Sunday, December 01, 2019


I'm reading Bloom on The Winter's Tale and Leontes nihilism is discussed. Bloom sees Iago and Iachimo and Edmond all nihilists to various degrees. When you believe in nothing, anything is possible, there are no limits.

That got me thinking about one of my favorite movies, The Big Lebowski. There are actual nihilists in the move. Nobody really espouses nihilism. I think even in the hope of anarchy and libertarianism, that underneath the humanity of people will self regulate.

Nihilism is to be avoided in Buddhism, it is seen as the polar opposite of eternalism.

Stephen Batchelor is seen as a materialist by some Buddhists. Of course nobody is a materialist, because you can't 5 sense the theory. There seems to be some push pull between modern skeptical people and the mythology of Buddhism.

I think the other default negative mind virus is materialism, the idea that material things make you happy. I think a lot of viruses take hold in the vacuum of nihilism: hedonism, egotism. The best way to be is altruistic. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Barlaam and Josaphat

"The spread of the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat in medieval Europe was a cultural phenomenon second to none at the time. Poetic and dramatized versions of the legend became what today would be called ‘bestsellers’. In Christian Europe these two names were commonly known and the Buddha as St Josaphat became a Saint with his own feast day in the Christian calendar: 27 November." (The Buddha's long journey to Europe and Africa)

That was yesterday the feast of the Christian saints appropriated by Christianity from Buddhism. Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, and I'm grateful for the spread of knowledge about the true Buddha.

Another interesting parallel is St. George and Manjushri. Both have swords in their icons, and St. George slaying the devil is similar imagery invoked by Manjushri's sword cutting through ignorance.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Ikkyu says:

Don’t hesitate – get laid – that’s wisdom. 
Sitting around chanting – what crap.

I'm appreciating more and more that within the Buddhist tradition you can find any kind of message you want. But I've come off a 30 day vow, and I wanted to think more about Brahmacharya.

"Yet there is so little writing or information about brahmacarya as it’s called in the Buddhist tradition. Why? Because almost no one is interested in it." Suvarnaprabha, June, 2010

3rd Precept: With stillness, simplicity and contentment, I purify my body.

Quotes from Celibacy and Buddhism

Sangharakshita in Seminars: "The Buddha did on one occasion say, according to the Sutra of 42 Sections, that if there had been another desire as strong as sexual desire, no human being would have been able to gain Enlightenment."

"If you look at brahmacarya in the strict sense, it is not only bodily, but also verbal and mental. You cannot really be considered to be fully practicing brahmacarya so long as your mind is not free from sexual desires. Even if you are celibate technically, your mind is not necessarily going to be free from such desires. So it is not a question of either being celibate or not being celibate. One might say that no one, probably, is so celibate that he could not be more celibate, and also that no one is so uncelibate that he could not be more uncelibate."

"brahmacarya as an ideal – that is to say, true, natural or spontaneous brahmacarya; and secondly, recognizing the obligation to work gradually towards that."

"You could be celibate because you were so absorbed by the beauty and attractiveness of the spiritual ideal, that sex just didn’t interest you. That would be a very healthy sexual mode. But then you could be celibate out of guilt, or for the sake of some material advantage. You could be celibate for all sorts of quite negative reasons, which would be neurotic. It certainly isn’t just a question of being celibate. Being physically celibate by itself probably has very little value. What is more valuable is being relatively celibate because the main object of one’s emotional energies is something of a higher order. You can’t be healthily and happily celibate unless you are celibate for the sake of a higher cultural, artistic, humanitarian or spiritual interest. You could even say that sexual frustration takes place when you don’t have at the center of your mandala an interest or an ideal which absorbs your emotional energies."

"Once Insight starts being developed, then of course you are attacking the craving at the source. The more you do of that, then the weaker any craving will become."

"Celibacy is unhealthy when it is too much of a discipline, when it results in the suppression, not just of one’s sexual feelings, but even of one’s emotions. That suppression can make one quite bitter and intolerant. I noticed this very clearly in the case of at least a couple of [Order members] when they were anagarikas [meaning they had taken a vow of celibacy]. It was quite obvious that the suppression of their sexual feelings resulted in the suppression of their kinder feelings, their human sympathies, and this came out in their quite cruel treatment of some people, and having rather harsh, negative attitude, in certain respects. This is a common phenomenon among celibates."

Suvarnaprabha, June, 2010:

"Tejananda says, ‘What we long for is the love that never fails.’ This is perhaps our deepest heart wish. Conditioned or fabricated love always fails. That’s its nature. What doesn’t fail is what’s beyond conditions: the True Refuge ... the awakened heart. Even in terms of our ordinary experience, the all-pervading compassionate nature is here and now as sensitivity. We are sensitive – sensitivity is our nature. This is why we can experience both pleasure and suffering. Our longing for unconditional and unfailing love is something very deep within us and at root it is genuine (not delusive). It’s a longing to return to the original sensitivity of our nature outside of dualistic distinctions. This longing is something we can get neurotic about, or we can cherish it as the seed of ...the Awakening Heart/Mind."

Pema Chodron:

"Sometimes [our] broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that, when accepted fully, can be shared with all."

... Now my heart
 Turns toward you, awake at last,
 Penitent, lost in the last 
Loneliness. Speak to me. Talk
To me. Break the black silence.
Speak of a tree full of leaves,
Of a flying bird, the new
 Moon in the sunset, a poem, 
A book, a person – all the 
Casual healing speech 
Of your resonant, quiet voice.
The word freedom. The word peace.

from ‘Loneliness’ by Kenneth Rexroth

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Entering The Mind of the Buddha

The above is in my kitchen, a reminder of the aspiration.

Entering The Mind of the Buddha by Reb Anderson is a retreat in a book. In my 17 years as a Buddhist I have been on many retreat, but my recent poverty has me not going as much. There's enough teachings on line and meditation is free, so you don't need money to practice. Just be ethical, kind and meditate. Chant if you want, get together with spiritual friends. Doesn't cost a thing, but as we know money does by experiences, and those experiences can be positive. Which is a long way to go to say I appreciate a retreat in a book, and a refresher on the 6 paramitas and from a Zen perspective. We have Karen Muller to thank for putting it all together and Reb Anderson for leading the retreat and providing the talks and final draft. That's how I imagine it, I could be reading into it.

The following are ideas I liked in the book about the 6:

Dana (Generosity): These first three can be taught to children, before they are ready for meditation. I've been noticing her when she is generous, patient, does the ethical thing.

There are 3 kinds of generosity. One is the regular kind, giving your subway seat to someone who needs it, that kind of thing. The second kind is the gift of fearlessness. Like when it's dark and I take my daughter into a room to get something. She is afraid of the dark and I share my fearlessness of the dark. You can do similar things for adults. The third kind is the gift of the Dharma, the Buddha's teachings. This blog is in part sharing my journey as a gift of the Dharma. You can also give the gift of yourself. By being present in my sons lives, I give them myself, my history, my wisdom, and all the good I can share with them. The gift of the self isn't part of the traditional list, but I thought Anderson was right to include it.

Here is a Tricycle Teaching on Generosity.

Sila (virtue): I've come to appreciate how a lack of virtue can sabotage my meditation practice, see how ethical living is the foundation of the spiritual life. I've also come to see being vegan as an integral thing in doing something to improve the world, it helps me work towards the gladdening.

For some reason Anderson does the 3 pure precepts (never heard of them, so that's cool to learn some new teaching). 1. Do no evil. 2. Do good. 3. Save all beings. I usually think in terms of the 10 precepts.

Kanti (patience): Allan Lakos has a good book called Patience. Made me think a lot about patience.

Virya (energy): I always wonder how much of my energy can really be said to be going to refuge to the three jewels. I once did a mandala where I wrote what I thought was expected, but not what was really going on, and I think of that mantra by Pema Chodron, "start where you are." I also think of the guy who stands up at a meeting and says I have no ego; Someone kicks him in the shins and he doubles over in pain. There you are. Spiritual posturing doesn't get you anywhere. I like authenticity.

Like say I'm watching Gilmore Girls. I try to think about impermanence, how unsatisfactory strivings can be, and how we are our circumstances. But I can't say more than 5% of my thinking is insight related.

I have also taken refuge in William Shakespeare.

Dhyana (focus): Wikipedia.

Prajna (wisdom): This is the "wisdom that leaps beyond wisdom". It is creativity not reactivity.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien

This book had some interesting synthesis of global history with spiritual history, great teachers and great literature, and the forces around various movements and trends. The scope of this book is immense. There is overlap with other traditions and other histories. There were lots of interesting pictures in the book. The book functioned on many levels.

My critique that there wasn't enough depth in areas, seems to vanish when you think that she wrote a history of Zen in 287 pages. Through India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and to America. My list of Zen books to read has swelled. I have limned some of the resources available on the internet, but this book in my hand has been quite a journey.

Read back through my thoughts in my post prior to this one. I found this a fascinating read. From the examination of the sex scandals, to what modern Zen needs most. Do you shuck off Japanese culture, or do you embrace it? So many questions. This book was great at raising questions and that is wonderful.

Mims Florida

Previous Posts

6. Chapter 5 Song dynasty
7. Chapter 6: Korea
9. Japan

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Zen in Japan

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, a history of Zen. I'm on the chapter where Zen comes to Japan. Reading about the beginning of Zen in Japan, I came to appreciate the separation of church and state. I know that's been weirdly eroded by someone who isn't religious beyond signing bibles for people.

For me the history of Buddhism is a history of great Buddhists. Now in politics and history, I see things more in terms of forces, and great men are not all they're cracked up to be. I see the history of literature, contributions to world spirituality literature to be great. I do recall some discussion of the Diamond Sutra, and the Vimalakirti Nirdesa but those are some heavy hitters, great contributions to Buddhist literature. The Heart Sutra is the most distilled sutra of awesomeness. The perfection of wisdom sutras are quite amazing.

The mist of time, the first gift statue, and governmental type wrangling it's all pretty vague. I like something I can sink my teeth into.

I was excited to read about Kukai, but there's only half a page on him (p. 188). I had a friend who dressed up in white pilgrim garb and walked around a island, staying in temples, on a Kukai pilgrimage. It sounded awesome. I guess he's not Zen, so he gets short shrift.

The Samurai are an interesting phenomenon. Apparently this was a time when temples needed to be guarded. They were kind of monkish, shaved their heads, but they of course did not abstain from violence. When you think about the evolution of humanity, it really has come a long way.

As the country turned into a "Degenerate Age" Honen and Shinran were about in the 12th and 13th Century, made Pure Land Buddhism an option. Chant Amitabha's name with faith was something a layman could do. Nichiren wanted you to chant the name of the Lotus Sutra.

Then Dogen (1200-1253) comes. He's the big guy in Zen Buddhism, founded the Soto Zen sect. He was ordained at 13 and studied at Enryaku-ji and Kennin-ji and then went to China. Dogen's literary legacy is big.

Ikkyu (1394–1481) is the rebel bad boy of Japanese Buddhism. He seemed to partake in devine madness, crazy wisdom.

There was a combination of Pure Land chanting of "Namu Amidha Butsu" and hautou, "who is reciting the Buddha's name?" called Obaku. They have a temple still in existence.

It's hard to imagine a time when temple abbots were murdered or asked to commit ritual suicide. There are all kinds of amazing sentences like, "One day, he coughed up a ball of bloody phlegm and experienced a great insight." (P. 230) The he is Bankei Yotaku. You can read all about it in Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693 by Bankei Yōtaku.

Hakuin (1686 - 1769) is another Japanese sage with an interesting biography and spiritual journey. There is an article by Barbara O'Brien. You can see some of his art in a NY Times article.

There is all sorts of history to get through. Then we get into modern times with DT Suzuki, Watts and others. Zen at War is seen as an important book that O'Brien's teacher told her not to avoid, though she did for a while. And that leads into America's internment of Japanese Americans during WW2. There's a book on it that I'm dying to read.

Zen in Vietnam: Thien

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, a history of Zen, and she has half a chapter on Vietnam, where it is called Thien. When I googled the names in the book, I didn't find anything. She refers to 3 books in her bibliography.

For many years Vietnam was occupied by China. Later a Chinese master set up shop in Vietnam. There was a female monk I couldn't find any information about. Not a lot of history of Thien Buddhism. Of course Thich Nhat Hanh is from Vietnam.

Chapter 6: Zen leaves China: Korea

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, and she has half a chapter on Korea.

The story of Buddhism coming to Korea will be a complicated one. Maybe Sundo came from China in 372. Wonhyo and Uisang went from Korea (Silla) to China seeking teachings and Wonhyo had a realization on the way there and turned back. They were trudging through a muddy downpour and took shelter. Wonhyo found a gourd of water and drank deeply. In the morning they realize they were in a cipt and the gourd was a skull full of maggots. Wonhyo had a realization about how the mind makes the world and returned to Silla.

Uisang kept on going and returned later and founded a monastery. Wonhyo had an affair and a child and was defrocked. He kept writing about Buddhism and would travel around and play music to attract people to his talks. His writings work to make sense of the texts from China and making the doctrine into a coherent whole. After resisting it, the aristocracy embraced Buddhism, and the king was declared a Buddha.

There were all sorts of worldly struggles for power and the Buddhist monastic got involved in that. It was a reasonable life, avoiding peasantry and conscription, and there were times when families were limited to how many sons could join. When they gained too much power there was retrenching. There were exams, like civil service exams to become a monk. Women were not given power, but were also given more freedom to travel at times, and the women influenced things through being married to a rich man. There is a book on the influence of Korean women on Buddhism and Korea, in English.

Uicheon was the 4th son of a Korean emperor, and against his father's wishes went to China to study Buddhism, and propagated Buddhist scholarship in Korea. He did not like Zen.

Pojo Jinul lead a movement away from political influence to individual spiritual development (seen below)

Jinul wrote a fair amount. The book Robert Buswell, Jr., Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991) is quoted a lot by O'Brien and Wikipedia. I couldn't find his retreat center called Samadhi and Prajna Retreat Society, but they moved when it became overcrowded to Songgwangsa. The story of his awakenings involve 3 readings of various sutras, though he thought meditation was the center of his practice.

The last master mentioned is Taego Bou. Then Buddhism seemed to be in and out of favor. Supposedly in 1593 and 1598 Hyujeong led a monk army against invading hordes.

A later master called Gyeongheo (1849—1912) brought back a resurgence.

O'Brien mentioned Myori Pophui (1887-1975) as a dharma heir to Gyeongheo, but I couldn't find anything about her except reference to books.

Hyobong Hangnul (1888—1966) was a judge, until he couldn't judge Japanese rules any more during the occupation, and turned to the spiritual life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chapter 5 in O'Brien: Song Dynasty

I like it that neo-confucianism was against supernaturalism.

The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp includes Budai, the fat laughing Buddha, and women and the important people with interesting exchanges, "encounter dialogues".

O'Brien writes mostly about The Gateless Barrier, The Blue Cliff Record and The Book of Equanimity. These are the beginning of the koans.

I tried reading some of the book of Equanimity because I like the Brahma Viharas, but it's Zen stuff trying to confound your conceptual thinking. There are 100 short paragraphs, and I think I'll read it. Perhaps Yelu Chucai, who advised Genghis Khan after he invaded his lands is the author. He was very tall and had a deep voice, and composed the book at the request of the regional governor. The title literally means encouragement (hermitage) record = Congrong lu.

But it turns out later the systemization of koans leads in the original order I put forward. So I should start with the Gateless Barrier.

There are also longer puzzles and slogans that are called hautou. When Stephen Batchelor left the Tibetans over his skepticism about reincarnation, he went to a Korean Zen monastery and kept asking, "what is this?" That is an example of a hautou.

She also writes about the Ten Bulls. Pretty funky Zen version of the wheel of life almost. Lots of good commentaries on the Wikipedia site. I even found a manga version.

It was at the end of the Song dynasty that Nalanda, the first university, was burned, Odantapuri and Vikramashila, Somapura and Jagaddala were burned by Muslims. (P.154-5 The Circle of the Way)