Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Once In A Lifetime

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...

Water dissolving...and water removing
There is water at the bottom of the ocean
Carry the water at the bottom of the ocean
Remove the water at the bottom of the ocean!

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...


Sutta Nipata 4.15

Seeing people floundering
     like fish in small puddles,
     competing with one another — 
               as I saw this,
               fear came into me.
     The world was entirely
               without substance.
     All the directions
                                    were knocked out of line.
     Wanting a haven for myself,
     I saw nothing that wasn’t laid claim to.
     Seeing nothing in the end
     but competition,
     I felt discontent.
              —Sutta Nipata 4.15, trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Meditating with a new cat

Anandi enjoys cats, and she waited an appropriate time after Oscar died, and then she decided she wanted rescue cats from the shelter. She adopted Ella and Lulu (originally Booboo and Cupcake). They were fixed free of charge, and their first vet visit is free if done within a certain time limit. We got the cats the next day, because they don't perform an operation on a cat that they will eventually put down. They used the phrase "no longer available" to describe one cat. There are no snuff shelters but the city one is not one of those. Here's the search site if you're looking for a cat in NYC. The place is pretty disturbing but it feels good to snatch a cat from the jaws of extinction. I wanted to adopt them all. Talking to one of the workers there, we asked her how she does it. She said she'd avoided it for quite a while, but finally she was able to accept the situation. You can volunteer there if you like animals. And I guess that's where you can go if you have to get rid of an animal and you can't find someone to take it. Luckily my aunt took my cats when I moved and couldn't take my cats. And she got someone to take the cats when she moved.

They are obviously traumatized from living in the shelter, and who knows what before that. I call them scairdy cats sometimes. Each day they relax their vigilance brought on by the traumas of their past.

We sat down to meditate for the first time since getting them today, and Ella was clawing at Anandi's foot.

Ella proceeded to snuggle in, head butt her. She brushed by me. We laughed. And that was all after chasing the bird off the air conditioner near our shrine.

As always, you focus on the breath. The cats will learn we don't pet them when we're meditating. But they did like it when we finished.


The Making of Buddhist Modernism is really eye opening in that it discusses how other ideas are used to articulate Buddhism in the modern world, as a reaction to imperialism, as the first wave of western converts articulate what they like about it. What does it mean when traditionalists can see meditating as presumptuous, and the plethora of printed English Buddhism that has created a kind of western bookish Buddhist? I'm going to riff, with my thoughts from reading the book, but in no way are my thoughts either a review of the book or some scholarly paper themselves. This is a personal blog post.

Perennialism is the idea that all religions participate in the ultimate truths. This contrasts with perhaps the Buddhist who feels that it's the Buddha's experience that matters, and that there isn't some universal kind of truth it participates in.

As I delve into the book, I'm don't think I want to be a traditionalist, and I think it's OK to blend modern ideas with Buddhism. I don't necessarily think science has the best truths, or that Buddhism is more scientific than other religions. But I do believe in pluralism and multiculturalism instead of separatism or the importance of erasing differences.

Perennialism really helps in the exclusive truth wars. I've written in the past about friends who think religion necessarily leads to people feeling closer to the truth and that leads people towards conflict. A modern mindset is inclined to think that truth is more of a function of a system, learning the lessons from Godel's Incompleteness theorem. That you can't prove the truth of a system without referring to the system, and that just makes it all a kind of game. There is no super system that explains it all. That points to a kind of pragmatism, just noticing what each system does, and resisting reduction or assimilation into other systems. Perennialism functions to promote harmony, and not discord, and whether it's true or not. Nobody needs to be colonized or converted, we're all on the same journey. The only danger could be to ignore differences and history.

The modern world has allowed for more open source Buddhism, that teachings are available. We don't need a system that concentrates the information into the powerful hands of a central authority. We don't need to have an allegiance to one kind of Buddhism, we can love the variety and appreciate the spirit of certain teachers, even if we don't believe in the system they created. We own our own spirituality and have the responsibility of finding out what works for us. Now you can lose some depth by not committing to one tradition and there will be people that will tell you you should only shop exclusively in their bookshop, but most people see through that. They see it as branding, a sales pitch.

The lack of a cohesive system and community can be an outgrowth of open source Buddhism. The real living traditions that actually exist are more traditional.

I like to be around other people of different traditions, and I get the feeling I sometimes get when I'm with sangha. Even outside of Buddhism.

So it think the trick is to have a community, with a tradition, but that also allows for independent thinking. And being aware what is Buddhism and what is not Buddhism. What does our modern culture add in to adapt Buddhism to our times, and what do we gain and lose by doing that? I don't like sectarianism, but loosey goosey doesn't always work either. Buddhism without beliefs is wonderful, but Stephen Batchelor has not founded a sangha. He visits other sanghas and organizations. People come to hear him teach, but he does not present a system for spiritual development.

I think perennialism, which would be hard to prove, does function in a harmonizing multicultural way.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

what is a Buddhist?

McMahan talked about modern existence, and being disenchanted, and that we are looking for re-enchantment.

I'm not sure which I want. There were times in my life when I saw a rupa and had a visceral desire to prostrate myself to it, even though I was in a museum. I have done the prostration practice to the TBC refuge tree. On the other hand I would also like to just tolerate not knowing and not necessarily multiply entities beyond their necessity. I like the idea of Padmasambhava pinning down demons, but I also interpret that psychologically. I see great psychological benefit in thinking archetypically, but don't think there are unseen spirits beyond my mind.

I am deeply suspicious of "organized religion". I do feel the differences between myself and other Buddhists. One time a waitress had a Buddhist necklace on. I asked her if she was a Buddhist. She said yes. I asked her if she meditated, and she said no. I didn't even know at the time if she could have considered it presumptuous for me to meditate. I did not even know that.

I sat at a Wesak celebration onces, where Sri Lankan children played out various aspects of the Buddha's life in play. It felt weird to see that because the children were kind of being force, and the parents were so proud of their children for doing this thing they seemed to feel put upon. For me Buddhism is a choice that goes counter to the dominant culture I am surrounded by. To be sure in New York City, there is multiculturalism, but outside of NYC, there is a kind of Christian fog hanging over America.

At one point I was exploring various centers. I went to one where I was talking to a monk outside. I thought we were having an interesting conversation until he abruptly stopped the conversation to open the door for a Chinese woman to enter the temple. I got the message. This is for Chinese people. I have no problem with his commitment to cultural Buddhism. I even wish for an American Buddhism, though that's going to take hundreds and hundreds of years. I tried to read a memoir by a guy who grew up in a Zen family. I didn't really detect much that was Buddhist about it, it was more about how his journey was impacted by having Buddhist parents. He seemed to be into Buddhism, but it also seemed to be going with the flow, and not something he committed to. Perhaps he did later in the book, I honest could not finish the book, not much was happening and "hey look I grew up in a Zen family" wasn't enough for me.

McMahan has a term called Buddhist sympathizer, which he got from Thomas Tweed. I had a Buddhist t-shirt that said, "I am a Buddhist" and it was shouting it out loud. I remember once time in a cafe in Santa Fe someone laughed at the idea. I suppose they wondered why would someone have to shout that. I feel the need to distinguish myself from Christians, and to raise the profile of American Buddhists. Coming from NYC I feel as though what ever my religion is, that is fine, and that it won't hinder me to be Buddhist.

When I was a therapist I had a few patients that followed Soka Gakki. I didn't really feel like we had a common ground. My understanding is that they hoped, that by chanting a mantra about their devotion to the Lotus Sutra, to be reborn in a pure land where they could then become enlightened.  I was hoping to move towards enlightenment through my own personal efforts. I do think we need other power to help us, why not, but for me there's more of a personal responsibility.

In discussion with a friend on retreat, he thought it was pretty controversial to feel like you had to do it in one life time. Another friend says that it's hard to imagine the life force energy doesn't go somewhere after they die. Another friend suggested to me that the only important thing about reincarnation was that I kept an open mind to it, and I later read how Sangharakshita asserted that there was no Buddhist movement that didn't include reincarnation. There are various books about reincarnation in the movement that as far as I can tell, debunk the popular notion, and water down into something inoffensive. It's just conditionality. Who knows. I find the work of Stephen Batchelor refreshing.

There is a part of me that makes me think I can't just make it all up for myself. That there should be some bite to the spiritual life, the bending of my will.

On another hand I want to guard myself against the social control aspects of being manipulated by religion, for other people's goals. I'm individualistic in a way that will not jive with the more socially oriented versions of Buddhism.

I have been enchanted at times, loved puja, mantra, ritual, felt strong feelings towards the sangha. I wondered why someone wouldn't get a visualization practice at ordination, that was the final step in Sangharakshita's system of meditation. I like the idea of having a visualization practice about ideals, the embodiment of ideals. I like all that Jungian kind of thinking, but I do not so much think about these things literally, and put a modernist twist on what others take literally.

What Buddhism is, is a question for the scholars. What is my spiritual journey, is another question, and it's good to realize the modern/traditional split in Buddhism. I think of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. I'm ok with importing modern psychology and theoretical understandings into ancient Buddhism, making it my own. And that is a very modern idea, I have come to learn.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

off to the opera

Reading the Visuddhimagga really gets you into the word tangle. Disentangling the entanglements is perhaps one of the missions of Buddhism. One of my teachers was reading that book when he used that word a lot. This is the kind of book where I'm probably going to read a page a day and finish in a few years.

I got The Making of Buddhist Modernism in the mail yesterday. It came out in 2008. It's one of those complex books that has a million references you want to read like The Saturated Self or Courtesans and Fishcakes. A tour de force. I read the introduction and the section on Sangharakshita's The Art of Religion. That's one I haven't read. Guess I need to read that one.

The book basically traces the various ideas and synthesis of modernity and Buddhism. I was writing about that in my review of Daughters of Dolma. It makes me wonder if there is anything wrong with adding in ideas and whatnot to the original tradition? Is there any virtue in not adding in modern ideas? McMahan asks a few times what is it about Buddhism that you can say you're "into Buddhism"? Do people say they are "into Protestantism"? I guess people don't brag about it anyway. Also there is a plethora of published books in English, which makes reading about Buddhism a new phenomenon. Forget about blogs.

Last night after I listened to a talk about the 5th precept, last night, I still hadn't fallen asleep, so I was listening to an audio version of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, and I heard the phrase "unbarrowed experience". I'm not sure if I could read that book, but I can certainly fall asleep to it. I got an audio version off one of those free read book websites. But I digress. Unbarrowed experience means something that not someone else's formulation, it's your own formulation. Can you actually do that?

I almost didn't break my position for the 40 minute sit this morning. I've decided to meditate every day again. I've taken some time off. I'm ready to get back. As I'm getting back into meditation I'm aware that I kind of control the breath when paying attention to it. The third stage I focus on my posture, and think about wanting to read Will Johnson's book about posture.

I'm hoping to meditate for 20 minutes every day and longer on work free days when I don't have my children.

Doing a retreat at home was interesting. I'd hoped to be more disciplined, but it's good that I pushed myself to do what I did. Doing a retreat with someone else, gets you more intimate with them. Anandi and I did a lot of talking.

And now it's off to the opera!

Here is a picture of the calzones Cori made last night--squash, onion and mushroom.

Friday, January 02, 2015

'body scan meditation' by vidyamala

free buddhist audio : : 'body scan meditation' by vidyamala

Retreat update: We did a body scan, which is wonderful. Vidyamala really does an excellent one and it takes 40 minutes. There are some phrases I like, like "back breathing" and "soft hands". She really zooms in on some interesting places. We had a lot of thoughts and feelings about our bodies and shared them in our check in.

Before that we read another intense section of The Essential Sangharakshita. That guy gets me every time.

We slept late. I think there are a few things about having a retreat in the home with two people. One is that it's harder to push yourself to conform to a schedule. We created an intense schedule and we've done about half of it. And I've broken all the rules. But I'm proud I meditated twice for 40 minutes yesterday and read a lot of Dharma, and cooked.

We just made a smoothie, that I'm going to write about on my other blog.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

metta bhavana - full lead-through' by kamalashila

free buddhist audio : : 'metta bhavana - full lead-through' by kamalashila

Forgive me if I'm a little precious about my experience, that happens at the beginning of a retreat, as I tune in.

Anandi wanted to do a lead meditation (link above) because it's been a while, so we played the full lead through by Kamalashila. Unfortunately the computer went to sleep and we probably did more than we were supposed to in the final stage, but that's not bad.

I started to get that head feeling that is hard to describe, when you're meditating a bit for the first time in a while. Someone once called it the feeling of coming out of warp speed, a reference perhaps to Star Trek. I also go hot, which sometimes happens when I meditate. I feel like I'm burning off the impurities.

I used to think about myself sledding as a child to evoke metta, and I recently went sledding and had a weirdly full feeling of metta while doing it, the sledding was infused with metta because I connect that as a time when I was happy as a child, simple happiness. Passing that on to my sons, there was a kind of fatherly love involved. There was sympathetic joy in others joy. There was compassion when people got into problems. And all the while I was not overwhelmed, just right.

We went grocery shopping. We got some flowers for the shrine.

You can see my main rupa, with Kwan Yin on the left and Manjushri on the right, and some butterflies for color and beauty. The Buddha wears the awesome mala Anandi bought me, that I wear sometimes.

We made pizza dough for our pizza tonight.

It looks a little crumbly, but we put more water in it, and she didn't think we should put any more in. My first pizza dough.

I cut up some onions and got a good cathartic onion cry. I was glad to spend time in the kitchen with Anandi, she really is fun to be with in the kitchen.

She made a ginger drink with orange juice, lime juice and lemon juice. She's so creative!


Anandi reports another vegan blog just stopped being vegan. She thought the comments were very harsh, the vegan community is often very hard on people who leave it. Is that one of the traits of being a cult? When people are punished for leaving? Perhaps people were just expressing their own feelings about another's actions. Such a strong reaction means there's a lot of meaning in there. I'm all for exploring what is important to people.

I asked he why the person stopped being vegan. It was health reasons, but supposedly they are never specific. Which makes me think they stopped feeling good, and listened to their body. They never get specific. Was it cheese? Was it meat?

Reading section 5.2.4 of The Essential Sangharakshita, he talks about moving away from harm to others. Whether that's not eating veal, to veganism, the point is to exert effort to reduce the harm done to others by providing ourselves nourishment. What I admire about Anandi is that she's not an angry vegan, she is OK with others not being vegan. She works very hard to make yummy vegan food. My mouth waters when I read her blog, because I remember those lovely meals. I'm a semi-vegetarian with aspirations. I feel lucky to live with such a good cook.

Anandi should really write this blog because she's the food expert. Yesterday we made curried chick pea salad, that was awesome. For dinner we had the tofu, broccoli and peanut sauce with rice. We haven't really had that here at home, that's more of an Aryaloka meal. I was so honored that she included that meal in our retreat eating.

(photo by Anandi)

Update on retreat: We moved the beginning time from 6 to 7 and only I got up. Anandi stayed up till midnight last night, and decided she doesn't like doing new year's alone. I slept. Instead of getting to meditation after 30 minutes, I took 75 minutes to read and write, and then sat down to do a mindfulness of breathing. Anandi woke up and ground some coffee. I heard her padding around and making noise. I did not resent it, but I was thinking about how we were not in harmony. I felt guilty that I didn't stay up with her. I've always been in relationships with people who wanted to celebrate New Year's Eve, and I don't particularly like staying up that late, it throws everything out of whack.

So we through out our rigid schedule of meditation and just wrote a list of essentials we'd like to do today. So that's how the retreat is going to go today. No Netflix or video games for me. I think that's something I'd like to do in my regular life. No non-Dharma books. We are talking about our life visions and the blocks towards achieving those goals and ideas. And cleaning becomes important. I'm not very good about cleaning, and I'm hoping the retreat helps me to clean and organize the house. It already has.

I'd say the challenge of an in-home retreat is that it's harder to step out of your usual patterns in your own home, going off to a retreat center makes it easier. And yet it's in the home where it really counts, so maybe it's good to fight that fight.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I only read one book this year that was published in 2014, so I don't feel like it's fair to give out my yearly best book award. I did read The Path to Awakening: How Buddhism's Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness. I did find it worth reading, and I like the seven point mind training.

My dharma practice has moved away from reading. But I am looking forward to Stephen Batchelor's book After Buddhism, which I read about on Facebook, coming out next year. I also saw a video that if Subhuti can get enough money to publish his next book, that it will be out next year, and it will be about the mental events. These are two books I am very much looking forward to reading.

Sisters of Dolma (Film Review)

Just watched Daughters of Dolma. It is a kind of profile of some young female Buddhists. The way women are treated in the society is the way the women are treated as nuns. They have to fight for equal status, they discuss sexism in their society.

What struck me about the movie was that the young woman struggled like young women, forget that they were nuns. They fight and argue, and they like to watch romance movies. Feels almost like a career decision. But it's not even a decision it seems, at times. The eldest son is supposed to be a monk and the youngest daughter is supposed to be a monk. Anandi kept asking, how does that help the society? I got the feeling that a few of the women did not really fit in to regular life, and did not want conventional lives, and so they just chose being a nun as the path of greatest freedom. I could see that.

My experience is different. I came to it middle age. I could really feel the youth of the students, the pull of the world. I'm kind of sick of the world, so it's easy for me to retreat from it. They had their whole lives ahead of them, and they wondered if they were doing the right thing.

They have a culture where this is an option. I suppose it's an option in my culture. America is supposed to be multicultural. But the fact it that it's mostly a Christian nation. So most Buddhists are in some way a non-conformist. I get the feeling that the women were trying to please others, were conforming.

The interviews with older men in power were politically correct. I want them to interview a sexist monk. In fact, if there was a defect in the movie, it felt like with the language barrier, that they were mostly speaking in slogans, saying what they thought people wanted to hear. The movie admitted as much in the end, that it was superficial.

There's a part of increasing nunneries, that is feminist revolutionary. They talked about how the modern world was impacting their traditional ways, and I felt like expanding the nunneries was one way of modernizing. But I also got the feeling that they were kind of like orphanages. I wondered if one mother was projecting her own spiritual wishes onto her daughter. She said her daughter was naughty like a boy so many times, it was kind of weird.

Sometimes I yearn for a culture in which to embed my spiritual practice, and sometimes I think I create my own world in my home, and that it doesn't matter what is outside the home so much, as long as there is stuff in the world somewhere that promotes it. I don't believe in the lay/monastic split, but I see how it functions to carry the tradition and in some ways I am very grateful. In some ways it seems cultural and superficial. The children are learning to read and write in a Buddhist context, but like any kind of education, it's a process that helps one to develop.

I certainly appreciate documentaries in that they present experience, but we also need to critically evaluate what we see. I saw a changing world of young female Buddhists. It's no easy to convey the spiritual life, less so in the movies. There was some interesting footage, and cultural information. I would have liked more geographical information. I would have liked more depth. Even so, it was an interesting movie. There's only one review of it on Netflix. It appreciates their honesty, that they don't try and sugar coat things, but I kind of felt they did. I mean a documentary does present raw experience, in a way, but if you don't think there were filters there, well, that seems naive.

There is another movie about Buddhist nuns: Blessings: Tsoknyi Nangchen Nuns of Tibet.

transition day into a home retreat

(photo by Anandi)

We got in late last night, and were pretty wiped out from the travel, so decided to make today a rolling into the retreat day, and not the rigorous and structured schedule we planned out. We're going to flow with how we feel. But we are having retreat oatmeal. Had to move the car so I didn't get a ticket.

Part of the duo home retreat is that we read to each other. When Anandi woke up I read her a Noah Levine interview from Tricycle. He started Refuge Recovery, which has a meeting in NYC. I should probably go to support my recovery, and working with people in recovery. I read his book Dharma Punx. Anandi read his second one, I could read that one. I recently got Eight Step Recovery: Using the Buddha's Teachings to Overcome Addiction. I stalled pretty quickly on that one, but I need to charge up my kindle so I can read that and The Purpose and Practice of Buddhist Meditation: A Source Book of Teachings.

I read section 5.2.4 of The Essential Sangharakshita about natural versus conventional morality, and how the mental states behind actions is a focus of Buddhist ethics. It's an excerpt from The Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism, which is an awesome book in it's own right. I think that was the first book we were reading when I originally started mitra study in the FWBO.

Hearing the words aloud helps to connect to the tradition that was originally oral.

We sat for 20 minutes of mindfulness of breathing. I had monkey mind of course, and my legs were not used to sitting.

I love talking about meditation experience with Anandi. I had a hard time not rearranging the books on my book shelf, they're all out of order.

I'm calling this the Hansel and Gretel retreat, because we're going to see the opera on DVD and live at the Met.

We're not strict yet about not watching TV or using technology for anything other than writing and reading. I feel a strong urge to clean the house strangely. I'm like space, I abhor a vacuum. I'll read non-Dharma today. Since we're doing this retreat with both of us we can have any form we want. I want structure and scheduling tomorrow and after that. We get more done that way. But with the travel I really need a transition day. Must be kind to ourselves.

We're going to have curried chick pea salad for lunch. Last time I went backpacking and totally bonked, when we were done I remember eating chick peas from a can I left in the car. That was really yummy. First few bites anyway.