You know what I find funny?
Tee Hee Hee
After all, it seems somewhat beside the point what kind of Buddhist you are. Such a large part of the work of Buddhism is based upon working toward not grasping for artificial certainties that the concept of denominations of Buddhism is somewhat amusing to me.
In a secular, descriptive way, I get it. Having vocabulary for such things is a convenient short-cut for understanding each others’ perspectives. If, for example, I say that I am a Theravada Buddhist, then I had better be a nun, because Theravada Buddhists don’t believe that lay people can stop the cycle of birth and rebirth and therefore cannot achieve enlightenment. On the other hand, as a Mahayana Buddhist, I can say that anyone who is doing the work of brushing back the illusions of this life and who is striving to awaken themselves to life without ground is capable of achieving enlightenment.
But it doesn’t stop there, does it?
Of course not.
Because of the idea that only monks and nuns can achieve enlightenment, Theravada Buddhism has come to be called the “lesser vehicle”. Hmmmmm…no shenpa there, huh? And because Mahayana allows for all to work toward enlightenment (with a shot for the Big Time), it has come to be called “the greater vehicle”. And they say size doesn’t matter.
I suppose its all good as long as we can keep our perspective and understand that the labels are truly there only for convenience and that they don’t necessarily represent a concrete reality. My experience with humanity to date, however, suggests that this detail is typically lost in the confusion.
And we haven’t even gotten to Vajrayana Buddhism – the “diamond vehicle”. Now what’s that supposed to mean?
It occurs to me that not everyone stopping by for a brief read will be familiar with the basic tenets of buddhism. So, I thought I’d take a moment to correct one of the common misconceptions about buddhism.
The Buddha is not a god. He’s just a guy. He’s a guy who figured some important things out and who then dedicated his life to teaching that information, but he’s just a guy nonetheless.
Historically, the person referred to as the Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama, a Nepalese prince, who lived some time around the 400′s BCE. The term “Buddha” means “awakened one” or “enlightened one”. So, the Buddha is more of an honorific than a metaphysical state in his case.
In the buddhist teachings, every one of us has a buddha nature and is capable of achieving the state of awakeness or enlightenment. This is fundamentally contrary to the idea of having a specific anthropomorphic God that lords over all of creation, but which is completely physically and energetically separate from us. It is this feature, however, that imposes upon us the ultimate responsibility for how we relate to the world and emphasizes our energetic connectedness to all other beings and the Power of God itself.
In translated terms, the buddha nature is something like the Holy Spirit that lives within each of us. All of us have it and it is our responsibility to care for it, develop it and nurture it. When we do, not only are we more joyful in our lives, but we end up contributing to making all other beings’ lives joyful as well.
So, what it comes down to is this: Siddhartha Gautama is a guy, who figured out how to whole-heartedly develop his holy spirit. When he did this people called him the “awakened one” and he spent the rest of his life teaching others how to do this.
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Pema Chodron has a wonderful program called Getting Unstuck that I find myself returning to frequently. This is one of those programs I can listen to multiple times and glean something different each time. Shenpa is something she addresses in detail and I have found it to be a wonderful way to conceptualize and understand the moment at which suffering hits me.
Shenpa can be directly translated as “attachment” (in the Buddhist sense), but the true meaning is somewhat more nuanced than that. It is really that feeling of tightening in your mind/body when something triggers a negative reaction in you. It’s not the thing itself, but rather the mind/body’s reaction to it – the sudden grip. Sometimes the grip comes and passes and at other times it stays.
For me, I find that shenpa is somewhat tenacious. Once it settles in it stays, sometimes even after I have forgotten what triggered it in the first place. There is nothing like feeling the gripping and having to stand there and say to yourself, “okay, I was sitting eating my sandwich and listening to music…everything was fine…oh, right there was that news story about…” Interestingly, I have found that going through this cognitive process with shenpa that hits suddenly is often helpful in dispelling it. Not always.
So, one of the mindfulness practices I have assembled for myself is to sit and try to feel where there shenpa is in my body. So, I scan and ask myself, where does it hurt?Once I have found the location in my body where I feel the focus of the pain, I attend to it very strongly and breathe in long, cleansing breaths. I have been pleased to see that it works more often than not. I’ve been interested to note that I usually find the pain centering around one or another chakra. (Most often either the solar plexus or the heart) So, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I try to understand what it is about the current shenpa that relates to that particular chakra. Sometimes I figure it out. Sometimes I don’t.
Recently, I have expanded this practice to include some tonglen practice to this. For those who don’t know, tonglen is where you feel the suffering/shenpa in yourself and you imagine some other person or group of people who may be feeling similar pain. You breathe in (visualizing taking in the yucky dark energy) and then breathe out (visualizing having transformed the yucky stuff into pure white light). In this way, you can incorporate a compassion practice into the work you are doing to reduce your own suffering. Adding the tonglen I find has been particularly powerful. The same dissipation comes out of it, but at the end of the process I feel so much more connected to the experiences and suffering of those around me that it makes me feel less alone in the world.
So, that’s what I currently doing with shenpa.
Fish hook picture from: http://mytreetv.wordpress.com/2010/11/06/shenpa/ Nice entry on shenpa with Pema Chodron.
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