Blog

Can Buddhism Help with Stress and Depression?

Posted on Oct 22, 2014 |

Ask A Buddhist: Can Buddhism help with depression? October 22nd 2014By Sarah Conover Sarah Conover has been a Buddhist practitioner for nearly three decades. She’s ready to answer your questions about the faith. What do you want to ask a Buddhist?  Fill out the form below or submit your question online.  Can Buddhism help you in your everyday life like relieve stress or depression?  I want to learn more about Buddhism because I’m thinking about becoming Buddhist. Dear Reader: Buddhism stands on three foundational legs: virtue, concentration (the meditation practices) and wisdom. The three are inextricable in their effect on each other; however, I’m going to approach your question today through the leg of meditation practice as over the last decade or so a tremendous amount of neuroscience has validated the practical benefits of meditation for mind and body. In fact, achieving lasting contentment by freeing oneself from afflictions (such as stress and depression) is the central promise of Buddhism. I’d like to note, however, that the ultimate goal of Buddhism is liberation, an aspiration much more comprehensive than meditation’s utilitarian aspects: like any religion, Buddhism is a system of salvation and concerns the nature of being, becoming and existence. Although this article will lean heavily on the available science supporting the positive outcomes of meditation on mind and body, I’m going to juxtapose it with my own experience as a meditator and a meditation teacher for over two decades, offering some cautionary tales to a guaranteed fast and effortless path leading from cyclic depression to a stable contentment. The science is drawn from a summarizing book chapter of scientific findings available on-line titled: “Meditation and Neuroscience: From Research to Clinical Practice.” To name a few of the down-to-earth meditation benefits supported by science: improving the immune system; growing more grey matter; improving brain plasticity; developing contentment and ease in daily life; increasing compassion; cultivating emotional equanimity; reducing stress; reducing distractedness; improving attention and focus. First, the present consensual definition of meditation used for its scientific study is: methods that seek to improve self-regulation of attention and emotion. I find this broad description very helpful and clarifying. Under this designation fits the two camps—the attention focusing methods and the receptive methods–of most everything I’ve heard of, read about or experienced across many wisdom traditions. The attention focusing techniques include, but are not limited to, Islamic Zhikr, TM (Transcendental Meditation), Jewish mystic traditions, Tibetan mantra visualizations and yogic breath methods. The cultivation of inward-listening techniques are found in Insight Meditation, Christian Centering Prayer, Zen koan study and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to name just a few. That being said, I could probably exchange the examples I just named and put them in the opposite camp because each fosters the cultivation of both. The great Thai Forest Buddhist master Ajahn Chah says that meditation is like picking up a single stick—at one end of the stick you’ll find the concentration methods (attention regulation through steadying the mind) and at the other end...

Read More

Posted on Sep 10, 2014 |

Ask A Buddhist: Can LGBT people be ordained? Sarah Conover has been a Buddhist practitioner for nearly three decades. She’s ready to answer your questions about the faith. What do you want to ask a Buddhist?  Fill out the form below or submit your question online.  By Sarah Conover Dear Sarah I am quite new to Buddhism. I have a question in regards to monk ordination, specifically about LGBT people being ordained. I have read that in some temples and monasteries it is fine and then in others it isn’t. By fine I mean they can be ordained if they remain celibate and the like, and in others they can’t be ordained no matter what. I just wanted to know what your thoughts were on the issue and if you can shed some light on it.  Dear Reader: Questions about sexuality shouldn’t be an issue among Buddhist monastics because of what you noted above: celibacy. However, shouldn’t bedoesn’t mean it isn’t. As with any of the myriad ways we self-identify, the categories of lesbian, gay, bi or transgendered, are among dozens of self-conceptions we are drawn to or burdened with. For most people who identify within LGBT, the label seems to be a primary piece of selfhood, seen as an essential aspect of their personal narrative. Monasticism, with the ultimate aim of liberation, is a committed and extended effort to be free from the suffering caused by all narrowed views of selfhood. The ordination ceremony and the 230 and more rules monastics must follow afterwards are just a starting point, a clear demarcation of abandoning one’s former identity on symbolic and psychological levels. Among the list of things surrendered in the ordination formalities are one’s autonomy, beautification of the self, posturing of gender, and even one’s birth name. The nun’s (or monk’s) hair is shaved to look like an old man, she’s given robes that were traditionally sewn from scraps found in the charnel grounds, all her possessions must be forfeited, and her choice of activities will no longer be her own. And that’s just a sweeping summary of the fine print. “From the outset,” says Bikkhu Bodhi in his essay, Lifestyles and Spiritual Progress, “the monk’s life is rooted in renunciation. In ‘going forth,’ the monk leaves behind family, possessions, and worldly position, and even the outer marks of personal identity, symbolized by hair, beard, and wardrobe. By shaving the head and donning the yellow robe, the monk has given up — in principle at least — any claim to a unique identity as his own.” Thus begins the real work of a monastic: cultivating a wisdom that sees through the normal misapprehension of phenomena including the identities most of us cling to life-long (until death do us part). For the new monk or nun, all the badges of selfhood, achievements, and individuality we’ve carried throughout our lives, all the ways in which we curate our uniqueness (pretty much the ways most of us fill our days) are formally surrendered. Buddhist practice,...

Read More

Buddhism and Right Speech

Posted on Jul 1, 2014 |

http://spokanefavs.com/ask-a-buddhist-buddhism-and-right-speech/  

Read More

What is the Key to Meditating?

Posted on Sep 4, 2013 |

What do you think is the key to meditating? I try, but my mind just wanders.

You’ve landed on a central issue for every meditator: what to do with a drifting mind. The question addresses the irony that we have a learning curve to simply be with our experience of being. Meditation is just a circumscribed time of minimal distraction. If you let your mind amble about it can seem pointless, but if you try and force your mind not to wander, you can set yourself up for an unpleasant internal struggle. The act of sitting still, not being entertained, not doing much but simply paying attention is so unusual that we’re at a bit of a loss. Here you are, now what do you do? How do you approach this borderless terrain that seems to be centered inside your skull?

Read More

Can you help me understand all the different kinds of Buddhism?

Posted on Jun 28, 2013 |

Q. Can you help me understand all the different kinds of Buddhism? Like Christianity, it seems there are many branches, i.e., Zen, Tibetan, etc. How many are there and how are they different? A. Here are a few big brush comparisons based on this Buddhist’s early experiences shopping around for a brand of Buddhism (and a teacher) that inspired my fidelity, the facts garnered over two decades of study, as well as friendships developed with practitioners of differing denominations. – Continue reading at...

Read More

Are Buddhists Boring?

Posted on May 23, 2013 |

Are Buddhists Boring?

Although I study and write books on many world wisdom traditions, at heart, I am a committed Buddhist practitioner. This turn away from my childhood faith of Presbyterianism occurred on a narrow trail 500 feet above a terrifying and roaring river in the Himalayas. Walking in the opposite direction, hugging the gorge wall to give me space to pass by, a Buddhist monk said nothing in words, but a conversion took place with what I saw in his smile. Since that time more than 30 years ago, I pursued the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, spurred on when my toddler, Nate, began asking, “How do you know that life is not a dream, and that your dreams are not reality?” It is no surprise that he now lives as a Thai Forest Monk. Because a family system tends towards wobbly balance, my other child, daughter Jamey, righted the family ratio with a trenchant stance that Buddhism was hopelessly, unbearably boring. Continue reading at spokanefavs.com   Sarah Conover has been a Buddhist practitioner for nearly three decades. She is a long-time sangha member and student of the Skillful Meditation Project.  She is  the “Ask a Buddhist” contributor to Spokane Faith and Values. She’s ready to answer your questions about the faith. What do you want to ask a Buddhist? Submission questions...

Read More