Day 4: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Our Unique Paths

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet wishes you an Enlightening Bodhi Day 2018!

With only four days before Bodhi Day on, Saturday, December 8, 2018, I advise you to spend at least some time wrapping your brain around enlightenment with some reading. Four days isn’t much time, but fortunately, there are three profound, short, easy-reading books that convey very Buddhist sentiments and are feasible reading within a few days period:

Illusions is the easiest to read. The author, Richard Bach, cast himself as the star of the book. He is best known for “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. The story is about his time with a “reluctant messiah” he meets in a field in Indiana named Don Shimoda. There is a punchline, a spoiler, which I won’t divulge here. I’ll just say Don realizes there is one more important lesson for an enlightened being to learn on Earth.

“The Little Prince” is by no means a child’s book, and it is one of the books I’ve read in youth, middle age, and now in “upper-middle-age”, that I’ve appreciated at different levels each time. What are “matters of consequence”? We humans have created our own game apart from Nature. Imagine playing the game Monopoly so much that you start to think that it is “real life”. It’s Mrs. Hanamoku’s absolutely favorite book.

“Siddhartha” is particularly interesting and clever. It is essentially the tale of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, but spiced with a bit of Western Philosophy, particularly, what is easily recognized as that of Heraclitus.

I’ll give you a couple of pointers, that are spoilers, but maybe will help smooth out your journey. One is that the main character, a Prince named Siddhartha, is himself not “The Buddha”, who too is named Siddhartha, Siddhartha Gautama from Shakyamuni. The Siddhartha in the book, does indeed cross paths with the Buddha, and lives a similar story. But this isn’t just a “plot twist”. This is where the complementary sprinkling of classic Western Philosophy comes into play.

The meeting between the two men named Siddhartha holds a critical point. Siddhartha could have chosen to follow the Buddha when their paths crossed, but he decided to continue on his own. Very roughly speaking, Siddhartha expresses to the Buddha that something is still missing from his teaching. The Buddha essentially advises him that everyone must follow their own path to enlightenment. That is a common theme in most of the posts on fishnu.org.

In fact, there is a Zen saying: If you see the Buddha, kill him.

Ridiculous isn’t it? How ludicrous it would be if we replaced “Buddha” in that saying with “Jesus”? What could be more blasphemous?! There are several interpretations of this saying. My interpretation is along the lines of everyone having their own path towards enlightenment, or any other skill.

The Buddha’s primary teaching, captured within the Four Noble Truths (the 4th being the Eight-Fold Path), are high-level guidelines, like “Go West, young man!” Each of us can learn the same skill, but there is more than one way for our complex brains of 80 billion neurons and a quadrillion connections to wire any skill.

Paraphrasing Herman Hesse, The Buddha further advises the book’s Siddhartha that he only ever promised that he could relieve his suffering, so that he can see Reality clearly on his journey. But it’s still up to Siddhartha himself to keep on going.

We may have coaches that teach us chess, but no coach can actually get into your head and wire things up. Complex systems like the brain don’t “program” that way. So the Buddha, with his own brain had its own wiring he had to do for himself. No one could wire the Buddha’s enlightenment for him.

Towards the end of the book, after the Siddhartha of the book and the Buddha cross paths, have an amiable discussion, and go their separate ways, Siddhartha settles for a time at a river, making a living ferrying people across the river. After years at the river he has his enlightening insight that the river is constantly changing, you never step in the same river twice.

That phrase is sometimes incorrectly attributed to the Buddha, but it really comes from Heraclitus, who was actually a contemporary of the Buddha. It’s very unlikely the two men met or that they even knew of each other’s work – much like Newton and Leibniz, or Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

None the less, that phrase captures what underlies our suffering – everything is in constant turmoil and our poor brains are unable to keep up with it. We’re always to some extent a fish out of water as we’re always at least a little “behind the times”.

Perhaps this book, “Siddhartha”, is Herman Hesse’s personal path to enlightenment where he spiced the Buddha’s Eastern teachings with the Western Greek philosophy of Heraclitus, which would have been more familiar to him as a Westerner.

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The Eternal Fishnu wishes you a safe journey to the other shore.

If you are a Christian, you may be reading this blog because you’re dissatisfied with what you were taught in Sunday School. Don’t give up on Jesus. Following the path of the Buddha itself doesn’t make you Buddhist nor does it make you any less Christian.

Just for kicks, read the Gospels again, but this time from a different point of view. Not the point of view of John 3:16, but the point of view of Psalm 23. And again just for kicks, consider that maybe a few things were lost in translation through the ages from God to the papyrus scrolls, to Martin Luther’s printing press, to the neighborhood pastor.

Study the Heart Sutra. It really does capture the essence of Buddhism in two phrases: “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” and “… the other shore …”.

As I mentioned, it’s imperative that you to recite the Heart Sutra in English (or your native language if there is a translation) so the words have meaning to you – even if it may seem nonsensical at first. However, I do find much value in chanting the Heart Sutra in the traditional manner that I grew up with.

It’s tough because it’s in Sanskrit and the cadence is fairly quick. It will take some practice. Wait until next year to chant the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit with all the nice song bowls and drums, and practice by watching some videos, googling Shingon Hannya Shingyo.

For your first Bodhi Day, just recite the heart Sutra in English. I recite it in English as I would any piece of Western poetry, not in the same manner as it is traditionally chanted in Sanskrit, except in English. I think that my blog, The Other Shore, is a good primer for beginning to not just understand the Heart Sutra but to eventually Be It.

Lastly, a few miscellaneous pointers:

  • All posts by Barbara O’brien on thoughtco.com are easy to read, bite-sized, and profound – a great introduction to Buddhism.
  • Don’t watch the any movie versions of The Little Prince and Siddhartha. All fall very short of the book.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Heart Sutra is my favorite.
  • Because the book, Siddhartha, is a “classic”, there are tons of very useful discussions and Cliff Notes on the Internet about this book.
  • Your next shot at Bodhi Day is the upcoming “real” Bodhi Day, the lunar Bodhi Day. Remember, this Bodhi Season we’re talking about right now, in this post, is the secular Bodhi Season, a standardized date for modern society, always December 8. That lunar Bodhi Season starts on January 6, 2019 with Bodhi Day on January 13, 2019.
  • Just a little musing. I’ve wondered if the Donald Shimoda in “Illusions” is Richard Bach’s nod to Carlos Castaneda’s don Juan.

Faith and Patience to You,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:

Day 3: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – A Bodhi Day Carol

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The Eternal Fishnu and the Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet enjoying the first real snow yesterday. Freshly fallen snow, a clean canvas.

Bodhi Season is a lot like the first week or two of a diet to lose weight – as opposed to other health concerns or philosophical reasons, religious and/or ethical. Generally, a diet involves the removal of foods we’ve been eating, and we’re left with all the things that we would have been eating anyway if we liked it. Those first couple of weeks can be tough, but then something magical happens. You actually start to like those foods and even get used to the smaller amounts.

Your body optimizes for whatever you’re eating. When you first change your diet, your body, or gut ecosystem, is craving what it got used to processing, what you have been eating. At first tugs on the string to ring the bell on your brain, “Doesn’t a burger sound great.” But over a few weeks the composition of your gut bacteria and other things transforms, adjusting and optimizing to your new composition and quantity of food.

Your brain is like that too. It will adjust to whatever you’re feeding it. If you dwell on angry thoughts, you do become an angry person. If you’re fed enough propaganda of whatever brand, your brain does wrap around it and you start to believe it.

Bodhi Season is about starting a brain diet towards the goal of relieving your suffering, your dukkha. The Bodhi Day 2018 posts from Day 1Day 2 , and pretty much everything on fishnu.org describes this “diet”. You could think of it like Christmas Eve night for Ebeneezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol, when he spent the night forced to meditate on his past, present, and future, awakening a really likable guy for Christmas. That was Scrooge’s Bodhi Day.

Now, I’ve always been curious about what happened the day after Christmas when Scrooge and Cratchit got back to work, back to life without the warm blanket of Christmas to keep their hearts warm. Maybe life for Ebeneezer, Bob, Tiny Tim, and the rest of the good folks of Camden Town did live happily ever after. But we know that’s not the case for the rest of the world. Even after the Buddha taught his insights for over forty years after Bodhi Day, over 2500 years ago, life is still a great struggle for virtually everyone.

Yes, today is a work day for me, as well as for most people. As soon as I hit the “Publish” button I’m off to deal with deadlines, misunderstandings, people in more of a rush than me, getting five days of work done in three because Mrs. Hanamoku and I are heading out to the mountains on Thursday for a mini-vacation. The Life of Earth is founded on the rather simple rules of “survival of the fittest”, and it manifests everywhere in human society, even if we may “know better”.

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The Rubber Ducky Buddha of Joliet says to tie on your white belt and throw away your green, brown, and black belts.

Being at peace in the world is even tougher than dieting while watching some show on some media blasting food ads crafted by psychological geniuses. And that’s our real skill – being at peace in an unpeaceful world. But, keep in mind, “unpeaceful” does not mean “evil”. The Universe is this wonderful interaction of everything, every thing dependent on everything!

When I start a diet, the first thing I do is cut out sugar. It’s feasible because that still leaves me a lot of reasonably fun things to eat – but it’s a powerful step. Bodhi Day is the same. Go to work. Live your life. Nothing changes. The equivalent of cutting out sugar is to keep a beginner’s mind and be 100% accepting what is right there in front of you. I’ve written much on that as that is the skill of a Buddhist as clearly as the skill of a boxer is to box.

A very straight-forward way to put that into practice is to go out into the world and “Shut the f*** up and listen!”

Faith and Patience to You!

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:

Day 2: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Have a Holly Jolly Bodhi

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Tar Weed. A distant relative of the Silver Swords on Haleakala in the Utah desert . What? Google silver sword tar weed. Very interesting things happen when you go with the flow.

I just want to say that if on this 2nd day of Bodhi Season things are hectic and far from om-humming and tranquil … that’s OK!!

Bodhi Day may be near Christmas so there could be a misconception that it’s just the Buddhist version of the Holiday Season. Instead of Merry Christmas, it’s namaste. Instead of a Christmas ham or turkey, it’s rice and milk. Of course, instead of a Christmas Tree, a Bodhi Tree!

But Bodhi Day is not Christmas nor a “holiday”. Things very likely will be very tough as you face your suffering head-on. A better analogy for Bodhi Day is Easter, with the pain of the crucifixion followed by Jesus’ subsequent resurrection which fully established Him as the Son of God.

In fact, if things don’t get tough, you may be doing it all wrong. Doing something like retreating to the tranquility of Tassajara or Esalen for Bodhi Day isn’t the right idea. Who couldn’t be at peace and oh-so-Buddha-like in the woods and coast around Big Sur. There, life is all choreographed kata. Bodhi Season is about Randori! As we say in software development, “ya gotta run it in ‘prod’ to make sure it works” – not “dev” or “test” or “Q and A”. Tassajara is like “dev”.

It was that way for Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, as he sat in meditation under the Bodhi Tree. He was tempted and tormented mercilessly by the Demon Mara. He was tempted to hold onto his worldly delusions with all sorts of bedazzlements, and terrified by horrible visions.

The only thing that seemed to work was letting go of his clinging – strings to bind,  buttons to push, levers to pull – drop it, all of it. He was looking for relief from his suffering. The Demon Mara’s efforts showed him the cause of his suffering, his clinging to his own beliefs, desires, and will. He awoke on Bodhi Day seeing the Universe as It is, not as his mind sees it.

Once I was play-wrestling with my five year old nephew. I pretended he was winning, feigning suffering from his superior strength and skill. He said, “You can make this stop any time by just letting go!” He’ll make a good Buddhist … or police officer … hahaha!

Bodhi Season is also a very personal experience. Family will not endure weather-delayed, over-crowded airports to join you for a meal of rice and milk at 4am in 30 F weather watching Venus rise. If it’s at all like Christmas, it’ll end up more like Griswold “Christmas Vacation” with the “jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse”.

But doesn’t that “personal experience” aspect contradict not going to a tranquil retreat where you can get away to be alone? By personal, I mean that you’re focusing on re-training your mind. Unlike Christmas where we all share the joy with friends and loved ones, Bodhi Day is about changing how your brain sees what is right in front of you. It may sound selfish, but you really aren’t sustainably good to anyone if you’re chronically suffering.

Now let me be clear. Don’t go looking for trouble – like finally telling off your co-workers or that noisy neighbor … hahaha. But don’t avoid anything either. Looking for trouble and avoiding it is both clinging to your desires, addictions, and will and not blending in with the Universe.

Bodhi Season is about facing reality as you would any other day, but with a Beginner’s Mind and 100% acceptance of what Is. Be like the Zen Master, Hakuin, who greets every situation, no matter the nature, with a 100% unconditional (and un-sarcastic!), “Is that So?”

Let’s practice:

Boss: We’re starting a big project this Thanksgiving week that will save our company from collapse, and launching on New Year’s Day!

You: Is that so?

Your neighbor: Yeah, I’m putting in a mother-in-law house and a swimming pool this summer. Gotta do the construction while the sun is out late. We’re getting a couple of beagles too. And rehab-ing a parrot.

You: Is that so?

The IRS: We’ve decided that you’ve paid enough taxes. You are now 100% exempt for life! In fact, you are the first recipient of our reverse-tax program, where we pay you interest on the taxes you’ve paid!

You: Is that so?

Faith and Patience to You,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:

Day 1: Secular Bodhi Season 2018 – Buddhism is a Skill

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A “mountain orchid” growing near the Shingon Temple my family has attended for four generations.

Welcome to the first day of the Bodhi Season of 2018! December 1, 2018.

I was chatting with a friend of mine yesterday who has often heard people say, “Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion.” Meaning that the focus is not on worshiping an other-worldly deity, a god. Buddhism is a way, a philosophy, to live this life with compassion, without suffering.

However, my personal experience having grown up Buddhist leaned much more toward religion. The services and practices I experienced myself and through observation of my elders focused on worshiping Kobo Daishi and the Bodhisattvas and praying for some sort of preferred outcome or maybe protection from spirits. Ironically such desires are actually very far away from Buddhism, since Buddhists are genuinely fearless.

For the bulk of my life, my understanding of Buddhism was that of a collection of chants and mantras in a language I knew nothing about, Sanskrit. I suppose I thought it was some sort of Japanese or Chinese. I later learned it was Sanskrit. But a “Japanese-ized” version, so even people who understood Sanskrit probably wouldn’t recognize it.

Until a few years ago, I had not even heard of any sutras, particularly the Heart Sutra – which I knew as the Hanya Shingyo. Or the Lotus Sutra, from which the Buddha’s primary teachings lie in the Four Noble Truths. I knew nothing of the intricate meaning of concepts such as dukkha. With absolutely no disrespect intended, I honesty can’t imagine what my grandparents would have said if I asked them to explain what it means to get to “the other shore“.

Certainly, my childhood experience of Buddhism isn’t like that for all other Buddhists. It does seem like the Shingon Buddhism I grew up with seems more prone to be practiced as a religion if one is only casually interested. Very roughly speaking, a large part of the idea behind Shingon practice is training the mind via thousands of repetitions of chants and mantras to transform one’s mind into a Buddha’s mind. For example, it is said that Kobo Daishi attained enlightenment through a million reps of the Morning Star Mantra.

For some, that’s a much more feasible path to Buddhahood than dealing with insane koans and perplexing sutras that still can take decades to fully understand. I certainly think there is much merit to reciting chants and mantras over and over. I still incorporate that practice today, but more as a supplemental exercise – like being a weight-lifter, but doing some cardio. Eventually, as you go through life and dutifully recite the chants and mantras, eventually something may click and you’ll say, “Oh!!! so that’s what ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form‘ means!”

I just wish I knew what I was saying back then. Use a translation in your language, not the traditional Hannya Shingyo I learned. Unfortunately for me, there was no Internet to Google a translation back then.

However, I prefer the more direct approach of directly “seeing” – that’s just the programmer in me. But the text is so un-Western that for Western-style thinkers, Buddhism can sound like flowery, gratuitously contradictory, totally inaccessible crap at first. That can easily scare away some poor soul searching for the meaning of life.

Saying that, I’m recalling what I thought of Takuan’s (yes, like the turnip pickle) book, “Unfettered Mind”, when I first tried to read it twenty years ago … hahaha! At least my childhood experience with Buddhism didn’t scare me away as that book would have if that were my first encounter.

Buddhism is a skill. Buddhism treated as a philosophy is just knowledge. We would not say that a basketball player is one who simply knows the rules of basketball and can carry on a discussion of the merits of it as a team sport versus baseball or football. A basketball player is one who actually and skillfully plays basketball.

The real skill is not chanting in Sanskrit without tripping over your tongue. Or wearing malas, or graceful obon dancing, or being vegan. It’s not even directly about kindness and compassion as His Holiness, the Dalai Lama emphasizes. They are among the effects of Buddhist skill. Buddhist skill is training your mind to overcome this ugly stage we find our sentience caught between animal and a of force of the Universe. It’s hard to be compassionate while you’re suffering.

What is this ugly stage I refer to? Simply, the suffering we endure being aware of our mortality – that very same awareness that enables us to invent things that physical forces alone would take billions of years to stumble onto. It is a journey to the other shore takes constant practice, just as it would take with higher math, a new language, a martial art, playing a musical instrument.

Buddhism is not a religion or a philosophy but the practice of finishing up the tweaking of our sentience past the ugly stage of the journey. In fact, some of the people I think of as the best Buddhists aren’t Buddhists at all! I know great “Buddhists” of many different faiths: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Bahai … some atheists, some scientists, some parents, some janitors. They are those who do not suffer even though they aren’t rich and much is asked of them.

So how does one practice that Buddhist Skill? Well, that’s what this site’s sister site, Teachings of the Eternal Fishnu, is about. But where to start? One good place would be my series of posts during the lunar Bodhi Season of 2017 (a year ago) when I posted a message for each of the eight days, starting with Bodhi Season Eve.

Faith and Patience to You,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:

Tomorrow Begins the Secular Bodhi Season of 2018

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If we were Siddhartha Gautama living today, November 30, 2018, it would probably be a really crappy day. It could be a day so bad we capitulate to the fact that our hopes and dreams will never come true. We’re out of fuel with old age and decades of struggle now a physical barrier to those hopes and dreams.

I’m certain there is an ancient legend, the equivalent of the movie, Rocky, that inspired Siddhartha to never give up, fight beyond any pain. I was at that impressionable age when that movie came out. I had a lot in common with Rocky … poor, tough, no useful connections to bigger opportunity … just tons of spirit.

So yes, I relate somewhat more to Rocky than Prince Siddhartha. The three of us, however, share an indomitable, relentless spirit, the insanity to keep pursuing our hopes and dreams.

It wasn’t a mistake for any of the three of us to relentlessly pursue our hopes and dreams for all those years. Pursuing them fueled my escape from “da rock” (Hawaii), got my wife of over twenty years, and lots of heady, but “failed”, endeavors over these forty years of my career as a software developer. But I’d gone ten thousand rounds with Apollo Creed and I sure did feel like it.

Last year at this time, like Siddhartha Gautama, I wearily plopped down under a metaphorical bodhi tree to catch my breath and ponder what the fuck it was that I had been doing. It wasn’t the first time I sat under a big tree to ponder that. But all those other times after I caught my breath, I got back up to go another few dozen rounds with Apollo Creed, pursing my hopes and dreams. The so-called definition of insanity, right?

My hopes and dreams. In other words, out of all the countless possible outcomes for a life and all against those billions of others pursuing their hopes and dreams, I would not be happy until that condition was met. Maybe my odds for achieving those conditions were better than pinning my hopes on winning the lottery. But while, say, one in a hundred is magnitudes better than one in a hundred million, it’s still very crappy odds.

You’re alive if you’re reading this. Be proud of yourself for that, no matter what, because you survived – most creatures don’t get very far. Now let go of those hopes and dreams. Thank them for serving its purpose into getting you this far and toughening you up. You may not feel tough, but you are, even if you’re in a wheelchair, blind, or deep in debt. Because you’re still alive and enlightenment, freedom from suffering, is in the next instant.

Now find your Bodhi Tree for the “Secular Bodhi Day” next week, December 8, 2018. Empty your mind of what you think you know. Drop your burdens, your beliefs. Drop your armor and let what you think is you expand throughout the Universe. That may sound flowery, but that’s because you think you’re just this solid blob of water that feels a pinch. That’s all you are in any instant of time, but the Universe is more than an instance of time.

Faith and Patience to You,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

 

Links to the other posts belonging to this set of Bodhi Day 2018 posts:

Five Days Until the Bodhi Season

Bodhi Season starts in five short days, December 1, 2018, for seven days of meditation, and awakening on Bodhi Day, the morning of December 8, 2018. Mrs. Hanamoku and I have our Airbnb cabin booked, I have three work days off, and we head out to a new Bodhi Day place next week Thursday (December 6, 2018).

Remember that meditation is not just when you’re sitting in a quiet place, focusing on your deep breathing, and being mindful. Although I’m working for much of the Bodhi Season, I’m still meditating. Meditating while at work is just as much meditating as it is during that minority of time you’re in a quiet room. Keep a Beginner’s Mind and cut all that we cling to, always with the spirit of, “Is that so?”

This is a very short post. Yours truly, your good Reverend Hanamoku, has been working on an entrepreneurial software project over the past few weekends, so I haven’t written much on either this site or fishnu.org. But I will post at least a short thought, words of encouragement for your Bodhi experience, for each day of the Bodhi Season (December 1 though 8).

Some day I’ll talk more about that entrepreneurial project. It’s pretty much Version 7 of something I’ve built over the past 15 years or so.  But don’t worry that I’ve become materialistic. The nature of this software is very Zen. Software is my Zen Art. If you’re a fellow Business Intelligence Developer and carefully consider what I’ve written on fishnu.org, you should get the gist of what I’m doing.

Faith and Patience,

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku

Goddess of Love is Now the Morning Star for Bodhi Day 2018

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Seeing Venus for the first time in 2018 from the parking lot of my work place at about 6:20am.

After the combination of daylight savings time a couple weeks ago, the leaves fallen off the trees, and the motion of Venus herself, I was able to see her for the first time this year as the Morning Star at about 6am.

Venus is a big part of Bodhi Day. Siddhartha Gautama awoke from his meditation on the morning of the 8th day of the 12th moon to “the Morning Star”. Whether or not it was Venus – it could have been Jupiter – I prefer the much brighter Venus for Bodhi Day.

The Morning Star is also important to me, having grown up as a Shingon Buddhist. Kobo Daishi, the founder of Japan’s esoteric Buddhism, Shingon, reached enlightenment reciting the Morning Star mantra a million times – in one sitting:

Nobo akyasha kyarabaya Om arikya mari bori sowaka.

It takes a while to recite it without stumbling. I think it took me about a week of one hundred reps per day before it suddenly gelled and I could recite it smoothly.

So for my Bodhi Day celebration, I try to be somewhere with great odds for a clear morning. I live in the Western U.S, so there are very many deserty places where there is that high probability for clear skies as well as a far horizon (no pesty mountains and trees blocking my way – hahaha).

Only three weeks to go before Bodhi Day!! Although I consider this first sighting of Venus as the start of Bodhi Season. So get on the wagon, go vegetarian, double-down on your faith and patience – or wait until after Thanksgiving.