Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thomas Traherne

Subhuti quoted Traherne, so I'll be studying him this weekend. You can download from Librivox his Centuries of Meditation. I also paid 99 cents when I couldn't find a version on line for free, but perhaps there is one: Centuries of Meditations. Subhuti quotes the following poem:

You never enjoy the world
aright, till the Sea itself 
floweth in your veins, till
you are clothed with the 
heavens, and crowned with 
the stars...

Friday, September 11, 2015

odds and ends

I finished Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple on my labor day camping trip. I don't have too many thoughts about a book at the end, that's why I review as I'm reading it. It's a good book and if I won the lottery I'd go to Joshua Tree with Anandi and see where she grew up and then maybe fly to Japan and do a retreat at Eiheiji. But I'll forget my interest in that probably in a few years, we'll see.

I had my kindle along with me as the backup for books on the trip and read Mind in Harmony: The Psychology of Buddhist Ethics. I've been savoring that book for quite a while.

When I got home I started in on Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence: Approaching the Dharma as Poetry. It's a Zen book with poetry and exposition. It's like Milan Kundera, who writes a novel with a metaphor, and then he goes on an on to interpret the metaphor in his own novel. It also reminded me of two Zen people who seemed to love stories and wrote profoundly interesting books about with stories.

I've been dipping into Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth -- The Buddha's Life and Message through Feminine Eyes (Sacred Activism). This is the antidote to political apathy. I have political apathy. I must say I sometimes think that the 47% who think the way they do, we can't have a society that tries to do something right, because so many people are not in favor of the government doing things. They pollute government with their self fulfilling prophesy, and run so that they won't do things, and yet ironically often do quite a lot and like Reagan raise taxes. For every example that proves the conservative viewpoint, there's a counter example. One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens.  There is very little real dialogue about politics, and I'm not sure if there is much changing of opinions. Isn't Bernie Sanders lauded for the fortitude of sticking to his position. A political philosophy is an assumption, not to be proven. A political pragmatist utilitarianism still has a political view about the greatest good. There's no consensus on what the greatest good is. For the Democrat it's high speed rail. For the Republican it could be high speed rail of there's no government involved. I happen to share the viewpoint of Thanissara, so the book just says quite well, what I already think. I just wonder if the more my 47% stand up, if the more the other side's 47% stand up to neutralize it, and prove that government doesn't work. The wild west mentality still exists here in America.

But sometimes there comes a hero. Longmire has been saved by Netflix. I love the way Longmire crumples of legal papers and yet tries to work within the law with integrity. He's not easily swayed, and he pays deep attention. He's a man of action who utilizes all his brains. The book is set in Wyoming, but the show is set near Santa Fe, which I dearly love. I watch shows on Netflix sometimes just for the scenery. This show came sometimes drag, but there are high points, and character development. A hero in the postmodern world of antihero.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Further thoughts on Eat Sleep Sit

Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple records the intense first year in a monastery. People get sick from Beriberi. Anandi says all they have to do it not eat white rice, eat brown rice instead. Or they could take a vitamin B1 supplement. Seems like an easy fix. I'm not sure if they are trying to make it any easier for some reason. There is an element of masochism.

There is also an element of the protestant work ethic. Work is good in and of itself. Is that Zen work ethic? Should it even identify with a sect of religion? Perhaps there's a religious work ethic. Is there a secular work ethic or a profane work ethic? I think the "greed is good" ethic is a profane work ethic.

Buddhism in Birdman

I saw Birdman the other day and really enjoyed it. I watched it the next night too. First off I love Raymond Carver. But there are Buddhist elements to the movie. The lead character starts the movie off by floating in his meditation. There's a kind of magical realism in the movie, which you don't know whether it's true or subjective, or just a gimmick. But then there's a part where he's upset and he keeps saying, "it's just a mental formation," which is a Buddhist idea. Then the kicker is when he asks the critic if she can see a flower in front of her. It's reminiscent of Kassapa getting enlightened when the Buddha holds up a flower.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Eat Sleep Sit

Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple has had an effect on me. I was feeding the cats, and I wondered if I could be more intensional with it, if I could create a ritual. I made sure to scrape out everything in the cans. Preciousness without waste seems to be part of the ritual. At work I wash my hands and then use to towel to clean the toilet, even though it's not my mess. Ananadi said, "why don't you do that at home?!" We don't have paper towels.

The Vinaya is the part of oral teaching, written down hundreds of years later, that encapsulate all the rules the Buddha came up with to help people live together with mindfulness as the monastic tradition was beginning. Dogen's Shobogenzo is the rules for conduct in the Eihei-ji are derived from this book. Every act seems to be prescribed. In a way that could be comforting to not have to think, but just learn the routines, rituals and manners. They meditate 3x a day for 40 minutes, and there are work periods and study and there are rotating duties, and no duty is considered less, and it's just a matter of taking turns. You can get up at 130am to study, but everyone goes to bed at--I forget, I think it's 9pm. Most get up at 330AM. Each day has a confession of mistakes, and the violence that happens is off putting for Ananadi, and she doesn't buy the justification, but the author seems to feel like it strips away his imperfect outer shell.

There's a brief video on YouTube, of a monk tearing around the monastery ringing a bell, waking everyone up, that stuck in my head.

When someone makes a mistake ringing a bell, everyone knows. One time the bell broke and the guy ran around trying to vocalize the sound. It seems pretty intense. Supposedly you can do a 1 or 3 day retreat, and I've put that on my list of things to do when I win the lottery, which is to say I can't afford to follow my interest unless I get weirdly wealthy suddenly.

The refuge tree of teachers and inspiration for the TBC does not mean we have to sit facing a wall because that is how Dogen does it. It is an option and if you do a retreat in this sect, it helps to know what you're getting into. Dogen's example is an inspiration for us, and helps us to learn the tradition of Buddhist greats. I bet everyone could write a Shobogenzo of sorts for their particular circumstances. The Vinaya is not so much taken literally in the west, and is more about thinking about mindfulness and harmony in your actions. The TBC is working to define the essential elements, but Bhante has often talked in terms of principles, so there's a reluctance to explicitly define actions. I imagine a TBC ceremony looks pretty sloppy to Soto Zen eyes. Or maybe not. I've felt great harmony in being in the shrine room with my dharma brothers, and thought their actions were mindful.

More than other memoirs of zen, this book explicitly shares the nitty gritty of Soto Zen, and is therefore valuable for the praxis information. You learn about Dogen, Japanese culture and a form of practice that stretches back into time, that is strangely attractive to me.

That many of the people who do the 2 year training course at Eihei-ji are the eldest sons of father's who own temples, is not as much to my liking, I prefer choosing, but again, like the rules, having a strict plan in some ways is appealing the way an arranged marriage. All the strum und drang is taken away from choices. But there are people who go who are not eldest sons, and they are valued too. I don't know where they end up, but they are welcome.

Here is another video on this topic.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kauru Nonomura

Eat Sleep Sit: My Year at Japan's Most Rigorous Zen Temple is a memoir, translated from Japanese, of a year at a Soto Zen monastery, following the tradition of Dogen. I read the beginning to Anandi and she thought the violence was not very Buddhist, the way the senior monks treated the new people. It's against the rules to resist the beatings. The rules for going to the bathroom are quite involved, and you snap your fingers three times before and after, and recite bathroom prayers. I do'nt want to say this is an anal sect, but it seems about control. I think discipline is important and each tradition has it's own ways. This is the sect where you meditate facing a wall.

I've always had the fantasy of joining a monastery. A friend who actually lived at one for some time said it was more challenging than you'd think. I haven't really read a memoir of being in one, so this book is greatly appreciated, even though I doubt I would enter such a violent monastery. I wonder even if that is a possibility in the USA. What attracts me is the simplicity and commitment to the path. What repels me is the retreat from the world. I've been thinking about the Bodhisattva path recently, one of engagement with others. Maybe that's why I'm interested in seeing the other side of things.

The back blurb says this 1996 book was a sensation in Japan. It's taken 19 years to get an English translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Not that she took that long to translate this book. (Click on this link to learn more about JWC.)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates

P. 98 Between the World and Me:

"To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always been declared itself and turning towards something murkier and unknown. It is too difficult for Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Between the world and me

Coates doesn't take the turn into religion and I thought, well, his journey is very spiritual. He doesn't go into conventional religion, but questions, and delving into the self and the nature of humanity and ideals and all spiritual in my book. Religious institutions don't own spirituality. My atheist friends are some of the most spiritual people I know. And they do better on religious quizzes.

But I was thinking about something I read in social work school about how some immigrants turn to spirituality and high religiosity because of feeling dispossessed by society, powerless.

I thought about the connection between mental health and high religiosity--that can be a symptom of someone going round the bend. But I had a patient once that just talked about the bible the whole time and I really liked him. He was exploited by others, and was too passive, but he had schizophrenia. His spirituality was well developed and beautiful.

My own turn to spirituality happened when I was moving from teaching to social work, that's a challenging time, but certainly not the most challenging.

We have to distinguish between crazy, disempowered and desperate spirituality and effective spirituality, and I think Coates has effective spirituality.

Coates spirituality is about curiosity. One of the ideas of Zen is utmost wondrousness. That is one of my slogans. That is what I would call my books if I had the attention span to finish a book.

Just as the great documentaries by Ken Burns (Jazz, Civil War and Baseball) are about race, race is at the heart of American history. Curiosity about race is what it means to be American, from the closed end solution of exploiting it, to ignoring it, to addressing it, there is a continuum.

Coates explorations is specific but it raises to the great universal in it's fierce engagement in what it means to wake up. I wonder if my son, when he turns 15 and I tell him to read this book, will even know who Treyvon Martin is. It was his son's bitter grief, the disillusionment, the unconsolable injustice, that gets Coates to write this heartfelt letter to his son.

I read about the book in a NY Times book review, and then from a Buddhist blog. Waking up includes racial consciousness in America. I'm only on p. 70, but this is a can't miss book in my humble opinion: Between the World and Me