Thursday, July 05, 2018

Happy 4 Noble Truths Day!

Independence day celebration in America is a perfect opportunity to go over the 4 noble truths. Sangharakshita says something to the effect that just like the taste of salt in the sea, the taste of freedom is a part of the Dharma life.

The Mnemonic way of remembering the 4 noble truths is as follows: Dukkha, samudaya, niroda, marga:

1. Dukkha: a feeling, a felt experience of discomfort, disease, pain, suffering. Infatuation of sense pleasure stops us from seeing dukkha. Nobody is saying life is only suffering, there are many great pleasures. But the idea is that those little moments of pleasure sort of put us onto a path of chasing desires and pleasure that, well, it's just going to be a chase that will be mostly unsuccessful. Thinking about things we want is much easier than than thinking about satisfactions, even if we keep a gratefulness journal. Trying to focus on things we are grateful does shift the focus a little, but it won't get rid of the human reaching for more.

(I think that's some of what Christianity is reaching for with the Garden of Eden myth, with God as the ultimate prankster. Hahaha, you are thrown out of paradise.)

(Dukkha is shared with Hinduism but in Hinduism the goal is to understand the ultimate nature of the self, where as in Buddhism we are taught that there is no ultimate nature of the self, it's conditioned.)

Condition existence has it's limitations. You can build a wonderful life, but you will not escape aging, illness and death. How many times have you been disappointed because things didn't come out the way you wanted them? It almost seems like life is set up to fall short of our hopes. You could see life as a process of making important relationships and then saying goodbye to them.

Seeing into dukkha is a key insight in Buddhism, reality, that has depth and can keep growing. Like so many of the things you can read about Buddhism, you can say, "oh yea, I get that," but over years and years of dedicated practice, you see how your understanding and appreciation can grow and develop. You can look at dukkha without getting depressed.

Think about insecurity, fears and safety. I see gated community with guards. I think about looking at people on the subway. Think about how in a city you can't go a long time without hearing an ambulance. I think about temperature--it's so easily too hot or too cold. Think about the news. Even when everything is going well, you want it to continue. I feel this on a retreat or camping. I think about litter, urban decay, someone puking after a night of celebration, divorce court, venereal disease.

Dukkha is one of the three marks of existence, namely dukkha ("suffering"), anatta (not-self), anicca ("impermanence").

2. Samudaya: The root of dukkha which is craving. You can get a moment of satisfaction but how many times have you gotten something and it just feels empty. Or you get something wonderful and it's gone so soon. I see my grandmother when I say hello, then so soon, saying goodbye. She loved to be around family so much and they all went away.

The link on Wikipedia for samudaya leads to the twelve nidanas which is a key teaching. The wheel of life is a visual representation of it.

Hedonism doesn't work. This is the push towards spirituality, the desire for something more. If there was no dukkha there would be no religion or spirituality. We try so hard to make ourselves happy, it can really help you with empathy to think that. Donald Trump is really just trying to be happy, and push away pain. Look at the whole life of rock stars. There is so much substance abuse and early death, fading into obscurity.

The Lotus Sutra includes a parable where a house is on fire. The father wants to lure the children outside with a promise of greater pleasures, they won't leave the house because they are having too much fun playing and don't notice the fire. Think of kids at the park who don't want to go home and their parents are trying to drag them away. Fire is an important idea in Buddha. Things are burning. The arrow is in the air. The new toys outside the burning house is the Dharma, meditation, spiritual community, the vision and path that leads us away from the futile effort to not suffer.

3. Niroda: is a release, ending of suffering, is possible. There exists liberating insight.

Realizing a possibility is amazing. I think about realizing things I can do on the computer or the revelation of a city or a museum, a view on a mountain top, or skiing, or sex. It's amazing to know there is more than just chasing sense pleasure. The toys outside the burning house are fun, even if they were not what we thought they were.

4. Marga: The path. The eightfold path. I'll do a post on that tomorrow. There is a path towards radical waking up. We can relate to dukkha with equanimity.

Here is a good talk on the 4 noble truths based on the Sattipathana Sutra by Vajradevi of the TBC. (Vajradevi has a good article on Vajrapani on Wildmind). I have based my post on this talk, so this is also a footnote. Her presentation is more clear, she is not responsible for my muddled presentation.

Eightfold Path

The eightfold path is the path leading out of suffering, the 4th noble truth. I learned VESALEAS (/vessel ease/) in Vision and Transformation, which is called something else now I think. I can't help but think of Sangharakshita's talk on regular versus irregular steps in the path. This will be a brief overview and I will go over each one in detail the following days. Wikipedia has VRSALEMS (/very Salems/).

1. Perfect vision (view, understanding): Conditionality. Understanding on some level why, how and where you are going with the Dharma.

2. Perfect emotion (resolve): Focused peaceful renunciation.

3. Perfect speech: honest, helpful, kindly speech

4. Perfect action: Ethics, the 10 precepts guide. I have learned that making mistakes has had a negative impact on my practice.

5. Perfect livelihood: Not putting obvious suffering in the world.

6. Perfect effort: preventing unwholesome mental states.

7. Perfect awareness (mindfulness)

8. Perfect samadhi (dhyana)(Concentration)

Here is Sangharakshita's talks on the Noble Eightfold Path given in 1968. He does it better than me, don't hold him responsible for my botched expressions.

Sunday, July 01, 2018


"...another morning I may be no more than an unpaid babysitter for the antics of my mind in the playpen of the meditation cushion."

Paul Weiss from Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence

Monday, June 25, 2018


Support the Rohingyas.

Listen to Vishvapani: The problems of a Buddhist state. "Buddhists are only as good as their actions, and I fear that some of the actions we’re currently seeing are very bad indeed."

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tenzing Palmo

Tenzing Palmo was born in 1943 named Diane to a fishmonger in London's East End. Her father died when she was 2. She was sickly and did well in school and on IQ tests. You can read all about her in Cave In The Snow. Unfortunately the book is not written by Penzing Palmo.

It is notable that she vowed to become enlightened as a woman. A bold statement when you can be reincarnated as a man and have an allegedly easier path. Anyway, she didn't so much see herself as a woman, as a child.

There are many videos of her teachings but this one is the one I watched. She talks about how selfish meditators don't really get the point of Buddhism, and it should improve their lives and those around them.

There's an interesting article in the Times about a study where meditation in the work place decreased motivation. I don't know if their production went down, it's possible people are too motivated at work. There were no gains in terms of productivity for meditating.

Anyway, dipping into a little of info about Tenzing Palmo today, watching videos and reading Cave In The Snow. I'm hoping to read the book to my daughter when she gets older.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My most popular posts

Just spent some time looking at the posts that got the most views. Quotes from other people tend to be the big winners. Sometimes subjects that perhaps don't get much content on the internet, found some expression here. Sex Tantra Magic got some hits. I had to delete one that over 1K hits because the link was broken. Over a hundred views seems a lot to me.

A lot of links are broken. I have preserved things by cut and pasting. The internet is ephemeral. Though this blog is almost 14 years old, there is no reason I know of it won't go out of existence today except Google seems to be chugging along OK at the moment.

I was looking for Red Lotus Momma, who did a guest blog, and I can't seem to find her any more. Some people go big time and erase juvenilia? Some people have qualms about putting themselves out there on the internet.

I found a bunch of drafts that I didn't publish because there were questions about the post I could not answer, or they were negative. I almost published some that perhaps could be published.

I'm tempted to go through and copy edit, update thoughts, clear out unclear thoughts, and delete or fix broken links. Blogs are a first draft of sorts. I didn't know how to do links at the beginning and I just recently figured out how to do links where they open a new tab instead of taking you away from the blog (you check a box...).

There are not a lot of comments on my blog. I think having to have an account on Blogger is a hinderance, but it's the same for Tumblr and the various wordpresses. The internet has changed a lot in the past 14 years. The rate of change of the world is the theme of a geezer, but I feel it more and more.


Past 37 practices of a Bodhisattva by Geshe Sonam Rinchen:

What follows is my commentary on the root text. Read the Geshe's commentary. I'm development my own thinking, and it's not necessarily meant to teach anyone, though if it helps, great. I am a hugely flawed human being who can demonstrate lack of integrity. Better yet is having integrity. I work to progress, am not an example of perfection.


By avoiding bad objects, disturbing emotions
      gradually decrease.
Without distraction, virtuous activities naturally
With clarity of mind, conviction in the teaching
Cultivation of seclusion--
     This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

Read the Geshe's commentary. He has his own take. I riff on my take to develop my thinking.

Paradox is not a problem in Buddhism. Do I contradict myself? I am large, I contain the multitudes.

You retreat from life to shore it up, if you're an introvert. Nobody is just one thing, so the extrovert goes out into the world and seeks to do good if you are a Bodhisattva. It's hard not to get caught up in the whirl of life, carried away until you are on your death bed wondering where the time went. Life is endless going forth, retreating back to lick your wounds or celebrate success, or wonder at all the neutral phenomenon. All to often it can be about collecting stuff.

Anyone who has done Metta meditation will know that it's hard to pay attention to the neutral. Attraction and aversion are so much more interesting.

Modern times present many distractions, I feel lucky I only had a black and white TV for my early years. Color TV, then Cable lead to all sorts of distractions, HBO, MTV, Cubs games. What chance to kids have nowadays. My son brought his switch to school, and someone thought he had a switchblade. In a way, you must watch out of the sharp edge of video games. They present a neater world, where you can definitely build up, succeed, win, and other things our mind likes to feel good. Another form of addiction to add to mind altering substances, shopping, sex, food, approval, relationships, chaos... Try to gain insight into patterns.

Part of clarity is not being easily distracted. Clarity is rare nowadays.

How many people do you know who have gone on a solitary retreat for a week? A month? A year?

It was after my solitary retreat that I was very social on a retreat. I obviously needed solitary time to come out of my shell. Sometimes I go on retreat and want to be alone but I'm too enticed by others to stay to myself. Others are endlessly fascinating. Watching other people's retreats is fascinating.

Why not be on retreat constantly, meditating, reflecting, communicating?

Benjamin Franklin's Parable of the Whistle

"When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.  
  This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.  
  As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.  
  When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.  
  When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, He pays, indeed, said I, too much for his whistle.  
  If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.  
  When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.  
  If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, Alas! say I, he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.  
  When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!  
  In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.  
  Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle." -From the letters of BF.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Eight Great Places: An internet pilgrimage

I've been looking to go on pilgrimage via the internet to the 8 great places. I took this internet trip over 8 days, here is what I found:

Lumbini: This is where the Buddha was born. His mother took a bath in the pond before birth. You can see the actual place the Buddha was born. I found this video of a young woman who went to visit. Sothy Thoeng is from Cambodia and wears monk robes, and has some interesting footage. This footage was uploaded March 8th 2018, so it's pretty recent. He also walks around the village with close-ups on cute children and visits a gift shop. Here is another video in English. This video includes some areas around this that are of interest. The video is by Royal Mountain Travels of Nepal.

You can't take footage of being inside the temple that has the rock that denotes the place of birth. It seems like a bazillion temples sprung up. Even at the main site with the stone, it seems like there are many things to look at, archaeological sites. I like seeing all the tourists. I wonder what I would chant. I know various chants, but one doesn't come to mind that would be appropriate at the birthplace of the Buddha. I suppose anything positive would do. In a way, all these sacred places are inside our hearts.

There is an Ashoka pillar there. The archaeology is interesting. I would see the rock where he was born and the pillar and the rest while interesting is perhaps not relevant. Of course, you could not get away from all that and you'd have to enjoy the journey, and I'm sure you'd find something of special meaning. The Wikitravel site reminds us to "Circumambulate the stupas and other sacred objects in a clockwise direction." I would head to the Maya Devi Temple first. That is where the rock is, and where the pillar is. There is also a flame for peace that burns constantly.

This is the only site in Nepal, so why not learn about Nepal with Canadians on a budget.

Bodh Gaya: If I could only go to one place, I would go here. It has the descendant tree of the original tree the Buddha got enlightened under, the Bodhi Tree.

Videos: Asia Art Museum of SF has a short video. This short travel video visits the tree at dusk. This video gives a lot of backgrounds and is 26 minutes, and has commercials you can skip after a few seconds.

So I've heard you can rent time, there is a system to follow regarding space before the tree, an authority you go to plan time closer to the tree.

I like to imagine the Buddha gesturing to me to come and sit with him. I try to imagine that every time I sit down.

Sarnath: This is where the Buddha first gave a sermon. There is an Asoka Pillar here with the three lions on the top, which is also an emblem for India. The Dhamek Stupa is perhaps one of the earliest stupas, completed around 500BCE. There are at least 2 other historic stupas nearby. Sarnath has a museum as well. Supposedly the Buddha stayed at Mulagandhakuti Vihara his first rains season.

In all these places you take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. This site seems more Dharma as this is where the teachings began. It might be a good place to read the ancient texts. I've read Crime and Punishment in Leningrad, Voyage of the Beagle in Galapagos. I love pairing travel with reading the most appropriate book. Take your Majjhima Nikaya or Digha Nikaya with you. They are big books, so maybe The Life of the Buddha: According To The Pali Canon. Or the Dhammapada. I guess I would have a book if I were doing this journey offline, for all the places.

Kushinagar: This is where the Buddha was supposed to have had his parinirvana. There is a stupa where his ashes are supposed to be underneath, the Parinirvana stupa. Here is a short video of Nirvana Chaitya. Here is a short video of the Ramabhar Stupa. Here is a short video of the Matha Kuar Shrine.

This concludes the 4 main sites. The following are lesser sights: ShravastiRajgir:SankassaVaishali

Looking at the map, it would take 64 hours according to Google maps to drive every place in the order above. Going to each place in order would take 64 hours driving. Skipping the last 2 places could cut down on the driving quite a bit.

I also want to see the Milarepa tower. Click on the Google Map and zoom in and out, pretty amazing.