Saturday, March 28, 2015


“One should pay no heed to the faults of others, what they have done and not done. Rather should one consider the things that one has oneself done and not done.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

That's not how I pictured it

Ted Seth Jacobs is an American painter.

The only way this photo makes sense to me is if these are Mara's daughters, but supposedly there were three. I guess it could have been more. And I thought he was under a tree. Oh well, maybe this is what Pat Robertson was talking about when he said not to work with Buddhists.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

reflections on Buddhist Modernism

Pat Robertson says don't work with Buddhists. How can you tell, they're so sneaky?!

In unrelated news, been reflecting on The Making of Buddhist Modernism:

By arguing that developments are Buddhism don’t occur in the original Pali cannon, makes me wonder if McMahan is Theravada Buddhist. The idea that there could be developments outside the Buddha—well, maybe they’re not enlightened developments, who knows. Great sages like Milarepa and others seem have great spiritual depth. 

The fear is that any old thing could be added in? Imagine the devote chanting for a big screen TV (that happens in a sect, but it’s because they value authenticity, and the hope is that eventually you will turn towards spiritual things, though I’m just speculating).

There are layers and layers of code in computers. The original layer is often seen as elegant, whereas later accretions give more functionality, but they lose the elegance.

The Boddhisattva idea—is that a new creation, or just an articulation of a reading of the Buddha’s life? Freud wrote a bunch of pregnant statements that have been developed by the community of psychoanalysts. There are many that have gone by the wayside. There was actually a book on the techniques involved in sleeping with your patient. That one fell by the wayside because the community of psychoanalyst decided it was misguided. Maybe Thich Nhat Hanh has developed “interbeing” in a way that really wasn’t in the early texts, but his bona fides as a monk are pretty good, he's connected to his community and friends, and maybe it's a useful modern Buddhist idea. 

Are we adapting Buddhism to the modern world? It seems like it would be artificial not to. The Buddha didn’t say to be Luddites. Of course he couldn’t because they came after his lifetime by a long shot, but you get my point.
McMahan could say, no no no, I’m just saying these ideas are modernist ideas grafted onto Buddhism, I don’t comment whether they’re good grafts are not. Just to be conscious of grafting is the point. That I can get on board with. And knowing what's origional and what's a later development can't hurt.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mindfulness of the Buddha

(Udumvara flower)

This is a book review of The Life of the Buddha (Penguin Classics). As noted in a previous blog, the book was written by Tenzin Chogyel in Bhuttan about 250 plus years ago. He's in the Kagyu sect of Buddhism, so the Buddha taught the Mahayana ideals and the tantric spells. This new translation is a blessing. I think it's the first one of this text. It makes me wonder how many other great texts are out there untranslated.

The literature of Buddhism is vast and it can take a long time to read it even with what is already translated. There is even the phenomenon of book buddhists, people who read Buddhist books and find them quite enjoyable and in harmony with their aspirations. I have a similarly modern approach to Buddhism that at the beginning involved a lot of books before I took the plunge into sangha and meditation. There are also tattoo Buddhists, people who put a Buddha on their body, but don't really know much about Buddhism. There are Buddhist who think it's presumptuous to read these texts and meditate, because they've been told it's only for the monks. There's all kinds of Buddhism and there is also a unique form blossoming in America and other countries that where not traditionally Buddhist.

My experience is that Karen Armstrong's biography of the Buddha is a fair place to start. Even though she's not a Buddhist, she's a great spiritual writer. The best book is the collection of biographical elements, by Nanamoli. (The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon). There is a bibliography of recommended books that include Nanamoli and some other books I'm hoping to get to. It's fun to see the differences in this version. Like he had 32 nursemaids as a baby. Vivshpani Blomfeeld's book on the Buddha wasn't on the list, but that's a deep meditation on the Buddha that included stuff I didn't see elsewhere. Unfortunately it's not in print in America, so you can buy a used copy or an electronic version.

I can't remember the scriptures that talk about a fellow who's meditation practice was just to recall his experiences with the buddha, and thinking about the Buddha. Recollecting the Buddha is a positive thing. When I hit on a theme, I chant a mantra that is most appropriate throughout the day. I chant the Buddha mantra. You can also imagine him with you during you day.

There are issues with the miracles. As a modern skeptical person, sometimes it's not clear for me how to translate things from literal to mythical. What does it mean to be born out of the side of someone, instead of coming out the vagina? Do they think women are dirty? Is that misogyny? At the very least it signals him as someone unique who begins talking right after birth. I take it that he has done so much work in his previous lives, that he really hits the ground running.

I don't really have to make sense of it, I can just enjoy it. I've been writing about re-enchanting life, and this account of the Buddha's life certainly does that from a Bhutanese Kagyu perspective 250 plus years ago. There are some interesting little sketches: Mara doodles in the dirt after the Buddha moves past him. There are sections where the devotional writing is inspirational.

If you're looking for your first biography or even second, I might miss this one because you might get some sectarian impressions of the Buddha's life (unless that is your school, of course, or you're considering that school). But if you've read a few biographies and wish to contemplate the Buddha in a new translation, this is a pretty good little book. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tenzin Chogyel

No much can be found about Tenzin Chogyel on line. There's a living musician with a similar name. Tenzin Chogyel lived from 1701-1767, two hundred years before I was born. He wrote a version of the Buddha's life that Penguin thought to publish a new translation. Maybe Kurtis R Schaeffer translated it, and then looked for a publisher. Either way, I'm glad they both extended the effort. This is a beautiful text that I have not read before.

There is a beautiful rupa on the cover. I took a picture of the opening.

I got frustrated with the introduction but I read most of it. The first few chapters are very inspiration, it's inspired writing. I could imagine chanting the whole book over a night, like I have read the Diamond Sutra passing the book around the shrine room.

Tenzin Chogyel was from Bhutan, and was the head man of religious affairs for a while. It's suggested that this work was meant for new students. He's part of the Kagyu sect, which is  a red hat sect, along with Gelug and Sakya. The Kagyu sect has many sub-sects.

I went on line to see if there are any flights to The Eagle's Nest, and I couldn't get a flight to Bhutan after looking at about 20 websites, but then I realized I was only looking at American flight. It looks more complicated to find flights though. Looks like they have similar seasons to the US, July is the hottest month, January is their coldest month. They're supposedly making the biggest statue of the Buddha. Wish I could just fly there now, if it was just to update Wikipedia.


The Life of the Buddha (Penguin Classics) p. 4

"Proud fools rest ever in their errors
Saying senseless things in greed hatred and ignorance."

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Walking by a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, I didn't have that enchanted feeling. I've been asking myself do I need to re-enchant life? There was a time when I saw a Buddhist rupa, that I wanted to bow down and prostrate to the spiritual ideals. The reverence for the wise ones had an enchanting spell. That was when I was meditating a lot, when I was reading a lot, when I was spending a lot of time with spiritual friends. I've worked myself into very alert states. But inevitably the retreat would end and I would go back to my workaday life. There were times when I would meditate at lunch, so excited from a retreat, that I ended up meditating 2 times a day, sometimes three. I have done pujas, where I felt a kind of bliss and the mantras felt magical. I can begin to approach those things. But my question is whether that is necessary. Do I need that spiritual high to sustain my life, or can I do a kind of "nothing special" approach. One of the aspects of Buddhist modernity is that I'm aware of all the choices. I don't go to the local guy and learn what he learns. In an modern open source Buddhism, I can see all the options, try them on. People will say you lose something by not committing to one tradition, and I'm sure there is more truth there than just the branding and the sectarian thinking. Any good tradition guards the deeper practices to protect the spiritual aspirant from spiritual indigestion, from eating too many rich practices. There is a system of practice. To flit from system to system, you don't get deep into the system. On the other hand some people have said it's easier to get enlightened than to get ordained into some systems, but each sect has a right to control who is teaching that sect. There are slick teachers, who turned out to be sleeping with everyone, and that shows a kind of disconnect from the ideals. Honest and sincere isn't always the slickest. Some movements don't have a charismatic leader. The system is more important than any individual teacher, which reminds me of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA. The system is the star, not the individual players on the team, the team is the star. It's quite possible the best teacher for you isn't some famous person, or even advanced person, maybe someone closer to your level who has struggled like you, and can say it was worth it, could be a better teacher.

Back to my question, does my spiritual life need to be re-enchanted? What would it give me? Would it add power and focus to my meditation? Would it help me to study more? Would it help me to find sangha? What is it about an enchanted spiritual life would be useful?

The Life of the Buddha (Penguin Classics) came in the mail today. Looking forward to dipping into this, back to basics.