Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ven. Jo Jo

Hello Everyone and Happy Saturday!

I wish to thank Mystic Tourist for sharing what it means to him to be a Secular Mystic. A very interesting read; thank you so much Mystic Tourist!

Today we have a new post. Please welcome Ven. Jo Jo.
Ven. Jo Jo is a Buddhist and I know you will enjoy his post as well!

Here Is Ven. Jo Jo's Introduction:

Ven. Jo Jo began training in Buddhist meditation in 1980 at the age of thirteen. After the passing of his master in 1992, he spent much of his time in the mountains continuing his pursuits of mental cultivation.
Gradually he began leaning toward becoming a monk as the pursuits of everyday life began losing their appeal. After choosing to reacquaint himself with some of the local temples and train under their teachers, he had firmly made the decision to become a monk. By the spring of 2006, he received ordination.
Ven. Jo Jo has decided to contribute to the Buddhist community primarily through writing. As such, he has begun work on several books as well as recently begun efforts to be active in the online community. Though most of his writings at this point are seen only by his students, he has every intention on getting active with posting essays to his blog - for the general public. He also does a Dhamma Tweet every Sunday morning to inspire reflection. You can follow him on Twitter @BhikkhuJoJo.
1) What religion do you practice?

2) Did you convert or were you born into this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
I was not converted nor was I born into Buddhism. I was raised in a family that was typically Christian, meaning they believed in some sort of Christian religion, but didn't practice it or talk about it. I have never considered myself a believing Christian. My great aunt and uncle dragged me to church occasionally when I was a toddler but I was disinterested, as I'm sure most kids of that age are.
I was never truly a practitioner of any religion. In my teens I intently studied the Bible and various Christian denominations because I enjoyed going to the preachers around town and debating with them. Though I know now, looking back, it was more along the lines of arguing with them. So I went through that phase. Then I began to feel the social pressures of identifying with a religion, so I experimented in various occult practices. In the end I found all of these previous studies and dabblings to be lacking.
At the age of thirteen I began to study meditation from a master who was also my martial arts master. He would only train us if we cultivated not just our bodies but our minds as well. This marked the beginning of my Buddhist practice. However, I was already familiar with meditation to some extent from an earlier age growing up in the tail end of the hippie era and always enjoyed just being in my mind. So much so that my mother was at her wits end on how to punish me as a child because sitting in a corner (which was common in those days) was no punishment at all for me.

3) Would you consider yourself a moderate, conservative or other?
If this is referring to politics, I don't concern myself with politics. Therefore I'd have to answer none of the above. With regards to Buddhism, again, none of the above. Buddhist practice is about recognizing these sorts of biased states of mind, which cloud our perception and judgement, and purging them.

4) In your opinion, what makes you moderate/conservative/other?
Refer to question three.

5) In your opinion, what makes someone conservative? What makes someone moderate?
When we get caught up in our thinking and begin to identify with the subsequent opinions and positions we begin to create an imbalance in our minds. This is how these defiled states arise.

6) What's your heaven/paradise like?
The Buddha used the prevalent Brahman cosmological view of the day as a metaphor to help people understand his teaching in a way they could relate to. Therefore, when he spoke of the heavenly realms, he was illustrating that it's a mental state we are "born" into when we are at peace and happy. Likewise, when we are perhaps angry, we are "born" into the hell realms.

7) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
Again, irrelevant. What Buddhist practice aims to uncover in this situation, if speaking of it literally, would be why the person has a need to feel as though they are going to go to heaven or some sort of paradise. It's all about delving into the mind and uncovering what's there, why it's there, and how it got there.

8) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
It's relatively scientific. The claims it makes, though not always testable via instruments, are verifiable by practicing. For example, if I say sit down and breath in and out deeply for two minutes and you will experience a relaxing feeling, that would be verifiable. You could go try it, and see for yourself. This is what makes it appealing to people — "It just works". Living in the modern age of science and critical thought, we expect our practices for well-being, religions, philosophies, etc., to be able to hold up to scrutiny. Being told to follow something on blind faith, just doesn't make sense to the modern human anymore.

9) What are your holy days and what do you do to celebrate them?
There are numerous occasions that would be referred to as holy days in Buddhism. Each country will celebrate a different variety than others. However, the one universally celebrated holiday, as well as the biggest event in Buddhism, is Buddha's Birthday. The rituals and ceremonies will all vary depending upon the country as well, but the one common theme throughout the Buddhist community is the tradition of pouring water over a little statue of the Buddha as a baby. This is done by each member in attendance. The decor is often replete with hanging Chinese-style lanterns and parades being held with elaborate floats. People will flock to the temples and mediation centers to meditate or participate in ceremonies and hear talks on Buddhism, or about Buddha's life given this occasion.

10) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?

11) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
Yes, I have even done this a few times. Irregardless of whether someone thinks these holy days are sacred and important or not, realistically they are social occasions that bring people together. When someone I care about is celebrating an occasion that's important to them and they wish to share the experience with me, then why would I not go? When this dualistic thinking of "their way" and "my way" ceases, then there's no problem, only harmony.

12) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
There are countries where women are beaten and the law either permits it or traditionally turns a blind eye to it. Or children are turned out into prostitution to earn money for the struggling family. Yet I hear so much uproar over Islam's burka which isn't harming anyone. It being a degradation of women is merely a cultural way of thinking. Muslim women who wear the burka say they are proud to wear it, some even say they have a choice. Whether this is a result of indoctrination or not is a matter of speculation. The bottom line is that the Western world has latched onto the burka as a way of maintaining its disdain for Islam as a result of the acts of terrorism in the last decade and Islam's perceived role in fostering it. Instead of recognizing that those responsible, though Muslim, are radicals just like other religions have their radicals now and in antiquity, we choose to continually bash an entire religion and grasp at petty things to continue fueling our outrage. What if we were to do this with the Christian religion because of their crusades, or in recent times the mass suicides, and other unfortunate happenings? No one is hesitant then to recognize these as the actions of radicals, cults, and other misguided people.
As for the shariah, I must profess I know virtually nothing of it save for the commonly criticized law that puts people to death for leaving Islam. I understand that the Islamic community has been attempting to push their ways on the societies in which they have immigrated to, and even going so far as to attempt to have laws implemented for or in favor of Muslims. But a society is an aggregate of people. The laws and culture are made up of all those individuals. If the masses don't want such Islamic laws being incorporated into their system, then they won't be. But they have just as much right to try and integrate their ways into their new culture as others before them have likewise done and are still doing. By the same token, Islam or any other religion should not and must not be allowed a free pass based upon religion when they break the laws established by the people. Religion is not above reproach. If they kill someone while in a Western country because someone de-converted from Islam then they are punishable by those laws which prohibit such action. Or not being permitted to wear the burka when entering a bank. They do not get a get out of jail free card in the name of religion or shariah. They have their own countries and culture that has evolved with their religion and shariah in mind allowing them to live in accord with it, regardless of what the rest of the world may think of them for it.

13) What are your thoughts on women not being allowed to become priests?
Religion is losing ground among the people not just because of the modern mind being more logical, scientific, and less apt to dispense with critical thought, but also as a result of the religious institutions being either unwilling or too slow to change and adapt to the times. People, at least in the Western world, do not accept discrimination anymore. When a religion is doing something that the people no longer wish or those people have higher moral standards than the religious institution, something is going to give and that is likely going to be the religion getting the boot.
In Buddhism we have a similar situation to the women not being allowed to become priests situation. In the school of Buddhism dominant in southeast Asia, the lineage of nuns died out long ago. It's only been being reinstated in the last ten years. But this is a slow and arduous undertaking. The reigning monks and institutions refuse to recognize these ordinations and officially disassociate themselves from those who do these ordinations. There are questions of legitimacy with regard to the rules and procedures for ordination as to whether it can be done or not. But these have been hashed out over the last decade also. It's been found that there is no reason to deny these ordinations. The reasons those in charge are giving are merely excuses in a feeble attempt to maintain their prejudices against women which stems from their culture. If they wish for their flavor of Buddhism to take root in the West, and they do, then they must find a way of rectifying this issue. Because to the majority of Western people involved or interested in Buddhism, it is an unacceptable situation and all of Buddhism is going to be hindered by this discrimination as long as it persists.

14) Does your place of worship segregate? If yes, how does this make you feel?
No it doesn't segregate. Though in the Buddhist monastic tradition the nuns are required to sit behind the monks. It's also most common for the monks and nuns to live in separate temples, though some do not. However, they all practice together, so in that sense there is no segregation.

15) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
We all have mental defilements that keep us from experiencing life clearly and fully. It's like being sick, we just aren't functioning efficiently and effectively. Buddhist practice is like receiving a medicine that kills off the bacteria causing the sickness. Therefore, Buddhism does affect your daily life because it's exuding a profound change upon the mind. To say that it influences the way in which a practitioner views the issues of abortion or gay marriage would be hard to say. Out of hand I would say it quite possibly could. But these decisions are still up to the individual, there is no Buddhist doctrine that decrees they must think such and such a way on these issues. As for me, I don't know if it's influenced my thinking on these topics because I've been involved in the practice far before I even had a knowledge of these issues.

16) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
I would have no issues with it and have actually experienced this. The only concern is for the child and if the other person's fervor for their religion is going to dominate and cause difficulties in their marriage, which often doesn't become pronounced until after children enter the picture. This potentially volatile situation must be made apparent to the child. But this is a far cry from inflicting my own biases and prejudices upon him, it's simply ensuring he understands all the ramifications of his decision so HE can make an intelligent decision.

17) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?

18) Who do you think is not a practicing ----- in your religion and why? i.e. who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
Yes, there are those who are purported as being authorities on Buddhism but clearly are not and/or should not be, though I won't give names. This is actually a topic of concern within Buddhism among some people. The issue has become pronounced with the introduction of Buddhism to the West. Western culture places a huge value on people of academia. So what we see are people who are getting a degree in Buddhism from a university and then going out and calling themselves a Buddhist teacher and writing books. Or people who are academically inclined go and become monks for a stint, then quit and become professors at a university as if they were merely conducting field research. These sorts of approaches to Buddhism is causing many issues, especially for those new to Buddhism, because their understanding of the teachings are often shallow and not tempered by serious practice and a sincere approach to introspection. Although none of this means that all of these people are not worthy of teaching.
Traditionally it's the monastic order that is charged with preserving the teachings and conveying those teachings down to the laypeople. By going through the proper channels and observations by masters during the monastic training they're ensured, in theory anyway, that by the time the practitioner becomes a full monk they are not only well rounded in their understanding of the teachings academically as well as the practice and absorption of those teachings, but that they are qualified to teach. However, this also doesn't mean they are any more qualified than the academics who call themselves teachers, especially with the deteriorating way monastics are often being bred in the modern age now.
These are the two factions that many feel needs to be resolved. And it clearly is an issue given the perceived decline in the quality of the monastic community, and the often intellectual-only approach to Buddhism the academics are often accused of. As for me, I agree and disagree with both sides. For the sake of those who are interested in training their minds effectively and efficiently and receiving the proper teachings of the Buddha and his practice, perhaps some sort of a worldwide certification or recognition process needs to be instated. This would ensure a level of integrity with regards to Buddhist teachers. Perhaps it's time for another Buddhist council involving all the three schools of Buddhism and their denominations from around the world to address this issue, as well as that of the ordination of women?

19) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
Yes, I've been physically, though mildly, assaulted as well as being the victim of vandalism as a result of people being ignorant and intolerant of things they don't understand. Although this was quite a long time ago before Buddhism was seen as not so esoteric.

20) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?

21) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
Yes. It's a training of the mind!

22) Do you believe in reincarnation? Why or why not?
Buddhism accepts what is commonly called in English, rebirth. This is to distinguish itself from reincarnation, though it doesn't do a very good job of it. Reincarnation is some sort of entity or soul that is transmigrating from one life to the next. Buddhism doesn't recognize any sort of unchanging and impermanent entity.
Whereas rebirth is the process of the idea of a soul, this sense of 'I'. When it arises in your mind "you" are born, and likewise when there is no grasping at this sense of Self, "you" die. It's a mental process that is the crux of the practice. When a practitioner reaches a point where they've seen the fallacy of the Self so the phenomenon no longer arises in the mind, he will have fulfilled perhaps one of the most difficult hurdles to realizing enlightenment.

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