Friday, October 21, 2005

27. Historical Buddha

The Historical Buddha by H.W. Schumann was very interesting to me. The historical buddha is important to me, in that it highlights, what the spiritual and metaphorical Buddha means to me. I am not afraid of being disillusioned about the real buddha. I was. He was a sexist, classist, prejudiced imperfect human being. But he achieved a transcendent state, and as they say, "sundered the bonds that caused him suffering." Thus he is a spiritual hero of mine. Tradition holds that he was the first to enlightenment. That is my goal.

It's quite amazing what we know about this fellow who lived 2,500 years ago. Dates are interesting. BC and AD are Christian concoctions. To secularize it, people write B.C.E. and A.D.E., but it is still in reference to Christ. I saw the Jewish faith just recently celebrated the year 5766. I think if you begin time from the time of the Buddha's enlightenment, then the year is 2533. Of if we base it when the Buddha was born, the year is 2568.

Henceforth, I see it as the year 2533. I will conform to the usual date for work, banking and other transactions, but I see it as the year 2533.

The Buddha was sexist from my world view, my time, my country of origin, my intellectual heritage and experiences. I believe women are equal. The Buddha essentially said so when he said women could become arhants, but not enlightened.

The buddhist was classist in that he humiliated the uneducated lower caste order members when the made theoretical dharma mistakes.

He was prejudiced in that he didn't allow people with leprosy, boils, eszema, tuberculosis or epilepsy join the order. In his defense, some people tried to join the order because of free medical services provided by some supporters. He was also ageist, he was reluctant to ordain older members.

He left his son, when he was born. The writer suggests possibly that as a condition of leaving and leading the homeless life of a samana, he got permission by producing a heir. Plus he was not enlightened yet. Anyway, which is better to be enlightened or a good father. In his circumstances, that was his choice. My hope is that that is not my choice.

But these things place him in his time, human foibles. He is human, not omniscient. He rose above his time in an important way that is unimaginable now with our distractions, materialism and worldly ambition.

I learned the first ones to hear the Buddha teach the dharma, were merchants, who were wandering by when he came out of his meditations. There was geography, social context, competing teachers and personalities. I found this book very interesting, and I quite enjoyed it.

It gave a historical narrative, until the history goes weak, and then Schumann shifts to the dharma, and other general considerations of the time. I wasn't so interested in the dharma part, as history. I liked his examination of the rules, the sangha, looking at the Buddha psychologically.

It's hard to report on all the book gave, it gave a lot. I've always wanted to learn more about the context in which the Buddha came up with his ideas. To see what is cultural, and what is really dharma. I'm exhausted and overwhelmed, so I'll end. Read the book.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

27. Rough draft

I'm sick of working on this. I don't think anyone reads this blog. But none the less, here is an essay on fatherhood and buddhism.

Buddhist Fatherhood: The first year and a half

“Progress in the Buddha's teaching is always made by individual, as such, whether bhikshus or lay people. The conditions for either may be different, but, as we have seen, significant spiritual progress - including the realization of high levels of Insight-has been made by very many people who have had the responsibilities of family life. They have not treated this as an obstacle. Fundamentally, the Buddha's teaching tries to reach the hearts of those who will listen, wherever and in whatever circumstances they may in.” from Lay Life and the Buddhist Tradition by Hridaya

Everyone's circumstances are different, though if you want to see similarities you can see that instead. My circumstances are that my wife is Catholic, and I am a Buddhist. We have one child, after trying for one for a many years. I was 36 when we had our child, which a new book reports as good, because children of parents over 30 supposedly do better in school. Good thing we didn't succeed earlier, according to that fact.

We went for infertility treatment. Like all medical situations, with many options, the least invasive is tried first. My wife went on Clomid, a fertility enhancing drug. They checked out my sperm. They were fine, athletic and plentiful, with the requisite percentage of healthy ones.

It turns out even the supposedly monogamous humans have killer sperm just in case someone got there just before you. Humans are midway between the really monogamous primates, and promiscuous primates.

The next step is to implant “washed” sperm directly onto the eggs, when my wife is ovulating. We tried that once and it worked! The plan was to try that 3 times, before moving up to the next level: in vitro fertilization. We never got that far, I feel rather lucky to be spared that.

Our son was born April 14th 2004 at Long Island Jewish Hospital by C-section. My wife did not dilate enough, and began to get a fever. There was micomium in the placenta, and our son was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where the huge fellow was surrounded by his less fortunate premature and small peers. It was a rather trying time to have my son in the NICU, but he came out OK and has thrived since birth. I grew from that ordeal.

More circumstances: I was finishing up my masters in social work. When my wife was done with her maternity leave, I was unemployed, and thus took care of my son. My wife got the summer off, because she is a teacher, and for many days he had us both around. I had 6.5 months with my son before I went back to work, for which I will be eternally greatfull.

While in Italy 90% of nursery school is subsidized by the government, in America only 10% is subsidized by the government. I luckily married an Ecuadorian woman who's mother offered to baby sit my son William. She works in the evening cleaning offices, and had the daytime to watch him. Childcare was taken care of, and I did not have to set up a nanny camera, and watch it each night in dread for the horrible footage that is sometimes shown on TV. We have a large supportive extended family.

Up to childbirth, I meditated every morning for 2 years, for 40 minutes, minimally. I went on retreats, I attended sangha and mitra gatherings. I decided I wanted to deepen my practice by going for refuge in an effort to seek ordination with the F/WBO.

When William came along, everything went, for a while. No more running, yoga, meditation, reading. I often have trouble brushing my teeth or going to the bathroom, though it's gotten a little easier, as I have adjusted, and learned to get ready in the morning with a toddler, for work.

I have tried to get up early in the morning to meditate. Sometimes it works. My son had irregular sleeping patters, and sleeps enough in the day not to require the amount of sleep I need at night. I've read that children adjust their sleeping patters to spend more time with their parents.

I laugh when I read in Jae Woong Kim's book Polishing The Diamond about his teacher Baek Sung Wook breaking his “dependence on sleep”. At times the book has a mythical quality to it, which my sometimes rationalist mind balks at. I don't see myself breaking my attachment to sleep any time soon. I have meditated after getting up in the night to feed my son. One sutra describes the enlightened man as not drowsy. More evidence that I'm not enlightened. And yet I still want to bridge the gap between me the Buddha.

I've delineated 64 different kinds of tiredness (really 8 in their combinations). Work and parenthood do not go together very well, forget adding on energetically seeking refuge. I've lost my buffer. When I was a teacher, and I was especially tuckered out, I would just go to bed early. Not possible with a child. The demands of children are great, especially in the early years before they have language.

My wife is a sleep camel, she stores sleep in her hump on the weekends. I'm not sure how she does it. She's more of a binger, getting it when she can, accepting it when she can't. I'm more the slow and steady wins the race type. I need my recommended daily allowance of sleep. Every once in a while my wife has a bit of a break down, cries and takes a 4 hour nap. Tired and steady is there to pick up the very infrequent slack.

Sleepiness and meditation don't mix. I have gone in patches of meditating regularly, but my meditation practice is spotty often. I don't go on weekend retreats with quite the store of meditation I once had. Now I know what it's like for those people who don't meditate regularly and go on retreat, I have more sympathy for that.

My reading is down. I've always trying to shift away from reading so much Dharma. I read in absence of sangha and out of exhaustion and inertia not to meditate. I have missed opportunities to meditate.

I've tried to compensate in other ways. Chanting mantras while driving to work. Falling asleep to Sangharakshita lectures, which Naghabodhi jokingly says is joining a long lineage of dharma practitioners in the F/WBO. I put up posters of Manjushiri and Green Tara in the living room, and photos of the 8 manifestations of Padmasambhava in the kitchen. In my office I have Buddha, Prajnaparamita and Padmasambhava. I try to keep the ideals vivid and present to me as much as possible.

The Metta Sutra has come to mean more to me, as my love for my son has opened up depths of love in me. In my metta meditation I flesh out the neutral and person in discord, at times with the thought, “they have a mother and a father.” I realized that during the naming ceremony, where Vajramati gave William the Buddhist name of Jyoti, meaning light or flame. I called him “sparky” when he was in the womb, and his flame has burned brightly ever since. Srimati says similar things in her essay on the FWBO web site

Naghabodhi asked me, how has being a parent effected my practice. Having that question in my mind has been helpful to help me to see it that way. I've always wished for more pure circumstances to “practice” but I've become aware that this desire for purity or exoticism is a red herring. “Right here, right now” is a kind of a Buddhist motto. Don't imagine the gold pot of perfect conditions over the rainbow.

I'm not sure if it's my blinkered existence or what, but I live more in the moment. Part of it is mindfulness, living in the moment. When I became a teacher, I realized I had a lot of issues to work on. And when I became a therapist, I realized I have lots of issues to work on. Same too, with being a parent. It stirs up a lot, including thoughts of mortality, ironically, with the cycle of life so present. It challenges me, calls me to the higher evolution.

It puts great stress on a marriage at times. In some ways I feel abandoned by my wife, at times, as she feels abandoned by me.

I read Srimala's book Breaking Free: Glimpses of a Buddhist Life with the hopes of finding out how a woman taking care of 2 children found the time to meditate. I suppose it was a fools errand, because she does not discuss the difficulty. Perhaps even more foolish is the idea that you could read a book to find out how to find the time to meditate.

One thing parenthood has given me is an appreciation of meditation. It can really make a big difference in how I approach my day, how I handle stress, how I interpret challenges.

A friend of mine expressed the fear that not having children was a sign of immaturity. At the time I reassured him that that was hogwash. My sangha friends are the most attuned to and open to my son, they seem more mature than everyone else, even other parents.

As Sangharakshita says in his lecture to parents, “you are up against it.” When there is only time for 1 of the 5 things that you usually do, you learn to prioritize. Parenthood is one good way of breaking my clinging to pleasurable and relaxing activities.

Seeing another human being develop is a very interesting and rewarding process. There are a million little experiences that I have felt to be good for me. But I would not say it was more necessary to be a human being than anything else.

My female sangha friends have rid me of the delusion that all women want to have children. Padmasuri touches on her debate briefly in her wonderful book but little dust.

Fatherhood has certainly slowed down my attending retreats and doing sits, which has slowed down my ordination process, if you see it as a punch the ticket, follow other's instructions point of view. Like all things, there are pluses and minuses, and in many ways my practice has deepened as a parent. It has helped my practice, though not obviously so at times. As a year and a half of fatherhood has come and went, I have a new confidence that I can handle the problems life throws me.

Exoticism appeals to me. Could I move quicker towards enlightenment if I meditated under the Bodhi tree in India? If I went to England to live in a community and work in a right livelihood business? I'm certain that would speed my “development”, but I have responsibilities. Each path is different. The FWBO does not require it's ordained members to leave their family, like the Buddha did, under very different circumstances.

The Buddha left his child to go find enlightenment. In the modern nuclear family that would create more harm that it did in the past when families were more connected. I read in Sid Brown's excellent book The Journey of One Buddhist Nun: Even Against the Wind about a woman who's father left her family in dire times to pursue the spiritual life. I don't want to harm anyone by going for refuge. I know the wages of losing a parent, my father left my mother when I was young, and it had a very profoundly negative effect on me.

Schumann suggests that the Buddha could have actually talked about taking up the homeless life, to go on his search, with his parents. That he left the day is son Rahula was born, because that was their condition of letting him go. The Buddha had an arrainged marriage, and in the end, the only way he could escape the life he did not choose, was to have a son, to ensure the line could be passed onto his son. Perhaps having a son freed him from being an heir.

These are very different circumstances than mine. My wife and I had been trying to have children, because we wanted them. To nurture, to share the joys and sorrows of a child. To try and do what we see done poorly as teachers. In a world where often people decide not to have children, because it would interfere with their lifestyle, we chose this non-materialistic path. To be sure, you can view your children materialistically, just like you can the spiritual life. For me children are part of the spiritual journey. It connects to my history of compassion, my desire to enlarge my ability to see and alleviate suffering.

I'm lucky that my wife supports me in my spiritual pursuits even though they are not hers exactly. She doesn't undermine me, she tells me to meditate more than I do, and while I sometimes use her as an excuse when I don't want to meet up with the sangha, because I'm tired, she really isn't the excuse. I must take responsibility. Sometimes I am tired, sometimes I don't always do the things that are best for me. The ethical edge can be seen all around me.

After years of trying to conceive, a second child turned out to be easy. On September 23rd at 5:54pm, my second son was born.

In the TBMSG/F/WBO lifestyle is secondary, commitment is primary. I don't have to cut my hair or debate which shoulder to wear my robe over.

To conclude I would like to make a sweeping generalization about the ease at which children help you with the spiritual life. I think it's easier to disprove the extremes.

While fatherhood has most assuredly made it more difficult to meditate, in the short term, I would not necessarily assume that means I have not grown spiritually. In fact, I would say I have developed a spiritual urgency that I might not otherwise have developed. I envy my peers who can go home to an empty home and meditate all night, all day on the weekends. To my mind, they do not take advantage of their opportunity. Yet, neither did I when I didn't have children.

Additionally, fatherhood is just one of many challenges in our society, that take us away from meditation, sangha. I have to admit that I have continued my dharma study, that is the easiest for me to keep up. There are small moments when I can read some, and at work. And I honestly haven't take the opportunities to meditate like I would. My point is Milarepa had to build a tower and tear it down. The Buddha had to leave his family. Everyone goes through spirtual trials and conflicts. It's all part of the journey. I have chosen parenthood.

I can not say that fatherhood has energized or transformed my spiritual life. I feel like it was a necessary step for me. I have no regrets. And I keep open the question, “How has fatherhood helped me go for refuge?” By asking that question I create my reality. So in that sense, fatherhood is a self fulfilling prophecy for me, it will improve my going for refuge.

Also, the Boddhisattva ideal, the vow I hope to take when I get ordained, makes me know deepening my commitment to the refuges is going to be messy. There's no neat clean easy way to enlightenment. It's not some spa weekend, not a series of steps, like putting a bike together. It's a struggle, an ordeal, and I welcome that. There are many other conditions to struggle against, if I want to be completely honest. I have many false refuges I could eliminate.

Turn it around the other way. I think Buddhism has helped me as a father immesurably. Charlotte Joko Beck reports meditating and having to come to grips with some of her unskillful behaviors as a mother. I'm not saying I don't have to come to grips with similar things, but at least I have the resource of meditation to help me through this difficult path. My whole being, my seeking refuge has informed my fatherhood, and tested it.

On September 23rd 2005, at 5:54 pm E.S.T, my second son was born. He is healthy and the mother is recovering well.


Cittapala's The Bodhisattva's Reply: An Explanation of the Western Buddhist Order, has informed my conceptions and language in this essay.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt reports on the fact that parents who are over 30 have children who do better in school.

How The Mind Works by Steven Pinker reports on the killer sperm.

Italy 90% subsidized and USA 10% is reported in a video called Childhood, shown on PBS.

The Historical Buddha by H.W. Schumann.