Saturday, November 14, 2015

Just started reading After Buddhism

I'm not sure what I expected from Stephen Batchelor but After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age turns out to be a close reading of the Pali Cannon. It reminds me of Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations. After the introductions, the first chapter is on Mahanama. Ever heard of him? I've always loved Batchelor's writings, and I can tell this is one of his best books. I'm only 10% in, but based on the first 10%, I have that feeling.

My reading of the Dharma can be superficial or profound, depending on my view. I can see why right view is such a crucial step on the path. I hope that I'm less superficial. That I'm not just reinforcing my own ego tendencies, but working to develop as an individual so I can tear the whole edifice down as I mature. Suggesting right view can be a little like proselytizing. I like the way AA does it, they just share their experience, strength and hope, they're not telling anyone else what to do. I call that the soft sell, where you don't feel the ego of the salesman, the message of the sale potential shines through. Here's what I've gotten from putting myself at the feet of the Buddha. And yet, it's not about blind obedience. Mahanama was too zealous, too blind a follower at the beginning.

There's also an interesting discussion of how a tree leans in a direction, that is connected a bit to stream entry. It points to the importance of an orientation. I think of the spiritual friend that just started bowing to the Buddha statue every time he passed it in his house.

In AA they talk about a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity. I've never understood the concept of God, but conditionality is a power greater than me. I don't have the power to change this basic law. I sew the seed of doubt by imagining an uncaused event. I don't think that would disprove causality, not one anyway. There'd need to be a sort of consistent set of uncaused events, and that itself would probably be figured out as somehow caused. An uncaused event that had uncaused conditions to create it seems unlikely. More likely my doubt is based in pathological attachment issues. Nobody can be trusted, but causality isn't a somebody, it's what seems to be the way the world works. Miracles are just unlikely events that we can't see all the causes and conditions. My doubt can be turned to my understanding of causality, and opening to the wonder. I think in a way spirituality is at the heart of that, no matter how you answer the big questions. Batchelor defines religion as about life and death, and that is OK with me, because I live in this secular world that doubts the thin part of the wedge of hegemony, and the pedagogy of the oppressed. I understand my ability to not swallow the party line. And yet action needs a direction. I don't always face my suffering. I'm tempted to pontificate about others, but the other is me that I'm trying to fend off.

Noble friendship helps us along the way. Noble friendship with my better self as well. To open oneself up to the wonder is perhaps a quixotic task. You don't know if you're listening to the coconut headphones (cargo cults). Be an individual and follow me--that can be a paradox or a Steve Martin joke. Surely there are instincts and desires that are less than noble. Hearing both voice, your inner voice and the voice of the noble community and working to reconcile the two and not lose yourself hasn't always been easy for me.

Strive on my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, November 01, 2015


I'm really enjoying Nothing Holy about It: The Zen of Being Just Who You Are. Anandi thinks it's amazing. I've been reading it out loud to her. Some books the deep spirituality just seeps through the words. This is one of those books. I'm only 25 pages in but I highly recommend this book on what I've read so far. He was a student of Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind) and Katagiri. He started a project of trying to help the homeless in Minneapolis.

Watching the Star Trek: Voyager episode gave me lots of thoughts about avoiding reality, day dreams and having a vision. Reading Nothing Holy about It: The Zen of Being Just Who You AreBurkett talks about Man's Search for Meaning, and how people who could think about life after the camps were the ones who survived. I've also read Daydreaming : Unlock the Creative Power of Your Mind. The thing is to be mindful about what it is and not take it for what it's not. In the dream only the dream.


In the episode the doctor loses track of reality, and that is a problem. I think a lot about the reality principle in conflict with the pleasure (or avoidance of pain) principle. He's embarassed by his desire to be more regarded, loved, respected.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thomas Traherne

Subhuti quoted Traherne, so I'll be studying him this weekend. You can download from Librivox his Centuries of Meditation. I also paid 99 cents when I couldn't find a version on line for free, but perhaps there is one: Centuries of Meditations. Subhuti quotes the following poem:

You never enjoy the world
aright, till the Sea itself 
floweth in your veins, till
you are clothed with the 
heavens, and crowned with 
the stars...

Friday, September 11, 2015

odds and ends

I finished Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple on my labor day camping trip. I don't have too many thoughts about a book at the end, that's why I review as I'm reading it. It's a good book and if I won the lottery I'd go to Joshua Tree with Anandi and see where she grew up and then maybe fly to Japan and do a retreat at Eiheiji. But I'll forget my interest in that probably in a few years, we'll see.

I had my kindle along with me as the backup for books on the trip and read Mind in Harmony: The Psychology of Buddhist Ethics. I've been savoring that book for quite a while.

When I got home I started in on Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence: Approaching the Dharma as Poetry. It's a Zen book with poetry and exposition. It's like Milan Kundera, who writes a novel with a metaphor, and then he goes on an on to interpret the metaphor in his own novel. It also reminded me of two Zen people who seemed to love stories and wrote profoundly interesting books about with stories.

I've been dipping into Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth -- The Buddha's Life and Message through Feminine Eyes (Sacred Activism). This is the antidote to political apathy. I have political apathy. I must say I sometimes think that the 47% who think the way they do, we can't have a society that tries to do something right, because so many people are not in favor of the government doing things. They pollute government with their self fulfilling prophesy, and run so that they won't do things, and yet ironically often do quite a lot and like Reagan raise taxes. For every example that proves the conservative viewpoint, there's a counter example. One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens.  There is very little real dialogue about politics, and I'm not sure if there is much changing of opinions. Isn't Bernie Sanders lauded for the fortitude of sticking to his position. A political philosophy is an assumption, not to be proven. A political pragmatist utilitarianism still has a political view about the greatest good. There's no consensus on what the greatest good is. For the Democrat it's high speed rail. For the Republican it could be high speed rail of there's no government involved. I happen to share the viewpoint of Thanissara, so the book just says quite well, what I already think. I just wonder if the more my 47% stand up, if the more the other side's 47% stand up to neutralize it, and prove that government doesn't work. The wild west mentality still exists here in America.

But sometimes there comes a hero. Longmire has been saved by Netflix. I love the way Longmire crumples of legal papers and yet tries to work within the law with integrity. He's not easily swayed, and he pays deep attention. He's a man of action who utilizes all his brains. The book is set in Wyoming, but the show is set near Santa Fe, which I dearly love. I watch shows on Netflix sometimes just for the scenery. This show came sometimes drag, but there are high points, and character development. A hero in the postmodern world of antihero.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Further thoughts on Eat Sleep Sit

Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple records the intense first year in a monastery. People get sick from Beriberi. Anandi says all they have to do it not eat white rice, eat brown rice instead. Or they could take a vitamin B1 supplement. Seems like an easy fix. I'm not sure if they are trying to make it any easier for some reason. There is an element of masochism.

There is also an element of the protestant work ethic. Work is good in and of itself. Is that Zen work ethic? Should it even identify with a sect of religion? Perhaps there's a religious work ethic. Is there a secular work ethic or a profane work ethic? I think the "greed is good" ethic is a profane work ethic.

Buddhism in Birdman

I saw Birdman the other day and really enjoyed it. I watched it the next night too. First off I love Raymond Carver. But there are Buddhist elements to the movie. The lead character starts the movie off by floating in his meditation. There's a kind of magical realism in the movie, which you don't know whether it's true or subjective, or just a gimmick. But then there's a part where he's upset and he keeps saying, "it's just a mental formation," which is a Buddhist idea. Then the kicker is when he asks the critic if she can see a flower in front of her. It's reminiscent of Kassapa getting enlightened when the Buddha holds up a flower.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Eat Sleep Sit

Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple has had an effect on me. I was feeding the cats, and I wondered if I could be more intensional with it, if I could create a ritual. I made sure to scrape out everything in the cans. Preciousness without waste seems to be part of the ritual. At work I wash my hands and then use to towel to clean the toilet, even though it's not my mess. Ananadi said, "why don't you do that at home?!" We don't have paper towels.

The Vinaya is the part of oral teaching, written down hundreds of years later, that encapsulate all the rules the Buddha came up with to help people live together with mindfulness as the monastic tradition was beginning. Dogen's Shobogenzo is the rules for conduct in the Eihei-ji are derived from this book. Every act seems to be prescribed. In a way that could be comforting to not have to think, but just learn the routines, rituals and manners. They meditate 3x a day for 40 minutes, and there are work periods and study and there are rotating duties, and no duty is considered less, and it's just a matter of taking turns. You can get up at 130am to study, but everyone goes to bed at--I forget, I think it's 9pm. Most get up at 330AM. Each day has a confession of mistakes, and the violence that happens is off putting for Ananadi, and she doesn't buy the justification, but the author seems to feel like it strips away his imperfect outer shell.

There's a brief video on YouTube, of a monk tearing around the monastery ringing a bell, waking everyone up, that stuck in my head.

When someone makes a mistake ringing a bell, everyone knows. One time the bell broke and the guy ran around trying to vocalize the sound. It seems pretty intense. Supposedly you can do a 1 or 3 day retreat, and I've put that on my list of things to do when I win the lottery, which is to say I can't afford to follow my interest unless I get weirdly wealthy suddenly.

The refuge tree of teachers and inspiration for the TBC does not mean we have to sit facing a wall because that is how Dogen does it. It is an option and if you do a retreat in this sect, it helps to know what you're getting into. Dogen's example is an inspiration for us, and helps us to learn the tradition of Buddhist greats. I bet everyone could write a Shobogenzo of sorts for their particular circumstances. The Vinaya is not so much taken literally in the west, and is more about thinking about mindfulness and harmony in your actions. The TBC is working to define the essential elements, but Bhante has often talked in terms of principles, so there's a reluctance to explicitly define actions. I imagine a TBC ceremony looks pretty sloppy to Soto Zen eyes. Or maybe not. I've felt great harmony in being in the shrine room with my dharma brothers, and thought their actions were mindful.

More than other memoirs of zen, this book explicitly shares the nitty gritty of Soto Zen, and is therefore valuable for the praxis information. You learn about Dogen, Japanese culture and a form of practice that stretches back into time, that is strangely attractive to me.

That many of the people who do the 2 year training course at Eihei-ji are the eldest sons of father's who own temples, is not as much to my liking, I prefer choosing, but again, like the rules, having a strict plan in some ways is appealing the way an arranged marriage. All the strum und drang is taken away from choices. But there are people who go who are not eldest sons, and they are valued too. I don't know where they end up, but they are welcome.

Here is another video on this topic.