“There Is a Fire in Me, a Fire That Burns…”

“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I want to cultivate the practice of Right Speech. In Buddhism, Right Speech is defined as speech crafted to uplift people. Right Speech is grounded in truth. Right Speech aims to alleviate the suffering of others. The two obstacles in my path toward Right Speech are my temper and my tendency to be opinionated to the point of being inconsiderate.

I am a true Aries. Being a fire sign, Aries are renowned for their fiery temper. If you want to see me pissed off, take my kindness for weakness. When I feel slighted or taken for a fool, my temper flares up. Depending on the severity of the insult, I may intersperse my speech with expletives. Before the flare-up occurs, I need to remember to embrace my anger and nurture it to maintain my calm. My anger will always be there, but it does not need to control me and devour everything in its path. I plan to employ meditation and breathing exercises to water the seeds of compassion and understanding. Besides my anger, I also need to moderate my tongue.

I can be very opinionated when conversing with people. When expressing my thoughts, sometimes I lose sight of the person I am talking to. It is important to know your audience. My downfall is sometimes I become engrossed when I dissect an issue. The gears start turning in my head and refuses to stop until I analyze a topic from multiple angles. It isn’t wrong to analyze an issue, but it is important to remember your audience and consider how that person will feel at the end of the conversation. I am not advocating not expressing yourself; I am advocating sensitivity. Your opinion should not result in another person’s suffering. I have contributed to people’s suffering inadvertently, and words cannot express my remorse. If I could redo certain conversations I had with the people I hurt, I would do so in a heartbeat.

In order to succeed in cultivating Right Speech, the first step is to confront my anger. The fire will always reside in my chest, and I have learned to accept that. The key is to accept it, embrace it, and practice mindfulness through yoga and meditation in order to manage my anger. The next step is to tailor my words to my audience. I want to uplift and contribute to the happiness of the people around me, not add to anyone’s suffering. There will always be a fire in me. That doesn’t mean that the people I care about need to get burned by it.



To celebrate the end of my twenties, I spent the past weekend in Woodstock, NY. Besides being the site of the legendary music festival of the 60’s, Woodstock has a lot going on for people seeking a bite to eat or a little bit of culture such as a trip to an art gallery or a poetry reading. I particularly enjoyed the closeness of the town’s major businesses as well as the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Monastery, or KTD for short.

The first thing that stuck out to me about Woodstock is how a lot of its major businesses lie in proximity to each other. The town has bookshops, vegan / vegetarian friendly restaurants, art galleries, museums, monuments, a yoga studio, etc. There is not a lack of something to do, and the fact that they are within walking distance means not having to take a cab, public transportation, or any other roundabout way to get around. I spent the first day getting the lay of the land and popping into the occasional business. I felt so relaxed because I did not have to deal with waiting for a train, the train stopping en route because of train traffic ahead, being squished against random people on a crowded train, etc. Everything was easygoing. The only time I had to use a cab was to visit one of the main stars of the vacation: the KTD monastery.

Situated in the Catskill Mountains, this Tibetan monastery has a natural and calming vibe about it. The moment you enter the building, a sense of peace envelopes you. You’re surrounded by nature instead of people in a rush, traffic, noise, etc. I had the pleasure of listening to one of the prayer services led by the Gyalwang Karmapa, the leader of the Karma Kagyu, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Though I did not understand his words, his prayer recitation washed over me like a wave, introducing a calm that I don’t get to experience in the city renowned for not sleeping. After the prayer, the monastery hosted a delicious meal for the monks and the laypeople. It was delightful to sit back and enjoy a quiet meal, surrounded by nature and smiling faces. The overall experience in the monastery was transformative despite the language barrier. I definitely want to come back in the future for one of their retreats.

I could not ask for a better way to conclude my twenties. I felt at home in a town where I could go to a restaurant without worrying about whether or not I could find something I can eat. I had the pleasure of visiting a Buddhist temple and experiencing a traditional prayer ceremony. Woodstock is definitely a town I would visit again.


Twenty Eighteen

My goal for 2018 is to enhance my Buddhist practice. Sometimes I am my worst critic. I hear a voice in my mind from time to time, chastising myself for not being a real Buddhist. I hardly meditate. The lack of meditation makes me easy to upset or fluster when things go wrong, causing me to sometimes fly off the handle and lapse into Wrong Speech. These setbacks lead me down the path of self-doubt. I plan to fight this self-flagellating voice through action. The next step is how do I plan to go deeper into my practice. The answer is two-fold: scriptures and meditation.

Scriptures will prove to be a challenge because, well, scriptures. Scriptures are not known for being riveting reads. I tried in the past to read scriptures from the Pali Canon (i.e., the first known set of early Buddhist scriptures), but I fell off quickly. The reason for this is my approach. I try to digest a sutra I am tackling all in one day. Buddhist scriptures have characteristics that make reading a sutra all at once difficult: length, repetition, and extensive footnotes. All of these features together make it easy to nod off. To remedy this, I plan to take it slow. If I find that my brain is too full, I have reached my limit and need to take a break. The approach of reading a sutra all at once is like cramming the night of the exam: it is not an effective means of learning in the long term. If I want to carry the wisdom of the scriptures with me, this will require a slower approach to retain the meaning of the teachings. Without retention of what I am reading, I will not have anything to put into practice.

Speaking of practice, I need to make meditation a part of my everyday routine. Because of the nature of my job (i.e., clerk in the medical field), I get bombarded from every possible angle on a daily basis. Some doctors can be rude when you are making their jobs easier. Some parents think they can talk to you like you are their child. The hospital administration adds processes to an already extensive workflow when the patients are many and the staffing is spread thin. All of these stressors add up to increase one’s blood pressure, make one jaded and frustrated, and can lead to unfortunate outbursts of Wrong Speech. This is why the breath is so important. When I attend my yoga classes and open up a session with breathing exercises, I feel a peace afterwards. This is the peace I need to take with me especially with so many stressors aiming to piss me off. If I have this peace, I can approach difficult situations with calm, lowering the chances of composure giving way to anger.

I already started reading the Digha Nikaya, the first collection of the Pali Canon. I did power through sutra 2 a little too fast. Today I plan to start sutra 3 with ease. If I finish it today, that’s great. If I need to pause, I will play a video game, escape into a work of fiction, or listen to music for diversion. I also recently purchased a set of rosewood beads. Tonight, I plan to close the day with some ambient music and counting breaths. I will enhance my practice; I just need to put one foot in front of the other.


How Not to Disagree in 2017

On December 17th, 2017, Dr. Cornel West published a scathing critique of Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Guardian after the release of Coates’s book We Were Eight Years in Power. West accuses Coates of being soft on Barack Obama’s presidency and silent on his serious flaws. The feud exploded on Twitter and eventually led to Coates deleting his Twitter account after white supremacist Richard Spencer also joined the fray by stating West was right. West’s criticism mischaracterizes Coates’s arguments in such a way that I question if we read the same book. Dr. West inaccurately describes what the book is, claims Coates fetishizes white supremacy when he analyzes systemic racism with the purpose of moving away from it, and inaccurately describes Coates as silent on Barack Obama’s flawed presidency when the evidence from the text proves otherwise.

In the beginning of the Guardian article, West describes We Were Eight Years in Power as “a book about Barack Obama’s presidency and the tenacity of white supremacy”. Wrong. It is a collection of essays that touch on a number of different topics such as the differing histories taught about the Civil War, Michelle Obama’s background, mass incarceration, the way real estate hurt the black community, etc. You do not have to read the book to get this idea; you can take a gander at the table of contents. While three of the eight essays directly talk about Obama, the other essays bear titles such as “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?”, “The Case for Reparations,” “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” etc. These titles reveal that the book is not solely about Barack Obama and white supremacy; they demonstrate that the book talks about a whole host of issues that affect the black community. Cornel West quotes from the book as if he read it, but from the very beginning he fails to accurately describe what this book in fact is.

West also makes the claim that Coates “fetishizes white supremacy”. Fetishizing implies devotion or reverence. Coates discussing white supremacy has nothing to do with either. Coates dissects white supremacy and expands upon its prevalence because the purpose of examining white supremacy is to confront and move past it. To say that Coates is “fetishizing white supremacy” is missing the point. Coates traces the history of systemic racism to force us to come to grips with our nation’s dark past because this is a requirement for redemption. In the essay “The Case for Reparations,” he explains, “An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” (207) Racism is a persistent and systemic problem in our country. Coates states that the remedy is coming to grips with the fact that we have a problem. The first step to solving any problem is acknowledging that it is there. West’s dismissal fails to recognize the goal of examining history: to avoid repeating it. West does not only misrepresent Coates’s examination of white supremacy; he also mislabels Coates as an Obama fanboy. The book shows that Coates is measured while critical of Obama’s shortcomings.

Cornel West disagrees with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s argument that the Obama presidency is an example of “Good Negro Government”. During an interview with The Root, West explains, “I don’t view Good Negro Government as policies that don’t highlight poor people, that have drone strikes, that’s tied to Wall Street, that reinforces surveillance. That is not good government for me.” On this point, I do agree. I too do not view a government that is complicit in mass murder and other heinous forms of injustice as good government. I disagree with West’s assessment on the Guardian piece that Coates’s views on race and politics “has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty.” This statement ignores the fact that Ta-Nehisi Coates likes Obama, but liking him does not mean he is incapable of criticizing the former president.

Coates supports what Obama represents, but he is critical of his missteps and horrible decisions. West claims that Coates is silent on the crimes of the US, but Coates explains in the essay “Fear of a Black President” that he was “horrified by Obama’s embrace of a secretive drone policy, and particularly the killing of American citizens without any restraints.” (140) This line contradicts West’s charge that Coates is quiet on the crimes of the United States. West’s condemnation bothers me as someone who believes in the Buddhist concept of Right Speech, which consists of not “speaking with a forked tongue” (i.e., lying). I am not arguing that Cornel West is intentionally lying, but he is making claims that the evidence reveals is not true. Stating something that is blatantly not true is a falsehood whether it’s intentional or not. This misrepresentation also extends to Coates’s view on Barack Obama’s presidency.

West paints Coates as quiet on Obama’s mistakes, but what the book describes is an internal conflict within Coates. On the one hand, Coates admires what the Obama presidency symbolized: “The Obama family represents our ideal imaginings of ourselves — an ideal we so rarely see on any kind of national stage (127). On the other hand, Coates experiences difficulty reconciling Obama’s great achievements with his shortcomings. When it comes to the issue of race in our country, he saw Barack Obama as “playing both sides. He would invoke his identity as a president of all people to decline to advocate for black policy—and then invoke his black identity to lecture black people for continuing to ‘make bad choices.’” (299) This quote serves as an acknowledgment that the former president did not do as much for the black community as he would have liked. Obama instead decided to enact policies that favored all Americans, which does not address a system that is stacked against minorities when you factor in mass incarceration, police brutality, gentrification, redlining, etc. Coates does not fail to point out when Obama falls short of his expectations.

Coates also did not agree with Obama’s optimism with regard to where the country was on race during the former president’s two terms: “Only Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with that same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.” (324) This line demonstrates Coates, despite liking Obama, harbored serious disagreements he is willing to express. Coates feels white supremacy was the foundation for our democracy and continues to operate in more subtle forms, but Obama still held onto hope for the best in people, a hope that proved too optimistic when you take into account the racism he dealt with during his two terms and that same racism becoming more emboldened with the election of Donald Trump. To categorize Coates as an Obama fanboy is misleading. Coates is a fan of Obama who is willing to admit when his president messed up.

The feud between Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates serves as a sobering lesson on how not to express disagreement. Dr. West definitely did not deeply read Coates because he managed to say numerous things about his thesis that are proven false upon further study. When you don’t agree, it is important to disagree in a way that encourages a healthy exchange of ideas. I would advise staying away from the word fetishizing and linking it with something heinous, especially when the person with whom you disagree is against that something heinous. At the same time, it is important to not walk away from a debate. I hope Ta-Nehisi Coates returns to social media. There are plenty of people who are on his side and support him. I count myself as one of them. I am also on Cornel West’s side because he brings up issues that we need to discuss, but this discussion needs to be done to unite and share ideas, not tear each other apart.


Hermione Granger and the Struggle for Social Justice

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione Granger becomes an activist for house-elves. She observes how Winky the house-elf is treated roughly and immediately dismissed by her owner Bartemius Crouch for a crime she did not commit. This injustice leads Hermione to take up the fight for racial equality in the wizarding world, but J.K. Rowling does more than teach young audiences to take a stand when you see something wrong going on in your community. She teaches us that the fight for social justice is an uphill struggle that does not lead to immediate change. Hermione learns this lesson when she meets resistance in the form of the status quo with regard to the role of house elves and the fact that house-elves do not feel their oppression.

When Hermione hears that Hogwarts employs house-elves without pay or benefits, she launches a grassroots campaign to promote change. She creates the organization S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). The aim of this society is to “secure house-elves fair wages and working conditions.” (225) Hermione attempts to rally students to create reform in the school, but she is told every time that she is on the wrong side of the issue. When Hermione explains how house-elf enslavement in the wizarding world goes back centuries, Ron Weasley responds, “Hermione — open your ears. They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!” (224) Even Hagrid, known for his love for magical creatures, explains, “I’m not sayin’ there isn’t the odd elf who’d take freedom, but yeh’ll never persuade most of ‘em ter do it — no, nothin’ doin’, Hermione.” (265) Hermione’s words fall on deaf ears precisely because of what she mentions to Ron: house-elf enslavement goes back centuries. In the eyes of the wizarding community, that is just the way it is. You cannot expect to easily change an idea that is considered normal and a part of everyday life. Ron and Hagrid’s words point to another problem: house-elves love their enslavement.

Hermione not only has to change the minds of the entire wizarding community; she also needs to convince the oppressed of their oppression. House-elves love to serve. Fred and George Weasley, when visiting the kitchens of Hogwarts, observe that they look “happy” and “think they’ve got the best job in the world.” (239) Harry Potter and the gang confirm these observations when they visit the kitchens. The house-elves, upon seeing them,“came trotting up. . . bearing a large silver tray laden with a teapot, cups for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, a milk jug, and a large plate of biscuits.” (377) Service is hardwired into the house-elves. When Dobby, the house-elf freed by Harry Potter, mentions how he is enjoying his freedom, the house-elves “started edging away from Dobby, as though he were carrying something contagious.” (378) How can Hermione fight for the freedom of house-elves when they hate the very mention of it? Even Dobby, a lover of freedom, reverts back to his servant ways. When he calls the Malfoys “bad masters,” (381) he seems okay at first but suddenly starts calling himself bad and banging himself on the head. Dobby is incapable, despite being free to do and say as he please, to freely express himself without shock and a feeling of wrongdoing. Dobby’s self-punishment points to how deep this institution runs. This institution has its intricate web in the psyche of house-elves. Hermione will have a tough time liberating the oppressed if they love their oppression and balk at the idea of freedom.

Hermione Granger’s struggle to promote house-elf rights is the struggle for social justice. It is a constant battle that requires, to borrow Professor Moody’s words, constant vigilance. If we are not vigilant and accept things as they are without question, like Ron, that is how systems of oppression are allowed to take root in society and flourish. The battle is not easy. It is a gradual, uphill battle. Hermione learns that change is not going to happen overnight. It will require dismantling an institution that has thrived for centuries and changing ideas that society views as the natural order of things. Tough lesson aside, Rowling does an excellent job of providing young readers with a role model who questions what society deems as normal and challenges injustice when it rears its ugly countenance. In other words, Hermione Granger is woke as fuck.


I Mean No Harm

Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, ethical standards for yoga practitioners and one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga outlined by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa means not to injure and refers to practicing non-violence toward living things. This practice does not just refer to physical action alone; it also refers to speech.

Words are powerful like magic spells. When weaved together, you can either heal someone’s spirits or hurt someone emotionally. This ethical standard resonates with me for two reasons. First, it is part of the reason I went vegetarian. Besides the health benefits of giving up meat, I want to extend compassion to animals. Eating meat involves participating in the murder of animals. I do not want to turn a blind eye to that. Second, I have a habit of being passionate when I express myself. In my passion, sometimes I talk without considering the effect that my words have on people. I have pissed people off or inadvertently hurt people’s feelings without intending to inflict harm. The desire to never hurt people I care about is the main reason ahimsa means a lot to me.

I aim to be mindful of what I eat as well as what I say. I am already on the path by giving up meat. Going vegan is a future goal. The lack of vegan options in my neighborhood will prove a challenge in this journey, but I am confident I can manage. As for my words, this is an area I need to work on. As an Aries, I am easily annoyed by rudeness. I am a passionate person. I need to go back to my breathing and consider the impact my words have before I utter them. I want to extend compassion to all living beings, especially the people I love, and I will misstep if I do not think before I talk.


Banishing the Basements of Bigotry

I have been revisiting the Harry Potter series. I just finished up Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, and I really dig how J.K. Rowling deftly explores the notion that hate is a behavior that is learned and passed down from generation to generation through wizarding families like the Malfoys. Rowling further unravels this philosophy and exposes it for the foolishness that it is through the example of the talented and intelligent witch Hermione Granger.

Hate makes its ugly debut as a theme in Harry Potter when Draco Malfoy calls Hermione Granger a “filthy little Mudblood,” (112) an epithet for a wizard or witch born from Muggle (non-magic) parents. This term is a part of the philosophy of the pure-bloods, wizarding families that claim they are pure because their blood is not mixed with any Muggle blood. Pure-bloods believe they are superior to Muggles. In their eyes, Muggles are base, unworthy, and unfit to learn magic. Harry and Ron learn in their History of Magic class that, over a thousand years ago, Salazar Slytherin harbored this same hatred for Muggles when he founded the Slytherin House. According to their teacher Professor Bins, Slytherin’s founder believed “magic learning should be kept within all-magic families” and “disliked taking students of Muggle parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy.” (150) This hatred led to the creation of the Chamber of Secrets and the plan to purge Hogwarts of wizards and witches with Muggle relatives. Salazar Slytherin’s belief system from its inception to its current incarnation teaches us that hate is not a natural feeling; it is a behavior that is taught. The seed of hatred for Muggles was planted by Salazar Slytherin and is continuously maintained by future generations of Slytherins.

Rowling further unravels this hate for the harmful behavior that it is by introducing us to the genius Hermione Granger. Despite not coming from a wizarding family, Hermione has proven to be proficient in magic. Though the pure-bloods would believe that people like Hermione are unfit to learn magic, Hermione demonstrates she is more than fit by excelling in the field. Her hand always shoots up in the air with the correct answer to every question. She is able to master new spells quickly. Hermione makes magic look effortless. It is silly to ban someone from practicing magic when they are so damn good at it. She also played a critical role in saving the school by helping Harry identify the monster attacking students as a basilisk. Without that knowledge, Harry would not have triumphed over the monster by avoiding its fatal gaze. If Hogwarts would have followed Salazar Slytherin’s lead and barred talented witches like Hermione Granger from attending the school, Hogwarts would frankly be fucked. It is because Hogwarts accepts people of different backgrounds that the school flourishes and produces talented wizards and witches of many talents like Ms. Granger.

Rowling’s treatment of the subject of hate is just as relevant today as it was when I was a teenager. In the Trump era United States, people in our country experience bigotry, discrimination, xenophobia, and other pernicious examples of hate. Kids need to learn that these behaviors have a root that can be traced. Hate is learned. If we can learn to hate, we can unlearn to hate and replace it with community-boosting behaviors like compassion and love. It is inspiring that authors like Rowling teach younger audiences about important topics like hate in a clever way. We need to educate our kids that your background has no bearing on who you are. Your hardwork and your actions shape your fate.