Friday, January 13, 2017

Five Hinderances

I started reading Working With The Five Hinderances by Ajahn Theradhammo (I think his name means strong with the Dharma, but it could also mean the Dharma is strong, I'm no Pali scholar). He is part of the Thai Forest Tradition. I think I was taught the five hinderances in my 2nd or 3rd meditation class, but I've pretty much neglected them until somehow I decided that was something to focus on 14 years later. It's been a real revelation. Like you notice a plank you have always walked on was riddled with termites and really you've been floating on air, mis-walking over it for years. To me the Dharma isn't chasing sticks like a dog, but turning to face the stick thrower.

Here is Theradhammo's alternate translation of the 5 Hinderances:
1. Reaching out for sense stimulation: wanting, longing for, desiring sense pleasure. (Sense Desire)
2. Any kind of pushing away of experience: resistance, irritation, aversion. (Ill Will)
3. Lethargy and drowsiness: Lacking driving power, lethargy, not having vigor or lacking energy, unwieldiness, laziness, sleepiness, drowsiness, dullness of the mind. (Sloth and Torpor)
4. Worry or scruples: Remorse, worrying about one's unskillful actions. (Restlessness and Anxiety)
5. Sceptical doubt, uncertainty, perplexity specifically with regard to the teachnigs or the training, or even self doubt about one's ability to do the practice. Confusion, worry, which causes indecision, wavering and vacillation and paralysis. (Doubt and Indecision)

The things in parenthesis are the categories was taught that can be found in Change Your Mind by Paramanada and Meditation by Kamalashila. I honestly don't know if Kamalashila's new book called Meditation is the same book, with a different subtitle, or whether it's a fresh new book, or whether it's like a second edition after he edited and re-wrote the new one. 

Anyway, they are both from the TBC, which is the tradition I learned my meditation, have gone on many retreats and was in the ordination process for many years. I learned in NYC with Vajramati in 2002.

Looking into my other books, there's no index listing for hinderances or five hinderances in A Survey of Buddhism the 1947 classic by Sangharakshita. Bhante Gunarantana has 2 chapters on distractions, which are pretty useful in Mindfulness in Plain English. One of my friends who left the TBC went to Bante G's outfit. I thought Mindfulness for Dummies would have something on it, but not in the index, nor with some cursory glancing through the book.

Needless to say, my desire for sense experience is both physical and mental. All the struggling, even if I'm not pushing but just noting the hinderance gives me doubt. Remorse, which is a part of restlessness and anxiety, kept me from meditating for years. I even did a few flow charts in my mind, then realized they were mental sense pleasure perhaps. It's funny certain things seem irresistible to think about in meditation and yet after I don't give a second thought. Anywho, I'm trying to think about them outside the meditation.

I hope I can complete the 365 day challenge on the Insight Timer. I have 26 consecutive days beyond the year challenge. But quantity is not quality and I was very struck by the idea of mis-meditating.

I'll update you on further revelations as they come.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Vegan 2017

I don't really believe in new years resolutions, because I'm always taking steps forward (sometimes backwards temporarily) and the end of the calendar year isn't the only time for reflection and aspirations to move towards the Buddha, to close the distance between us. Winter is a good time for reflection.

Anywho, one aspiration for me is to be more and more vegan. I know farmers kill insects and other things when they harvest plants. If you really care about plant suffering, you would only eat plants because meat needs more plants for a little meat. But the people who bring up the plants have feeling arguments aren't really sincere about plant feelings. The goal is to reduce suffering in the world, and going vegan clearly, unequivocally does that.

Going vegan isn't an easy things. There will be things you miss. I will admit in 2016 I made few slips, when my vegan sponsor (Anandi) wasn't around and when there were leftovers from my sons, who are not vegan in the fridge. My daughter will be vegan.

Anandi got an instant pot for the holidays. I'm hoping she will write something about it on her wonderful blog: Under the Influence of Food. I try to fill in some spaces when she's not into blogging with my complementary blog: Under the Influence of Cori. Cori is Anandi by the way, that's her buddhist name.

I'm still struggling to get through Eating Animals because it's so horrific. I'm still struggling to watch Earthlings or Cowspiracy. I did watch Gary Yourofsky. I did watch the year in vegan review.

The preponderance of evidence helps me to make the leap, I at first thought impossible. Cittapala took down the Complete Vegetarian, and a bunch of other excellent essays, but that was also part of it. And it always helps to have friends who go the "whole hog". One of my friends and his girlfriend are very passionate about veganism, and that really helped me see the light.

I was reading The Complete Works of Ajahn Cahn and he was saying just eating rich from the begging rounds once a day is a Dhutanga. In Eat Sleep Sit people dropped out because of nutritional deficiencies that Anandi said could be solved by going from white to brown rice.

I read to get a feeling of sangha, to be with someone. I know reading a lot is often seen as not the way to be a Buddhist. Luckily, I don't have a great memory, so I'm not a know it all.

So we're off to find vegan food at a restaurant now.

My favorite places include Veggie Castle, Panorama of the silence-heart,  and Smile of the Beyond. The latter two are Sri Chinmoy joints. I read Cartwheels in a Sari, and the subtitle is "growing up in a cult". Tamm sees it as a cult. The workers are very nice, and the place doesn't bother me. The first place is a Guyanese place. 

Best book of 2016

The runners up are Radical Dharma, Time To Stand Up and The Buddha's Wife.

In an age when legitimate concerns are ghettoized in "identity politics" I relish the the black and women's voice. It is a time for political activism, time to stand up. It is a time to work together in connection. These three books begin to shore up the lack of black and women's voices, and suggest a path of activism, or literally discuss engaged buddhism, needed now more than ever since we have a president elect who seems to steam past anything but his limited selfish concerns. I hope I'm not put on an FBI watch list for saying this, but I think he's already done enough to be impeached. I hope he doesn't send some goons out here to punish my dissension against his views. Many say give him a chance, but he's already shown who he is. His New Year's Tweet contained more warning than love. But I digress.

The winner of the 2016 Going For Refuge Blog Book Award (GFRBBA) is Great Faith, Great Wisdom. Also available is the author reading the sutras the book is about. This book follows up on the excellent The Art of  Reflection, which won the 2011 GFRBBA. Ratnaguna has a great talk on Free Buddhist Audio.

I liked Great Faith, Great Wisdom because it discussed the pure land sutras in a way the modern Buddhist who is an ecumenical Buddhist can appreciate. An ecumenical Buddhist is one who takes the whole of the Buddhist corpus as their inspiration, every school, throughout history. Is there one Buddhism, or many Buddhisms? I'll table that debate for another post.

Past Winners Include: 2012, 2015. Turns out I haven't been as consistent about the GFRBBA as I wanted to be, since 2004. Since I don't always use labels, it's hard to search it up.

Other notable mentions for 2016 include Subhuti's Mind In Harmony. Just go look at a video of Subhuti on YouTube, and you'll see his passion. He really writes from experience, he teaches all over the world, going to places like India and Turkey. But looking into it, I think it came out in 2015.

Eight Step Recovery is also a quite notable addition to the corpus of recovery Buddhism. Kevin Griffith is the standard with One Breath At A Time, but Eight Step Recovery presents a purely Buddhist approach without any other recovery philosophies like AA.

Tibetan Pop Star: Ani Choying Drolma

Ani Choying Drolma is supposedly the Tibetan pop star, according to Lion's Roar. Check her out on Spotify.

She has an awesome charity for nuns.

You can follow her on Facebook.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Sangharakshita, in the meditation anthology, talks about saying "sit" instead of "meditation". His take was that sit is casual, where as meditation implies more the right effort involved. I thought that was interesting.

He also says when you're tired, you are in your lower nature. Better to take a nap than meditate.

I've been enjoying the novels of Haruki Murakami, which I feel has a Buddhist element to them.

PS--This is my most popular post by far in 2016.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hannah, the movie

There aren't a whole lot of Buddhist movies that I know of. On Netflix now, Hannah is about Hannah Nydahl, a Danish woman who set up 550 centers for Kagyu Buddhism. Woof. She had a husband who seemed to support her as well. I hate to say this, but I'd never heard of her before. Quite inspiring. They had a cute marriage as well. Then there's the whole China/West split in the reincarnation of the Karmapa, one the Chinese recognize and one the West recognizes. Wikipedia has a page on the controversy. I think spiritual biographies can be difficult because you have to be part of the sangha to really appreciate it. 

The days are getting longer

In The Purpose and Practice of Meditation Sangharakshita suggests that 2 hours of meditation a day are the minimum. He's quite careful to say that's a rough guide and that there are many factors and you should consult with your spiritual friends. Even so, that's an interesting goal, to get up to 2 hours a day. The best I've done is 40 minutes every morning for quite a while. The goal he says is to get contact with the transcendental, the dhyanas.

He said he burnt his meditation journals, but that if you're not "too precious" they are good things to keep so that you can remember good experiences when you're down and other patterns. The Insight app has a journal in it. I switched to prompt journal when I'm done with meditation.

After the final bell rings, I review the hinderances and the 3 characteristics of existence.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Solstice

Looking into the various pagan holidays, Saturnalia the master serves the slave. I don't really have any slaves, and I'm not sure who my masters are. I won't get into that. Yule you eat until the log burns out. That's not going to happen. The holidays celebrate the sun, and there's usually family gathering, gift giving. I wish I wasn't in the city, there could be a big bonfire.

If I was going to do a sacrifice, maybe I could go electronics free. That's not happening this year. Maybe throw away extra clothing and books and whatnot. Usually I call family on xmas, before my conversion from a nominal Christian/atheist, to Buddhism, so I can certainly call family today.

I did find a holiday in December in Thailand, where you do Tonglen at the full moon in December. Seems most Buddhist holidays are not in December. Although there are many different celebrations around the world.

The best thing would be to connect with sangha, meditate, talk, listen and read Dharma. Perhaps do a special puja that may not be unique but dedicated to winter solstice. I could not find a winter solstice Buddhist puja.

Anyway, amongst those who have set rituals I wish you a happy holiday.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler is my new favorite writer. I've read 9 of her books and I have 3 left. Her series' go from 4 books to 3 books to 2 books. The last one about the parables, the heroine develops a new religion which states, "God is change." Instead of enlightenment, she wants to get humans into outer space. The two books equal about the most bleak dystopian novels I've ever read, but I found it interesting that she chose impermanence as her god. I couldn't recommend her more highly.

Life 2007-2009

This TV show has a main character that is influenced by what seems to be Zen. He's in the moment. He listens to tapes. It gave him something to read while he was in prison. He was wrongfully convicted and returning to being a detective, he is also very wealthy from the mistake the state made. He hired a friend from jail to be his financial advisor. His partner is a beautiful woman of middle east origin and the captain ends up being from New York. Usual cop drama. They talk about competing theories of murder and work to test their hypothesis. Somewhere towards the end, questioning someone leads to a confession.

There's not much to say except that Buddhism is becoming a part of main stream culture. Supposedly the show is filmed in New Orleans, but the show is set in LA. The west coast is more influenced by Zen than the east coast, but there's a lot of Zen out here too.

Monday, October 17, 2016

With Mindfulness, strive on

In college, many moons ago, I was in an aesthetics class. I read Arthur Danto's book The State of Art. Aside from the Tilted Arc stuff, there was the argument that we are at the end of art, that all the major schools have been created, we're just playing around with what's been created. Indeed Danto's next book is After The End of Art.

As I was chanting from the TBC Puja, which I have modified in by adding in things. I've added conciliation and atonement. Instead of chanting to Padmasambhava twice, I chant pratityasamitpada:

Imasmim sati, idam hoti.
Imass’ uppādā, idam uppajjati.
Imasmim asati, idam na hoti.
Imassa nirodhā, idham nirujjhati.

I learned to chant that 8 years ago, my how time flies.

Amongst the mantras I add in a Milarepa mantra:

The TBC is an ecumenical order, which means inclusive of all the sects. So I can read pure land sutras, I can read it all. I've been into the Teravadan books from Amaravati. I feel like I could hang out with any sect and get something from it. In a way, I feel Buddhism, like art, is at an end. You've all these kinds and really you can mash up what ever you want. Of course it's good to get an order and a sangha and a program of progress to have regular steps instead of irregular steps. Even Batchelor writes a book called After Buddhism. Some people want an American Buddhism. It's hard to imagine what that would mean. There is a movement to take Buddhism away from the secretive teachers, an open source Buddhism. Sangharakshita talks about spiritual indigestion, too many rich doctrines.

Like everything, you can never give up your will, negotiating your own spiritual shoals is all your business and nobody else's. The fight against ossifying orders, keeping the spiritual life alive can be challenging at times. With mindfulness, strive on!