Friday, November 16, 2018

Ambattha Sutta

Access to Insight skips DN 3-8. When you look at the Ambattha Sutta on Wikipitaka you can understand why. It seems to be a confrontation by the Buddha on the Brahmin elite, and a young upstart. It seems to be mostly of historical interest, of the spiritual setting of the times. The complicated machinations of the caste ideas are hard to follow and seem to have investments we don't share today. Ambattha is disrespectful of the Buddha, who leads him through a winding socratic series of ideas that end up with him submitting to the Buddha's ideas that he is indeed enlightened, and he becomes a follower of the Buddha. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life

DN 2 is the Samaññaphala Sutta. The setting is Rajagaha:

King Ajatasattu sees it is a beautiful night, full moon, and wants to go see the Buddha. He hops onto an elephant with his entourage and heads towards the mango grove where the followers are hanging out. Over a thousand monks are quiet, and that scares the King, he thinks it might be a trap. But he gets to the Buddha and asks him what the fruits of the spiritual life are?

The answers the king has gets are that non-action leads to non-harm. Monks meditating don't mutilate people like an army would. Because they are not doing anything bad, they don't have to atone for bad actions, inaction is purifying. Because of the asceticism, they take so little and thus cause the least ripples. There is a kind of purification and annihilation of effects. Nobody is interfered with. Because of the restraint, it is hard to quibble with the renunciant. The renunciant evades problems and complications. There is a certain amount of respect you get for living such a life. There is a certain kind of resilience in this lifestyle. A king could lose all his stuff and would be upset, but a renunciant would not be. They cannot lose anything:

Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness?

Seeing danger in the slightest of faults, the renunciant cultivates virtue. Doesn't kill anyone, harm anyone. Doesn't cause drama and heartache through sexuality. Doesn't say harmful things. (This is a recapitulation of the Cula Sila).

Then they go into the monastic ethics that forbids things that perhaps are not harmful if you are neither monastic nor lay. There is a kind of strict fusty element to the monastic code that is hard to apply to current living. Another thing is that developing in the spiritual life the shenanigans fall away, but by cutting them out before you've developed beyond them can be a mistake.

There is no wrong livelihood in the monastic life. A wrong livelihood exacerbates worldly suffering. The easy ones are butcher, liquor and drug selling, arms dealers and the military life. I suppose by sorting boxes to go out for the largest online retail store, I'm stoking materialism and consumerism.

I'm not so sure materialism is always harmful. Dishwashers, laundry machines and fridges are quite amazing inventions. Diapers and paper towels are amazing. Things are not supposed to make you happy but a good spatula can really make cooking enjoyable. Enjoying and utilizing things is not always necessarily bad. It's when you push all your chips into that basket, that the problem begins. Pushing the fewest chips into that baskets is probably the happiest way to live. So just push the fewest chips into that baskets.

I feel like the middle way doesn't mean you can't enjoy movies, museums, concerts, and modern conveniences. But it is true that the time you work to buy time saving devices is potentially questionable. I read an article once that showed walking was probably just as fast than taking the crosstown bus during rush hour, and that the time you subtract to pay for it isn't too big, but overall it's shorter to walk. So Thoreau has a lot of questions about modern conveniences that we can't ignore.

Here are some fruits of the spiritual life: Mindfulness, alertness, contentedness, not easily distracted. Meditating can be intensely pleasurable. Insight helps one to avoid shenanigans. Insight into how we create the world with our minds is pretty important. With this insight you can hear things that are not being said, empathize with people, think about all the consequences of various lines of action. The fear of death decreases in significance. You gain insight into how you create your own suffering.

Looks pretty good, right?! 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bante's funeral

The funeral was streamed on FB.

I saw Vajramati do an offering. I will be forever grateful to him for teaching me meditation and guiding me for many years. I saw Parami talk, spent time with her brilliance. Spent time with others as well to my benefit, I greatly appreciate it. Forgive me if I couldn't hear some of the other speakers.

Subhuti said (paraphrasing) that Buddhism hasn't, as a whole, responded to consumerism and materialism. China tried to snuff out Buddhism in Tibet. It did not succeed. These two things make the 20th century a bad century for Buddhism.

Sangharakshita is complex, but the order of the TBC and TBO was founded through him, and that is quite a legacy. It was born the same year the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order was founded, later to be named Triratna because it wasn't just in the west! Thank you Bante.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Brahmajāla Sutta

I am going to honor my teacher's passing by studying the Dharma closely in the Pali Cannon.

Access to Insight has the sutta.

The frame of a student following around his teacher, and debating for the Buddha and the teacher debating against the Buddha is an interesting frame.

But then the sutra goes into the Cula Sila, which are the 10 precepts. The sutta takes it to where the tire hits the road--what do you actually do.

Having abandoned the destruction of life, the recluse Gotama abstains from the destruction of life. He has laid aside the rod and the sword, and dwells conscientious, full of kindness, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.' It is in this way, bhikkhus, that the worldling would speak when speaking in praise of the Tathāgata.

The Buddha grew up in the warrior caste, so the first precept is interesting. It's all about laying down arms and not wanting to be part of the war business. It's about choosing compassion.

It's a valid political theory to not want the government to do things, that we can do thing privately to enact compassion. But the midterm elections just had a rainbow wave of diversity into Washington and I'm pretty excited. The youngest woman, a muslim, and people with non-conforming sexuality. I want to see Trumps tax returns. He can make a multimillion dollar mistake in Trump University and just write it off on his taxes so he doesn't have to pay taxes. That's not American, to have such protections for mistakes. What about the poor person who loses a job because they had to stay home because they couldn't find child care. That problem, not even a mistake, is hugely punished, but Trump gets a free pass. Just seems wrong.

I'm not all for government being everywhere. I dislike government. But I expect a better functioning government, not that I want to get rid of it.

Having abandoned taking what is not given, the recluse Gotama abstains from taking what is not given. Accepting and expecting only what is given, he dwells in honesty and rectitude of heart.

No stealing--that's a precept we could use for our times. No stealing the earth from our grandchildren. No stealing of the environment by corporations. I drink the radium in the water because I work near Grumman.

The Gore and Hillary elections that were stolen. Hilary had 3 million more votes! Get rid of the electoral college, or make it in line with population. This is the 5th time it's happened, the second this century.

Having abandoned unchaste living, the recluse Gotama lives the life of chastity. He dwells remote (from women), and abstains from the vulgar practice of sexual intercourse.

There is a heterosexual presumption here, but the opposite of this precept is to live with simplicity, stillness and contentment. Not an easy thing. The USA president got embroiled in a sexual scandal. The idea that you have a non-disclosure agreement for a prostitute--you're trying to hide something and why are your trying to hide something? Because if everyone knows, then people look at you with less respect. And why less respect? We are sexual creatures. Trump has taken no vow of chastity. I don't know if he has an open marriage. I don't have any problem that he used a sex worker. Trump has joked that he could murder someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight with witnesses and he wouldn't get convicted. So why hide things?

Politics aside, I have had my own misconduct. I strive for simplicity, stillness and contentment. Thich Nhat Hanh wants people to be in committed monogamous relationships. When you loose the bonds of Christianity, there's no reason not to be polyamorous, except it's so messy. And so many people want exclusivity. An easy formula for a drama is to create sexual infidelity.

The Buddha is supposed to have said it would be better to stick your dick in a snake's mouth--a lovely image. One of his disciples ex-wife wanted a child and the monk thought it would be kind to give her one. That's when he brought out the image of a snake.

With the amount of sexual scandals in the Buddhist community, I begun to think of it was the teacher's way of saying, "I'm not enlightened, just a leader and teacher with imperfections." There is no secret about Sangharakshita and his followers engaging in acts that hurt people. Sangharakshita deeply regretted the pain he caused. He said, "“I did not regard myself as a teacher with a capital T.”

I could explore sexuality and the spiritual life on and on. The first book you should read on Buddhism should be Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. Watchout.

The next precept is as following: Having abandoned false speech, the recluse Gotama abstains from falsehood. He speaks only the truth, he lives devoted to truth; trustworthy and reliable, he does not deceive anyone in the world.

Honest speech is hard, especially when in conflict. I was locked into my parking spot by someone who didn't want to wait and just parked blocking my car. Then he proceeded to argue with me about it. I said he was preventing me from getting to my second job on time. It's hard to be righteous when you're stopping someone else from working. But it's not true, my second job is unpaid, watching my daughter.

Many times when I use honest speech I get it trouble, and I am a people pleaser, so I when I'm honest and face the music, that's good. It's so convenient to lie and avoid problems.

Having abandoned slander, the recluse Gotama abstains from slander. He does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide others from the people here, nor does he repeat here what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide these from the people there. Thus he is a reconciler of those who are divided and a promoter of friendships. Rejoicing, delighting, and exulting in concord, he speaks only words that are conducive to concord.

This is hard because we talk about other people and living in a crowded world of relationships it's hard to figure people out, relationships out. But when the motivation is to put others down, then it's slander. I like to speak nicely behind people's back. Being aware of why you're really putting people down is a good idea.

Having abandoned harsh speech, the recluse Gotama abstains from harsh speech. He speaks only such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, endearing, going to the heart, urbane, amiable, and agreeable to many people.

When I was a supervisor, dealing with conflict resulting from "blunt" speech. Basically instead of seeing communication in the context of a relationship and wondering how others feel is important. Some people try to make a virtue out it it--"I can't help but speak the truth." There's a kind of impatience and lack of discipline in it.

Having abandoned idle chatter, the recluse Gotama abstains from idle chatter. He speaks at the right time, speaks what is factual, speaks on the good, on the Dhamma and the Discipline. His words are worth treasuring: they are timely, backed by reason, definite and connected with the good.

Chit chat is a good way of tuning into people and gradually working up to more weighty matters. But then the chit chat is everything, that is a problem. It's the opposite of being blunt.

This last one is about monastic ethics, and is about being mindful: The recluse Gotama abstains from damaging seed and plant life. He eats only in one part of the day, refraining from food at night and from eating at improper times. He abstains from dancing, singing, instrumental music, and witnessing unsuitable shows. He abstains from wearing garlands, embellishing himself with scents, and beautifying himself with unguents. He abstains from accepting gold and silver. He abstains from accepting uncooked grain, raw meat, women and girls, male and female slaves, goats and sheep, fowl and swine, elephants, cattle, horses and mares. He abstains from accepting fields and lands. He abstains from running messages and errands. He abstains from buying and selling, and from dealing with false weights, false metals, and false measures. He abstains from the crooked ways of bribery, deception, and fraud. He abstains from mutilating, executing, imprisoning, robbery, plunder, and violence.

I find dancing an important part of my day with a toddler.

How many of you focus your time on buying things? I spend a lot of time thinking about purchases, even if it's just groceries.

You get the impression that a kind of fusty editor inserted this list of things. The last precept positive is to be mindful. Rooting out false views is important.

Then the sutta says the above is how a worldling would speak of the Buddha. That is an interesting frame too. How would another Buddha speak of it?

The next sections are on how a monastic gets food.

Then it goes into views. I imagined how I would write modern play about the qualms a modern person might have about Buddhism. We're so entrenched in materialism, capitalism, distracted by devices. Simplicity, stillness and contentment is not easy to come by. So go read the sutta.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Systematic Reading

I've been going through a list of Shakespeare plays, that was assembled in guesstimates of being published. I have read a lot of Shakespeare, but I'm not sure what I've read and what I haven't, so I'm going through it chronologically.

I've decided to do that with the Sutta Pitaka:

DN 32 suttas
MN 152 suttas
SN 56 chapters
AN 11 chapters
KN 18 books: (Khuddakapatha, Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka, Sutta Nipata…)

Like Shakespeare, I have a lot of books and there's a lot on line free. Who needs new expensive books?!

I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Poem by Sangharakshita

Secret Wings

We cry that we are weak although

We will not stir our secret wings;

The world is dark - because we are

Blind to the starriness of things.

We pluck our rainbow-tinted plumes

And with their heaven-born beauty try

To fledge nocturnal shafts, and then

Complain `Alas! we cannot fly!'

We mutter `All is dust' or else

With mocking words accost the wise:

`Show us the Sun which shines beyond

The Veil' - and then we close our eyes.

To powers above and powers beneath

In quest of Truth men sue for aid,

Who stand athwart the Light and fear

The shadow that themselves have made.

Oh cry no more that you are weak

But stir and spread your secret wings,

And say `The world is bright, because

We glimpse the starriness of things.'

Soar with your rainbow plumes and reach

That near-far land where all are one,

Where Beauty's face is aye unveiled

And every star shall be a sun.

- Sanghakshita (written circa 1946)


There is a strength, fortitude, and persistence one needs to follow the path. (I have been pulled by the undertow away at times.) Thus there are ancillary aspects to the path that a book like Resilience can support. I'm just starting it.

Yesterday Sangharakshita passed away. He taught so many of the people that taught me. I only got to meet him in a group on Facetime. Can't go visit him now.

I shed tears for my teacher. With Halloween, all souls day, the day of the dead and then daylight savings time, we are entering a time of celebrating the harvests and preparing for winter.

All holidays, festivals and parties are coopted from the past, for our present needs. I've been thinking about how to increase the Buddhism in holidays around me. Simchat Torah is a celebration of sacred texts and reading. I haven't pinpointed one text, but it's a lovely idea.

Holloween is a opportunity to dress up, trying out an alternative persona. I've never really felt like doing it and always did it reluctantly. Children can see it about collecting candy, trick or treat. It's a community day when children go out and trick or treat in America. It's a bizarre holiday but in some ways they all are.

Halloween is when the leaves begin turning in NYC in earnest, and the sunset colors in the photo above are the colors of Halloween. It is a time of orange.

Halloween can be the beginning of a 3 day celebration of the Tomorrow is the beginning of two days of the "day" of the dead. I'm not Mexican but celebrating and remembering deceased family and important people seems like a good activity. In my head I have a shrine of the deceased relatives and family that have passed. I've been watching Coco with my 2 year old daughter.

My grandfathers and grandmother have passed away (all 6 of them as the child of divorce and remarriage). They all brought so much sweet sweet richness to life.

I had a foster grandfather as well James Schwalbach and grandmother in Mathilda, who were so wonderful to me. His funeral was the one that made me imagine reflecting over a whole life in 1984. I had a cool gay uncle who was an architect who passed away, and an uncle who was a cool architect and was instrumental in me moving to NYC, who has passed away.

Finally, I've been listening to They May Be Giants and I think they've been influenced by the Dharma. I don't have the mental space to explicate, but trust me. I've also been enjoying Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z at work.

There are some Buddhists who avoid art because it seems imaginary and I don't know, fun. Great beauty has a connection to the spiritual life, that is one of the ideas of Sangharakshita, who we will be missing, my spiritual family.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Self defense versus aggression?

The question for me with Myanmar and the well documented (1, 2 ...) persecution and genocide of the  Rohingya Muslims, is how does one go defend oneself and what is worth defending? Many people in the USA military want to defend a country that doesn't have segregation, one that is more kind to it's citizens. Do we sometimes betray our ideals to "defend" ourselves? Is this a self defeating behavior?

On one level you could see the "Buddhist" majority, cultural Buddhists who don't see a contradiction in genocide. You are a Buddhist insofar as you partake in the ethos of Buddhism, and when you don't, then you are a cultural Buddhist, you have trappings of culture and you call yourself a Buddhist.

One could endlessly defend oneself against the encroachments of others. Walking down the crowded streets of NYC, you can bump into others and get upset that they did not respect your personal space. Or you could see it as a crowded city and that people are going to accidentally bump into occasionally because, you know, you can't be 100% vigilant about bumping into others all the time.

That's where you have to pick your battles. What is important to you?

I thought there should be no response to the felling of the Twin Towers. They got off a lucky pot shot. There's a pithy saying about giving up the victory in mind training. Anyone who's played sports knows you can't always win. I'd almost say that sports is all about having ambition to win and accepting that you lose and still trying hard. Living in an imperfect messy world when the black and white of winning and losing is appealing. You could let them have that basket, like the Knicks playing fairly even pace with the Golden State Warriors last night, but then in the 4th quarter they just crushed the Knicks.

It's an open question whether doing something actually improves the world. The unintended consequences of prohibition was to create elaborate criminal organizations with the violence and flouting of the rules. When the rules are too strict, people revolt, and make themselves into the outsiders. That is exactly Myanmar's failure--they were not inclusive--they created outsiders. They could not see the benefit of including another ethnic community. We don't usually have enough imagination and information to see all the consequences of their action. I hope this doesn't boomerang against the Myanmar people. They certainly are losing face as a Buddhist nation and in general. The United Nations has condemned them. They can try to change the name of the people to imagine they don't exist, but they do. We know that toddler trick.

I live in NYC where yesterday at the park with my daughter I met all kinds of immigrants and cultures. That white flight exists and I have friends who remember the houses going up for sale and moving to Long Island, the second most racially segregated place in America after Arlington Virginia, across the river from Washington DC. When given the choice people match up with their race and culture, but a move to New York City is the opposite of that trend. And living in the city is the most environmentally friendly thing you can do. The person who builds a house where there was not one before is ruining the environment, not loving it. But forget these paradoxes, I digress.

The political debate in America is what should the government do? Should we help each other out and support those who don't have strong families, treat everyone nicely. Or should we let people make their worlds in a free and fair society that gives everyone a chance. Trump is about taking a crap on the government he hates, that limits his freedom to be the beast he wants to be. That he gets the ire of progressive liberals is a bonus to his voters who hated the straw horses of who they imagine is liberal. I find political discussion in America often to be about an imagined foe, not real people on the ground.

(What are the unintended consequences of housing, feeding and educating the poor? Some think it's not fair to give away stuff to others, while some work. We've made sure the housing is ugly, food stamps are complicated and restricted, and the education is subpar. Most people don't know that and imagine the poor are welfare queens, living large, pumping out more babies to get more money. So called liberals can think that sometimes (I met a guy once). You don't give your child every little thing they want, you just make sure they have the basics.)

So what is the opposite of genocide? Learning about the Rohingya people. That's not easy. They are an ethnic group far away.

Speaking out about my vision of hoping we don't need to murder people for any reason, especially perceived self defense. That's my beef with the gun lobby and gun lovers in America. Where they see threats I see lost opportunities. Too optimistic? Maybe. That's the wolf I want to feed. And as always you live the questions, tolerate the negative feelings of ambivalences of not knowing.

The funny thing is that the monk who is agitating for perceived self defense is more like Mohammed, who was a general, a mayor of a city and a husband to multiple wives. Mohammed was the most worldly of the spiritual leaders. He was alternative for the tribes who were not Jewish or Christian, his was an act of cultural creation. We need more ways to make outsiders, insiders. In AA there is the gradual transition from thrill seeker to responsible meeting leader.

The Buddha when he came to a sangha that was fighting about a monk leaving a bowl in the wrong place, was to just realize he couldn't intervene to change things and he walked away and meditated. His actions were powerful, though, he wasn't about getting high and watching Netflix. He spent his whole life teaching and leading others. The first person he came across could not be persuaded to join him, so the Buddha developed his teachings to help others who were more sympathetic, the five ascetics who abandoned him after he found the middle way. Having insight into fixing things needs to be accompanied with the power to do so. You can begin to do so in a smaller community, in the spiritual community. Think globally, act locally.

That doesn't mean we can't be political and agitate for more kindness in our government. The Buddha converted a criminal and got him off the streets as a killer. The Buddha regularly counseled kings, and was a fierce leader of his own community. When a monk was sick, he chided his monk friends for ignoring him. Compassion is active.

Only you can get yourself enlightened or woke. To be sure you need other power and help from the spiritual community. One goes for enlightenment with everyone. You are included in others push for enlightenment. But it starts with your decision. I think that's why some Buddhists are conservative. This philosophy conflates the personal to the political--people need to make their own worlds, and not worry so much about others. Self reliance is a wonderful virtue.

The Myanmar government isn't going to make it's people enlightened. Individual effort is the root. But context matters. That's why I'm against the strict "pro-life" stance--to insist on bring a child into a world without supports--well, you might as well kill someone with educational neglect, housing neglect and food neglect, health neglect while they're alive. Not everyone has a family or strong community. Is that an essential trait to receive support?

So that begs the question, can someone become enlightened in Myanmar in the context of a governmental genocide? This is my ethical concern--when you do gnarly things or not act to prevent negative things, does that impact your meditation practice? I say yes. When I make ethical mistakes, it invades my meditation, and decreases my depth. You can't meditate in a vacuum.