Monday, June 19, 2017

New practices.




I'm glad I'm reading The Purpose and Practice of Meditation slowly. It's so rich and dense.

There's a practice called Kasina. You get a real colorful dot in front of you and you stare at it a long time. Then you close your eyes and stare at it. And the goal is to get it to a point where you see the internal dot as vivid as you see the real dot. I'm trying to do that to work on my visualization meditation.

Sangharakshita has visualization meditations, including Vajrasatva, the primordial Buddha, and one of his teachers said that saying the 100 syllable mantra 20 times a day is good for purifying oneself. There is also a sweet visualization. It got me looking at visible mantra to see the seed syllable. I want to get a hard copy of that book, in case the site goes down. The internet seems to have this illusion that it is permanent, but I don't think it is. I'm pretty sure people pay monthly fees to keep websites up.

On my first retreat, which was like 9 days, at midnight on New Year's Eve we chanted the Vajrasatva mantra at midnight. I learned it off a recording someone passed to me, which I have since lost.

There are all these special little things, that are hard to get, and disappear quickly. I have this weird mindset where I want to collect things in my brain in case I'm in a prison camp. I have a puja book that was typed out, and is now hard to find. I have lots of little puja things that I got here and there. Even pujas are hard to come by. There's an esoteric one included in The Purpose and Practice of Meditation, and I can't remember why I didn't think I would ever do it, but I was excited to see it. Anyway, hopefully Bodhipaksa will keep that page up and the website will be up for a while, hopefully.

I had the mantra memorized, but I found that I don't have it memorized at the time. I'm going to re-memorize it, and try to do it 20x a day. And I want to see if I can really see a visualization. I think these things have come to me just when I needed them.

Sangharakshita says westerners tend to want to try newer and newer practices, and talk a lot about meditation, while the Tibetans he knew tended to just do practice and talk amongst spiritual friends. I've been doing metta and mindfulness of breathing for 14 years and they are my 2 core practices, and can be expanded to the Brahma Vihara's and the 14 stage Mindfulness of breathing on a retreat or intense practice day, but I'd like to try these two new practices, to add in.

May all being be happy, may all being be well.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Sex

José Ignacio Cabezón has an article on Sex, that looks at it through the Gelugpa tradition. He raises a very interesting question, or rather points out a conflict. On the one hand, we don't want to just easily dismiss elements of the tradition that don't make sense to us. On the other hand, we want to not just take views uncritically and follow them, just because they are in the tradition. 

The Dali Lama points to Tsongkhapa. Looking at Tsongkhapa you come up with the conclusion that heterosexuals can have sex 5 times a night, and lesbians get a free pass, but you can't be male on male gay. That somehow seems wrong. Gender and sexuality should perhaps be treated equally. 

My first thought was, what about the Pali Cannon where the Buddha suggests to a fellow that it would be better to put his penis in a snakes mouth, than it would be to have sex with his wife because she wants a child before he goes off fully being a monk.

This brings up the question of monk versus lay, and I've always liked the phrase, "neither monk nor lay" because it points to an obvious duality. 

My understanding of Sangharakshita's problem with monasticism, is that you couldn't really know if all 5 monks were following the vinaya, all the way back to the Buddha. Ajahn Chah got a little twisted up by it for a while too. 

The literal interpretation of merit, has the lay only allowed to give stuff to the monks, when clearly there are people who don't follow the vinaya who seem to be more advanced than a rule follower, seem to do more for the propagation of Buddhism. 

OK, so we won't get into the monastic versus lay trap. My understanding of Sangharakshita is that you follow the ten precepts as principles and not literally. Sexual misconduct is fairly straight forward in these times. If someone feels hurt by sexual contact, then it's not good. Infidelity, sexual abuse, rape and other forms of coercion are wrong. The whole gay and female issues from Christianity are not to be followed. Thich Nhat Hanh's thing is monogamy. Otherwise you hurt people.

There is a book that collects the recent history of Buddhist misconduct. I can't seem to find it at the moment. John Stevens, a professor in Japan, has a kind of sexy take on Buddhism, and wrote an erotic Buddhism novel. He thinks the rice milk the girl gave the Buddha after he gave up asceticism, lead to sex. You can imprint prudery or libertine thoughts to Buddhists.

I like the approach of not pretending we are there yet, being honest and authentic, and not watering down the ideals because they are hard, and not punishing ourselves with the ideals. The idea is to transcend the worldly winds, to transcend reactivity, to not build up plans to just get pleasure and push away pain, or if you do, realize the path is the best fun.

There is no exploitation of vulnerable people seeking guidance, and no shock when it turns out Buddhist leaders have clay feet. There's avoidance of the harm of making sexuality wrong, and there's no pretending that wild sexuality isn't harmful.

We are not in the summer of love, the birth control pill didn't just become available, and there is a HIV epidemic, that in part thrives on the secrecy from the shame of homosexuality.

Sangharakshita jokes that any book called Tantric Sex Magic would sell easily. I've even used it to gain traffic on my website, along with "how can I die". That feels immature now. Sanghrakshita was sick recently and he apologized for any harm her caused with his experimentation in the aftermath, because he had been reflecting while in the hospital. I know a lot of people who, in retrospect, see they have caused harm. I have caused harm. So it's an important area to keep our eyes wide open to. Take responsibility for our actions so we can own our lives and our progress through it.

If we go back to our pagan past, we see that sexuality isn't something to be avoided, it is celebrated. In ancient Rome it was against the law not to be married and have 3 children. I'm reading a book on Marcus Aurelius and read a book on ancient Rome and it's kind of refreshing to see fewer hang ups. Of course they had their rules. It wasn't OK to be homosexual for me after 18. Before that it was fine, but after it, it wasn't. I read about Lupacallia where men run around naked and whip women in the naked butt with whips made out of goat skin. Now I don't think that just because something was in the past, they were better times. I'm just saying that in the history of humanity, we have had some interesting celebrations of sexuality.

Now birth is one of the steps on the wheel of life, that leads to greed hatred and delusion. One might get the idea that a good Buddhist would not have children. They do hinder one's free time to meditate, that is for sure, but once again, if you value your practice, parenting shouldn't be a barrier. Here we are getting into a personal decision that I've made, and don't want to come down either way on this one. I've realized how important the Dharma is to me through being a parent, and I have felt a level of love that I've never felt before (A Path for Parents).

So conclusion? A complicated set of questions from monastic versus lay, to how to go about the spiritual life, and the recent history of Buddhism. As always, live the questions.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

watching desire



Watching desire, I see that while I'm watching my daughter, I want to read, and when she goes to bed, I quickly get tired of reading. Actually that's not true, I read till I get tired, but my attention does wander.

Children are the ultimate gurus. My daughter continually exposes my "working ground" and how far I am from my aspirations. I find myself extremely upset at a little girl in diapers who hardly weighs anything and comes up to my hips in height. The little tyrant. She very much wants her way all the times and everything is hers. And yet the love I feel for this imperfect being...

I don't try to get rid of desire and act at a spiritual level that I am not at yet. Very much a work in progress, like everyone.

#2


37 Practices of Bodhisattvas

The Thirty-Seven Practices of Boddhisattvas is from the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition that the Dali Lama is in. I have read this book before. I want to go through the 37 practices one at a time. The first one is here.


#2 Attached to your loved ones you are stirred up like water.
Hating your enemies you burn like fire.
In the darkness of confusion you forget what to adopt and discard.
Give up your homeland--
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas. 


This one is about "going forth". The Buddha left his home, family, comforts, to seek an end of suffering.

Sangharakshita gave everything up and wandered into the homeless life. He regretted giving up his passport when he tried to go to Cylon, but maybe the order would not have been the same way if he had.

Comfortable middle class people look to go forth metaphorically, but we can not discount actually just leaving the home conditions. Children demand a lot of attention and financial support, you work and then come home to parent them. There is no time off. If you have discipline, like I did for many years, you can raise your mindfulness up--perhaps to suffer more. Then one day you just can't any more. You're not there. You realize the home life can't support individualistic spiritual development. So your family becomes sangha and you go on the Bodhisattva path, wishing to raise everyone up with you. In the face of worldly suffering we shatter apart like Avalokiteshvara, and then are put back together by the love of Amitabha. It's no surprise that love is the archetype that becomes popular, even though metta is not personal, and yet it's personal like a mother loves her only child--sprayed out onto the world. You know as a parent that you can't always control things, you just try to ride the waves, the various forces that threaten one. 

The secular world preaches a kind of individualism and materialism that can be twisted into a spiritual materialism. I used to yearn for a center for my order. I got excited when SF got a retreat center outside the city. I became obsessed with all the beautiful cathedrals the Catholic church has. Have you seen this teacher, that teacher? You flew in there and did a retreat there once?! You can treat Buddhism like the Rubins, and create an art museum, or a gallery, or a salon. You can develop a podcast, a blog, and on and on. Tweeting your way to enlightenment in 140 characters or less, you use all the aids to feel spiritual, and yet it doesn't take enough hold, you forget and have a good meal or you read a good book or you watch a great new series. Oh, sure work is a drag, but I like it that my books come within 2 days, and we need a new bullet blender, and wouldn't it be nice if baby had a new onesies? She's growing out of her current ones.

The passive personality person uses Buddhism to buttress the pathology of inaction, the edict to do nothing, and watch others suffer because of that decision. "Suffering is inevitable for those not far on the path, it can help one to wake up." But the crisis of parenting has woken you up to suffering and you figure out ways to abdicate the role and raise free range children.

The two above examples are just two examples of possible spiritual bypassism, coined by Wellwood. So even in the spiritual life there are dangers, why not dangers in the monastic life. You can learn to focus in precious circumstances and become a hot house flower? Spiritual individualism rears it's ugly head again.

The co-dependency of most relationships help us to not embrace the freedom we are afraid of. Freedom is truly scary if you take responsibility for where you are now. It's only you that has kept you from becoming enlightened. How did you put yourself into this situation you find yourself in?

I don't like the buddha nature doctrines because even if you are already enlightened, or it's funny how easy it is, you still need to figure out how to uncover it. This might be a Hindu doctrine, and Hinduism tries to absorb Buddhism the way Judaism tries to consume Christianity. Jesus was not trying to create a new religion. It's actually Paul who does that.

In all the contradictory doctrines of world religions, we get that it is beyond reasoning, more than a feeling, more than everything we can imagine, and therefore it's OK that we don't get it. It's OK to be ignorant as long as we chant a mantra or say a prayer. Spirituality for the masses becomes religion that ossifies flexible ideas, and sets up hierarchies, and abuse. Worldly teachers commit worldly mistakes, and there is a crisis of faith. We edge more into the archetypes than the saints, real history proves nobody is beyond reproach. So for Buddhism it's faith that Buddhadharma is really something worth going for, and not just saying that the end of suffering has been found by transcending desire by making your consciousness box a certain size such that venial cares recede and maybe even disappear. The goal of being creative instead of reactive is worth striving for and as millions set upon the path, many are quickly waylaid by the concrete needs of others. Or maybe they are on the Bodhisattva path. We can get ishkabibble or crazy like a fox. If you live on the side of a mountain and can meditate all day, you can hone that mindfulness and have some insights, but nothing is guaranteed and maybe you need worldly challenges to uproot complacency. Oh it's all so confusing just pick you path and experiment and see what happens. You can understand that at least. Your precious practice with the cutting edge where you're challenged to take the larger perspective goes on and on and on. Some great teacher comes in and does something selfish and you think, oh, I was being unrealistic all along, just be natural.

I've tied myself into a knot. 

The goal is freedom and not an unfeeling unthinking freedom. There is no easy path. Nobody can market a sect of Buddhism that has the right one and true path because at this time it's open source, and because everyone is unique, has different abilities and pasts.

So you go forth from what you know, you go forth from comfort, you go forth from dogma, heresy and you just study the dharma and try to practice the lofty ideals, push yourself to give up more, push yourself to be kinder, push yourself to be authentically evolved, not false self aping what it means to be spiritual. You don't stand on a chair and say you don't exist because someone will kick you in the shins and you'll see quite quickly that in fact you do exist. A humility is needed, bragging about achievement is the first sign of lack of achievement and therefore not to be believed. Sorry Ingram. You can parse the path but I haven't heard the thunderous silence.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Sobriety



My Buddhist friend is traveling to lead a retreat in India, and asked if I had any words about addiction. I ended up writing him 3 e-mails.

Here is the first one:

Addiction is trying to keep the party going, but it's meant to be an infrequent thing. It always hides difficult emotions and thoughts. As a Buddhist there is a specific precept out of 5 to forbid. Avoid the habit because the progression of the disease means you need more and more to not feel bad. It may even take a decade or more. Alcoholism is an equal opportunity obsession and allergy. Anyone can get it, rich or poor. If you aspire to follow the Buddha avoid drugs. Get support if you have a problem, isolation is an aspect of addiction. May you be happy, may you be well my brothers and sisters in India, from America.

Here is the second one:

You asked me to write about addiction for our brothers in the dharma for your next retreat. I dashed off a quick response, that might be short and the one you want to read to them.

I think I also left out another aspect of addiction--delusion that you are not harming anyone. You could also call that magical thinking. The idea that you can drink and that only hurts you is a fallacy. Supporting the industry harms others. Anyone you come in contact with will be adversely affected. Your family most definitely is affected. The fantasy that you work and provide for the family so you deserve a drink is an especially pernicious thought. The idea that others are doing it, so that it is OK is another pernicious thought. The road to recovery, and it's a lifelong journey, is to connect with others who value sobriety. Please reach out to others and commit to sobriety. May you be, happy may you be well.

Here is the third one:

Another thing to remember is that the default reaction is to denounce the alcoholic and suggest that they are morally weak. But the disease model means you treat it the way you would cancer. You bring kindness. What an addict needs is being hugged closer, not pushed away. So find a way to suspend your judgements, and protect yourself from exploitation and your own harm, and be there for your friend with addiction problems. It's only through a solid relationship that you can chip away ever so lightly at the delusion that it's not affecting a person. Consult friends and get support if you are in contact with someone with addiction because it will be hard, frustrating, annoying, challenging and off putting. It becomes a negative feedback loop that leads to more and more isolation. But the buddhist goes against the stream and seeks to cure the suffering of the world. Be like Ksitigarbha, go into the hell realm and help out your brothers and sisters. You are strong enough.

May you be happy, may you be well.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sloth and torpor



As we know from a previous post the "sloth and torpor" hinderance can fully mean: Lethargy and drowsiness: Lacking driving power, lethargy, not having vigor or lacking energy, unwieldiness, laziness, sleepiness, drowsiness, dullness of the mind.

In chapter 146. Getting Rid of Drowsiness (VII 58A) of the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, the text suggests 8 ways to cope with drowsiness. This isn't just for meditation, it's probably if you're also reflecting or even communing with sangha, perhaps anything you do.

1. Do not give attention to a thought that leads to drowsiness. For instance if I think about all the things I have to do, I get drowsy sometimes. Or perhaps a particularly hard issue. Now meditation is not thinking and not not thinking. You have an object of focus or even no object of focus, and when thoughts come up you usually just let them pass by. But still there are thoughts that will lead to drowsiness and you can just not pick up those thoughts. I suppose these countermeasures can also be for reflection, you could be reflecting and this hinderance can come up.

2. You can think about the Dharma, what you have learned and mastered. Perhaps if you're drowsy you've lost the flow of where you are heading, your vector, your aspirations. If you think about the Dharma and why you're even doing this. Motivation is important to get you though the tough times, the dark night of the soul, and through drowsiness. This should be personal and I'm just going to riff now about what I could think about.

I go straight to condition co-production, Pratītyasamutpāda, 12 nidanas, the three marks of existence, the shortness of life. I try to think and feel my way into those insights. I think about peak experiences where I really felt it with my whole body. I think about how healthy I feel after the effort of a retreat or a concerted effort practice time. I think about the life of the Buddha, his 4 sights that got him to go forth. I think about Mara's challenges to the Buddha. I can think of great books I have read about the Dharma. I can see the TBC refuge tree, or modern teachers who are inspirational that are not on that tree, I can do an alternative female refuge tree, I can visualize Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms helping others,  Amithabha and love, Manjushri with his sword, Padmasambhava with his little mustache, Milarepa with all the funny images of him that I have, him green from eating nettle soup so much, singing his songs. I've been reading a lot about the 6 element practice, so I could see the 6 elements flowing through my body, my body as a temporary collection of those 6 things, a river if you will. I can visualize real people I have met and gotten to know a little bit who represent aspects of the Dharma, and Shakyamuni. I can say in my head mantras that energize me, remember sitting in the shrine room with my dharma brothers chanting. That always gives me energy. I can even visualize beautiful mental snap shots I have taken in nature. I can visualize Aryaloka, Jikoji, Garrison or camping spots where I meditated. I'm getting energized just writing this. 

3. You can recite the dharma. We don't memorize as much these days, but I have the heart sutra memorized in English. I have the refuges and precepts memorized from Pali. I know the Vajrasattva mantra.

I want to memorize the Ti Ratna Vandana. I have much of the 7 fold puja memorized. I have read the Diamond Sutra many times as a ritual. There are other pujas as well. Some of the puja links I have in past blog posts are dead, unfortunately. I have a folder of printed out pujas, because I had that fear that they would disappear. I've worked on a few pujas myself, but have not completed them. I could energize myself to complete them! There are so many possibilities here.

4. Pull your ear lobes. Rub your limbs. 

5. Wash your face. Look around, look at the stars.

6. Visualize a bright light (presuming it's night).

7. Walking meditation.

Alternating sitting and walking meditation is a way to get a lot out of a practice time. I have to go outside to walk most of the time, and people often come up to me and ask if I have lost something because I'm walking slowly, looking down. But early in the morning or late at night nobody does that. I can walk up and down my hallway sometimes without feeling too claustrophobic. Sometimes a faster mindful walk can be good too, if I have a lot of energy.

8*. Take a nap. 

On my first retreat, I was so tired, when the meditation bell was rung, I launched myself onto a couch and was instantly out in a lovely nap. Meditation takes energy, until you get to a certain point, and when I meditate, the first few days of a retreat, I often catch up on sleep. Then I tend to be more awake, and sleep less, but that is another problem. Calming oneself down from a late night puja or whatnot isn't easy for me, so sometimes I would skip the puja to get a good night sleep.

I tend to follow the program exactly at a retreat, and nap when I can if I'm tired. I probably follow the schedule too exactly, I missed an important meeting once because I wanted to follow the retreat schedule and wanted to meditate. I do make a point of skipping one meditation if someone wants to go on a walk with me. Walking with a dharma brother is important too. I listen to my body and if I feel overwhelmed, and I feel a physical resistance to going to meditate, I take a walk in nature instead and try to figure out what is going on while on the walk. Otherwise I just push past it, sometimes just following the schedule is a comfort and not thinking about it you can slide into deep practice. Sometimes I add in meditation, waking up early, or sitting on after a meditation.

I was excited to see a Pali Cannon chapter on sloth, and wanted to share it with the world. May all being be happy, may all being be well.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

31 bodily fluids

I'm reading Sangharakshita's meditation anthology, and he's on the subject of the contimplation of the repulsiveness of the body. The practice is not objective truth, it's just a counter to sexual attraction. Supposedly there are 31 bodily fluids. I thought, "you know you're a buddhist when you know what synovial fluid is, and why you need to know." I looked up a modern list of fluids. Aqueous humor is the fluid in your eyes.

My old saw about this practice is that I can dismantle a gorgeous woman into disgusting parts, but the problem is that I put it all back together. But today I was thinking, that my line, but does it have to be true. And thus I was freed of that thought.

Start Where you are.

I continue my readings of the Pali Cannon. One such incomplete translation is Numerical Discourse of the Buddha. This came out before the Complete Translation, which costs $52, and $60 for the kindle version. Anywho, there is some fascinating stuff in here. One was a concise section that called itself a Dharma Explosion (VI, 65). One where thinking about looking at women is lack of chastity (VII, 47)

So the question for the modern reader who is neither monastic nor lay, is how do I negotiate these standards. The standards of Buddhism can be quite strict if you really follow them, even if you look at them not as literal but principles. Start where you are is Pema's mantra, so you look at where you are. The idea is that when you are enlightened, coitus will no longer present itself as something one moves towards. As an ordinary human who is not enlightened you will feel the pull of sexuality. Even if they are celibate, they will have memories, enjoy the sexually attractive form, see a beautiful woman and your jaw will drop. The phrase "cutting edge of your practice" fell out of favor at Aryaloka when I was there, but it is a useful idea. Where are you in renouncing reactively going for pleasure and pushing away pain. The goal is to be creative and not reactive. The Buddha got to a place where he did not even come close to a sexual though adjacent.

Many people see these lofty goals and see it as unrealistic, non human or part of what the man wants, for you to be an abnegation type so you suffer the indignities of twenty first century capitalism, but also wants you to spend spend spend for compensatory indulgences. It is revolutionary to defy that expectation.

Healing the body with the mind

Meditation Saved My Life is an example of healing the body with the mind. Phakyab Rinpoche claims to have healed his leg of gangrene, among other things. Then he begins to tell his life story. He once got lost and slept outside, and when he was found he was dry even though it was raining.

There is scientific evidence that positive thinking can improve one's recovery. Can it go this far? Miracles are often exaggerations to draw one's attention to potential. Are this man's claims exaggerations or real. It is for you to tell.

As a modern reader, I feel the split. Hoping to believe, but not seeing this as something as part of my worldview. Now I know there is more on heaven and earth than is contained in my philosophies.  I don't want to miss the potential by not believing.

My own personal body ailments are the result of aging. Touchy back, dodgy ankle, soft shins, a head that does not like being hit. All past injuries and wear and tear. Can these things be transcended by the mind? I'm sure they can to a certain degree, and the more positive and focused I am, the less they really matter in a way. I'm on page 44, but I intend to work to read this book with an open mind.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Words at the Threshold

Started reading WORDS AT THE THRESHOLD by Lisa Smartt. This is a book about what people say at the end of their life. It spawned the database www.finalwordsproject.org.

I see this type of reading as facing death. What the charnel grounds meditation did for people with that option, the literature on death does that for the cerebral readers of the west. The Denial of Death has been a seminal text for me, and I wish not to defensively avert my gaze, but to see it as the larger tapestry of impermanence, conditioned coproduction. Our world is sanitized. It's hard to get close to death. There are no charnel grounds to go meditate at.

When Smartt used the phrase "word salad", it was to disparage the concept as someone who doesn't understand. She reports the metaphors of dying can elude us, but can make sense often.

Reading this book I wrote relatives and asked about last words in the family. I thought about what I'd like my ending to be like. Taking a look at it, I decided some CDs I want to listen to: Bud Powell,  Grant Green, Lester Young, Billie Holliday, La Traviata, La Bohem, Hydrogen Jukebox and Satyagraha. The books I want read to me. I'd like the satipatthana sutta read to me, the diamond sutra and other perfection of wisdom texts, the precious garland, the bodhicaryavatara, songs of Milarepa, the Lotus Sutra, the sutra of the golden light, the lankavatara sutra and the pure land sutras, a survey of Buddhism.

Sangharakshita wrote about the 6 element practice, which he learned from Yogi Chen, and how it's another way to look at dismantling, seeing that there is no essential self. Sangharakshita suggests you only really do that one on retreat, in an environment where deep practice is supported. I kept doing it after one retreat because I had a white light experience, and I started to feel like I was dying. That's the whole point, a spiritual death, to be reborn, but it calls for supportive conditions and the workaday life is not supportive. I do it a few times when I build up my practice, but I also let it fall down to rebuild again. Or rather it falls down despite my best efforts at vigilance. You can listen to a version of the meditation on the Insight Timer, lead by Bodhipoksa. Here is the free buddhist audio search. Do this practice within the community, don't do it without connecting to a tradition of your own choosing.

Then there is volunteering at a Hospice, like Norman Fisher discusses in one of his essays. I'm considering that.

May you be happy, may you be well.