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First Class Questions

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  • beier.john@epamail.epa.gov
    Since I was in high school I have been interested in altered states of consciousness and nonstandard ways of looking at reality. I read the Don Juan books,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2008
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      Since I was in high school I have been interested in altered states of
      consciousness and nonstandard ways of looking at reality. I read the
      Don Juan books, Zen and the Art of Archery, and the Lobsong Rampa books
      to get an idea of some of the alternative ways of
      experiencing/perceiving our world. My first introduction to Buddhism
      was in the early 70's when I read a number of books by Lobsang Rampa.
      They were very interesting books that claimed to be the autobiography of
      the author who was a very high Tibetan Lama. Since he was the
      reincarnation of someone very high in the Tibetan tradition, the author
      was given special esoteric training in the "secret teachings" of Tibetan
      Buddhism. I found these books fascinating and they sparked my interest
      in learning more about the higher capabilities of the mind and the
      possibility of seeing the world with new eyes.

      I never got far enough into Buddhism to realize that there were
      different versions - I was too busy just trying to figure what these
      people were saying (no mind, non duality, no self, etc.) and how this
      material fit into a wider vision of reality. I was ( and probably
      still am) unsure of what Zen is all about since most of what I had read
      dealt with its relationship to the martial arts and the strange way that
      practitioners become "one" with their art. I often wonder if the Zen
      master in a monastery has the same mental/consciousness state
      (enlightenment?) as a samurai master. How much variation from the
      original teachings can one have and still embody the same experience
      that Buddha had?

      More recently the books I have read on Buddhism seem to be based on the
      Tibetan tradition since the bookstores seem to have quite a few of this
      variety. I have also read some of Thich Nhat Hanh's books as a result
      of taking Hai's classes. Now that I know a little about the history of
      Buddhism, things are beginning to make a little more sense.

      The most interesting thing I learned from our first class meeting was
      the fact that Buddha's teachings were not written down when he was
      teaching them. This seems pretty similar to the Christian religion and
      keeps me wondering how close these sutras are to Buddha’s original
      teaching since the mind is less than perfect in remembering things -
      particularly when you consider decades or centuries. Also, I know that
      the books of the Bible were determined by an "official" group and they
      left out certain information that they either did not like or
      understand. So, since we don't have the original words and context of
      the founders of some of these religions, I sometimes wonder if the
      teachings we have are completely accurate. One of the things that seem
      better about Buddhism is that Buddha told his followers that they should
      test what he said and see if it is true for them. This makes a lot more
      sense to me than being asked (like most religions) to take everything on
      faith.

      As Buddhism spread it encountered different cultures and changed as a
      result. I have frequently seen documentaries on Tibet and they show
      how the "common folk" spin prayer wheels thinking that this will benefit
      them now or in some future incarnation. Obviously these people think
      that spinning wheels or flying flags that have prayers printed on them
      will bring good fortune, but is this what Buddha taught and do these
      practices really work? - they think so. So, how much variation can you
      have before you are really "off base" with the original teachings?

      What I would like to learn most about Buddhism is how to practically
      apply the teaching on a day-to-day basis. What exercises and activities
      are the most effective (in whatever tradition) in allowing one to
      perceive and experience the world like Buddha? Also, what things don't
      work. I would think a couple of thousand years of experience should
      have yielded some insights into the "best practices" in this area.

      John
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