Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What the SGI is doing now in Japan and elsewhere...

Mar 28, 2011

SOKA GAKKAI EARTHQUAKE RELIEF EFFORTS TO DATE


Starting March 11, the day the earthquake and tsunamis devastated the Tohoku Region, the Soka Gakkai with its large grassroots network and local community centers throughout Japan, created emergency task forces at its headquarters in Tokyo and throughout the affected region.

A total of 4,500 people were provided with shelter immediately following the quake at the main Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City, and 40 other local centers throughout Tohoku as well as in Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures. As of March 27, around 200 people were still receiving shelter and food in these centers.

Soka Gakkai community centers in some of the worst-hit towns along the coast such as Ishinomaki, Kamaishi, Tagajo and Kesennuma provided safe havens from the tsunami for many people, despite partial flooding. Local Soka Gakkai volunteers were among the first to help reestablish initial contact with some isolated communities and bring in relief supplies by car.

Hundreds of volunteers have been continuing to help locate missing people and provide assistance to survivors. One local youth leader, Masatoshi Suzuki, was knocked unconscious when his house in Iwaki City was swept 500 meters by the force of the tsunami. As soon as he recovered consciousness, he began rescuing others trapped nearby, and he continues to play a leading role in relief efforts. "Since the quake I have felt keenly the importance of the 'never give-up' spirit that I have learned through Buddhism," he says.

Members from nearby Yamagata, Niigata, Aomori and Akita prefectures and Hokkaido have been regularly delivering truckloads of supplies including generators, fuel, foods and medicines, with the first vehicle arriving in Sendai City at 2am on March 12.

Soka Gakkai's emergency task forces have been closely coordinating their ongoing efforts with local authorities and community groups. The parking lot of the Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City was used as a base for 25 fire trucks from local fire stations engaged in fighting the fires that broke out in the days following the quake.

By March 27, the amount of relief assistance provided by Soka Gakkai through its networks in support of local relief efforts totaled around 100 millionyen (US$1.2 million). This comprised:

22,000 items of clothing such as winter jackets, sweaters and shirts; 4,700 blankets and futons; 242,000 toiletry and related products including diapers, powdered milk, 77,000 "kairo" disposable heating pads and 60,000 portable toilets; 38,000 medical items including masks, cold medicine and bandages; 280,000 items of food and drink such as rice balls, preserved food and snacks; and 25,000 electrical-related items including radios, phone chargers, kettles, portable stoves, flashlights, batteries, and generators, as well as nearly 8,250 liters of fuel.

The day after the earthquake, many youth leaders and doctors and nurses from the organization's medical professionals' group immediately traveled to the area to assist with local relief efforts. Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada visited Sendai on March 17, to listen directly to the needs of evacuees, and Honorary President Daisaku Ikeda has sent frequent messages of support, praising the indomitable spirit of the people of Tohoku and the action they are taking to help others affected by the tragedy.

Soka Gakkai International Office of Public Information Executive Director Hirotsugu Terasaki comments, "Our relief activities will be ongoing for as long as people are in need. We are here, like many others, for the long run. We firmly believe in the Buddhist principle of 'turning poison into medicine' -- that it is possible to create something of value out of even the worst circumstances. Hope is one of the most precious commodities needed now."

Friday, March 4, 2011

How to forget getting bored...

It’s said that when we practice meditation we are actually practicing three separate skills: 1) staying with the object of meditation, 2) recognizing when we’ve drifted off, and 3) returning to the object without fuss or judgment. When we have a “good meditation,” i.e, when our concentration is good and we’re able to stay with our object of meditation, we are developing the first skill. When we keep drifting and returning, even if we do it 100 times in a sitting, we’re developing the second and third skills. These, in fact, may be the most important skills in terms of improving our daily lives: recognizing when we’re no longer present and returning to mindfulness.

The poet William Blake wrote in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Keep watching your mind just as it is. Turning poison into wisdom is the path of the Buddhas.

You will read these lines again at the end of the post, primarily because this is a sort of plagiarized post from the existential buddhist, Seth's excellent commentary of contemporary understanding of the correct teaching.

I have not asked him for his permission to reproduce his post in toto on this blog, and I know the kind of organizational trouble one gets into for having a standalone spirit out of sync with the "norm."

Anyway, over to the existential buddhist.

"How’s your meditation practice coming along? If the answer is “not so good,” what’s getting in the way?

Often the number one thing getting in the way of meditation practice is our idea about how our meditation practice should be going. We have beliefs about how our mind ought to be during meditation instead of simply observing it as it is. Or we have an idea about the kind of progress we ought to be making, comparing our meditation today with how it was during certain moments idealized in memory.

The Pali Canon speaks of five hinderances (pañca nīvaraṇāni) or obstructions during meditation: sense desire (kāmacchanda), ill-will (byāpāda), sloth and torpor (thīna-midda), restlessness and remorse (uddhacca-kukkucca), and doubt (vivikicchā). We have all had moments — perhaps eons — when these have been present in our sitting practice.

Sense desire includes wishing for our sitting space to be warmer, cooler, or quieter; wishing we were more comfortable or in less pain; wishing our nose wasn’t so stuffy or our stomach so full; wishing that attractive person had taken the cushion next to ours in retreat. Sound familiar?

Ill-will includes resentments from the day that carry over into our practice as well as anger arising from emerging memories of past hurts. We can spend countless cushion-hours imagining what we’re going to say the next time we see that so-and-so. We can rehearse rationalizations that justify our anger, and reinforce our narrative about being the aggrieved party. We can dig the hole deeper.

Sloth and torpor refer to mental states of dullness, boredom, sleepiness, and lack of alertness. These states are often due to physical causes such as sleep deprivation, exhaustion, or postprandial “coma.”

Restlessness has two facets: motor restlessness and mental restlessness. You may feel jittery or have an urge to get up or shift position. Your mind may race about without focus like a hyperactive mongoose. Remorse is a sore spot in memory where you wish that you could redo something — your mind keeps returning to it, endlessly replaying “woulda,” “shoulda,” and “coulda”.

Doubt could be doubt about the Dharma, the path, your teacher, or your practice. “Is this the right practice for me?” “Should I be trying something else?” “Does practice get you anywhere?” You may be doing mindfulness of the breath and wonder whether you should be counting your breaths, doing mental noting, reciting metta phrases, or engaging in choiceless awareness instead.

Calling these mental factors hinderances, however, is a fundamental mistake. It’s better to think of them as grist for the mill. They are the contents of our consciousness. Instead of wishing them away, can we invest them with interest and simply observe them as they are? When we do this, the hinderances become our very practice itself rather than obstacles in the way of practice.

If boredom presents itself, what happens if we investigate boredom? What are its qualities? What is its intensity? How does it vary from moment to moment? Is it just a quality of mind, or can it be experienced in the body as well? What happens if we don’t wish boredom away, but allow it to stay for as long as it wishes to be around?

If ill-will is present, what if we observe it in a friendly manner? What if we embrace ill-will with mindfulness, and treat it, as Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “like a kindly older sister or brother?” How is it experienced in the body? What thoughts act as accelerants to it? How is our sense of self involved? Can we observe how it makes us burn inside and adds to our misery?

If we keep drifting off into dreamy mental states, can we watch the process of beginning to nod off again and again, and invest energy in observing the process? Can we observe the very moment when we drop off? Were we experiencing an in-breath or an out-breath at that moment?

If sense desire is present, can we just watch desire? Can we “urge surf,” watching the desire arise, peak, and subside? Can we see how it catches and ensnares us, and then mysteriously fades away without our acting on it?

If these “hinderances” persist, if we remain “caught,” if we are the victims of a “multiple hinderance attack,” can we stay with this process without getting discouraged or disturbed? Can we let go of expectations that our minds will always be clear, calm, and steady? No matter how much practice you have had, it’s unreasonable to expect anything else. After all, our minds, like everything else, are affected by causes and conditions. Can we extend compassion and lovingkindness to ourselves in such moments?

It’s said that when we practice meditation we are actually practicing three separate skills: 1) staying with the object of meditation, 2) recognizing when we’ve drifted off, and 3) returning to the object without fuss or judgment. When we have a “good meditation,” i.e, when our concentration is good and we’re able to stay with our object of meditation, we are developing the first skill. When we keep drifting and returning, even if we do it 100 times in a sitting, we’re developing the second and third skills. These, in fact, may be the most important skills in terms of improving our daily lives: recognizing when we’re no longer present and returning to mindfulness.

The poet William Blake wrote in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.” Keep watching your mind just as it is. Turning poison into wisdom is the path of the Buddhas."