buddhist

The meaning of the Alanis Morissette song, Thank You (Thank U)

This is my interpretation of the meaning of the Alanis Morissette song, Thank You (also known as Thank U). I don’t claim any special knowledge about the song; this interpretation of the lyrics is just based on my understanding of Zen and Buddhism, and also my practicing of yoga, specifically Iyengar yoga. If you’ve read some of the personal entries on this website, you know a lot of what I know.

Shinzen Young’s story of Shingon/Shinto training

Years before I heard of Shinzen Young, I had always “enjoyed” practicing meditation in the cold. Some part of it probably goes back to childhood, when I had to wait for the schoolbus in the freezing cold of northern Illinois winters. (This was in the time before global warming.) I used to stand there without moving, and mentally I’d concentrate on not being cold, or at least not feeling the cold.

Many years later when I lived in Alaska, I used to enjoy going up into the mountains to basically inflict the same thing on myself. I always thought the “meditate deeply or suffer the consequences” approach forced me to meditate more deeply. This past winter that same “Do or die, there is not try” mentality forced me to maintain my focus and helped to combat my medically-induced lack of energy.

The Soul Game

[This is a chapter from a currently-unpublished book I’m writing on meditation and mindfulness.]

As a spiritual being, one possible way to think of life here on Earth is as a “game” that serves as a training ground for the soul. It’s a game like other games, so it has many levels, and they get harder and harder as you progress. So in this case, the better you become at the game of spirituality — the Soul Game — the harder the levels become.

To help set some rules for the game, let’s say that it has fifty levels. The first time you play the game you’re born here on Earth in Level 1. Hopefully you score some points and move up, so maybe by the time it’s “game over” for your first lifetime, you’ve passed Level 9 and you’re playing on Level 10. Maybe you get a brief break in between lifetimes, but the next time you’re born you start right where you left off, at Level 10.

This brings me to a very important rule: Once you start playing the Soul Game, you’re strapped in for eternity. (That was clearly mentioned on page 52 of the End User License Agreement.) Once you’re in the game there are only two ways out:

Emptiness vs interdependence in Buddhism

I’ve often wondered about the difference between the terms emptiness and interdependence in Buddhism, and came across this excellent Accidental Buddhist blog post recently, which includes this paragraph about a conversation the Dalai Lama had:

“In the course of one of these conversations, His Holiness tells Victor Chan that for decades he has meditated every day on interconnectedness and emptiness. He said that there are two types of reality. Firstly, there is ‘standard’ reality. He gestures towards a mug of water. When we look at it we see water. When we touch it we feel water. We know it is water. But then he described how we can look at it with ‘ultimate’ reality in which the mug is a combination of particles, atoms, electrons and quarks — none of these particles can be described as ‘a mug’. The term mug is just an every-day label for this collection of particles.”

“The mug has come into existence because of a complex web of causes and conditions. Therefore it does not and could not exist independently. It cannot come into being by itself, of its own volition. It is empty of intrinsic, inherent existence. In other words, empty is another word for interdependent.”

The intensity of a monk’s meditation states befuddles science

“While his brain was probed by the fMRI, Mingyur (a Buddhist monk) followed the instruction to engage compassion. Once again the minds of everyone watching in the control room felt as though they had stopped. The reason: Mingyur’s brain circuitry for empathy rose to an activity level 700 to 800 times greater than it had been in the rest period just before.”

“Such an extreme increase befuddles science; the intensity with which those states were activated in Mingyur’s brain far exceeds any that had ever been seen in ‘normal’ people. The closest resemblance is for epileptic seizures, but those episodes last brief seconds, not for a full minute. And besides, brains are controlled by seizures, in contrast to Mingyur’s display of intentionally controlling his brain activity.”

~ from a story about brainwave tests of a monk in 2002