Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Book Review: Through The Flames

Through the Flames: Overcoming Disaster Through Compassion, Patience, and Determination is a book in two parts. The first half is about Mr. Lokos' recovery from severe burns in a plane crash, and the second is about the dharma that helped him recover. There is an interesting post script where a nurse tells him him that he is "so kind", which Buddhists will remember Ananada as saying about the Buddha as he passed. Mr. Lokos has a kind of determination and commitment to the Dharma that helps him to organize his experience and chart his course for recovery. He looks at things in the most positive way and keeps his extra stress to a minimum. The extra stress comes from unhelpful stories we tell ourselves. Like putting a second arrow after a first one goes in. He handles  a very challenging recovery very well, and survives despite doctor's predictions that he wouldn't. There is a section where he follows up with his first book, Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living. He sees patience as just not over reacting to things, having the insight to not add on. I have read so many dharma books, but this one doesn't overload me with basic instructions, but is also written in a simple practical way that is not overly complex. I read the book while on a camping trip and quite enjoyed it. Now I need to go and visit the Community Meditation Center, which Lokos founded.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


“One should pay no heed to the faults of others, what they have done and not done. Rather should one consider the things that one has oneself done and not done.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

That's not how I pictured it

Ted Seth Jacobs is an American painter.

The only way this photo makes sense to me is if these are Mara's daughters, but supposedly there were three. I guess it could have been more. And I thought he was under a tree. Oh well, maybe this is what Pat Robertson was talking about when he said not to work with Buddhists.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

reflections on Buddhist Modernism

Pat Robertson says don't work with Buddhists. How can you tell, they're so sneaky?!

In unrelated news, been reflecting on The Making of Buddhist Modernism:

By arguing that developments are Buddhism don’t occur in the original Pali cannon, makes me wonder if McMahan is Theravada Buddhist. The idea that there could be developments outside the Buddha—well, maybe they’re not enlightened developments, who knows. Great sages like Milarepa and others seem have great spiritual depth. 

The fear is that any old thing could be added in? Imagine the devote chanting for a big screen TV (that happens in a sect, but it’s because they value authenticity, and the hope is that eventually you will turn towards spiritual things, though I’m just speculating).

There are layers and layers of code in computers. The original layer is often seen as elegant, whereas later accretions give more functionality, but they lose the elegance.

The Boddhisattva idea—is that a new creation, or just an articulation of a reading of the Buddha’s life? Freud wrote a bunch of pregnant statements that have been developed by the community of psychoanalysts. There are many that have gone by the wayside. There was actually a book on the techniques involved in sleeping with your patient. That one fell by the wayside because the community of psychoanalyst decided it was misguided. Maybe Thich Nhat Hanh has developed “interbeing” in a way that really wasn’t in the early texts, but his bona fides as a monk are pretty good, he's connected to his community and friends, and maybe it's a useful modern Buddhist idea. 

Are we adapting Buddhism to the modern world? It seems like it would be artificial not to. The Buddha didn’t say to be Luddites. Of course he couldn’t because they came after his lifetime by a long shot, but you get my point.
McMahan could say, no no no, I’m just saying these ideas are modernist ideas grafted onto Buddhism, I don’t comment whether they’re good grafts are not. Just to be conscious of grafting is the point. That I can get on board with. And knowing what's origional and what's a later development can't hurt.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mindfulness of the Buddha

(Udumvara flower)

This is a book review of The Life of the Buddha (Penguin Classics). As noted in a previous blog, the book was written by Tenzin Chogyel in Bhuttan about 250 plus years ago. He's in the Kagyu sect of Buddhism, so the Buddha taught the Mahayana ideals and the tantric spells. This new translation is a blessing. I think it's the first one of this text. It makes me wonder how many other great texts are out there untranslated.

The literature of Buddhism is vast and it can take a long time to read it even with what is already translated. There is even the phenomenon of book buddhists, people who read Buddhist books and find them quite enjoyable and in harmony with their aspirations. I have a similarly modern approach to Buddhism that at the beginning involved a lot of books before I took the plunge into sangha and meditation. There are also tattoo Buddhists, people who put a Buddha on their body, but don't really know much about Buddhism. There are Buddhist who think it's presumptuous to read these texts and meditate, because they've been told it's only for the monks. There's all kinds of Buddhism and there is also a unique form blossoming in America and other countries that where not traditionally Buddhist.

My experience is that Karen Armstrong's biography of the Buddha is a fair place to start. Even though she's not a Buddhist, she's a great spiritual writer. The best book is the collection of biographical elements, by Nanamoli. (The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon). There is a bibliography of recommended books that include Nanamoli and some other books I'm hoping to get to. It's fun to see the differences in this version. Like he had 32 nursemaids as a baby. Vivshpani Blomfeeld's book on the Buddha wasn't on the list, but that's a deep meditation on the Buddha that included stuff I didn't see elsewhere. Unfortunately it's not in print in America, so you can buy a used copy or an electronic version.

I can't remember the scriptures that talk about a fellow who's meditation practice was just to recall his experiences with the buddha, and thinking about the Buddha. Recollecting the Buddha is a positive thing. When I hit on a theme, I chant a mantra that is most appropriate throughout the day. I chant the Buddha mantra. You can also imagine him with you during you day.

There are issues with the miracles. As a modern skeptical person, sometimes it's not clear for me how to translate things from literal to mythical. What does it mean to be born out of the side of someone, instead of coming out the vagina? Do they think women are dirty? Is that misogyny? At the very least it signals him as someone unique who begins talking right after birth. I take it that he has done so much work in his previous lives, that he really hits the ground running.

I don't really have to make sense of it, I can just enjoy it. I've been writing about re-enchanting life, and this account of the Buddha's life certainly does that from a Bhutanese Kagyu perspective 250 plus years ago. There are some interesting little sketches: Mara doodles in the dirt after the Buddha moves past him. There are sections where the devotional writing is inspirational.

If you're looking for your first biography or even second, I might miss this one because you might get some sectarian impressions of the Buddha's life (unless that is your school, of course, or you're considering that school). But if you've read a few biographies and wish to contemplate the Buddha in a new translation, this is a pretty good little book.