It’s been over a year since I attempted to undertake the Sanatana Dharma path. It didn’t take long for me to get sidetracked, falling back on old traditions, and researching new ones previously overlooked. Following a discussion on my recent relapse back into Theravada Buddhism, knowing precisely the spiritual course I wanted to take, I summarized my next goal: I wish to perform selfless action not rooted in selfish needs.
Having settled on Theravada again, I finished cataloguing laity-friendly discourses from the Tipitaka for practice. Looking through these texts, I asked myself if there was a means to achieve my goal. …
I was raised Christian. My faith was always weak. In my late teens, I turned to atheism. Later, as a young adult seeking purpose, I turned to Theravada Buddhism where I remained for the next twelve years. Theravada sharpened my focus and calmed my ego, but the incessant pessimism of the teachings left me feeling isolated and unmotivated.
As I grew older, still seeking purpose, and growing increasingly aware of social degradation, I sought paths better suited for motivating personal growth and cultural outreach. …
(Originally posted 2014.08.04)
For most of my adult life, I was a proud advocate of Marxism, a school of social liberalism that led me to see capitalism and religion as impediments of our potential — the root of humanity’s suffering that had to be stopped.
To accept a worldview I intuitively knew was tyrannical, I arrogantly oversimplified the beliefs of conservatives and theists. It wasn’t until I saw how noxious social liberalism could be in practice that my conscience could no longer validate my prejudices.
As a black male, I’ve been the target of relentless propaganda from the political-left. Nearly every narrative about black culture I heard in school and from the media centered on how I was a victim. Callous white men — now in the form of racist Republicans — were the oppressors, and the loving Democrats were my saviors. …
Whereas Western intellectuals seek the essence of Buddhism in its doctrines and meditation practices, the traditional Buddhists of Asia absorb the ideas and values of their spiritual heritage through its rich narrative literature about the Buddha and his disciples. The most popular collection of Buddhist stories is, without doubt, the Jātakas. These are the stories of the Buddha’s past births, relating his experiences as he passed from life to life on the way to becoming a Buddha.
— Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Jataka tales have somehow garnered an undeserved reputation in English speaking countries as fairy tales unfit for adults. I’ve been reading the 1895 translation of these texts by E. B. Cowell to see for myself if they have value. Frankly, after drudging through countless discourses on the countless pitfalls of worldly desire, at this point in my practice, as a lay follower, I’ve found these stories to be incredibly refreshing. They’re vibrant, full of life, and welcoming. Young and old householders alike could be more receptive to a wider scope of the teachings if they were transmitted — as they traditionally have been — via talks punctuated by a Jataka tale. …
(Originally posted 2019.09.07)
I was an atheist for most of my teenage years. By my mid-20s, I turned to spirituality to find purpose and stability. I settled with Theravada Buddhism, which was proselytized as a “godless religion”, because it appealed to my lingering secular sentiments. After 12 years of Vipassana and Buddhānussati practice, I made great progress cultivating equanimity and a devotional mindset. Nevertheless, the renunciant leanings of the Theravada eventually left me feeling stifled and isolated. I pursued two other Buddhist lineages, Zen and Pure Land. Both made a strong initial connection, but, to my disappointment, this connection was only fleeting. I soon realized the futility of relying upon intermediaries. To find the Truth that I sought, I needed to surrender my ego to the highest authority. I needed to seek the voice of God.
It is a mistake to disregard the distinction between the teachings addressed to renunciants and lay followers in the Early Buddhist texts. Given their tone, the renunciant practices could potentially discourage householders from fulfilling essential family and social duties, and paint the practice as incompatible for seekers who value such duties, consequently discouraging them from looking further into Buddhism.
The Connected Discourses (Saṃyutta Nikāya) is unique among the collections in the Pāli Canon in that its texts are grouped by topic rather than length or numerical scheme, providing a look at how the elder masters, and perhaps Gautama Buddha himself, prioritized pre-sectarian Buddhist teachings.
There are five books in the Connected Discourses: 1) Book of Verses, 2) Book of Causation, 3) Book of Aggregates, 4) Book of the Six Sense Bases, and 5) The Great Book, which is comprised of chapters on central doctrines like the Four Noble Truths.
The Book of Verses (Sagatha-vagga), which has largely been overlooked in English speaking countries, features concise meditative aphorisms—typically following an exchange with an enlightened master or celestial entity—on a spiritual or existential matter. …