That's ok - I liked her, and she can keep it with my blessings.. Why do I love the book? The author decided to see what Buddhism in America is all about, so he traveled all over to experience and write. He went to Zen and Tibetan meetings, attended a huge gathering where the Dalai Lama spoke, went to a Buddhist be-in located in Central Park, and elsewhere.
I'd really like to visit some of the places he went to and talk with some of the people he met. I think he'd be a cool guy to talk with as well.
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His writing is amusing, honest and very easy to read. It's certainly a great book to start with if you don't know much about Buddhism. Also, the author's name is the same as a popular brand of beef stew, and I find that funny. Great book - if you're curious - get it.
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The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still
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Buddhists call this Monkey Mind, Jimon says. The path of human thinking can be thought of as being like a monkey in the jungle, constantly swinging from vine to vine, tree to tree, seldom lighting for more than a second before it is off again. She suggests we count our breaths as a way to combat the mental anarchy.
If you focus on the count, she promises, it will distract you from the inner dialogue. And if that doesn't work, she adds, there is always the stick. The anxiety in the room instantly resurfaces. Someone behind me whispers "Ouch" at the thought of being smacked with a long piece of lumber. A small, nervous laugh ripples from pillow to pillow. We have probably all read stories along the way about Zen masters who punch their students in the nose, cut off their ears, or somehow do them bodily harm because they lack diligence.
We are released to our bedrooms with that thought on our minds. Tomorrow we will "sit zazen " — meditate — in earnest, so for now, we all need a good night's sleep. He is tucked into a Polartek sleeping bag barely two feet from my metal bunk, and all through the long chilly night, he chants "Zaaaaazzzzeeeeeeen The snoring is insistent, steady, as if the glottal vibrations were his secret mantra.
If I was any sort of Buddhist at all, I probably would not have spent the wee hours entertaining so many murderous thoughts about the man, but I'm not any sort of Buddhist, and I want to choke him. At precisely five A. Wayne fights himself free of his covers first, then shakes the still-snoring Harold by the shoulders.
Wake-up time. We have been told to maintain full silence until after the dawn meditation session, and everyone in my room complies.
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There is no time for small talk anyway. No time even for a morning shower. Like zazen zombies, we pull on our cold, wrinkled clothes and spill out into the monastery's massive meditation hall. In a big open room, on squat black pillows, with incense swirling past our noses and all manner of cluttered thoughts jumping through our unaccustomed brains, we sit. So early in the morning, my bones are more than happy to hold perfectly still. My brain though, is another story. Jimon warned us about Monkey Mind, and she was right on the money. My inner dialogue erupts almost before my bottom hits the zafu: Oh, I am doing meditation, how relaxing, oops, I shouldn't be thinking so much, my knee hurts, wait, just focus on the breath, is that a woman in front of me or a guy with long hair, pretty hair anyway, wonder what's for lunch, hey, wait, count your breath, one, two, three, four, did I turn off my car lights?
Jimon not only warned us that our minds might do this, she also warned us that we would find it discouraging. This racing mind stuff trips up many beginning meditators. They find that they can't quiet the stream of distraction, and so, discouraged, they give up on meditation altogether. So I persist, but the truth is, I turn out to have a particularly unrelenting monkey.
He not only swings from tree to tree, he rips off big green leaves and chatters at the top of his monkey lungs, an angry baboon somehow set loose in an espresso bar. Following Jimon's instructions, I try to bypass the monkey by counting my breaths. The first "in" breath is one, the second is two, the third is three, but my Monkey Mind is stubbornly uncooperative. More often than not, I lose track around five or seven.
Needless to say, nirvana completely eludes me. The sitting meditation ends eventually, and we all stand by our pillows.
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Pretty soon, a bell rings. Along with the thirty or so of us newcomers, thirty or so others in long gray robes are seated further toward the middle of the monastery's large meditation hall. They are the advanced students, I assume. Most of those in gray robes don't have shaved heads, but a handful of more serious-seeming types in black robes, with shaved heads, sit in the front rows. I'm focusing on hairstyles here, because I am still trying to figure out who is a monk, who is not, and where it all fits together. None of this has been explained. Suddenly, those in the know begin chanting in Japanese: "No mo san man da moto nan oha ra chi koto sha sono nan to ji to en gya gya gya ki gya.
I am handed a card with the words, so that I can chant, too, though I have no idea what the words mean, and no one attempts to explain. Off and on during the ensuing service, we bow from the waist, and then, following the gray robes in the row ahead of me, I learn the full prostration bow — falling to the knees and bowing on the floor.
At various points, assorted black robes and gray robes approach the main altar, then back away. Sometimes they carry incense boxes, other times they carry items I can't identify. It begins to seem awfully familiar: the seemingly pointless walking back and forth, the retrieval of various objects only to put them right back where they started out, the chanting in a foreign tongue — it reminds me of morning mass at Good Shepherd Catholic Church when I was a boy.
I never understood what was being said then either, not knowing Latin, and though I knew what the priests were up to in a vague sort of way — they were consecrating the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ — they seemed to have found perhaps the most inefficient manner imaginable to accomplish this sacred task. The old priests reminded me of amnesiacs in a kitchen, always turning back to the cupboard to get something they forgot, putting things down in the wrong place, and then later having to cross the room to get those same things.
To say this about Catholic Mass is a sacrilege, and if I had expressed these thoughts in front of one of my grade school nuns, I surely would have felt a sharp rap, and not from the soft wood of the kyosaku stick, either. I don't know enough about Buddhism yet to know if I'm being sacrilegious here, too, or, if so, what I'm supposed to do, or say, or think about it. Jimon has mentioned nothing about venial sin. Eventually, though, I relax and begin to enjoy the Zen liturgy for what it is — rather interesting, exotic, and nonthreatening.
No one is going to make me take communion. No one is going force me into the confessional. Sister Mary Catherine is not coming up behind me to pull my ear. And anyway, the chants are invigorating, and we are able to move around finally — stand and bow, stand and bow twice, turn, stand and bow, deep bow — instead of just staring at a blank wall.
Our breakfast is steaming on long tables, but first the head cook lights incense at another small altar and leads us in yet another chant, this time in English:. First, seventy-two labors brought us this food We should know how it comes to us Second, as we receive this offering We should consider Whether our virtue and practice deserve it My virtue and practice have been pretty inconsequential to this point, but I'm hungry.
The oatmeal is hot, and we are finally allowed to talk. Five of us end up at one table, including Harold, my snoring roommate, complaining that, in fact, it was he who didn't get much sleep at all. He looks around the table at each of us, again resting his eyes on me a bit longer than on the others.
I am truly and absolutely clueless. My watch did beep, as a matter of fact, once every hour, but not only was the sound nearly imperceptible, especially when hidden under a pillow and squashed by my large Irish head, but I know for a fact, since I was wearing the watch, and checking it on occasion, that old Harold was snoring from two-thirty to five A.
He wouldn't have heard a bomb go off. He didn't even hear the loud bell that was supposed to awaken us before dawn. I am too scattered, too undisciplined, too easily distracted, to focus on anything. True of me certainly, this is true as well of most of the people I know. One uniting characteristic of our times is that we skitter from thing to thing, eating while we talk, reading while we eat, chatting on the phone while we watch TV, thinking about work while we dress our kids for school, daydreaming about our weekend while we work.
We put phones in our cars, install televisions in our bathrooms, pipe music into every shopping mall and public space, erect flashing signs along every roadway. We seem to be fleeing stillness as if it were some curse, yet ironically, many of us are starting to actively seek it out. I am not the only one exploring Buddhism right now — there is, in fact, a modest surge underway. The interest that has been rooted for quite some time in cultural centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco is starting to spread inward.
Zendos, monasteries, and meditation centers are popping up in every state, in the cities, in the college towns, and even in rural corners such as Floyds Knobs, Indiana, and High View, West Virginia. Start paying attention, and you'll notice more and more references to Buddhism, Zen, and mindfulness on television, in the news, in the casual speech of those around you. Vice President Al Gore visited a California monastery just before the last election, though he may regret it now.
Hollywood is playing its part with a string of recent and upcoming movies, such as Little Buddha, Seven Years in Tibet, and Kundun. Richard Gere is a Buddhist, and makes it known. Walk the streets of any medium to large city these days, and you will see faddish Buddha T-shirts, om mani padme om tattoos, and Tibetan folk-art boutiques.
While a good number of Americans are embracing serious religious Buddhist practice, many, many others are engaging in "vaguely" Buddhist practice, much of it part of the New Age movement.
The Accidental Buddhist: Mindfulness, Enlightenment, and Sitting Still, American Style
Business Week hails meditation as "the new balm for corporate stress. Beer-maker Adolph Coors reports that meditation has helped lower the company's mental health costs 27 percent since And still other Americans are engaged in wildly shallow and seemingly absurd Buddhist practice. Elle magazine, of all places, ran a recent series of articles promoting the meditative lifestyle. In one article, Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein endorses a group of New Yorkers who have begun chanting for parking spaces.