Archive for July, 2010

Cyber-Sangha!

Posted: 07/26/2010 in sangha, Spiritual

The Sangha

I’m at the point in my practice of Buddhism where I have started to explore the sangha experience.  Until now, I have spent my time studying, contemplating and meditating. I’ve been an island. However, to keep the motivation to trudge the path, I realize some sort of community experience is needed. Twitter has helped greatly, as dharma teachings are present in even those 140 character blurbs by many of those I follow. Writing this blog has also helped, as I am able to put fingers to keyboard and explore my impressions along the path. Reading the many blogs in the Buddhist Blogospere is also a way to connect to others in practice. However, I do feel I need more.

I have done a bit of searching for an actual real-life sangha in my area, and other than the Lion’s Roar Dharma Center, I have not found much in the way of a group setting that can fit into my wacky schedule. I had the pleasure of attending a dharma talk by Choden Rinpoche this past weekend at Lion’s Roar, and that was a wonderful experience. I would love to attend some sort of retreat, and have researched the possibilities, and unfortunately it’s not in the cards right now due to work and family obligations, among the other “bullshit” I’m dealing with in my life, namely financial, but I digress.

Last week, my friend @ZenOutlaw came up with a wonderful idea of an online meditation group. It is the Online Meditation Crew and I would encourage anyone who is interested, no matter your tradition of study, to join the group and have some togetherness meditation, virtually. It is a great feeling to know that, in a way, I am participating in a sangha. There is accountability as well as the motivation to practice. For those of us that are not able to be a part of an actual sangha, this is the next best thing: a cyber-sangha. Check out the first post to see how the process goes, or if you are a Twitter user, add the crew members there for the call to meditate. It could be a scheduled meditation once or twice a day, or it could be a “stop. drop. meditate” sort of thing, where we stop what we’re doing and just sit.

You may say that it isn’t the same as a traditional sangha due to the fact that there is no dharma discussion. But if you check out the website, you will find that each post has a comment area where crew members can detail their impressions from the meditation, and I anticipate the potential for some very deep dharma discussion to happen in this cyber-sangha. Of course it isn’t the same, but I believe it is an optimal supplement to the traditional sangha experience.

Until I find an actual sangha that I am able to participate in, I will use these tools to expand my understanding of the dharma and to keep my feet on the path. I welcome any comments, whether it be constructive criticism or your own experience with this issue.

With metal metta! \m/

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Fishing - Silhouette

One reason I started this blog was to document the various experiences and challenges I have on this new path I have chosen to tread. Here is one challenge that is really messing with my head:

As I study more about Buddhism, I find that there are certain concepts and experiences that are so ingrained in my mind and way of life that it’s difficult to change my view to where it aligns with the precepts. I wanted to discuss one renunciation that has turned into a quandary for me, and that is the act of fishing.

Common sense tells me that fishing would fall into the “cause no harm to living beings” precept. I understand the fact that the very act of baiting a hook, whether with a live worm or plastic baits, in order to entice a fish into biting that hook and impaling itself in the mouth causes harm to a fish, and of course the worm if you use it. Trust me, I get it.

The reason it’s difficult for me to renounce is that I grew up fishing. My father was a man’s man: a carpenter, hunter, fisherman, mechanic, etc. He had quit hunting before I was old enough so I’ve never been hunting, but we still went fishing. It was wonderful out there experiencing nature, spending time just being quiet, hanging with my dad and learning how to be a man. I would give anything to be able to have him back, but those are fond memories, and I’m wavering from my topic. Anyways, when we went camping, we would always go fishing, it’s just part of that lifestyle, they go together like peas and carrots. Now that my friends want to plan a camping trip, I’m wondering what to do. I mean, besides fishing or going for a hike, what else is there to do while camping?

I can’t wait to get out into nature and just experience the fresh air and the retreat of it, but when it comes time for fishing, it’s going to be a challenge. Not just because of the questions that will be asked, but also the fact that the activity of fishing has always been fun for me. I’ve always loved going to sporting goods stores and shopping for fishing gear, organizing my equipment, the challenge of getting the fish to bite, being bummed out after a day of getting skunked, the whole she-bang. It’s so ingrained into my lifestyle, that all of the sudden refusing to do it anymore is boggling my mind. I’ve gone fishing for 30 years. I’ve been a Buddhist for less than one. Some lifestyle changes are going to be hard to swallow, I completely get that. Like becoming a vegetarian, I haven’t quite been able to make that jump yet, but I digress. I’m just talking about fishing here.

What I’m saying is that I do understand that the act of fishing is the act of causing harm to a sentient being and goes against the Buddhist precepts. I just wanted to put fingers to keyboard and document an issue I’m having on my path. If anyone would like to comment about this quandary I’m having, whether it be an insight or an insult, please do.

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Meditation is Metal

Posted: 07/15/2010 in Metal, Music, Spiritual

Meditation

This is part 2 in a series of posts about how I believe Buddhism is Metal.

I’m sure anyone who is reading this has at least looked for information on meditation, so I’m not going to delve into a lengthy monologue about meditation. I just want to spit-ball about how I think it relates to metal, and music in general, from my own experience.

I believe the connection involved here is “practice.” We call this spiritual journey we are on, of which meditation is one of the central aspects, a “practice.” This means that a beginning meditator has not attained the ultimate goal. Some would define the goal as enlightenment, you can define it however you want. We don’t just wake up one morning, cross our legs and breathe in and out for a half hour and immediately attain the goal. It takes time to learn the basics and practice just to learn to freakin’ breathe, and to focus on that breath. The more you do it, the more you advance into the meditations on mindfulness, loving-kindness, etc.

Learning to play metal, and music in general, is the same way. You don’t wake up one morning and watch a video on MTV, (yes, I’m referring to back when MTV had music) and see the dudes shredding on Headbangers Ball, decide you want to do it too and immediately start shredding. It takes years to learn the basics and practicing chords and scales (freakin’ scales!) to attain the level of ability it takes to play metal. Do you see a pattern here?

I would also relate meditation to playing music in front of an audience. Have you ever watched a musician play and they seem to be in a groove such that the sound that comes from their fingers is nothing short of amazing? Their eyes are closed, they appear to be in a state of samadhi, they are “in the zone.” This my friends, is meditation in my opinion. I have had the pleasure to play with other musicians where we got locked into such a groove that I felt to be in that state of consciousness, and this was way before I knew anything about meditation.

One more example would be falling out of practice. I’ve noticed that when I’m a slacker and don’t sit, I get irritable, I’m not as mindful of how I react to people, and can even be a complete douchebag. The way I handle my day-to-day experiences reminds me that I need to get my ass back on the cushion. The same thing happened when I stopped practicing guitar. My fingers wouldn’t move where I wanted to, and I lost my “chops,” which caused even more frustration and I just say “fuck it” and put the guitar down. This is how it has been for the last few years. Playing music has been on the back burner, but I’ve been inspired to pick it back up and make it a higher priority; sitting my ass back down and practicing – both meditation and guitar. The good news with meditation and metal/music is that it’s never too late to start practicing again.

And speaking of shredding…

Keep it Metal \m/

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Metta is Metal

Posted: 07/06/2010 in Compassion, Love, Metal, Music

**Edit: This is the first of a series of posts I am attempting about how Buddhism is Metal.**

Since I began my practice less than a year ago, I have been contemplating the connection between Heavy Metal and Buddhism and wondering if it is even possible. I have been asked how I can even consider being a Buddhist while continuing to “be metal.” On the surface, Heavy Metal – the music and the identity – seem to be polar opposite of the principles of Buddhism. However, I believe there is indeed a connection between metal and metta, or loving-kindness, and I would like to share a few examples.

An outsider looking in would view the violent lyrics and aggression portrayed at metal concerts as the opposite of the love and compassion that Buddhists strive to exude. But if those that have that judgment spent any time in a moshpit, they would find a great example of compassion that happens there. Yes, there are guys and girls that are violently thrashing into each other (and unfortunately with the advent of hardcore dancing, throwing punches and karate kicks), and pushing each other around. But every single pit I have been in, if someone falls, there are two or three people there to pick the person up, dust them off,  and then get right back to it. If that is not a display of compassion or metta, then I may not understand the definitions. Usually the band playing will even instruct the crowd to “take care of each other out there, we don’t want anyone hurt.” You see, heavy metal fans are a brotherhood. They take care of each other in the pit, they buy tickets to concerts when their friends cannot afford them (case in point: I’m looking at the ticket to Slayer my friend bought me), and when they see another metalhead wearing a band shirt, a connection is made and they end up discussing favorite albums, songs and similar bands. I don’t really want to get into the discussion of lyrics, because I’m a guitar player, not a vocalist and have never paid much attention to them. My point here has more to do with heavy metal as a whole, not just one factor such as lyrics.

Another great example is something I read about one of my heroes, Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott of Pantera fame, and I will try to remember the details and sum it up here because it’s an awesome example of loving-kindness. A few years ago, Dime did an autograph signing in a music store. There was this young kid that came up with his dad to get an autograph and had told Dime he wanted to be a guitar player just like him. After talking to him, Dime took the store manager off to the side and told him to have the boy and his dad hang out for a while. Long story short, when he had signed all the autographs he told the kid to pick out any guitar in the store he wanted and Dime would buy it. I still get choked up when I think of that story, because that is true metta. Here’s a guy who has sold millions of albums and toured the world with one of the most hardcore of hardcore metal bands, and yet he displays metta in such a heartwarming way. That’s just one story of many from that guy, a true metalhead, a rockstar, yet full of metta and no ego.

Here’s another example of the metta displayed in this community of metalheads, and it is from my own experience. Another of my guitar heroes is Zakk Wylde, who played with Ozzy Osbourne for years and has his own band Black Label Society. A couple years ago, Zakk did an acoustic tour at the Hard Rock Cafe, and stopped into our local radio station. I have a friend who works for the station and I was invited to go to the show but had no idea what was in store. I met my friend at the station and not knowing Zakk was still there, followed my buddy right into the conference room where Zakk was giving a guitar lesson to a contest winner, so I had the pleasure of watching that from across the table and just being there was the coolest thing ever. Even though his tour manager and the station manager were chomping at the bit to get going, I got a couple minutes to meet him. I happened to be wearing a Pantera t-shirt, and instead of just shaking hands, this guy grabbed me in a full-on bear hug. We shared a couple quick words about our love for Dime (they were best friends), snapped a couple pictures together, got an autograph, hugged again, and they rushed him off.

These are just a few examples of how I believe a metalhead can be a Buddhist, regardless of the violent stigma attached to heavy metal music and those in the metal community. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue, as there may be other connections I have missed, and I would even like to hear if you think I’m wrong.

Metal metta to you! \m/