actorartathleteauthorbizcrimecrosspostcustomerservicedirectoredufoodgaminghealthjournalistmedicalmilmodpostmunimusicnewsworthynonprofitotherphilpolretailscispecialisedspecializedtechtourismtravelunique

JournalistI am Shane Bauer, a journalist who bought a rifle and went undercover with a right wing militia on the border. AMA!

Oct 27th 2016 by ShaneBauer • 19 Questions • 200 Points

Bio:

Hello friends. I'm a 38 year old American who started meditating around age 27, became a Buddhist at age 30(in 2008), and around age 33 my practice lead me to desire to become a Buddhist Monk. It took some years to shut down my life though as I had an almost decade long career in (CPS)Child Protective Services, as well as a photography business and various debts like a car payment that I had to clear before renouncing the lay life.

I've documented my "journey into homelessness" since 2012 on youtube(www.youtube.com/studentofthepath) and via a written blog (http://jayantha.tumblr.com/studentofthepath)

I am a Bhikkhu, a fully ordained Buddhist Monk of the Theravada Tradition(found most prominently in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma,Laos). in 2014 I moved to a monastery in America and became ordained there, without any need to go overseas. I plan to stay in America and help others like me who were searching for truth to find the dhamma as I did. I also like helping spread awareness of Buddhism in the west, and I view doing things like this AMA as a way, not to convert people, but for the average American to gain a better understanding of what Buddhism, and being a Buddhist Monk, is all about. Going out in public as a bald headed man in robes always brings about a lot of questions from people who are not use to seeing such sights.

I have been active on r/buddhism as u/jayantha-sotp for a few years, and changed my name as it was changed for my full ordination.

This is my first time attempting to post in AMA, I've tried this twice before in casual iama and was overwhelmed by the response and all the questions. As before I will do my best to take the time to answer every question thoughtfully, although I can't stay glued to the computer forever, It may take some time to respond but I'll get to each question if i can.

My Proof:

Here is a photo :

http://i.imgur.com/htkI9bc.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/K5YQXND.jpg

http://i.imgur.com/cYyl5GY.jpg

in addition to a long running youtube channel : www.youtube.com/studentofthepath

and blog : http://jayantha.tumblr.com and https://bhikkhujayasara.wordpress.com

Prevous Reddit Casual IAMAs: (first one done upon leaving to the monastery, second done upon lower ordination to Novice Monk)

https://www.reddit.com/r/casualiama/comments/2sf69m/im_a_37_year_man_who_had_and_then_gave_up/

https://www.reddit.com/r/casualiama/comments/3rctlm/im_a_37_year_old_man_who_had_then_gave_up/

Q:

What were your views on this before going undercover and have they been swayed in any way?

A:

What are some of the most common misconceptions Americans have about Buddhism?


Q:

I think I assumed these militiamen are all white supremacists. That's not quite the case. They would never call themselves white supremacists and they are quick to point out that they sometimes have minorities as members. But with the Three Percent United Patriots, people said racist things to each other all the time and even though the group says it doesn't tolerate racism, no one challenged it. They also cooked food with bacon grease because they believed it would keep out Muslim infiltrators. In their world, they believe that they are the anti-racists. They think groups like Black Lives Matter are the ones who are racist because they openly address race. The militia guys idealize the past and prefer a time when people of color and women weren't being so vocal.

A:

There are quite a few. Firstly I'd like to state that "Buddhism" covers a wide area both geographically and in time, and just like there are a variety of types of Christianity that developed over time, so to are there a large variety of Buddhist traditions, some of which have little connection to each other except for some of the most basic teachings of the Buddha. I will try to be as general as possible in my answer but I do admit to coming from one particular tradition which holds importance on the oldest teachings, so much of my answer may not be 100% accurate across all traditions.

One of the Biggest is regarding the Dalai Lama,whom most westerners, including myself in my pre-buddhist days, viewed as a sort of Buddhist Pope. This is in fact far from the truth as he represents only one school of Tibetan Buddhism which accounts for about 6% of all Buddhists. Like most westerners however the Dalai Lama was my first exposure to Buddhism, and is a respected monastic and public figure.

There is no centralization of power in Buddhism, with the exception of some Buddhist countries like Thailand where government and Religion are so intermeshed that monks hold government ranks and get titles. These powers however hold no sway outside of said countries and have no relation to the actual monastic rules of living passed down for 2600 years. Generally speaking every monastery, and every monk, is a "free agent", so long as they are following the basic vinaya, rules for the monks, and this is essentially done on the honor system. There are no bishops and cardinals and popes, no inquisitions and no excommunications.

Another large one is that Westerners get hung up on rebirth and other things related to the teachings. I think this stems from a judeo-christian upbringing. I myself did 12 years of catholic school, was an altar boy, youth group leader, the whole thing, so when I speak about these things I'm including myself and my own misconceptions as a westerner. In these religions you had to believe, or else you were a sinner, going to hell, etc. I'm a Buddhist monk, and i can't say I 100% believe in rebirth, and thats ok. The Buddha teaches us to question even our most deeply held views and beliefs, like the belief in a soul, a permanent self, let alone something like rebirth. We are called to come and see the truth for ourselves by examining our own experience deeply, and with insight begin to see things as they truly are, not how we wish them to be.

I suggest to many people who are interested in buddhism but get hung up on these kinds of things, that it is ok to shelve them and practice, as you will see the benefits of meditation and living by virtuous principles in the immediacy of your daily life as your mind changes and you become less judgmental, of yourself, and others.

I'll close out by also saying that due to the previously mentioned Judeo-Christian backgrounds, people are looking for something that is "like" a religion, but what you can try to get away with and not call it a religion, but a "philosophy" and things like this. Buddhism has come down to us in Asia through 2600 years and has become a religion, complete with all the trappings of it, rituals and ceremonies etc.

Each person doesn't have to take Buddhism on as a religion, and in deed people can remain whatever religion they were raised and take aspects of Buddhism that help them, this is common.

You also see today in the 6 Billion dollar mindfulness industry that it is also common to take the teachings of the Buddha and make them clinical and scientific. There is a wide range of practice going on, from the religious to the secular to the scientific, all of which stemming from the teachings of a bald headed guy in robes 2600 years ago.


Q:

Why did you omit those observations from your article? Or did I somehow read a severely truncated version of it?

A:

How do you feel about the romanticism of Buddhism here in the west? In North America it seems to be a trendy thing currently - does it bother you to have Buddhism watered down and used as a fad?

On the flip side, for those who are genuinely interested in learning or become Buddhist, what do you recommend?


A:

Frankly i'm not too worried and uptight about these kind of things. I've been hearing this new term "Cultural Appropriation" being thrown around and it seems to be a part of the whole SJW PC culture, of which I was never a fan of to begin with, way too much controlling and forcing, the opposite of Buddhism.The West has always romanticized the East, going back even before Roman and Greek times, so its nothing new or surprising.

This means that there are many many misconceptions, as almost all of us, myself included, grew up in the west and what we knew of Buddhism was from movies like Karate Kid or Kung Fu Panda etc. It is only when we begin to learn about Buddhism and then come into contact with buddhist places and practicing Buddhists, that our misconceptions are dispelled and we see the truth of the matter, often times to the dismay of many who really romanticize Buddhism.

I have been researching how mindfulness has become a 6 billion dollar a year business and how various brandings of Buddhist culture ( usually related to the terms zen, nirvana, and a fat guy who everyone mistakes for buddha) are becoming common in trendy health food stores and the like. I don't spend a minute of my time worrying about these kinds of things, this is just a typical and normal aspect of society.

If your just starting out I highly recommend "good question, good answer", which you can find for free as a pdf here - http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/gqga-5ed.pdf

that website itself http://www.buddhanet.net is also a fantastic general resource for Buddhist education I used myself for years as I was starting out.

There is also this excellent book through which many a western Buddhist began their journey for the past 40 years " what the Buddha taught" - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003OYIG00/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

also check out youtube, tons of stuff on there. I highly recommend checking out the talks of a monk called Ajahn Brahm, who really tries to integrate the teachings into how they can be used in daily life situations.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jniaUr_7438

lastly feel free to contact me anytime via my links in the original post, I'm always willing to help out people who are interested as I remember my own beginnings.


Q:

Swingers, apparently.

A:

and a fat guy who everyone mistakes for buddha

Lol Bhante, I agree with everything you said, but isn't that supposed to be the next Buddha Maitreya?

Also, congratulations and best wishes on your path!


Q:

Drug cartels. It seemed that whenever they encountered Mexican-looking people, they thought they were cartels. A teenager asked them for directions--cartel. A man ran off when he saw a truck full of armed white guys coming--cartel. A Latino family had a ranch with no cows on it--cartel. The police approached us, standing with weapons in a Walmart parking lot--must have been the cartel that called them.

A:

History[edit] According to Chinese history, Budai was an eccentric Chan monk (Chinese: 禅; pinyin: chán)[7] who lived in China during the Later Liang (907–923). He was a native of Zhejiang and his Buddhist name was Qieci (Chinese: 契此; pinyin: qiècǐ; literally: "Promise this").[2] He was considered a man of good and loving character.

Budai or Pu-Tai[1][2] (Chinese and Japanese: 布袋; pinyin: Bùdài; rōmaji: Hotei[3]; Vietnamese: Bố Đại) is a Chinese folkloric deity. His name means "Cloth Sack",[3] and comes from the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying. He is usually identified with or seen as an incarnation of Maitreya, the future Buddha, so much so that the Budai image is one of the main forms in which Maitreya is depicted in China.[3] He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the Laughing Buddha (Chinese: 笑佛; pinyin: Xiào Fó).[1][3][4] In the West, the image of Budai is often mistaken for Gautama Buddha, and is hence called the Fat Buddha (Chinese: 胖佛; pinyin: Pàng Fó).[5]

does seem like this person has been used as a representation of a future buddha, but that was not the origin.


Q:

To what degree are federal border patrol agents aware of the "hunting illegal immigrants" mindset these militia men have?

A:

Why would/should all nuns be reprimanded for the greed of another?


Q:

I got the sense that they were pretty aware of the mindset of the militias. The miltiamen don't hold back with the federal Border Patrol agents. I even witnessed the militia leader brag to a Border Patrol agent who said he was an intelligence officer about how they--the militia--practice waterboarding, taze their recruits, and strap them upside down on a tilt table. The Border Patrol officer just laughed. Then he proceeded to tell us where we should set up operations to find immigrants crossing the border.

A:

you could say that about almost all the rules really. Although I wouldn't say that all the nuns are "reprimanded", more like a restriction of future use.

But in all honesty I'm no monks rules scholar, so I can't say much more then that.


Q:

Holy shit...

Also, thanks so much for this AMA. Your work is (as always) incredible

A:

I play a level 6 elemental monk in d&d. What's the difference?


Q:

Thank you!

A:

It depends on whether the monastic as developed the powers that come with a highly concentrated mind, like being able to use fire to defeat dragons etc, read peoples mind, bend earth, teleport etc, although these kinds of things are usually for level 10 and above, I'm only at about maybe level 3 or 4 myself.

btw I use to play D&D, was a huge gamer and pc nerd, played and loved TT/pc/console RPGs since the 80s, love the question.


Q:

Prior to your more recent great work with private prisons and militias you did some journalism while embedded in places like Yemen and Syria. How do you think the mentality of those enforcing white supremacy, capitalism, and the idea of a Christian homeland in the USA through extra-state militaristic interventions are similar or dissimilar from groups in the Middle East and North Africa who are exercising extra-state power militarily while emerging from ideologies and cultural values more closely aligned with Islam?

A:

What about monastic life surprised you the most?


Q:

I think there are a lot of similarities. In both cases, the groups are deeply conservative, harking to a distant, idealized past. They also tend to be very authoritarian. A lot of armed groups in the Middle East are very conspiratorially minded, as are the militiamen. And Islamic fundamentalist groups, like the militia, seem to idealize military life.

A:

How not very different it is from lay life. People often expect that when they escape to a monastery in the woods they are leaving the world behind, but this is far from the case. Everything you find in the outside world you will find in a monastery, because you bring your own baggage and issues to it like everyone else. You can go out to the woods and be in a nice, silent, peaceful place, yet your mind is chaos, a war zone.

Everyone, everywhere, has what Buddhists call the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion in our mind, this causes us to not see clearly and not do the most skillful actions in our quest for happiness and peace. This means that there is no place on earth you can escape to and escape greed, hatred, and delusion, even if you are the only living thing within 100 miles, you are still with yourself.

people also tend to think that monks do nothing but sit around and meditate all day, where as we do hours of work on a daily basis and have responsibilities and chores like washing dishes, chopping and managing wood, fixing buildings, etc. Now there may be some places in the world where the monks DO do nothing but meditate all day, but they are in the minority and quite rare.


Q:

Hey Shane! First, I've read both this piece and your adventures as a private prison officer. They were great and well timed! I know when you were with the militia Trump was not as adamant about the election being rigged. But after getting to know a lot of the people involved with militias, do you think any of them would be serious in organizing protests or a "revolution" if Hillary wins?

A:

Do you believe that Theravada is the only original/most authentic tradition of Buddhism?


Q:

I expect that if Hillary wins, the militias will get a boost in membership. The militia movement was born in the 1990s, but went dormant during the Bush years. After Obama was elected, membership grew eight-fold. There are now more than 270 militias in the county, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Militia leaders told me the membership swelled after Obama's re-election. And I think these guys loathe Hillary even more than Obama. Many believe she is already running the show behind the scenes.

These guys typically see themselves as defense organizations. A big part of that is defending their interpretation of the Constitution. The big question is, at what point to they decide that the Constitution is being infringed upon, and they need to "defend" it. I think it's very unlikely the militia movement will all come to agreement about this. It is very fractured. But individual militias, or members of militias, might decide for themselves.

A:

I use to, but not anymore. I now know that much of Theravada is quite added on later as well. I follow the early buddhist texts as my guide, and that is pre-sectarian, shared across all traditions.

I also realize that what is right for me, is not necessarily right for others. I could never practice Tibetan Buddhism, but I know some people benefit from that type of tradition. I worry about my own practice and let others worry about theirs.


Q:

Should we be afraid of these people or pity them? Combination of the two?

A:

Sorry I'm commenting so late, and I certainly don't except a response since the AMA is over. When I first started studying Buddhism I was really pulled to Theravada, and then Zen. I still really like both of those traditions, but I ended up really liking Pure Land and decided it was best for me. Part of what I like about both Theravada and Pure Land is that they don't emphasize the student/teacher relationship as much/in the same way as some other schools. The biggest reason I've avoided Vajrayana Buddhism is because the way they teach the student/teacher relationship seems to be very risky and seems to open the door for dangerous levels of guru worship/personality cult qualities. I'm confident that there are plenty of good Vajrayana teachers and masters, but it can be tough finding the right one, especially if you live in an area with few options.

I was also originally drawn to Theravada for its perceived connection to "early Buddhism" or "original Buddhism," but I became less focused on that as I learned that it was much more nuanced than that. Other than that, I've noticed that Pure Land Buddhism, despite being Mahayana and being severely misunderstood in the West (for example, people may think it is "Christianized" or "Chinese Apocrypha" despite its origination in India), is actually firmly rooted in early Buddhism. For example, Buddha Mindfulness is advocated in the Nikayas (source1 source2) as well as many Mahayana sutras, and Buddha Mindfulness is practiced across many traditions. Pure Land is just a specific development from some of the historical Buddha's original teachings.


Q:

Most of these guys are working class white men. They believe that they are the real victims of society, which is an easy illusion to maintain when you actually don't have much and you see your standard of living decreasing. Their frustration often evolves into elaborate conspiracy theories about the government or the United Nations being out to get them. In some ways, they do seem pitiful, but they are also grown men roving around with assault weapons looking for human beings. That is dangerous.

I have heard people suggest that militias are nothing but grown up Boy Scouts. That view is implicitly racist. This suggestion would never arise if the groups of men doing paramilitary training, taking over federal buildings, and conducting paramilitary operations along the border were mostly Muslims or African Americans. Our society's capacity for tolerating things white men do is phenomenal.

A:

well all traditions that came later have some kind of basis in the early buddhist texts. That is where concepts like emptiness and bodhisatta, which don't have any real kind of separate and distinct importance there, but were expanded to great importance in the Mahayana.

I also agree with you about the Guru thing, it is definitely one of the things that gives me pause.


Q:

The people in the article really remind me of being a kid and having secret tree forts in the woods, building traps against non-existent invaders and planning operations.

Beyond political and cultural elements it seems like a lot of the people in the article really like having a mission and a team, being part of an organized structure, planning and preparing. It does sound kind of fun if you disconnect it from what's actually going on. I don't know if I have question exactly, but along these lines, did you get a sense this was a part of it all?

A:

What's your biggest piece of advice for those considering becoming a monastic?

I've seen from your tumblr that you have a variety of meditation styles like vipassana, mindfulness of death, and metta practice. Do you think it's important to have some level of competence in each of these styles to practice alongside your main meditation technique? (This second question wasn't meant specifically for a those who are monks)


Q:

Yes. A lot of them were clearly motivated by the excitement of it all (as was I, frankly). They also really nerd out over things like survival bags and tactical gear. A lot of them seemed to just want to get away from their families for a while too.

A:

The Biggest piece of advice is not to rush. To take your time and really find examine your experience, ask yourself if the monastic life is right for you. Get to know monastics and ask any monastic you can what their advice to you would be.

examine also your reasons for wanting to become a monk, aversion to the world is not a skillful reason(aversion is quite different from disenchantment/dispassion), for one example, nor is lack of job prospects and other worldy reasons.

as for the second part, all of those "meditation styles" are part of the overall schematic of the buddha's teaching that can be found in the Sattipatthana sutta, anapanasati and the like. These are all meant to be part of a wholistic approach to right effort, abandoning unskillful habitual tendencies, and abiding in skillful ones.


Q:

What does the CBP think of these militias?

A:

Are you worried one day you may not be able to turn back to lay life and live normally again? I.e you may be past the age of relationships kids careers etc?


Q:

They work closely with them. They would come to the base, bring us donuts, and give the militiamen tips on where to conduct operations. They thanked the miltiamen for their work frequently. One agent said, "You guys come down here and do what I do for no pay at all." I interviewed the leader of the Three Percent United Patriots, Mike Morris, months after leaving Arizona and he said he was in contact with the Border Patrol on a weekly basis. And he lives in Colorado. He said that whenever they plan a border operation, they coordinate with Border Patrol, who suggests times for them to come down, and suggests where they should go.

A:

I was married in my 20s and long before I became a monk the practice lessened my need to attach to another person and I became quite content with myself. I kept myself open to the possibility of a relationship happening, but I never felt the need to go searching for one.

I was also 36 when I moved to the monastery, even if I had a kid now I'd be a senior citizen by the time they graduated high school. I also know that if I ever decide to leave the monkhood I have my previous skills and experiences to fall back on to get by. I'm not worried at all if I have to leave, although this is a fear for some which might keep them in robes even though they don't want to be.


Q:

Do you think the Border Patrol just does it to get them to go to an area that would keep them out of the way of actual Border Patrol operations?

A:

How has your general sense of happiness and wellbeing changed since ordination? Also, how has celibacy affected you? I maintain long streaks with zero sexual activity and it always makes me feel powerful and confident.


Q:

It's possible, but even if that were the case, they would still be encouraging random armed self-trained vigilantes to find immigrants in the desert. And everywhere they told us to go was near the border fence.

A:

How has your general sense of happiness and wellbeing changed since ordination?

I'd say that because I'm doing something and following a path I feel are important, and much more worthy then basically anything else I could be doing, There is a happiness and contentment related to that.

otherwise becoming a monastic and truly attempting to live this life is very very hard, by far the hardest thing I've ever done, so It's not like I'm in some sort of happily wedded bliss, it's always sobering to face reality :).

Also, how has celibacy affected you? I maintain long streaks with zero sexual activity and it always makes me feel powerful and confident.

I was fairly celibate(maybe 2-3 times a year if that) for a number of years before coming to the monastery due to the meditation practice severely lessening my desire to find a mate and have a relationship and all that.

I've not ever felt this mythical magical "uber amounts of energy" from having no sexual activity though that I hear people talk about.


Q:

You were getting teased about being a socialist and having a "pretty mouth", were you just being singled out as the new guy or do you get the sense they knew you weren't really one of them?

A:

Celibate? What does celibacy have to do with finding zen?

To me it would seem like the opposite would be true.


Q:

I was the only one from California, so that made me stand out. People just couldn't understand why I would live there.

A:

I know nothing about "finding zen", not my tradition or anything the Buddha spoke about in the oldest texts.

In what ways would it seem "opposite" to you?

The purpose of a monastic is to end suffering and become awakened, to do that we cleanse our mind of attachments, clinging, and aversion, we in a sense "overcome our programming", one of which is the sexual drive of this human species. The drives to eat, sleep, and procreate are obviously quite strong, they need to be or else the species wouldn't survive to pass on their genes to the next generation and sustain the existence of the species.

That being said however a person can let go and train the mind to the point where innate habitual tendencies are overcome. This leaves the mind in a sate of peace and equanimity that is not caught up in the roller coaster of the typical highs and lows of a mind dominated by natural selection, genes, and an innate habitual tendency of the mind towards greed, hatred, and delusion.


Q:

Are there any women serving in the CO and AZ militias, and if not, do they explicate a justification for keeping women out?

A:

What has been the hardest part of monastic living for you?

Did you follow the eight precepts regularly before becoming an anagarika? If not, was that a big challenge for you?


Q:

There was one woman from Colorado and one from Arizona at the border operation. In California, I joined a militia called the 31st Defense Legion. The guy who recruited me said I could bring my wife but only with prior approval and only if she could provide a support role like cooking.

A:

No I didn't. I vaguely remember trying to follow the 8 precepts a few years back but then I realized they are just not really compatible with a regular lay life and were not something I felt was that important to undertake. I was coming to the monastery for retreats of visits every 2-3 months and doing my daily practice, I felt that was enough.

The 8 monastic precepts are really only meant for lay people living at a monastery, or when they practice on uposatha, not for regular daily living, although it is true that there are some rare lay people who do follow it for however long they feel is necessary.

The hardest part of monastic living has been pretty much everything related to food, and getting use to living with other people in tight quarters again.


Q:

Do the Militia Men really make life easier for the border patrol?

Do the Border Patrol think they make their life easier?

Do people crossing the border on the other side : - Citizen, criminal or immigrant know about and fear the militia men?

Are the militia actually something that cartel, smuggler or coyote would take into account?

How much funds are the militia really dealing with, budget-wise and do they have any big contributors or fundraisers?

A:

What was your biggest challenge walking away from your normal American life? How did your friends and family respond?


Q:

When the three percenters are out there, they far outnumber and outgun the border patrol.

A:

without a doubt it was leaving my very close family. You do need to do a lot of letting go of these close connections when you become a monk. This is not to say you won't see them or have a relationship with them, but you are not part of their daily/regular lives anymore, and that is tough both on you and them.

My family and friends knew I was going to do this years before I did, but it didn't hit them until it got real and I really left, it was not easy for them.


Q:

If Sandstone or others could land a government job that paid $60k with benefits for their families, do you think they'd take it? And remain part of the militia? Or would a better life with less economic struggle have an effect on their motivations to belong to a militia? (thank you for an excellent article)

A:

I like hearing stories of how people found the dhamma or started practicing. Would you be willing to share your story of finding the path?


Q:

Wouldn't surprise me. One of the militiamen was a TSA agent.

A:

long story short, I was raised Catholic, 12 years of catholic school, altar boy, youth group leader, the whole thing. I was also always open minded, a truth seeker, and a questioner(all qualities I've found in many convert buddhists actually). By the time I was 16 I knew I could no longer call myself a Catholic anymore.

I didn't have this kind of militant atheist phase you see often these days, I remained agnostic, as I still do for the most part to this day. I was a lover of history and human culture(major in college was Anthropology) and so from the age of 16 to about 29 I considered myself "a student of all religions and a practitioner of none". I learned about them all(even stuff like Wicca), spoke to practitioners, went to places of worship etc.

This changed in my late 20s as I began to develop spiritually. When I decided I wanted to explore spirituality moving forward I knew from my previous learning and life experiences that no other Religion fit my world view like Buddhism, and there is no truth I've ever come across in this life that is so true to my own experience than the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha. So I started to learn more about Buddhism and when I found Theravada Buddhism I decided I could fully commit to this tradition and call myself a Buddhist. In 2008 I took the refuge and precepts to "officially" "become a buddhist".

For almost 10 years I was a lone practitioner, I didn't have fellow buddhists near me until I moved to the monastery to become a monk two years ago. I learned mostly from buddhist books, online resources like forums, virtual communities, youtube dhamma talks etc. 5 Years ago I started doing retreats and making regular visits to the monastery I now live in. I just recently finished the two year process to become a fully ordained Bhikkhu.

I think thats a good short synopsis, if you have any further questions I'll answer them as I can.


Q:

Do you feel that you can relate more with republicans or their views after going undercover? Or do you see it as fairly irrelevant?

A:

Have you seen the King of the Hill episode where Bobby is revealed to be a reincarnated lama?

What did you think of it if you have seen it?


Q:

I don't think a lot of these guys are republicans. Some might vote republican when it comes down to it, but they are generally distrustful of both parties and federal politics in general.

A:

lol yes I remember that episode from years ago. I vaguely remember it being funny, but don't remember too many specifics.


Q:

In December 2013, the Los Angeles Times published an article entitled "Iran wants American tourists, and a boomlet has begun". A Google search will bring up many results about vacationing in Iran. What advice would you give to American tourists in Iran?

A:

What is meditation?

Can meditation lead to an awareness of ones thoughts, feelings, emotions on a physiological level? (so you can "feel" emotions in your brain like you "feel" wind passing along your skin)

What was your path like? What steps did you take?

How might you react/feel if someone starting hitting you with a baseball bat? (this is an old question I've had... are "enlightened" people so removed from hate, pain, anger that they would be cool with things most people would find traumatic?)


Q:

Don't know. I haven't seen Iran outside of a car window and a prison cell.

A:

What is meditation?

That greatly depends on what religion and tradition you are asking the question about. Meditation in one form or another is older then history and civilization.

In terms of Buddhism, meditation is one aspect of a whole practice. Included in this practice is the development of generosity and giving- learning to let go. There is also doing your best to live by virtuous principles, living and engaging in society with a basic morality. Then finally there is meditation and contemplation.

In buddhism the purpose of this path, called the Noble Eightfold Path, is for the development of wisdom/insight. With the development of insight, the ignorance that clouds our views and leads us to perform unskillful actions based out of greed, hatred, and delusion, is gradually eroded until it is eradicated from our mind.

When we have eradicated ignorance, our mind is no longer tainted by defilements, we are awakened, enlightened, free of attachment and aversion, and free of future rebirth in samsara.

Can meditation lead to an awareness of ones thoughts, feelings, emotions on a physiological level? (so you can "feel" emotions in your brain like you "feel" wind passing along your skin)

im not quite sure you can "feel" emotions in quite the same way you "feel" wind, thats kind of like asking can you hear forms, but there are mental feelings. you can experience feelings born of mental contact, mind states and thoughts of sadness, depression, loss, etc. These mental feelings can have a profound effect on the body.

In Buddhism there are 6 distinct senses: eye, ear, nose, tongue,body, mind. With these 6 senses you come into contact with six types of external objects: forms, sounds, odors, tastes, tangibles, mind-objects(thoughts+)

What was your path like? What steps did you take?

in short I started out trying meditation in my late 20s, which lead me to becoming a buddhist, which lead me to deeper meditation and insight, which lead to the desire to become a monastic. There is another question where he asks my story, There will be more detail there.

How might you react/feel if someone starting hitting you with a baseball bat? (this is an old question I've had... are "enlightened" people so removed from hate, pain, anger that they would be cool with things most people would find traumatic?)

I don't know, it depends on the situation and how well I've trained my mind, but it is quite a hypothetical question that can only be really answered in the moment. It would obviously hurt, and if I were able I would most likely try to find a way to not get killed, while trying to not harm intentionally.

The Buddha does say using the simile of the saw that even if bandits were to capture you and savagly saw you up limb from limb, even then if you allow ill-will to abide in your mind you are not doing what the Buddha taught. That is obviously a high ideal to strive towards, and not something the average person can really hope to do in a situation of extreme pain like that.

An awakened person I believe would not just sit there like a lump on a log, but they would not have any fear of death either, they would have the wisdom to know what is best to do in a situation like that, and they would be able to do it without any fear, attachment, or aversion in their mind.


Q:

Do you believe in an afterlife? What do you think about other religions like Christianity?

A:

I'm agnostic to all possibilities after death, although intuition and life experience leads me heavily towards some kind of rebirth.

I'd say I'm about 90-95% in the rebirth camp, if I were a gambling man I'd bet on it, but I can't honestly say 100% I believe. and thats ok because the Buddha called us to examine our experience for ourself and it is part of the deeper stages of insight that you are supposed to be able to see your former births.

until such time as I reach those states, I'm agnostic, open minded.

I have no issues with good practitioners of other religions, I have been in a catholic church in robes just this past year when I was visiting family. I also believe that strong interfaith dialogue can help people live better with each other, and there needs to be much more of it.


Q:

How do you distinguish Buddhism from religion and philosophy?

I understand that Buddhism lacks supernatural elements, which characterize many religions. But Buddhism is quite different to philosophy, in that it requires practitioners, or monks, to follow a very rigid path, which philosophy doesn't necessarily demand.

The rigid path that is so characteristic of Buddhism makes it feel more like a religion than a philosophy to me.

A:

I understand that Buddhism lacks supernatural elements

Then you were misguided :). There are various beings across the whole of existence, many of which you can't see, in modern translations they are called "ghosts" or "deities" although the translations are misleading because they don't quite fit into the western perceptions for the term. These are just other forms of existence that anyone can be born into during their cycle of continued existence in samsara.

While in Buddhism this is not called "supernatural" because it's all a natural part of samsara, to a westerner, especially a materialist, these would be considered supernatural, as well as rebirth and karma.

Now there is no one all powerful supreme creator god in Buddhism, this is true, and there is no origin story, no " this is how the world began", these kinds of things the Buddha taught were not worthy of our time and could not be answered by logical conjecture, so they would just hinder us from our practice towards awakening.

Buddhism as it has been passed down from Asia is a Religion, it fits the definition of Religion from the dictionary, and is a large part of daily devotional practices of many Asian peoples. it is only westerners who have issues with religion, yet still seek to have some sort of religious/spiritual activity, whom have a desire to label it as something other then a Religion, because a Religion is with a god and hell and unbelievers etc.

That being said It has never been a case of forced conversion by the sword in Buddhism, Buddhism naturally spreads and mixes with local traditions as it moves across time and space. In the West Buddhism can be a religion, or a philosophy. I personally view this Dhamma Vinaya("the teaching and the discipline" which is what the Buddha called the organization he created(monks and lay people working together), as a way of life, a path I am following, the Noble Eightfold Path to awakening.