Monday, August 07, 2017

The Stranger In The Woods

The Stranger In The Woods is a journalistic non-fiction novel of sorts about Christopher Thomas Knight, who lived 27 years in Rome Maine woods. He said hello to a hiker once in the beginning, but basically with minimal contact was alone for 27 years. He had a radio so he knew what was going on in the world when he wanted to. He reports he even got into talk radio for a while. He was arrested in April 2013.

The crime he committed was that he stole from people's houses to live, thousand of breaking into houses and stealing food, sleeping bags, batteries, watches, books and propane. He never built a fire to keep warm in the Maine winters. He did use a propane stove to make tea, and would wake up in the middle of the night and walk around to make sure he didn't freeze to death and let his sleeping bags dry out. They would collect moisture while he slept in them.

He had spiritual insights where he was one with everything, spent a lot of time in reflection, but only meditated when he thought he was going to die in the cold. His spiritual insights were not so great that when he was captured, that he could deal with being imprisoned, and then the ordeal of the programs he had to get through to satisfy the courts. He took apart engines in a shed for his brother to pay for his room and board. He had to check in every day by phone and be seen once a week by his probation officer. He follow the rules strictly because he didn't want to stress his family out any more. His father died, but his mother was till alive and he had some brothers and a sister.

Supposedly the website Hermitary debated whether Knight was a true hermit. They disliked his theft. After he was caught, there were a few people who felt a kind of safety his thefts deprived them of.

At first I thought it was a novel, the way the first chapter was written. I even put the book down for a while. But when I picked it back up, I read the "note on reporting" at the end of the book.

He drank beer and ate lots of sugary foods to fatten himself up for the winter. That was the basis for putting him in a co-occurring disorders program, which he did well in and graduated. Whether he was on the autism spectrum or had schizoid personality disorder could be debated. When asked why he did it, he could not say.

Today in a Maine paper, there's an article about he has to pay back the police for building a road to get to his campground. The book goes into detail about his campground and I'll skip over that. The article in today's paper says that the state is suing him for the money needed to create a road to his camp to haul things away. He doesn't want to have to pay that.

Like the lovely book Hermits, the discussion of solitude follows from people who prefer to be alone. Mr. Knight said he was never bored. He was never lonely. Knight steals to survive, but others have gone into solitary retreat, and arraigned for regular food drop off. There was a time in England when every wealthy land owner paid a hermit to live on their land.

The author asked the question, how long has he been alone. He went on a hiking trip where he was alone for a few days. My answer is that I did a 7 day solitary retreat, where I talked to someone in the middle when I asked for help for a window that almost fell out. I talked to a chap while we got a ladder and pushed the window back in. So I had about 4 days in solitary. How long have  you been alone for?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I've been using this to help me chant and visualize the Vajrasatva Mantra. I guess I could crop a little out.

I've been listening to excellent readings of these English books about Thai Forest Dharma.

I also like this one, it's IMS.

I've been checking my links for broken links.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Flare by Jonathan Maas

Trying to live a frugal life I get free science fiction novels from Freebooksy. It's not just scifi, you can pick your genera. It's used, I think, to increase sales so that it looks like lots of people are buying a book. Looking now Flare is 99 cents, not free.

This book won an award, and even though obscure, means something, so I checked it out.

This book comes in 3 parts. An apocalyptic survivalist adventure, the theological discussion and then a kind of working through of the discussion.

The question is whether you would like to live in a kingdom of peace (Isaiah 11:1-9) or be realistic and live in the world of dog eat dog. The question is not which one is more realistic, fits better with what we see in the world. Rather it asks you whether you would want to live with a bunch of monks or in some kind of mad max kind of world, beyond the thunderdome.

Of course we know the answer. We'd rather live in a monastery than Mad Max world. Now the novel spins of and explores these ideas in concrete ways. In the book, the shelter has to keep people out, and a hero of the book can't forget others. In a way, that's the Christian way. But to really keep a kind of pure land, you need to keep people out.

There are some people that would choose the Mad Max world for the adventure. I'm not denying that. And you could go live in the Mad Max world and try to build a pure land, a kingdom of peace.

Then I was in the park with my daughter who is a year and a half.

I talk to the people in the park. There is a nanny from the Philipines. The mothers are from India, Russia, Albania, Poland, Israel and all over the Asian and Hispanic world. It's a truly New York City park, a melting pot or a tossed salad, which ever you prefer. The people are sweet. They offer food to my daughter. When she takes someone's toy, I intercede and encourage her not to grab and to share. Nobody gets away with any egregious behaviors.

Then the local preschool comes over. They are a great preschool that is inclusive for children with disabilities. The women (mostly) who work there are angels. Same situation, if someone pushes someone or grabs something, they get a quick speaking to.

I realized that was about as close to a pure land as I was going to get. Ever since reading Great Faith, Great Wisdom, I have listened to, read and thought about the pure land scriptures. I guess they are similar to the Kingdom of Peace from Isaiah.

They talk about the pure land being filled with jewels, but I think of a more sparse setting, with just really well crafted buildings and furniture. Lots of green, gardens with variety. The birds sing the dharma. The food is amazing. The technology doesn't glitch, and leads you to others, and is open source. All projects have a cooperative platform. Nobody is in a rush.

The park has garbage, New Yorkers in truth are dirty, don't feel like holding onto something until they see a garbage. My daughter picks up the garbage and puts it where it belongs. Sometimes older kids are mean and a ball comes whizzing into a small children area. I throw the ball out into the field that is empty, but the kids just go back to where they were playing. It's not perfect. Sometimes I get snubbed by another parent, or I say something unskillful. I still think it's the closest I get to a pure land.

I have an image of a woman with a book studying. Her husband is chasing the children around. Usually Judaism can be seen as sexist, but these two worked it out. There is hope of raising above to equality, fraternity and justice for all.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

barefoot gen

I read this manga about the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Reading the wikipedia article on it, I learned there were 150 people in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One guy is famous and lived to be 93, his name is Tsutomu Yamaguchi. Imagine being in Hiroshima for business, and boom. Then he goes home to Nagasaki and feeling better goes to work and boom, another one drops. He must be in that moment, what is it going to rain atom bombs?!
The manga covers the wacked out nationalism of Japan, thinking their emperor was a god, and how devotion to the country was a society norm. In a way, it's hard to see how they make the Japansese give up without the atom bomb. WW2 is the only just war I can think of, for America. As terrible as dropping an A bomb on a city is, did it ultimately prevent further deaths? That might be a utilitarian argument for dropping the bomb. I think taking life like that is wrong, but I'll never be president even though I'm old enough, because I'm too idealistic about peace. It certainly was a wake up call for Japan and as presented wasn't totally unprovoked. Unintended consequences of such fierce nationalism. We're supposedly responsible for the consequences of our choices. Nobody would ask for that and consequence blindness is everywhere.

The air raid that preceded the bombing, gave everyone a false sense of security and the bomb went off without people being in their air raid shelters. Then the terrible fires killed many who were trapped by fallen buildings. What a horrible thing.

There's a book called Zen at War, about how even Buddhist participated in this nationalism and militarism in Japan. And that reminds me that ethnic Buddhists can justify war. There's a book called Buddhists at war. I feel like anyone truly following the path could not participate in war. But that's just my opinion and I'm not going to say someone who self identifies as a Buddhist who is in war is not one to their face. I just don't think they are really Buddhists just like I don't think America is really a Christian nation based on it's actions. America is a cultural Christian nation, but when it comes to really following the doctrines and the path, that doesn't really happen.

So my next graphic novel is Palestine. Another thorny subject.

Monday, July 03, 2017


I love writing, and that's why I do this blog. If anyone reads it or gets something positive out of it, it's a bonus. My first blog was called "Howling Into The Void", and I suppose I think that's what my blog does.

Along the lines of writing, there is a lovely new book about the healing power of journaling and writing called The Story You Need To Tell. Sometimes to progress in the spiritual life you have to clear away some of the underbrush and while I've just started this book, I think it has lots of potential and will update.

Another interesting book is The End Of Your Life Book Club. It's really a memoir by someone who worked in publishing, of his time after his mother's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Some cancers are curable, and some are no so much. But she does get some time, and the portrait that emerges of Mary Ann Schwalbe is that of a Bodhisattva. The book delves into mindfulness and Buddhism a little bit, but Ms. Schwalbe worked for refuge organizations, worked at schools, and at the end of her life she worked to get a library built in Kabul. She is friendly, energetic, smart and humble. I found some books I want to read, but it really wasn't that interesting about books in the end. It made me want to call my mom.

The book review in the Times clearly didn't read the book because it calls her "Marry AnnE Schwalbe", which book points out was not her name, there was no E and the end of Ann. That makes me feel so superior and then ashamed that I like to feel superior.

The mother was trying to convert her son to the spiritual life, but she was really cute, she thought God would like a prayer from a heathen better than the faithful because they are more rare. Her son doesn't really feel it, but the closeness of the relationship to my mind was a kind of mettaful relationship. I find heathens can often be much more spiritual than the religious. They certainly do better on religious quizzes. I can't find the source of that, but I swear I read it somewhere.

Contemplating the realness of our impending death, is one of the thoughts to help one focus energy into the path of Buddhism, and this book helped. It's also a book about the love of reading. This book came out in 2013, but I love to review books that were not just published. Makes me feel less like a shill for publishers.

Monday, June 19, 2017

New practices.

I'm glad I'm reading The Purpose and Practice of Meditation slowly. It's so rich and dense.

There's a practice called Kasina. You get a real colorful dot in front of you and you stare at it a long time. Then you close your eyes and stare at it. And the goal is to get it to a point where you see the internal dot as vivid as you see the real dot. I'm trying to do that to work on my visualization meditation.

Sangharakshita has visualization meditations, including Vajrasatva, the primordial Buddha, and one of his teachers said that saying the 100 syllable mantra 20 times a day is good for purifying oneself. There is also a sweet visualization. It got me looking at visible mantra to see the seed syllable. I want to get a hard copy of that book, in case the site goes down. The internet seems to have this illusion that it is permanent, but I don't think it is. I'm pretty sure people pay monthly fees to keep websites up.

On my first retreat, which was like 9 days, at midnight on New Year's Eve we chanted the Vajrasatva mantra at midnight. I learned it off a recording someone passed to me, which I have since lost.

There are all these special little things, that are hard to get, and disappear quickly. I have this weird mindset where I want to collect things in my brain in case I'm in a prison camp. I have a puja book that was typed out, and is now hard to find. I have lots of little puja things that I got here and there. Even pujas are hard to come by. There's an esoteric one included in The Purpose and Practice of Meditation, and I can't remember why I didn't think I would ever do it, but I was excited to see it. Anyway, hopefully Bodhipaksa will keep that page up and the website will be up for a while, hopefully.

I had the mantra memorized, but I found that I don't have it memorized at the time. I'm going to re-memorize it, and try to do it 20x a day. And I want to see if I can really see a visualization. I think these things have come to me just when I needed them.

Sangharakshita says westerners tend to want to try newer and newer practices, and talk a lot about meditation, while the Tibetans he knew tended to just do practice and talk amongst spiritual friends. I've been doing metta and mindfulness of breathing for 14 years and they are my 2 core practices, and can be expanded to the Brahma Vihara's and the 14 stage Mindfulness of breathing on a retreat or intense practice day, but I'd like to try these two new practices, to add in.

May all being be happy, may all being be well.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017


José Ignacio Cabezón has an article on Sex, that looks at it through the Gelugpa tradition. He raises a very interesting question, or rather points out a conflict. On the one hand, we don't want to just easily dismiss elements of the tradition that don't make sense to us. On the other hand, we want to not just take views uncritically and follow them, just because they are in the tradition. 

The Dali Lama points to Tsongkhapa. Looking at Tsongkhapa you come up with the conclusion that heterosexuals can have sex 5 times a night, and lesbians get a free pass, but you can't be male on male gay. That somehow seems wrong. Gender and sexuality should perhaps be treated equally. 

My first thought was, what about the Pali Cannon where the Buddha suggests to a fellow that it would be better to put his penis in a snakes mouth, than it would be to have sex with his wife because she wants a child before he goes off fully being a monk.

This brings up the question of monk versus lay, and I've always liked the phrase, "neither monk nor lay" because it points to an obvious duality. 

My understanding of Sangharakshita's problem with monasticism, is that you couldn't really know if all 5 monks were following the vinaya, all the way back to the Buddha. Ajahn Chah got a little twisted up by it for a while too. 

The literal interpretation of merit, has the lay only allowed to give stuff to the monks, when clearly there are people who don't follow the vinaya who seem to be more advanced than a rule follower, seem to do more for the propagation of Buddhism. 

OK, so we won't get into the monastic versus lay trap. My understanding of Sangharakshita is that you follow the ten precepts as principles and not literally. Sexual misconduct is fairly straight forward in these times. If someone feels hurt by sexual contact, then it's not good. Infidelity, sexual abuse, rape and other forms of coercion are wrong. The whole gay and female issues from Christianity are not to be followed. Thich Nhat Hanh's thing is monogamy. Otherwise you hurt people.

There is a book that collects the recent history of Buddhist misconduct. I can't seem to find it at the moment. John Stevens, a professor in Japan, has a kind of sexy take on Buddhism, and wrote an erotic Buddhism novel. He thinks the rice milk the girl gave the Buddha after he gave up asceticism, lead to sex. You can imprint prudery or libertine thoughts to Buddhists.

I like the approach of not pretending we are there yet, being honest and authentic, and not watering down the ideals because they are hard, and not punishing ourselves with the ideals. The idea is to transcend the worldly winds, to transcend reactivity, to not build up plans to just get pleasure and push away pain, or if you do, realize the path is the best fun.

There is no exploitation of vulnerable people seeking guidance, and no shock when it turns out Buddhist leaders have clay feet. There's avoidance of the harm of making sexuality wrong, and there's no pretending that wild sexuality isn't harmful.

We are not in the summer of love, the birth control pill didn't just become available, and there is a HIV epidemic, that in part thrives on the secrecy from the shame of homosexuality.

Sangharakshita jokes that any book called Tantric Sex Magic would sell easily. I've even used it to gain traffic on my website, along with "how can I die". That feels immature now. Sanghrakshita was sick recently and he apologized for any harm her caused with his experimentation in the aftermath, because he had been reflecting while in the hospital. I know a lot of people who, in retrospect, see they have caused harm. I have caused harm. So it's an important area to keep our eyes wide open to. Take responsibility for our actions so we can own our lives and our progress through it.

If we go back to our pagan past, we see that sexuality isn't something to be avoided, it is celebrated. In ancient Rome it was against the law not to be married and have 3 children. I'm reading a book on Marcus Aurelius and read a book on ancient Rome and it's kind of refreshing to see fewer hang ups. Of course they had their rules. It wasn't OK to be homosexual for me after 18. Before that it was fine, but after it, it wasn't. I read about Lupacallia where men run around naked and whip women in the naked butt with whips made out of goat skin. Now I don't think that just because something was in the past, they were better times. I'm just saying that in the history of humanity, we have had some interesting celebrations of sexuality.

Now birth is one of the steps on the wheel of life, that leads to greed hatred and delusion. One might get the idea that a good Buddhist would not have children. They do hinder one's free time to meditate, that is for sure, but once again, if you value your practice, parenting shouldn't be a barrier. Here we are getting into a personal decision that I've made, and don't want to come down either way on this one. I've realized how important the Dharma is to me through being a parent, and I have felt a level of love that I've never felt before (A Path for Parents).

So conclusion? A complicated set of questions from monastic versus lay, to how to go about the spiritual life, and the recent history of Buddhism. As always, live the questions.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

watching desire

Watching desire, I see that while I'm watching my daughter, I want to read, and when she goes to bed, I quickly get tired of reading. Actually that's not true, I read till I get tired, but my attention does wander.

Children are the ultimate gurus. My daughter continually exposes my "working ground" and how far I am from my aspirations. I find myself extremely upset at a little girl in diapers who hardly weighs anything and comes up to my hips in height. The little tyrant. She very much wants her way all the times and everything is hers. And yet the love I feel for this imperfect being...

I don't try to get rid of desire and act at a spiritual level that I am not at yet. Very much a work in progress, like everyone.


37 Practices of Bodhisattvas

The Thirty-Seven Practices of Boddhisattvas is from the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition that the Dali Lama is in. I have read this book before. I want to go through the 37 practices one at a time. The first one is here.

#2 Attached to your loved ones you are stirred up like water.
Hating your enemies you burn like fire.
In the darkness of confusion you forget what to adopt and discard.
Give up your homeland--
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas. 

This one is about "going forth". The Buddha left his home, family, comforts, to seek an end of suffering.

Sangharakshita gave everything up and wandered into the homeless life. He regretted giving up his passport when he tried to go to Cylon, but maybe the order would not have been the same way if he had.

Comfortable middle class people look to go forth metaphorically, but we can not discount actually just leaving the home conditions. Children demand a lot of attention and financial support, you work and then come home to parent them. There is no time off. If you have discipline, like I did for many years, you can raise your mindfulness up--perhaps to suffer more. Then one day you just can't any more. You're not there. You realize the home life can't support individualistic spiritual development. So your family becomes sangha and you go on the Bodhisattva path, wishing to raise everyone up with you. In the face of worldly suffering we shatter apart like Avalokiteshvara, and then are put back together by the love of Amitabha. It's no surprise that love is the archetype that becomes popular, even though metta is not personal, and yet it's personal like a mother loves her only child--sprayed out onto the world. You know as a parent that you can't always control things, you just try to ride the waves, the various forces that threaten one. 

The secular world preaches a kind of individualism and materialism that can be twisted into a spiritual materialism. I used to yearn for a center for my order. I got excited when SF got a retreat center outside the city. I became obsessed with all the beautiful cathedrals the Catholic church has. Have you seen this teacher, that teacher? You flew in there and did a retreat there once?! You can treat Buddhism like the Rubins, and create an art museum, or a gallery, or a salon. You can develop a podcast, a blog, and on and on. Tweeting your way to enlightenment in 140 characters or less, you use all the aids to feel spiritual, and yet it doesn't take enough hold, you forget and have a good meal or you read a good book or you watch a great new series. Oh, sure work is a drag, but I like it that my books come within 2 days, and we need a new bullet blender, and wouldn't it be nice if baby had a new onesies? She's growing out of her current ones.

The passive personality person uses Buddhism to buttress the pathology of inaction, the edict to do nothing, and watch others suffer because of that decision. "Suffering is inevitable for those not far on the path, it can help one to wake up." But the crisis of parenting has woken you up to suffering and you figure out ways to abdicate the role and raise free range children.

The two above examples are just two examples of possible spiritual bypassism, coined by Wellwood. So even in the spiritual life there are dangers, why not dangers in the monastic life. You can learn to focus in precious circumstances and become a hot house flower? Spiritual individualism rears it's ugly head again.

The co-dependency of most relationships help us to not embrace the freedom we are afraid of. Freedom is truly scary if you take responsibility for where you are now. It's only you that has kept you from becoming enlightened. How did you put yourself into this situation you find yourself in?

I don't like the buddha nature doctrines because even if you are already enlightened, or it's funny how easy it is, you still need to figure out how to uncover it. This might be a Hindu doctrine, and Hinduism tries to absorb Buddhism the way Judaism tries to consume Christianity. Jesus was not trying to create a new religion. It's actually Paul who does that.

In all the contradictory doctrines of world religions, we get that it is beyond reasoning, more than a feeling, more than everything we can imagine, and therefore it's OK that we don't get it. It's OK to be ignorant as long as we chant a mantra or say a prayer. Spirituality for the masses becomes religion that ossifies flexible ideas, and sets up hierarchies, and abuse. Worldly teachers commit worldly mistakes, and there is a crisis of faith. We edge more into the archetypes than the saints, real history proves nobody is beyond reproach. So for Buddhism it's faith that Buddhadharma is really something worth going for, and not just saying that the end of suffering has been found by transcending desire by making your consciousness box a certain size such that venial cares recede and maybe even disappear. The goal of being creative instead of reactive is worth striving for and as millions set upon the path, many are quickly waylaid by the concrete needs of others. Or maybe they are on the Bodhisattva path. We can get ishkabibble or crazy like a fox. If you live on the side of a mountain and can meditate all day, you can hone that mindfulness and have some insights, but nothing is guaranteed and maybe you need worldly challenges to uproot complacency. Oh it's all so confusing just pick you path and experiment and see what happens. You can understand that at least. Your precious practice with the cutting edge where you're challenged to take the larger perspective goes on and on and on. Some great teacher comes in and does something selfish and you think, oh, I was being unrealistic all along, just be natural.

I've tied myself into a knot. 

The goal is freedom and not an unfeeling unthinking freedom. There is no easy path. Nobody can market a sect of Buddhism that has the right one and true path because at this time it's open source, and because everyone is unique, has different abilities and pasts.

So you go forth from what you know, you go forth from comfort, you go forth from dogma, heresy and you just study the dharma and try to practice the lofty ideals, push yourself to give up more, push yourself to be kinder, push yourself to be authentically evolved, not false self aping what it means to be spiritual. You don't stand on a chair and say you don't exist because someone will kick you in the shins and you'll see quite quickly that in fact you do exist. A humility is needed, bragging about achievement is the first sign of lack of achievement and therefore not to be believed. Sorry Ingram. You can parse the path but I haven't heard the thunderous silence.