Labeling

October 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

It’s pretty early in the morning and I’ve only got about 10 minutes to bang this out. Let’s see how well I do with my thoughts on 1/2 a cup of coffe! LOL.

One of my friends posted this article in her FaceBook about the issue of Labeling — as in the Buddhist definition of Labeling. The article, written by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche published in an online article for the Huffington Post, I felt really did a great job of spelling out the problems of Labeling as seen from the Buddhist perspective.

As an educator seeing all these recent stories about teens taking their lives for the various forms of bullying they are going through, this issue really speaks to me at this time. As a parent with two young children who have just entered the public school system, I also look at this issue quite closely — more closely now that I’ve gained a greater understanding of Labeling from the Buddhist standpoint.

Looking out at my classroom, every day, I have to admit that I see the labels that we traditionally place on students (and that we ourselves as students placed on ourselves as teenagers): The Jocks, the Popular Girls, the Troublemakers, the Loners, the Angstful ones, the Nerd, and the Kid Everyone Thinks Is Gay. As a teacher, I’ve always done my best to take each student on his or her own worth, and have always understood the importance of doing so in terms of education. As a beginning buddhist practitioner, this importance has taken on a more far-reaching meaning. In the article, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche states:

“Because of this labeling mind, we have friends and enemies, black and white, gay and straight, good and bad. In society, people put more weight on this label or that one, and so we experience segregation and discrimination. In Buddhism, we call this duality — our mind’s tendency to divide up the world into pairs of opposites. This is the root of so much of our suffering.”

As rational thinking people, we always know this to be true. I think we realize that opposites are somewhat fabricated — think of the “opposite” that we create between “cats” and “dogs.” Why are they opposites? They’re not even the same species. We’ve made them opposites because we’ve fabricated this cultural idea of cats and dogs fighting all the time. If you place a cat and a dog in a room, however, in my own experience, you’ll have a cat who couldn’t care less, or you’ll have the cat who will corner the dog. It’s not the case that the species are opposites, it’s more likely that the nature of one individual cat that influences it’s decision to ignore or chase that dog (I’m thinking of one particular, petite cat we owned who cornered a Boston Terrier three times her size, and a fat fluffy orange male cat who slept through the whole ordeal). The idea that dogs and cats are opposites make no more sense, really, than the idea that bird and fish are opposites. How do we know? Try explaining the idea of cats and dogs being opposite to a school-age child who is learning “opposites” in school (ugh). You’ll see how difficult it is to explain — and how ridiculous it all sounds once you start trying to put it into words.

This idea of having Labeling being an issue spelled out for us in Buddhist thinking, though, is important. We know it’s pretty well irrational, makes no real sense, and pits two camps against each other. As western thinkers, however, we are not usually led to the conclusion that it is one of the things that we do as a culture that leads to actual suffering. I mean, how could something we are taught by our pre-K teachers lead to SUFFERING? But it does.

I’m thankful for my friend who posted this article — it reminded me of the sea of faces I see every day, and the labels that our students are burdened with, that they carry around all day long. I hope I can do a decent job today of taking those labels off in my own mind. Maybe it’ll make some kind of difference? We’ll see.

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What The Buddha Taught

October 12, 2010 § 3 Comments

Ok so, in my attempts to learn more about Buddhism, I’ve done a lot of searching. And as previously mentioned, I found a lot of really great sources of information and support. The major form of support I get is for now, virtually (see previous post).

Between Second Life, Face Book and other forms of online communication, I’ve gotten a lot of great information and found a wonderful virtual community — or virtual Sangha.

The people in this Sangha have been instrumental in helping me put together the Skeptical Readers of SL group and get it up and running. We’ve met the past couple of Sundays and talked about the book we are currently working on, “What The Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula.

From what I hear, this is the work that was recommended to many of those in the Sangha by their own teachers, when my Sangha-mates (yes, I made that up, sorry) were first starting their studies, so I’m encouraged that it’s a good starting point for the rest of us beginners too 🙂

I loved the energy of our talk! Chapter one of this book is pretty straightforward, with the major themes being clearly introduced and to me, mostly topics with which I was pretty familiar:

* The idea of questioning and inquiry (Don’t just take someone’s teachings on faith. Question, test and question again on your own. Be your own judge of the results. “Faith” and “belief” is not asked of anyone in Buddhism).

* Religious tolerance — The Buddha himself was open to other religions and accepting of those from other religions going to talk to him, learn from him, question him. He did not expect Buddhism to be the “one true” philosophy or way of life, never told other to turn away from the religions or faiths that they themselves may have held.

* Religious labels — There is only truth — no Christian Truth, no Islamic Truth, no Christian Love etc., just truth, just love. Truth can’t be claimed by any one school of thought, it’s more universal than that.

And more.

What I’m finding more challenging is with Chapter 5 so far, which looks at the Eightfold Path, which is the Fourth Noble Truth. I’ve only just really gotten a semi-grasp of these two thing: The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I’m hoping that grasping those concepts is half the battle 🙂

I’m not sure what I need to do to get the eight parts of the Eightfold Path to stick in my memory (maybe that’s where some of that ritual chanting comes in? Not my bag, but perhaps it had this purpose at one time), but I find that part of things to be just as troubling as any of the concepts that are attached to them. I also have a hard time remembering the order in which they’re usually placed. Thank goodness one of my Sangha-mates (Jan Ford!) sent me a link to a Web site that I really liked — mainly because it was very simple and minimalist. That’s my style! Here it is for anyone who’d like to take a look at it too:

http://www.thebigview.com/buddhism/eightfoldpath.html

This topic also lead to — of course — a really great discussion among all of us. Some great questions were brought up, like the “Right Intentions” part of the Eightfold Path, among the many, many other topics of discussion that arose. How does one know if he or she is performing something with the right intention? The most interesting thing to me about this is that really, because of how this particular brand of Buddhism works, the only person who really knows, is YOU. Not a God, no deity, no lightning strike out of the sky or the gaping mouth of Hell awaiting you in the afterlife: You. You have to deal with YOU. THAT, to me, is daunting, but so refreshing at the same time.

Only *I* know why I’m doing something, the spirit in which I am doing it. I guess in a way, you could say that for all of the parts of the Eightfold Path. To me, this is the draw, this is the “thing” that brings me to Skeptical Buddhism. It’s that idea that I have to answer to me. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know who I am, what I’ve done, and feel that I can love myself for those things.

What if more of us were to do that? Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing?

So far, I’m a terrible blogger — between meadering writings and not posting often, things aren’t looking good. Hopefully I’ll get some skills in this soon hahaha.

Where Am I?

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