Medicine Buddha Puja Today

•August 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Medicine-Buddha

In addition to engaging in Medicine Buddha Puja on Gersimi’s behalf today, I will be engaging in puja on behalf of those friends and family who have recently lost loved ones; all those who have died in and are missing as a result of flooding and landslides in Nepal and India; who have died at the hands of terrorists; who have died from Ebola; and who have been killed in recent fighting and conflicts (too numerous to mention).

May all sentient beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all sentient beings never be separated from the happiness that knows no suffering.
May all sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachment and anger that hold some close and others distant.

Medicine Buddha Mantra by Tashi Mannox.

Medicine Buddha Mantra by Tashi Mannox.

Of Water and Mantras

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) along with (clockwise from top) White Tara,  Amitabha, Green Tara, Vajrapani, Manjushri.

Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) along with (clockwise from top) White Tara, Amitabha, Green Tara, Vajrapani, Manjushri.

Last week, shortly after Gersimi died, I wrote to Ven. Choekyi Lhamo at The Kadampa Center (FPMT) to seek advice regarding jangwa for Gersimi’s ashes. Because I have not undergone the necessary retreat and do not have the appropriate empowerment to perform jangwa myself, and will not be able to make it to Cary before Sept. 30th (the 49th and final day of Gersimi’s sojourn through the Bardo), I was not sure that jangwa would be a possibility. I wrote to Ven. Choekyi-la:

On pages 21-22 of “Heart Practises for Death and Dying”, it says that the ashes of the deceased can be purified via jangwa and then one of the options for the now-purified ashes is that they can be sprinkled into the wind from a high mountain. Given we live in WV where the effects of mountaintop removal mining, chemical accidents, and corporate greed and disregard for human and animal life has created a huge amount of suffering (higher rates of cancer, shortened life expectancies, birth defects, poverty, etc.), I thought that purifying Gersimi’s ashes and scattering them in the recommended way would be a wonderful way to help sentient beings in our area.”

This past Sunday, Ven. Choekyi-la asked Geshe Gelek (Geshe-la) on my behalf about jangwa, and what I could do to benefit not only Gersimi, but also other sentient beings during this time. Geshe-la’s advice was to recite Mani mantras (the mantra of Chenrezig – OM MANI PADME HUM), and to then blow on water after finishing the recitation. This blesses the water with the power of the mantra. Afterwards, the water may be sprinkled or poured into a river, thus giving benefit to any sentient beings who would come into contact with the water/body of water into which the blessed water is poured, thus continually benefiting countless sentient beings. This can be done as a continual practise, even after the 49 days, as a means of benefiting other sentient beings. I fully intend to engage in this practise and to do so on a regular basis, even after the 49 day period is done.

Which brings me to the other reason for writing this blog.

As I wrote in my letter: “we live in WV where the effects of mountaintop removal mining, chemical accidents, and corporate greed and disregard for human and animal life has created a huge amount of suffering (higher rates of cancer, shortened life expectancies, birth defects, poverty, etc.)…” (emphasized to make a point).

We take it for granted that we have clean water to bathe in, cook with, wash with, imbibe, and use for various – including spiritual – purposes. We take it for granted that every time we turn on the tap, that what comes out is potable and safe. Unfortunately, it is reality that people are less able to trust what comes out of the tap than they were a decade ago. In some environments, what comes out of the tap is more likely to kill you than drinking water from a puddle in your front yard. It is reality that a growing number of us know someone whose life is impacted by the toxic hazards associated with fracking, MTR, life near a chemical/industrial plant, etc. Those of us who were affected by the MCHM spill in January of this year got a taste of what life is like on a daily basis for these folks. Having to buy bottled water in large quantity, because you have to buy enough to not only cook or drink with, but to bathe with was a temporary headache for 3,000+ people (my family and I included). But imagine having to do that every week, for years – or having to fight tooth and nail to get companies to grudgingly pay for enough water to fill a water buffalo. Imagine watching family members, neighbours, and friends get poisoned slowly by the toxins in their water and air, watching them develop cancers and other diseases, watching them die. The whole time knowing that the people responsible live in comfort miles away, enjoying clean, safe water and a fat paycheck whose origination is in the suffering of people whose lives are forever destroyed in the name of corporate profit. That’s reality for many folks in Appalachia and parts of Western PA.

In Buddhism, morality is not a theologically-grounded ideology founded by supernatural beings. It is grounded in human experience. Because Buddhism does not ascribe to moral absolutism and ethical actions are based on individual situations and the factors involved, morality is thus concerned with what is beneficial versus what is harmful. The industries tied to fracking, MTR, etc. have for decades worked hard to convince the public through media, lobbyists, etc.  that their activities are “beneficial to society”. But how can they truly be said to be “beneficial” when they create such massive amounts of suffering? There is nothing “beneficial” in blowing off a mountaintop or in fracking waste – studies have shown quite the opposite. In addition to the harm to human communities, we’re seeing massive wildlife endangerment and displacement, an increase in flooding and landslides, an increase in air and water pollution, and an increase in earthquakes. These days, you don’t have to live in close proximity to be affected.

MTR and fracking are a violation of ahimsa – “non-harming” . The companies involved routinely violate the second precept (taking that which is not given),  acquiring what they want through misinformation, manipulation, bribes, threats, and trickery. They also violate the fourth precept (not engaging in false speech), as they routinely work to “skew”, cover up, and/or lie regarding the damage they do, even under oath in court. As coal jobs decline in WV and poverty increases, drug abuse increases, thus increasing violence, poverty, disease, dissolution of families and communities, and crime: As coal fades in West Virginia, drugs fill void (this is the last of a three-part series; read the whole series, it’s worth it). Despite what some people stubbornly believe, MTR operations do not increase jobs – they require fewer employees than traditional mining operations, and most of the employees they bring in are are from other MTR sites owned by the company. Where MTR exists, miners actually lose jobs, which means their families no longer have a paycheck to rely on. How is that “beneficial”? How is that “good”? How is that “right”, or “moral”? In the quest for “cheap” energy innumerable sentient beings are suffering every day in innumerable ways. “Cheap” energy when viewed through that lens isn’t “cheap” at all – it’s flat-out unaffordable. Unsustainable. Unconscionable. Inexcusable. Immoral.

I pray that more people will come to see the great value which exists in being loving and compassionate towards our fellow sentient beings – not just other human beings, but all creatures, our environment, and ultimately the living organism that is Planet Earth. We create the cause of our suffering – it is up to us to decide when to end it. I’m doing my part in my own way – I am making phone calls, writing, petitioning, informing (and staying informed), supporting fellow activists, taking part in clean-ups, and donating. Will you do yours?

OM MANI PADME HUM

nagaraja-blue

Gersimi Blalock 2001-2014

•August 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Gersimi's ashes in their urn, wrapped in a khadag.

Gersimi’s ashes in their urn, wrapped in a khadag.

Gersimi Blalock (our Mau-Tabby mix and eldest of our four cats) passed away from advanced renal failure at Good Shepherd Veterinary Hospital at 4pm on the 17th day of the 6th lunar month (Phukluk calendar – 8/12/14). May she have a good rebirth, meet the Dharma, and achieve enlightenment. We recited the traditional prayers and mantras for the time of death as recommended by Lama Zopa Rinpoche at her bedside.

For the next 49 days, we are performing Medicine Buddha Puja every seventh day and doing daily recitation of the King of Prayers, on Gersimi’s behalf, in the morning and evening, along with various mantras. We have added Gersimi’s name to the list of the deceased at the Kadampa Center in Raleigh, NC for traditional prayers for the next 49 days, and we will be making donations to local animal shelters in her name.

The Eight Medicine Buddhas.

The Eight Medicine Buddhas.

Ringless Honey Mushroom (Armillaria tabescens)

•August 13, 2014 • 1 Comment

Young Ringless Honey Mushrooms; Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

Young Ringless Honey Mushrooms; Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

I always know when Fall is around the corner when I see these guys start to pop up! In my part of WV the growing season for the Ringless Honey Mushroom is generally mid-late August through October, with their peak being September to November in other parts of the US. These fungi are common to the East Coast from New England down to Florida and westward into Kansas and Texas. What distinguishes this from the Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea) is that the Honey Mushroom has a sticky or tacky cap, while the cap of the Ringless Honey Mushroom is dry. It also (as the name implies) lacks the ring on the upper stalk left by the veil of the Honey Mushroom. It is an edible, however, it also has poisonous look-a-likes.

More mature cluster of Ringless Honey Mushrooms; Kanawha City, Kanawha County WV 8/13/14.

More mature cluster of Ringless Honey Mushrooms; Kanawha City, Kanawha County WV 8/13/14.

Clusters showing different stages of development as well as details of the stalks. Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

Clusters showing different stages of development as well as details of the stalks. Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

Like its’ cousin the Honey Mushroom, the Ringless Honey Mushroom sends out black runners (called rhizomorphs) which extend for several feet and can crawl up the bark of trees; these rhizomorphs can produce additional colonies of mushrooms which can extend for several meters. These distinctive rhizomorphs are responsible for one of the Ringless Honey Mushroom and Honey Mushroom’s distinctive nicknames: “Bootlace Mushroom”. It’s not uncommon to find several clusters spread out over a large radius. Both Ringless Honey Mushrooms and Honey Mushrooms can damage trees by destroying their trunks and root systems. This is accomplished through slowly strangulating the tree as the parasitic fungi absorbs more nutrients than the tree can easily replace. Maples and Poplars are a particular target; one can take the presence of numerous clusters as a warning that the tree is diseased and/or dying. A couple years ago, I noted that the Maples which had the largest number of clusters the previous Fall had fallen victim to the derecho which hit our area – their trunks were completely hollowed out and showed signs of disease. In contrast, Maples which did not have Ringless Honey Mushroom clusters or only a couple were still standing despite taking some wind damage. Parasitic fungi generally have an easier time taking over a tree’s root system if it has already been compromised. That being said, Ringless Honey Mushrooms can continue to grow along the root-systems of trees which have been removed or blown/fallen down for several years, following the path of the roots.

Matured Ringless Honey Mushrooms entering the final stages of their cycle. Note that as the fungi age, their caps turn upwards to reveal their gills. The youngest Ringless Honey Mushrooms are best for eating, while matured ones like these lose their natural sweetness and take on a tough, woody taste (making them unpalatable). Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

Matured Ringless Honey Mushrooms entering the final stages of their cycle. Note that as the fungi age, their caps turn upwards to reveal their gills. The youngest Ringless Honey Mushrooms are best for eating, while matured ones like these lose their natural sweetness and take on a tough, woody taste (making them unpalatable). Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

Ringless Honey Mushroom cluster growing partly up the base of the trunk of an ivy-clogged Maple. By the time it gets to Ringless Honey Mushroom growing from the trunk, the damage caused by the fungi is pretty severe. Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV.

Ringless Honey Mushroom cluster growing partly up the base of the trunk of an ivy-clogged Maple. By the time it gets to Ringless Honey Mushrooms growing from the trunk, the damage caused by the fungi is pretty severe. Kanawha City, Kanawha County, WV 8/13/14.

Thoughts for a cloudy Tuesday…

•July 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Milarepa (མི་ལ་རས་པ་),  (1040-1123)

Milarepa (མི་ལ་རས་པ་), (1040-1123)

Upon the ground, the field of equanimity,
I mix in water and manure of stable faith in the path.
I sow the seeds of pure, untainted mind.
The thunder of my supplication claps
And an effortless rain of blessings descends.
Upon the oxen of mind free from doubt
I fix the yoke of method and wisdom’s plow.
A farmhand lacking confused and muddled thoughts,
I firmly grasp the plow-arm undistracted.
With the whip of diligent exertion
I till the hardened soil of five poisonous afflictions.
I clear away stones of unwholesome character
And pull up weeds without pretense.
From ripened ears, the truth of actions and results,
I reap the harvest, a superb life of liberation.
With the fruit of excellent oral instructions
I fill the granary lacking conceptual focus.
Roasted and ground, such sublime food of dakinis
Is nourishment for this yogin’s practise.

~ Milarepa (p. 130-131, The Life of Milarepa by Tsangnyön Heruka)

The Faeries Oracle: A Review

•July 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment
My Faery Guide Card and four favourite cards from the Faeries Oracle, along with the handsewn case I made to house my original deck (this is deck 2.0, my original deck was given to a friend who lost theirs in a fire).

My Faery Guide Card and four favourite cards from the Faeries Oracle, along with the handsewn case I made to house my original deck.

The Faeries Oracle by Brian Froud and Jessica Macbeth (originally published in Oct. 2000). 66 cards + 208-page book.

I’m not as much of a cards person as others when it comes to divination – I’ve never felt an affinity for tarot (aside from liking the artwork on some decks, but I would not buy myself a deck just for the artwork – that’s just me though, others’ mileage may vary). I’m more of a dice, rune bones/stones, and sticks/stalks kind of gal, and recently I have been learning shagai. I learned how to do a style of divination using playing cards from Mongolia, but it’s pretty involved, so I don’t do it often. However, I have managed to find two decks with which I can truly connect: the Druid Plant Oracle (which I will be reviewing in an upcoming blog) and the Faeries Oracle.

Like a lot of folks my age (30s), my introduction to the Frouds came from watching Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and the conceptual designs he created for the Henson series The Storyteller. I’ve always loved how the Frouds’ (both Brian and Wendy) portrayal of the denizens of the spirit world focuses not only on the light and astoundingly beautiful, but on the earthy, the dark, the neutral. In keeping with this, nothing is entirely as it seems in the Faeries Oracle – if you’re looking for neat definitions, consistent interpretations, and defined boundaries, you will not find them here. This is a very intuitive deck, and you are encouraged to truly make it your own.

Jessica Macbeth’s accompanying book advises: “Don’t read someone else’s definitions of the cards until you already have some idea of what they mean to you.” (p. 15) My advice to anyone considering buying this set for the first time would be to invest in a notebook and plenty of pens, pencils, crayons, markers, and paints – part of the fun of connecting with this deck is spending time with each card, developing your own meanings, associations, and allowing your spirits to communicate with you. As a part of this, a blank card is included for you to use as a template for your “Faery Guide” card, so you can truly personalise your deck. On pages 18-21 Macbeth provides a series of seven starter questions which serve as a primer for intuitive readings by asking you to choose from amongst the cards the one which appeals to you the most, and the one which appeals to you the least. It’s not a bad idea to use each of these seven questions as a baseline for recording your feelings and interpretations of each card (this is where the doodling supplies come in handy – if you’re like me, some things can’t always be expressed in words). The more you use and interact with the Faeries Oracle, the deeper and more varied the associations become. This is a deck that you can grow with – I’ve been using the Faeries Oracle for 13 years (the deck pictured above is 2.0 – my original deck was given to a friend who lost theirs in a fire), and while some associations have been elaborated on, others have definitely changed.

Because this deck is centered on Faeries and other denizens of the realms of the Nature Spirits (there is very broad representation in this deck), the settings of each card are reflective of different places in Nature, and these settings are as important to the associations of each card as the central subjects themselves. A good way I have found to develop familiarity with the Faeries Oracle is to group cards by setting, and ponder what the similarities mean to you, and whether you can divine a connection between certain cards based on this. There is a great deal of symbolism waiting to be unlocked – because this set is not based on a single faith tradition, there is no one approach to interpretation which is more correct than another. So, for example, I see Card 17/Himself (middle card in the above picture) as representing Bayan Ahaa/Bayan Hangai, but someone else may see him as the Wiccan Horned God, as Cernunnos, as Freyr, or as Tapio. None of those interpretations are incorrect – it’s all in the eye of the beholder! Which brings me to another excellent use for this deck – as a tool for meditation as well as ritual. For those so inclined, each card (or even specific groups of cards) can be employed to help in meditative visualizations, and/or serve as depictions of deities and spirits important to your faith on an altar. For me, certain cards function as a gateway to trance/ecstatic states.

In addition to giving some advice on doing readings, providing sample spreads, and some “starter reading” interpretations, Macbeth also devotes some time to discussing the importance of meditation, grounding/earthing, centering, and ways of connecting with spirit beings (by whatever name you call them) in Part Three (“Going Deeper”). This can be very beneficial for people to read and practise not only for the purpose of more effectively divining with the oracle, but also for general health and well-being. When one is grounded and centered, one is generally better able to survive the 21st century!

In giving readings to others using this deck I have found that people were generally very excited about the images/imagery – they were able to make their own connections with certain cards or depictions of plants/fungi/environments in the cards which deepened the reading for them. The Faeries Oracle works well for both short and more in-depth readings, however, it’s not really cut out (in my experience anyway) for straight “yes/no” situations.

In short – I love the Faeries Oracle!

Summertime Recipe: Organic Banana Flax Bread

•July 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Egil, our Black Smoke Maine Coon and Official Kitchen Kitty.

Egil, our Black Smoke Maine Coon and Official Kitchen Kitty. He’s always on hand to supervise!

With Summer in full swing and picnic/cookout season well underway, I figured I would share one of our favourite household recipes that is sweet, good for you, filling, and easy to make – Organic Banana Flax Bread! It goes great with a variety of dishes and can also serve as a base recipe for “Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink-Bread” (I’ll cover this in another entry, promise!). It makes a great trail snack and an excellent quick breakfast with some fruit. This recipe is also good for people looking to watch their diets as it uses only 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of cane sugar (or sugar substitute, like beet sugar), whole wheat flour, flax, and has no salt.

I adapted this recipe from my Grandmother’s recipe; this is very basic so you can dress it up according to your taste (adding nuts, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, chocolate chips, etc.), or keep it as is. I find that when using chocolate chips, the mini chips work best. My son enjoys the chocolate chip version! It’s also good with some peanut or almond butter on top (seriously – those of you who have had a PB & Banana sandwhich know what I’m talking about!).

Organic Banana Flax Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flax*
4 very ripe bananas**
1/3 cup melted unsalted butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup cane sugar or sugar substitute (beet sugar, etc.)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. baking soda

*Ground flax is easier for your body to digest and ensures you will get the full health benefits associated with flax; whole flax can pass through your system without being fully digested.
**The more ripe the bananas, the less sugar you’ll need to add. I usually wait until the bananas are fully browned and fall away from the peel easily – at that point, I sometimes don’t need to add any sugar at all!

You will need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C. Mash the bananas; using a spoon, mix in the melted butter. Add sugar and egg, mix well; add baking soda. Add the ground flax, mixing well. Add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time to make sure it mixes in well. Your batter will be very thick and heavy. Pour batter into a buttered 4×8 inch loaf pan and bake for one hour. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before removing and allowing to cool on the rack the rest of the way.

The finished bread! Looks pretty, smells awesome, tastes WOW!

The finished bread! Looks pretty, smells awesome, tastes WOW!

Because this contains flax, you will want to make sure to drink it with plenty of fluids! Сайхан хооллоорой!

 
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