of true selflessness, a genuine will to assist others. We may like to be recognized and commended for our volunteerism, but like the old and wise monk in the Zen tale, our help may be misunderstood as only ego-serving. If help is given from a sincere heart, we accomplish the goal, and then we move on to the next mission. We may like to keep carrying the burden, but we will need to let it go one day!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Just Your Average Airplane Conversation

I would like to share a recent experience I had returning from a vacation in Arizona. As I sat on the last leg of the flight to D.C., I had a window seat next to a woman who glanced over at my left wrist containing sandalwood mala beads. After the third time of glancing, I looked at her, made eye contact, and smiled. This gesture definitely broke the ice. She then proceeded to ask me what the bracelet meant. I told her they are prayer beads. She replied, “I am a devote Roman Catholic and I collect rosaries from all over the world. What kind of prayer beads are those?” I stated they are Buddhist prayer beads. I bought them in Hawaii at the Honolulu Dharma Center when I was in the military. Somewhat shocked by my answer, she asked, “I thought Buddhism was a peaceful religion. Pretty strange to have a pacifist go to war.” I quickly replied, “Well if more Buddhists went to war then I guess there would be no need to fight over anything and then there would be no wars and everyone would be happy!”
We both joined each other in laughter.

After a short moment of silence, we were served our meals. When I was asked by the flight attendant if I wanted chicken or beef, I responded chicken. My fellow flight mate could not resist to make another comment about my choice. She said, “How can you be a REAL Buddhist if you eat meat?” I could tell this was the beginning of a long conversation in which would occupy the rest of the flight; but I gladly accepted. I love conversing with people on anything from philosophy to different cultures. I responded that not all Buddhists are vegetarian. In fact, throughout Tibet, a devote Buddhist country, their diet consists mainly of meat coming from Yak, milk, and other high protein foods such as chicken and sheep. By her expression, she thought this was interesting. I followed by saying that I always say a short prayer before eating meat so it tastes that much better! After smiling at my humorous nature, She then asked, “What makes you a Buddhist?” I answered, well I was hoping you could tell me because I’m a meat eater that served 10 years in the military and I don’t fit your description of what you think a Buddhist should be.

While enjoying our lunch meal, I begin to dive deeper into explaining my view of Buddha nature. What mainly makes an individual a Buddhist would be accepting the four truths. Meaning that life involves affliction, one should live to rid oneself of attachment, the cessation of anguish is attainable, and the way to end suffering is through the Noble Eightfold path. She said “Well basically your saying that life is filled with pain, so don’t attach yourself to anything, just accept it and you will rid yourself of suffering? Well, that doesn’t seem that hard.” I responded well either are the Ten Commandments but many practitioners have issues with them also. “So the Eight Noble thing is like the Commandments?” she asked. I said, Well that is a lesson for another flight. I’m getting off in D.C. so maybe the next time we sit together on some other flight you’ll get an answer. We laughed again.

Actually the Noble Eightfold Path pertains to wisdom, personal conduct, and mind development. It focuses on having the correct view, intentions, speech, actions, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. She responded, “Interesting. How can a person have the right intentions or actions in the military?” I stated that being pure of heart and living towards cherishing all life is a prime universal concept. She said that if more people just followed that concept, then the world would be a better place. I stated that one doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to believe that. She added that her son is in Iraq right now and he was always curious about Buddhism. But being raised in a Roman Catholic Family, she steered him away from it. He started to meditate to clear his mind from dealing with the hardships of being in Iraq. She also mentioned that the next time she writes to her son, she will tell him about me. I stated to tell him that there is a Buddhist Chaplain in the Navy and soon there will be one in the Army. So not to worry, the Buddhist Community is well on its way to clearing up misconceptions and serving those Buddhists in the Military.

Thanks for allowing me to share!


Visit to HMAS Stuart

Hello all!
Recently I had the opportunity to cross-deck over to the HMAS Stuart, an Australian ship also here with us in the Persian Gulf. I was only there for a few hours as the guest of Chaplain Russell Smith, the Stuart's chaplain, but it was a great chance to see how another ship operated (the men have beards! the women can wear their hair down!) Also it was an opportunity to share the Buddha-dharma with some of the Stuart's sailors - Buddhism is one of the fastest-growing religions in Australia. Most knew about Buddhism through the Dalai Lama's books (especially "The Art of Happiness") so it was a good discussion.

I also regularly visit the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN72) carrier which we are attached to. Navy chaplains at sea usually cross-deck in what is called a "Holy Helo" meaning we get transported via helo to different ships in order to provide services and counseling, especially when it comes to providing different faith services. We have a good-sized active Buddhism study group; some are raised Buddhists in their families, or married into a Buddhist family, and others are simply curious about Buddha-dharma.

In both situations, there is a definite interest in Buddhism worldwide, and in what most people would probably think as most unlikely places - the warship. But Western militaries are drawn from cross-sections of its society, so it is really no surprise that Buddhists and those interested in Buddhism would turn up there! It also proves a need for more military Buddhist chaplains to provide services and instruction.

Namo Amida Butsu
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Buddhist Military Sangha by Jeanette Shin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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