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Author - LiveI am Dacre Stoker, great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker, expert in all things vampires and author of Dracula the Un-Dead, Ask Me Anything.

Oct 30th 2016 by DacreStoker • 23 Questions • 287 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 do you think is the one important feature of dracula that gets the most overlooked when people talk about the book?

A:

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


Q:

I think a message that Bram was telling us all was that evolving science and technology in the Victorian era was a good thing, and in the hands of the right people, like the Crew of Light, it can show us a way to a new future in the modern age. It was used to battle the supernatural from the old world, aka Dracula, but at the end, faith in goodness still reigned.

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:

Do you think Dracula films have honoured or tarnished your uncle's novel? I'm referring to the 1930's-40's films with Bela Lugosi, Lon Cheney etc

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?


Q:

I'd say somewhere in between. There haven't been many movies true to the original novel, primarily because the style it was written in - epistolatory - has been very difficult over the age to adapt to the silver screen. I am quite forgiving if the screen writer/director stays true to the storyline, and follows the general direction that Bram went with his novel. Again, I appreciate originality and creativity, so variation is important to keep the genre alive in years to come.

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:

What do you think of the treatment of vampires in popular media the last few decades, e.g Twilight or Vampire: The Masquerade?

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:

In general I think it's really cool the way that creative writers, producers and directors have found new and interesting ways to portray the "evil creatures". They keep it original and keep us on our toes... I'm not one that puts down Twilight; anyone that keeps people reading and the genre alive, even if it's paranormal romance, it's only a good thing for me.

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:

How is your first name pronounced?

A:

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


Q:

Like an acre of land with a "D" in front!

It was an old Irish surname, adapted to the first name by Bram Stoker's uncle. The original Dacre was actually a WW1 submarine hero.

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:

Hi Dacre, thanks for doing an AMA, my questions is are you the only member of your family that's interested in Vampire lore (minus Bram), or was this a topic that was always prevalent in your families daily discussions?

Lastly, are you also staying in the Castle tonight?

Thanks!

A:

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


Q:

Sadly, we were not like the Munsters or the Addams Family. We're really quite normal. Although the others appreciate what Bram has done, I'm the only one that has vocally embraced his legacy.

I'm not personally staying here no. It's a competition reserved only for the winners... I'm still waiting for my invitation though!

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:

You're an absolute delight Dacre! Thanks for doing this!

My question for you: Have you ever had anything supernatural happen to you? Especially when you were writing Dracula the Un-dead?

A:

What about monastic life surprised you the most?


Q:

I felt the presence of Bram when I was in the Rosenbach Museum. I was sifting through his notes and it might have just been me and the respect I have for his work that made me feel that he was approving of my efforts, and that he was there for me.

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:

Hello Darce,

It's already dark here in Europe so I best be quick. Which is your favourite Dracula/vampire film (or TV show)?

Also, for those of us who didn't win the contest to stay in the castle, will it be possible through Airbnb to book a room/coffin for the night in the future?

BTW a friend of mine had a pet bat for a while until it left him for (possibly for a career in Hollywood). Said the whole summer not one mosquito came near with Vlad hanging from his shirt.

A:

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


Q:

Good question. I like a lot of them, but the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola film is great, I've gotten to know the screenwriter, Jim Heart, pretty well. We have done presentations together and even though the movie is different from the book, it's a worthy adaptation.

Booking a coffin through Airbnb? I'd really love to see that happen. Here and at other Dracula related sites as well.

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:

So... What is with the garlic thing? Did Bram Stoker just really hate the stuff, or is there some kind of legitimate reason vampires hate it?

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:

Garlic started in ancient Egypt as a medicinal herb and as a result of that it embodied protection later on, which Bram picked up on in his novel. Personally, I love Italian food laced with garlic - for the taste, not to keep vampires at bay.

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:

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

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:

Finishing writing a book - that feeling of putting it to bed is great.

Also, being so engrained in gothic culture means I get invited to some amazing places and events. At the moment, I'm writing this in the shadow of Bran Castle as part of Night At Dracula's Castle, which has become an overnight, worldwide phenomenon. Being part of this, and other things like this, are very satisfying as I'm playing my part in keeping the genre alive.

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:

Who are you going to be for Halloween?

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:

Jonathan Harker, as I host guests in Dracula's castle...

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 Bram's style, where the author sets out documents to convince the reader of the reality of the story, could be successfully translated to a video game or to a mini-series?

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:

This is a difficult thing to achieve - mostly because the storyline is not very linear. Bram Stoker's Dracula goes in many directions at once, and from many different points of view. One series I've been impressed by is Bloodline; it's the closest I've seen to date.

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:

What would you say the conflicts underpinning Dracula are? One is obviously good versus evil, but I think perhaps life versus death might be another? Perhaps reason versus reality (given Jonathan Harker later 'reasons' that his experiences at the castle are down to a brain fever)

A:

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

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


Q:

There is also the conflict of modernity.

On the one hand, science was seen as a scary thing, but Bram was celebrating the fact that approached in the right way, it was a good thing. On the other hand, he was making a statement about a new, modern "problem" of reverse colonisation by addressing the issue of Dracula coming to London and how awkward and dangerous that is making everyone feel.

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:

Hey Dacre,

I wish I won the Airbnb competition, a night at Dracula'a Castle would be so cool! What would you do if you could spend the night at Dracula's Castle?

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:

I'd lie in my coffin and read Dracula for the upteenth time!

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:

Hi Dacre! Firstly, thank you for doing the AMA and offering us the opportunity to ask all this stuff! Secondly, a few years back we adapted Bram's original novel to a stage play. We ended up mashing the Dracula-Mina romance from the 1992 film storyline into it and included our own bit of interpretation for our ending, namely having Mina locked away into a mental asylum for rebelling against the traditional role of the female in the late 19th/early 20th century. The aspect of her being so torn between wanting to be a good wife to Jonathan and conforming to society's expectation and the connection she feels to Dracula was especially interesting to us and we spent so many hours discussing it... So I'd be really interested in your opinion about this divergence from the original storyline. Do you think Bram had this in mind at all? And how do you think interpretations of the novel have changed with time?

A:

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


Q:

This is very very similar to the storyline that Ian Holt and I chose for Dracula: The Undead (2009). We felt that 25 years after Bram's story ended, we should visit the surviving members of the Crew of Light and see what happens to them, because this is where Mina's relationship with Jonathan really developed. It was strained because of her interaction with Dracula and the fact Jonathan and Mina had a baby, but she had Dracula's blood within her... I appreciate you share our interest in this area. It's hard to say what Bram would have done, as he really didn't kill off Dracula in the end... He used a knife, not a steak.

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:

Are vampires considered undead?

If so why are they considered undead?

A:

Thank you for your response.

What I don't understand is if these forms of existence that you talk about are literal or existential metaphors that aren't literal, but describe what life is like. I think the reason why Westerners would consider these forms of existence, or ghosts, as you put it, supernatural is because, if they are literal, how can we substantiate such claims? If these claims about states of existence are based on introspection, through meditation or changing certain aspects of your lifestyle, then I would say that we are unable to understand them rationally, that is; through the scientific method.

I don't think Buddhist philosophy is problematic as a guide to how to live. But, if these states of existence of Samsara are taken literally, then they make fundamental claims about our reality which would have major consequences for science and philosophy.

It's interesting that you bring up Asia. At the moment I live in Japan teaching English. Buddhism and Shintoism exist somewhat harmoniously side by side. For example, it's not uncommon for Japanese people to visit shrines to commemorate public holidays, while attending Buddhist ceremonies for things like funerals. But, at least here in Japan, the influence of Buddhism is either decreasing or Shintoism has a much larger spiritual role in society. Either that, or perhaps the Westernisation of Japan is changing the spiritual fabric of society. But, based on my somewhat limited understanding of Japan's spiritual history, Buddhism had a much larger role in Japanese society, prior to the militarisation and nationalisation of Japan. After that, Shinto became a much more ingrained part of Japanese society and I don't think that Western society and the aspects of Samsara that you would think accompany it, are mutually exclusive. Don't take my word for it though! This is based on my own personal anecdotal assumptions and is not at all comprehensive. Haha.

I'm sorry for the long answer. Thanks for the AMA.


Q:

Yes they are. They hover between what we know as alive and the eternal rest of death.

A:

existential metaphors that aren't literal, but describe what life is like.

Like I said above, this is mostly a more modern view, especially in the west, but some mahayana traditions apparently see things this way as well I just found out recently.

if they are literal, how can we substantiate such claims?

you can't, only with you own experience on the path, through deep levels of concentration and insight. The Scientific method has a very hard time talking about the mind and consciousness, let alone other existences.

But, if these states of existence of Samsara are taken literally, then they make fundamental claims about our reality which would have major consequences for science and philosophy.

I don't think so, a famous Astrophysicist said " I don't think the universe is just stranger then we imagine, I think it's stranger then we CAN imagine". If you look at astrophysics, quantum physics, Multivese theory and all that... the possibilities that are born out by the math are imo much stranger then various states of existence,that we can't happen to see(nor can we see most of the wave lengths of light). The far majority of the universe is made up of something we don't even know what it is, so it's called Dark Matter, not to mention "dark" energy.

Frankly I don't see it as such a stretch, considering multiverse, various dimensions etc, for there to be various beings and various ways to exist. Not only that but the Buddha also spoke of world-systems, ie galaxies of worlds with various beings etc.

So this is why I keep an open mind, I've always been open minded and agnostic, and it's always served me well. I've never gotten to caught up on these things, although I am well aware that rebirth and kamma are major hang-ups for many westerners.


Q:

Could you explain the Jhanas a little bit? I'm a beginner and they seem very subjective, so it's hard to pinpoint how a person actually experiences them. Thanks!!

A:

I avoided the Jhanas for many years of practice before learning about them. I know much more about them these days but I will say that I am not an experienced Jhannic practitioner so I will only speak in generalities from the ancient discourses.

They are an advanced state of concentration that arise on their own when you set the conditions for their arrival.These conditions are "quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states". This is the temporary suppression of what is called the 5 hindrances (sensual desire, ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, doubt). These hindrances are the primary factors that keep our mind from a calm and tranquil state. When these factors subside, become suppressed, Jhanna naturally arises from there.

When I took a Jhana retreat with my preceptor, Bhante G, out of 9 days he spent 5 on the hindrances. This gives you an idea of how important understanding and working with the hindrances is, especially with regards to Jhana.

So in short, don't worry about the Jhanas, just do the practice. Getting too caught up in them, attached to wanting to get them and all that, is dangerous and is itself a hindrance(part of sensual desire). Continue your practice and Jhana will arise when the conditions are ripe.


Q:

Thanks for the ama, fascinating read. What are your thoughts on the use of marijuana for spiritual practise, specifically related to ancient yogis ingesting it before their yoga sessions?

I as because I smoke and do yoga 2-3 times per week and find that I locate and release anxieties and stress far more vividly and with much more intensity than yoga sober.

Thanks

A:

Drugs are an escape, they muddle the mind, hence why it is a very basic practice of even lay Buddhist practitioners to avoid all intoxicants.

Now I've seen people tell their stories of how drug trips lead them to becoming buddhists, but almost all of them realized that the drugs were much more a hindrance then a help and gave them up to pursue deeper meditation.

I'm also pretty sure the goals of Buddhism and yoga are quite different, as yoga is more connected with the Hindu end of things. I will admit though to having very limited knowledge of the spiritual side of yoga, I practiced it for a bunch of years, but only for bodily health and used as a mindfulness exercise.


Q:

Do you free ball it or do you where underwear?

A:

over asked boring question! got to think of something more crazy then that lol.

When you wear robes, you feel so free you never want to go back to pants again ;).


Q:

How do you deal with regret and/or guilt?

A:

This response from another question might be helpful. if you have any further questions about regret/guilt post below and I'll answer.

My answer probably wont be very useful but even before I was a Buddhist I had the mindset to view my experiences as a lesson to learn and grow from, so I can't really remember in my adult life ever regretting anything major I've done.

Of course growing up you do stupid things and maybe your caught and punished and you regret the action in that respect, that is a sense of moral shame which is a good thing as it helps to steer you in the right direction. everything that has happened to me and that I've experienced has been a stepping stone to bettering myself, creating a more wise, friendly, and compassionate person inch by inch. I still have quite a ways to go down this Journey, but it's all about baby steps. It's important to have compassion and understanding for yourself as well as others, to drop the harsh judgment we often have about ourselves and what we've done. This short Q&A answer I did might be helpful in further explaining how to deal with remorse and regret - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF9pUSVRRho

AFL - Acknowledge what you've done, forgive yourself(and others) and make amends for your action, and learn from it so you do better next time. Of course this is all easier said then done, which is why it takes practice in changing our habitual tendencies.


Q:

Do you have any hobbies? Can you play video games or watch tv every once in a while or are those things you were required to give up?

A:

video games, tv etc are all entertainments. It is against the rules to partake in these kinds of things as they are distractions. They are however among the most minor of rules, even among the minor rules that are confessed.

Sometimes when you are out in the world, or visiting family and friends, you can't really escape these things, so its really more about desire and intention.

I've known monks to watch movies, but it's not something that is really condoned. Some traditions of Buddhism are much more loose though and there are Shambala monks who watch movies, play baseball etc.

it is fine though for monks to watch non-fiction. We can watch stuff about history and science and things like this, but even still we have to watch how we are using it and how much. there are monks who go to college and get their degrees and even PH.Ds.

Monks can have hobbies, I've known a few that draw, some tinker with mechanical stuff, others write. I was told by a senior monk when asked for Advice that a hobby is a good thing for a monk to have.

most of what I do is buddhist related, I do videos, write on a blog, work with a media team for the monastery etc. I also like to learn about astronomy and science. I'm currently learning spanish as well as the buddhist language of Pali for ancient text learning.


Q:

Is there a difference between mindfulness and Buddhism, and what is it about Buddhism (theravada) that drew you in as opposed to other sects (vajrayana/mahayana/zen) or other religions with similar practices like Jainism or Taoism?

A:

that depends on what you mean by mindfulness.

as for what drew me to Theravada, I felt it was closer to the truth, closer to the Buddha. Turns out I wasn't exactly right, but I don't really consider myself a Theravadin these days, I follow the early buddhist texts.

as I stated in a previous thread, i've studied most all major religions, and as a truth seeker i've not found a truth even remotely match my experience of reality more then the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.


Q:

Is there a Buddhist perspective on building a mars colony? (Keyword "Space X")

A:

I follow Astronomy and have joked about being one of the first buddhist monks on mars. I also follow Space X's journey. It's not really conducive to enlightenment, but it is an indulgence I grant myself as thinking about space does help in various aspects of my practice.

There is no "buddhist perspective on space", but I say we should of been there long ago already.


Q:

What's with the shaved heads and the robes?

And any Lord that's going to punish you for eating garlic seems a bit petty to me. Are there other rules that you believe are odd/nonsensical?

A:

the shaved head and robes was the traditional method of distinction for the samanas of ancient india. These were ascetics and renunciates who renounced the tradition brahmanic culture and went out into the wilderness to do a variety of practices.

it is from this samana tradition that the Buddha came and begun the teachings, so the bald head and robes predates buddhism in ancient India.

others have already posted various reasons given, from lessening attachment, to lice, etc. These are all valid reasons traditionally given for the why, and they all make sense for the most part.

as for the "lord" again someone else mentioned this is just a 100 year old translation that someone decided to take from western culture and attribute to a word used for the Buddha. There are plenty of rules that seem odd today, and all the rules come with a story as to why they were put in place in the first place. Some monks adhere strictly to all the rules, others make allowances for modernity, there is a wide variety of ways monastics follow the rules, and differences in the rules themselves as they crossed time and space.