Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Buddhism According to I, Me and Self

As a born Buddhist, I never really had to think deep about Buddhism.  It was in my blood and soul.  However, during a recent interview, I was asked a series of questions about Buddhism which pushed me to think again.  Think again about how I describe Buddhism and its relation to self.  Think again on my knowledge of Buddhism.  Think again on how Buddhist I am.  Let me share my interview experience here.

"Buddhism, to me, is all about self-reflection, self-realization and self-improvement."
"I am less into rituals."
"Buddhism has to make sense to me."
"I believe less in theory and more in practice."
"Both rich and poor should have an equal access to Buddhist teachings."
Let me go details into each of these statements.



"Buddhism is all about self-reflection, self-realization and self-improvement"

In Buddhism, God does not exist.  We believe Buddha as a great teacher/master and his teachings as a guiding framework for meaningful life.  In this modern world, it is nearly impossible to attain enlightenment for oneself.  However, one path to enlightenment is to refine the self in you.  And in order to refine the self, you need to better yourself as an individual.  This is where self-reflection, self-realization and self-improvement comes into play.

No matter what you do in this life, it is important to reflect on your past actions; realize your own mistakes; and identify different ways to improve yourself.  Life should be a continuous circle of self-reflection, self-realization and self-improvement.  Though you may not attain enlightenment in this life, I can assure that you will age young and wise.

"Less into rituals"

Many rituals are meant to better yourself - seeking karma, better health, or amassing wealth - with the help of others.  Either you offer goods/money or invite others to satisfy the rituals.  By doing this, many fail to see or realize the ultimate need of self-improvement.  They just take the easy route i.e., seek others for the benefit of your Self.  I believe this is very contradictory to Buddhist teachings.  It seems Buddhism, to many, is just the outer rituals - anything you could see or show to others.  The inner development of Self never seems to take precedence over outer rituals.

More disturbingly, some of these rituals have become a public space for asset display.  As an example, a grand and lavish ritual becomes a talk of the town whereby people gossips about how much wealth this particular family has amassed over the years.  The rituals have turned into a public medium to showcase your wealth.

By rituals, I do not mean to include prayers or recitation of Buddha text books.

"Buddhism has to make sense"

The beauty of Buddhism lies in its subjectivity.  If any of the Buddhist teachings fail to make a connection to your life, you have the right to disregard it.  Simply put, Buddhism has to make sense to you and your life.  This being said, I do not mean to disrespect the teachings.  What-does-not-make-sense to you may make sense to others.

Every individual is different.  All I am saying here is that if any of the Buddhist teachings fail to make a sense to you and your life, you can just put it aside for the time being.

"Less in theory and more in practice"

Many Buddhist devotees dedicate a lot of their time on preaching.  When I say preaching, I mean the act when there is an absence of learning.  For instance, many will pray for the benefit of others.  However, when it comes to helping their own ailing neighbors, they will do nothing.  The prayers of helping others exist only in words.

In addition, I have seen Buddhist who pours in thousands and thousands of money into a monastery's treasure but when they see a beggar outside the monastery, they do not even take a look at him.  Where and when the theory meets the practice is a difficult question to answer for many.

"Equal access to Buddhist teachings" 

In continuation to the rituals described earlier, in recent years, some monasteries have been charging an enormous amount of fees for conducting the requested rituals.  For poor, it seems impossible to do such rituals.


In the West, it's expensive to attend a dharma teachings or retreat.  Sometimes, even with a discount or scholarship, it is still expensive for a common people.  The principle of equal access to Buddhist teachings seems too good to be true.

For anyone interested in learning Buddhism, I would highly recommend traveling to India or Nepal where most teachings are free or at nominal fees.



Disclaimer: The intention behind this piece is to only share the personal experience. It has nothing to do with one or other...


Read Also:  An Audience with His Holiness The Dalai Lama at Hotel Beacon, New York



Monday, December 22, 2014

ALERT: Knock Out Game in Woodside, Queens


Normally, my Tibetan friend Joe (name changed) returns my call within an hour.  After three hours,  I called him again with no success.  I was not worried since he lives in the "safe" neighborhood of Woodside, Queens, New York.

On the next day, he called me to share what had happened to him.  He was hit on the head on the early morning of Sunday around 3:00 AM.  When I asked about the spot, he was very unsure.  He said, "I fell down and immediately ran off a few blocks for safety."

After an hour, I saw him in person with cuts on his right cheek and bloody right eye.  I was curious to know about about this incident.  Initially, I thought its just a case of attempted robbery.

Using Google Maps, we figured that he was hit somewhere on the 64th Street between 39th Ave and Broadway of Woodside, Queens, NY.  I was totally shocked and didn't know how to react.  I know this place well.

He didn't see anyone coming from the front or back.  He was just walking normally with phone on his hand and scrolling his Facebook wall posts.  It was just one huge blow out of nowhere; strong enough to knock him down.  The perpetrator did not try to hit him again.

Though Joe lost his phone with the hit, it was clear from his description that the motive was not robbery.  I then asked him, "do you know about the knockout game?" He has no idea what I was asking about.  Its an evil game played on a complete stranger for fun and thrill.  Some of the victims have even died.  Watch this ABC News coverage for more details on this game.


If the perpetrators are in a game, other members might hit again to show their turn of strength.  Please watch carefully when you walk alone.  The next victim could be you.

After seeing this ABC News coverage, my friend said, "I am lucky to be alive."

Please share this post as many Tibetan and Himalayan people lives around this neighborhood.




Monday, December 1, 2014

How to Put an End to Prescreened Credit Card Offers, Unwanted Marketing Calls, and Interest-Based Ads on Your Web Pages



Ever wondered how Capital One Bank or other banks got access to your home address by mailing you prescreened (or pre-approved) Credit Cards? Ever intrigued by how you keep getting those mail-in offers from companies that you have never heard of? Did you get calls from marketing agencies trying to sell you a product that you have no idea what it is? These are usually not scams. They are allowed under Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) of the United States.

Under the FCRA, the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance that are not initiated by you (Source: Optoutprescreen.com). As an example, when you open a bank account or applied for a credit card, some of your information including name and address are pooled in the "Marketing List" - this list is shared among companies interested in making offers to you such as credit cards.

According to Federal Trade Commission, prescreened offers can help you learn about what's available, compare costs, and find the best product for your needs. Because you are pre-selected to receive the offer, you can be turned down only under limited circumstances. The terms of prescreened offers also may be more favorable than those that are available to the general public. In fact, some credit card or insurance products may be available only through prescreened offers.

However, some people (including myself) prefer not to receive these kinds of offers. This may also be good for individual who changes their address quite often for one or other reason.  If you are among these people, the FCRA provides you the right to "Opt-Out" which prevents Consumer Credit Reporting Companies from sharing your information for these offers. There are three different opt-outs:

ONE

You could put an end to mail solicitations for credit and insurance offers by going to www.optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688. You will be opt-out for the next five years. However, if you want to opt-out permanently, you need to fill and mail Permanent Opt-Out Election form available on their website.

When you call or visit the Website, you will be asked to provide certain personal information, including your telephone number, name, social security number, and date of birth. The information you provide is confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out. 

TWO

The federal government's National Do Not Call Registry is a free, easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you get at home or on your cell phone. To register your phone number or to get information about the registry, visit www.donotcall.gov, or call 1-888-382-1222 from the phone number you want to register. You will get fewer telemarketing calls within 31 days of registering your number (Source: Federal Trade Commission).  If you get a call after 31 days, you can file a complaint at the same Website.

THREE

The Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service, your name will be put on a "delete" file and made known to direct-mail marketers and organizations. This will reduce most of your unsolicited mail. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA's Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA's Mail Preference Service, go to www.dmachoice.org, or mail your request with a $1 processing fee to:

DMAchoice
Direct Marketing Association
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
(Source: Federal Trade Commission)

It is important to note that removing your name from prescreened lists has no effect on your ability to apply for or obtain credit or insurance in the near future.  Also, you can Opt-In anytime.

If you register with the above three opt-out options, you will receive no or less solicitation mails and calls. However, how about ads you get on your webpages such as Facebook page? Did you notice the ad that shows up on your Facebook page are the ones you recently viewed? For instance, if you are shopping for a car, you will see a lot of car ads on your Facebook page. To put it simply, these ads are customized to your recent online behaviors. Scary! Isn't it?

According to Online Behavioral Advertising, some of the ads you receive on Web pages (including Facebook) are customized based on predictions about your interests generated from your visits over time and across different Websites. This type of ad customization - sometimes called "online behavioral" or "interest-based" advertising - is enabled through your computer browser and browser cookies.

Again, you have a right to opt-out from these online behavioral ad tracking system.  As of this date, there are 116 participating companies who were interested in online behavioral advertising.  You can opt-out from some or all of these companies by going to this site http://www.aboutads.info/choices/ if you are in the United States; http://youradchoices.ca/ if you are in Canada; or http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/ if you are in Europe.

You only need to opt-out once to take care of this customized online behavioral advertising.


Read also: Why is it important to file Tax Returns?