Friday, September 27, 2013


Lisa Jo Baker encourages us each Friday with a prompt to write for five minutes only on a given topic. This week's prompt: True.

I am not a Christian, nor am I a mother, so I feel that in these respects I do not actually belong in the Five Minute Friday group. My perspectives are coloured by my practice of Buddhism, which I know conflicts a great deal with the ideas and beliefs of other Five Minute Friday participants.

This week, Lisa Jo has encouraged us to share our true. She herself has shared that she is "not just a mom", but has many other facets to her life that go beyond being a parent. So, in keeping with the theme of sharing truth, here are a few of my own:

I wasn't always a Buddhist. I was raised a Christian and was baptised in the Catholic Church at the age of 17. I converted to Nichiren Buddhism in 2005 at the age of 32. Three years agoI left the Soka-Gakkai and began practicing Nichiren Buddhism independently. Right now, I am exploring all facets of Buddhism, not just the Nichiren school.

How do you get from being a Christian to being a Buddhist, you may wonder? I was a good Catholic. I went to mass, I went to confession, I prayed. Some of my views on spirituality and life and the universe were not consistent with the Christian faith, but I kept these to myself. I also had questions regarding the Christian faith that no one seemed to be able to answer. For instance, as one example, I was a Christian who believed in reincarnation.

In 2002, after divorcing my husband and then entering a new relationship which quickly became abusive, I went through a dark night of the soul. I had no faith in anything whatsoever. I came out of the closet, began rebuilding my life and was diagnosed with PTSD.

I drifted in a spiritual desert until 2004. Quite by chance, I had a conversation on the phone with a Nichiren Buddhist who put me in touch with other Buddhists in my area. At the time my life was not happy: I lived with an alcoholic who also cut herself, I was deeply depressed and coping with PTSD and my life did not seem worth living.

I found my peace and joy in Buddhism. It brought balance back to my life. And the odd thing is that I only understood some Christian teachings through my practice of Buddhism: you reap what you sow; love your neighbour as yourself.

I am a lesbian Buddhist who enjoys participating in a writing prompt hosted by female, mostly mom, Christians. That's my truth.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mara as Portrayed in Sinfest

Sinfest by Tatsuya Ishida

I love Sinfest. Particularly, the Sinfest Buddha. The above cartoon accurately describes Buddha's encounter with Mara. At least, in my book.

(Click on the image to view it properly. It has come out a little small.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

She: A Five-Minute Friday Tribute

Lisa Jo Baker encourages writers to write non-stop, unedited for five minutes, each Friday on a given topic. Today's prompt: She

I am openly gay. I live with my wife with our six children - two feline and four canine. We've been married for five years. That's the joy of living in South Africa: gay people are allowed to legally marry.

Despite these fabulous constitutional rights we get to enjoy as queer folk in South Africa, there is still a lot of misunderstanding and homophobia, particularly in the case of the "corrective" rape and murder of (largely) black lesbians in our country. It's a travesty and a shame that a country with such an advanced constitution refuses to recognise these murders as hate crimes.

One woman in South Africa stands out for me: photographer and activist Zanele Muholi. She has won awards for her photography. She has a brilliant eye and I have been deeply priveleged to have been able to spend time with her.

She, for me, is an icon in the South African lesbian community. She has even launched a website, Inkanyiso, to provide a platform for South African lesbians to have their voices heard.

If we look beyond prejudice, we will see that women's rights are not just for straight women, but ALL women - gay, bi, trans and queer. We are all SHE. We are all sisters. We are all one woman at the end of the day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Midlife Crisis (Part Two) - A Somewhat More Buddhist Perspective

A lot has happened since my last post on experiencing the "midlife crisis".

There has been a change in perspective, which actually occurred a few days after the post. The answer to midlife transformation (as opposed to crisis) was right in front of me. It was, in fact, contained in a picture I had used. This one:

And then, I went and found a few more. Like this:

And that last one was the one that did it for me: I have been chasing something that wasn't actually there.

In Buddhism, life is seen as illusion. As real as it may feel living it and being in life, it is still illusion, and the illusion is of our own making. Instead of seeing opportunity in midlife, I was seeing disaster. I believed the best of my life was over. Fuck you, world. And so on.

In a moment of clarity, it occurred to me that the drama of the midlife transformation was illusion. Yes, it feels very real, but by giving it that much power in my life, I was allowing myself to become stuck in the proverbial mud.

Then I read this. "The more I age, the more life feels precious. Each day, each hour, each minute, each moment, a new gift that is not to be wasted with wrong action, wrong speech, wrong thoughts. There are long run decisions to be taken, and micro ones to be made every day." (Ayya Khema).

And I was reminded of this:

The quote, to paraphrase is: "The thing to remember is that there is no spoon. It is not the spoon that bends, it is your mind."

There is no midlife crisis. It is not the midlife crisis that bends. It is my mind.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mercy/Compassion in Buddhism

Lisa Jo Baker's Five Minute Friday brings together writers who are encouraged to just spend five minutes writing on a one word prompt. Today's prompt: Mercy.

Quan Yin - Bodhisattva of Compassion

I am bending the rules today. It is difficult to spend just five minutes on mercy/compassion in Buddhism and come away with a sense of understanding how compassion fits into Buddhist practice.

Some Buddhists revere Quan-Yin as the ultimate representation of mercy in Buddhism. There are those who see her as a goddess, and those, like myself, who prefer to see her instead as a Bodhisattva.* She is often referred to as "she who hears the cries of the world". In my eyes, Quan-Yin is a symbol of compassion and mercy rather than a deity to be worshipped.

Legend has it that Bodhisattva Quan-Yin vowed not to rest until all beings had been freed from samsara, the process of continuous birth, death and reincarnation, and was gifted with the ability to hear the cries of humanity to offer them assistance.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines mercy and compassion as follows:

noun \ˈmər-sē\
: kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly
: kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation
noun \kəm-ˈpa-shən\
: a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

Personally, I prefer the word compassion rather than mercy. Why? To me the word mercy is one that places the 'merciful one' in a position of superiority over the one receiving of mercy. Compassion has none of that power attached to it, in my mind. Compassion is an understanding of the suffering of others without the "there but for the grace of go I". It is the understanding that the people around us are mirrors of ourselves.

In Buddhism, the word compassion takes the place of the word mercy. The sanskrit word for compassion is karuna, denoting a more active form of compassion rather than just a mere feeling of wanting to help someone.

Compassion, in Buddhism, is not limited to empathy and it is not pity either. When we pity someone, we place ourselves in a superior, judgemental position, "Look at that poor person over there." It's external. Compassion is recognising ourselves in that person and honouring and respecting their journey in life.

Compassion does not mean coming to the rescue, though. One of the lessons I learned about compassion is that sometimes being compassionate means allowing another person's life lessons to unfold. An example: you always bail out a friend who mismanages their finances. You think you're being compassionate, but you are actually depriving this friend of learning ot managed their finances better every time you bail them out. It may seem odd, but the most compassionate thing to do for this friend is to allow them to work through their financial karma and learn how to be more financially stable.

How does one become more compassionate? It begins with nurturing compassion for oneself. Loving ourselves is one of the hardest things we can do. Love and compassion for others begins with love and compassion for ourselves. It comes with practice and meditation, but it does come. It is difficult to show compassion and love for others if we are not feeling it towards ourselves. The Christians believe that one should "Love thy neighbour as one loves oneself". This lesson is universal. When we live with hate in ourselves, we will only see hate in others and act in hate towards them.

Compassion in daily life, for me, revolves around understanding that the woman on the other end of the telephone may have had a bad day, which is why she sounds rude and abrupt, and that her manner is not all about me. It is understanding that others experience pain and suffering and this colours the way they are in the world, whether that touches me positively or negatively. There is a Buddha in each of us. When a Buddhist greets you with, "Namaste", they are really saying, "The Buddha in me acknowledges the Buddha in you".

Beyond our physical appearances and our life dramas and situations, ultimately, we are all Buddhas. It's difficult to see because we are all tempered by our upbringing, beliefs, experiences, life situation, chemical imbalances, psychological make up. Strip those things away, and we are all beings of light.

* Bodhisattva, as I understand it, is a being which has given up its opportunity for experiencing Nirvana in order to assist others in obtaining their Buddhahood and release from Samsara