Saturday, July 26, 2014

Apparently Innocuous Decisions

Reading from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: A Complete Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya (Teachings of the Buddha), I read "...seing danger in the slightest faults..."

My psychology transforms that one. Not sure if I'm the only one who noticed. I can really use that one against myself in a self attack. Shame is an attack on the self that serves no purpose. I think I heard "shame spiral" in a pop movie, but it applies. Using the teachings in the right way are important. Most people don't do close readings. I hope it's not just me. I think what the phrase is pointing out is small things. In recovery talk it's Apparently Innocuous Decisions (AIDs). Little things that lead to substance use. But aren't we addicted to fossil fuels, and materialism and titillation, distraction and high fructose corn syrup and lard drizzle. 

Ancient Greek Quote

"Let there be less suffering...
give us the sense to live on what we need."

Chorus,  381,2, in Aeschylus's Agamemnon.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Swayambhunath Stupa

I watched light of the valley the 15th renovation of swayambhu which I'd recorded from PBS. It's about the Swayambhunath stupa west of Katmandu. It was beautiful to see how the local people were, the Newars were persuaded to deconsecrate things so that they could take them down and repair them. I remember seeing this site in the movie Little Buddha. It was beautiful to see the devotional reverence.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

hassle and uplift scale

Read an excellent article on relapse prevention and came across the hassle and uplift scale. Fascinating. The enlightened person, I imagine has very few hassles and lots of uplift. Seeing that some situations gave me more hassle than uplift, I reflected by asking myself if it has to be that. Do I have to experience hassle.

We make the world with our minds. Why not live in paradise? Nirvana is not another place, it is here. We choose to live in samsara or nirvana. It's not easy, it's not like flipping a switch, there's the higher evolution. Those not busy being born are busy dying. Pathing is better than not pathing.

Also in the article is an interesting concept, "apparently innocuous decisions" which are really the beginning of relapse. I think there are apparently innocuous decision that lead you away from the path too. Like watching netflix, or playing video games, in my case. I take refuge in watching sports, watching TV and playing video games, the three dungs. They are the three dissipations. Not the three jewels.

Here's a quote from the relapse article:

"A person who's life is full of demands may experience a constant sense of stress, which not only can generate negative emotional states, thereby creating high-risk situations, but also enhances the person's desire for pleasure and his or her rationalization that indulgence is justified. ("I owe myself a drink"). In the absence of other non-drinking pleasurable activities, the person may view drinking as the only means of obtaining pleasure or escaping pain."

That made me think of "compensatory indulgences".

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Wonderful World

What A Wonderful World
I see trees of green, 
red roses too. 
I see them bloom, 
for me and you. 
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world. 

I see skies of blue, 
And clouds of white. 
The bright blessed day, 
The dark sacred night. 
And I think to myself, 
What a wonderful world. 

The colors of the rainbow, 
So pretty in the sky. 
Are also on the faces, 
Of people going by, 
I see friends shaking hands. 
Saying, "How do you do?" 
They're really saying, 
"I love you". 

I hear babies cry, 
I watch them grow, 
They'll learn much more, 
Than I'll ever know. 
And I think to myself, 
What a wonderful world. 

Yes, I think to myself, 
What a wonderful world. 

Oh yeah.

Sometimes I get songs stuck in my head, and then I look up the lyrics and listen to it a lot. I think I heard this son in that movie about a Vietnam DJ, with Robin Williams in it, Good Morning, Vietnam.

My years later, I was looking for something positive, and I thought of it, so I digested the lyrics and listened to a number of times.

My first thought is that the focus on color, in the context of America, makes it a song about race and racism. Seeing the rainbow in faces makes it explicit.

I love "how do you do?" being turned into "I love you." Now when people ask me that I feel like it's really sweet. Positive attribution might be a distortion, but it's a useful distortion. 

Then in the end he talks about children, and implicitly the hope of the future. They will learn things that he never knows. It's implied that through the improvements and evolution of humans, we shall learn to appreciate all the different colors, a Star Trek kind of world where race no longer something that exists.

I love the gravelly voice. Armstrong was a big cannabis smoker. I read a biography of him, because it's the first great titan of jazz. Ken Burn's documentary on jazz seemed to almost focus too much on him. And yet his is perhaps the greatest figure in jazz because he is among the first. Parker, Coltrane, Davis, Mingus, Monk don't exist without Armstrong. I haven't been to his museum in Queens. I think I need to try that museum out.

In other spiritual jazz greats, A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane is also song that oozes with spirituality. I got a stereo for my birthday and I got out my CD collection and have been listening to a lot of music, and the radio. I was listening to some Bach the other day in the car, and it was very powerful, felt spiritual. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

I wish Simon Schama would do a history of Buddhism.

I wish Simon Schama would do a history of Buddhism. I've been watching the fascinating Story of the Jews.

Religion is beset with this problem. While tolerance and the freedom of belief seems fundamental to me, I also felt in the heady days of conversion that my own spirituality was the right one, and wished everyone could see the light I was seeing. We mix personal with the social, and thus try to convert people. Why can't we just enjoy what we have? We need to see the reflection back in others, we are social beasts.

In the pluralism of modern day New York City, there are many different brands you can pledge allegiance and a tithe. You also have the freedom from religion. Most people take that route today, they have experienced the imperialism of their childhood, and declared independence. And yet they feel they are missing something. My atheist friend is always pointing out the study that atheist tend to know the most about religion.

Community is always imperfect, relationships are wounding. We project our original relations onto the templates of the past, with our habitual responses, and get snookered.

The existential crisis freedom from religion creates can be very creative, and you could say the world since the fall of religion has been a explosion of exploration of this. That has also lead to problems with substance abuse, and other addictions, as hedonism replaces spiritual ideas. The secular humanist ideals are attractive, but there is no church to reinforce the culture of it. Again, we are back at humans as social creatures.

Academics get lost in the minutia of being an expert, spiritualist preach cliched bromides, and it's hard to find someone in the middle, learned but of the world.

The difficulty is tolerating ambivalence, not knowing, Keat's negative capacity. We need stability, something to stand on, building blocks, psychologically. We need guiding principles beyond our own reactive pleasure seeking.

The Buddhist word for faith also means confidence. Developing confidence in the chosen path is not a bad thing, it's tested in the fires of your own experience.

I think all traditions are beautiful. When I learn about other traditions, I get that warm fuzzy feeling I get with my tradition, at people striving to be more. Hedonistic pleasure seeking has it's limits, and I think it's OK to seek your own pleasure at times, but there needs to be a balance.

Just likes in Buddhism there needs to be a balance between essentialism and nihilism, a fetter.  

Friday, April 18, 2014


I quite enjoyed watching this video this morning.

On thing that strikes me about this video from 1993, 21 years ago, is that Bhante thinks about the consequences to others. Pratityasamutpada is the first thought. If someone references a red herring of other's behaviors, then he suggests people focus on themselves. He demonstrates a kind of democracy, in that they voted on whether to add a 11th precept, and it failed. He discussed the differences between the west and India, where drinking is more taboo. He talks about his own example, where he quit drinking all together even though he likes a drop of wine during a meal, because of the impact of others. I really like it that he supports the freedom of others, but shows such a kind example. Another tac he takes is that fine, you look at one example, but what about the majority example, can you see that? Finally he does say that there is to be no drinking in FWBO centers, now renamed TBC.

In all my time with the TBC, they were dry events, except parties. I do remember someone asking if I was fit to drive, after I'd had some beer. At the time I thought that was annoying question, but I think it's a fair question.

I have been reflecting a lot on drinking lately. I have brewed my own beer, and there have been times in my life when drinking did take energy and money from me. I do think I have alcoholic tendencies, and there were a lot of people in my life while I was growing up who you could say drink too much.

I remember in one of Bante's memoirs, he drove across Europe, and was astonished by how much of agriculture was given up to wine, and I think he said he stopped drinking at that point, because while he liked a little, he thought the world had devoted too many resources to drinking and he did not want to participate in that.

He also talks about contributing to the culture of bragging about drinking, and the effect that might have on other people.

One time when I wrote in the reporting journal of men who have asked for ordination, that I got tanked with my preceptor, and someone condemned me from Sri Lanka. I remember being very tired the next day for a retreat inside a prison. But in the end it went well. I think being in jail was very stressful for me, and that may have contributed to the drinking. Also some people bought us a round when we were about to leave, and they wanted to talk about Buddhism.

I guess I remember some bit in Milarepa where he drinks and thinks he gets enlightened. But if you look at that story, that is the only instance of drinking, and he's laid of lot of ground to get to the point, and maybe the drinking released some inhibitions. They talk about Ananda not being enlightened and wanting to join a counsel of remembered speech from the Buddha, but you had to be enlightened. This made his efforts more tense, but just before he fell asleep, he relaxed and achieved enlightenment.

What I think is interesting in all this is that it's a case by case example, and that you must consult with your spiritual friends. Friendship is the emphasis. They don't want to judge others. I really find the desire not to judge others as really important.

Bhante also uses the phrase "pseudo-spiritual book keeping" to refer to someone who says, "well, I don't drink so I can be a little lax with the speech precepts." Bhante says you must apply yourself to all the precepts and not look for excuses not to.

My son wants to use the computer to play Minecraft, so I'll edit this later.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Savage Pilgrims

Reading Savage Pilgrims: On the Road to Santa Fe, Shukman quotes D.H. Lawrence, "...Which I am I..."

This could be interpreted 2 ways. Is he talking about the multiplicities within oneself, or is he talking about interconnectedness? Either way it's cool. I wonder if that's what the Buddha was thinking about when he talked about rebirth. How we all have a John Malkovich inside of us.

A surly troubled youth asked me the other day, "why do you care?" He was referring to the negative choices he was making. I think now my answer is interconnectedness. I think that's what the Bible is getting at when Christ says what you do to the least of me, you do to me. I feel like that my conservative friends have lost that insight.

Lawrence goes on to talk about a prayer to Saint Catherine. Again, it's ambiguous because there are lots of Saint Catherines. The most famous one is a virgin who every time she converted someone to Christianity, they were murdered.

It's hard for me to imagine Christian persecution in Christian America. It's the Christians who are doing the persecution here. It's not hard to see when people feel like they are closer to the truth, they can, out of insecurity, turn it into intolerance.

But a Bluesman (or woman) doesn't turn suffering into revenge.

What I like about Savage Pilgrims is that Shukman takes his own spiritual journey, and he's trying to shuck off his conditioning, and get closer to the bone, and embrace his freedom. I've only read 67 pages, but it's a beautiful travel memoir so far.

the path

I haven't meditated in yonks. I asked myself why I haven't been. My answer was that I had lost the habit. How would I refind the habit? A commitment. How does one go about following through with a commitment? Thinking about it is my first thought. Why do I want to meditate? I hope to be more aware for the sake of others.

My standby meditation is mindfulness of breathing the TBC way, with 4 stages. I've done the 16 stage anapanasati on retreat, but it's just so involved. Not that I don't like a little insight even when I'm calming myself.

I take a look inside, and it's a foul rag and bone shop. And yet, to look at that a little, it dusts the shop a little, it doesn't look as bad. Perhaps one of the reason why people don't meditate and do therapy is that when they tune in, they don't particularly like what they see. For me, that's the whole point. You drag stuff out into the daylight and it loses it power. It's a painful process and I accept my resistance to it, forgive my foibles, weakness, imperfections. I'm a middle aged man with the same old problems, but then I tell myself about the spiral. The upward spiral. It's all to a point. Even if I'm knocking at the door of the spiral staircase, that is worth it.

They say spiritual traditions make sense of suffering. Nietzsche suggests you get too comfortable with suffering, but I think he misses the point. The grace to accept what is happening isn't easy to come by. We stick the second arrow in. One is enough. Pin down the demons and stair at them. They don't go away, but they lose their power.

So to confirm why I meditate, I reflect on the path. Meditation is the path.