Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year's Resolution

I think my specifics of personal development are transitory and sometimes not transitory enough (there are dynamics I am working on in psychotherapy). But for the most part, I think I can safely say, that every year, all the time, I wish to deepen my taking refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. To fully elaborate that would be quite a spectacle. Just to give a sliver, I mean following the ten precepts more closely, among other things. To be more specific about that is to do less harm, be more generous, speak more truthfully and harmoniously. Elaborating taking refuge could be endless, it's very rich, deep.

Let's just say meditation, Dharma study and spending time with spiritual friends are key. Being kind and mindful are key. Keep it simple. I think simplifying is a big key for me. I want to read the Dharma more slowly, really put into practice what I'm reading (when appropriate). I want to be kinder. I want to really push myself to expand my awareness of others, and thus my kindness to them. I want to aim for more clarity. I want to keep pursuing the questions and not know, unlearn. I want to tolerate the ambivalence of not knowing, develop my Keat's negative capacity. It goes without saying I want to be kind, gentle and supportive to my wife and sons. They are big teachers for me. I want to learn from them. And I want to extend that to everyone. I want to live with more metta. And I want to be on time to work, so I'd better go.

two people

Originally uploaded by Trebor Scholz' Photos
Nothing to say, I just know these people, thought it would be funny to blog it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Reading Pema

I'm reading Pema Chodron's book on Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara. There's a part when Shantideva goes on and on about how you should not blame people for how they act towards you because in a way it's just the circumstances, and their abilities and perhaps you would do the same thing with the same circumstances and abilities. But a new study out, reported in the New York Times Science section, reports that we actually feel more pain if a person means to harm us. I'm not going to treat people like they're a force of nature, mechanistic. Of course I do agree that difficult people are an opportunity.


There is an article in the Science Times section about lying. A study showed that students lie two times a day, regular workers lie one time a day. People feel guilty until they realize the got away with it. Turns out other primates lie as well. There's a correlation with brain size and lying, the larger, the more likely you are to lie. Not sure what that is about.

Telling the truth is hard, it makes life easier to lie when someone asks me if I've done something that I consider absurd, or I would get into trouble if I told the truth. I see it as another aspect of how I push away pain and cling to pleasure. I do so at the cost of my integrity, my own peril. I am in process of working to evolve towards more truth telling.

On a couple of occasions I was in a meeting with the head person where I worked, and they were exploring strategies of how to lie. In one meeting I asked if we could consider telling the truth. My boss saw that as an aggressively challenging statement, very angry.

I've always thought about not just truth and falsity, but also do I speak the deeper truths, as Bante suggest in his talk on the ten precepts. When I'm angry I'm lose myself and I'm carried away. But do I also describe things in their depths. Do I have the verbal acuity and insight to describe what is really going on?

The ten ethical precepts have 4 on speech.

I have a friend who really seems to examine these precepts. I've looked in on these a few times on retreat, and there was a time where I looked at one of the ten precepts throughout my day. There are some talks on the Eddinborough Center page (temporarily out of order), where Smritiratna talks about his efforts to speak truthfully. He warns people before he says, "do you really want to know, I'm going to tell the truth." Seems he applies it to questions about how someone looks, which they are often looking not so much for an exact aesthetic approval, but maybe reassurance that they don't look horrible. Sometimes "telling the truth" can be cruel. I think harmony must be preserved, and the other person's mind must be taken into account, the expression of the truth must also be kind and not meant to hurt. Now sometimes the truth does hurt and it's appropriate to give a tough love. But I would say that is more rare than the times when you need to craft your message to be kind.

I think non-violent communication is a model of communication.
First you make an objective observation, then states your feelings, then state a need, then make a request. For example, "You guys are not using your inside voice. I feel overwhelmed by the volume. I need to have a home that is not very stressful, I feel like home is an oasis from the stress of outside life. Please keep your volume to an appropriate inside level." Perhaps it's elaborate and too complex at times. I really feel like speaking about how you feel, instead of combining what's going on and how you feel, instead of the accusation, "your so noisy!" you're less judgemental and it helps the other person figure out how to behave. Of course it takes more time than some heavy handed stuff, perhaps with parenting. Anyway, that's my imperfect example of NVC.

NVC is the opposite of lying. I think you avoid pratfalls and look to what would be virtuous.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: Keep Me In Your Heart A While

I recommend this book.

Keep Me In Your Heart A While: The Haunting Zen of Dainin Katagiri by Dosho Port is an interesting exploration of a relationship with a teacher in the modern American Zen context. With quotes from Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Warren Zevon he gives the fuller elaboration to the Zen spirit. He shares with us his tension between two schools, one that uses koans and another that doesn't. He shares with us his experiences with his teacher.

Reading his book I confront a question, I touched on in a comment on a book review of Stephen Batchelor's book Buddhism Beyond Belief on Wildmind.
Bodhipaksa sees it, if I understand his comment correctly, as condescending to point to this distinction between consolation and confrontation, to value confrontation over consolation. I have to keep that in mind because I respect his opinion.

So after bringing the above up, I want to set it aside, and give a few quotes. First is from Ayya Khema "It might feel as though meditation brings more dukkha than we had before, but that is only because we have finally admitted it and see it clearly." (p.43 Be an Island).

There have been times when I talk to people about going on retreat. People often quip, "that must be relaxing." Well, not usually for me. Usually it's disturbing, unsettling, challenging. There have been times when I've found a new level of contentment or peace, but mostly it's been very challenging.

Dosho Port uses the phrase, condescendingly perhaps, that his Dharma is not a warm dharma-hug. It's not intended to increase numbers of a religious institution, but to increase depth, to actually help people to improve. He talks about the process of disillusionment about what one initially hopes will happen on the spiritual path. In some ways I wonder if the distance we are from the goal suggests an extreme reaction to try to get us closer to it. After all, how many enlightened people have we met? And would we really notice if someone was enlightened because of our own lack of development?

So I guess my question is, if you're addressing yourself and not others, is it not OK to have a confrontational and not a consolation approach? But don't forget about Bodhipaksa.

I asked my friend what he thought. He talked about karate and tai chi. The people who do tai chi probably would get a lot from karate. The people who do karate, would probably get a lot from tai chi. So, if you're gung ho for confrontation in spirituality, you might do with more consolation. And the other way around.

I began to reflect on my own ideas of consolation. One friend told me about a conforting Green Tara fantasy he had once, where she's hugging him comforting him, and that's what he needed in that moment of hard meditation. I thought more. I thought about metta. I love it that my order has focused so much on metta. Mental positivity is something very important, and something I struggle with at times. Would it be condescending to tell people they need more metta. I sometimes experience it that way, but I do need more metta. I alternate every other day, but I struggle at times with it. Does the confrontational approach have enough metta? Is it tough love, or tough metta?

By the way, there's a lovely talk by Jnavaca called What's The Metta? on the Padmaloka site.

So this book that is out in January 2008 has lovely elements to it, and got me thinking quite a lot, and I highly recommend this personal journey, with much wit and insight.

They announce the book is being released now, so I'm releasing this review.

Dosho Port has a blog here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

second thoughts on all night meditation

As much as I suffered in the all night meditation, I think I expanded my ability to meditate by doing the marathon.

I also raised 181 pounds for youth in India.
Thank you to all who donated money!

There's an account on FWBO news.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Guest Post

Hi! I'm Red Lotus Mama. Steve asked me to guest post since I am a mother of a 3 year old daughter who practices yoga and tries to live a Zen lifestyle.

I started practicing Hatha Yoga in 2000 simply because I was interested in this tiny studio I walked by every day. After my second class I was hooked. I walked out of every class drenched in sweat and feeling like pulled taffy. My mind would be clear and my soul at ease.

When I got pregnant I attended a prenatal yoga class near my home that I loved. Then moved 25 minutes away to a neighborhood that doesn't have a studio. I purchased ZenMama Prenatal Yoga Workout and practiced at home every morning. I attended a regular yoga class at my office gym and simply modified the poses to accommodate my bulging belly. I loved being pregnant and yoga made me feel even more beautiful.

Spirituality has always been more of a challenge for me. I was raised Catholic, but now most of my friends and family would call me "lost." I haven't found an organized religion that seems to suit me. When I got pregnant my mother constantly told me that I it would be important for me to raise my child with a religion ... Christianity preferably. I am not against it, but everything in my being fights that concept. I believe that I am in control of my path to serenity and that a higher being has given me the tools to make my path and learn from my choices. I want my daughter to believe that she is in control of her path, that life is richer when you are good and respect others and nature, that there is a higher being and more to modern day solutions.

Since I live near the Chopra Center I started turning towards meditation and ayurveda. While I was pregnant I read 100 Promises to My Baby by Mallika Chopra. After my daughter was born I began reading one passage a day from The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents. It is a wonderful guide on how to approach parenting in a much more peaceful and thoughtful manner. I believe there is so much to learn from Eastern practices.

I have started introducing yoga to my daughter too. She is pretty good at downward dog, one legged downward dog and (of course) happy baby and is getting better at tree pose.

downward dog

Now if I could just get her to sit still for meditation!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

12 hours completed

We raised money for Indian Youth.

Here is a photo. One with me.

My experience was that it was grueling. We started at 9pm. I got a second wind around 4, but after that, from 5 to 9 was a very hard slog. It was funny, we heard a party going on into the night, past 3am at least.

I get this feeling meditating a lot, that as a friend said, "I'm coming out of light speed."

In the end, my knees hurt, it took a huge effort to keep my eyes open, and not lay down, and I started to itch and twitch. I've never been great at sitting totally still, but as the night progressed I got worse and worse. Quite a challenge, for a worthy cause. The fund raising totals are not in yet, but we raised some good money.

My hope is that however hard this meditation was, it's all uphill from here. I don't think I'll ever feel as challenged as I was after 5am. I think the other thing it impressed on me, is that like a marathon, you can run one without training, but it make you suffer more. If I do this again, I'm going to lay down some days of longer meditation to try and get in shape.

Thank you to everyone who participated and worked hard setting up the shrine, organizing, and serving the tea.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dharma Burger

An aspiration of mine has been to get a Dharma burger recognized on Worst Horse.

He defines the website: "The Worst Horse aims to cover the ever-colliding worlds of pop-culture, subculture, and Dharma — which is to say, essentially, Buddhism."

He writes in defining a Dharma Burger:

“Dharma-Burger” is, actually, any example of Buddhist ideas or imagery in the marketing or production of (usually non-Buddhist) services and consumables.

It happened! I've seen an ad for an ATM that included the Buddha. I finally got a photo of it.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Effective Practice

You don’t need a lot of initiations or shelves groaning with Dharma books and Sanskrit dictionaries to make your practice effective. Just reflect on what it really means to go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha, and do you best to live in accordance with that. Perform the puja and try to absorb and really feel what you are chanting and saying. Reflect on the five or ten precepts and use them as a touchstone to see how your practice could be improved. Cultivate spiritual friends. Meditate regularly. Just one or two practices are enough: the mindfulness of breathing to develop clarity, and the metta bhavana for positive emotion. Perhaps you could reflect on the Noble Eightfold Path, and specifically on how to put it into practice. You might have a string of mala beads and one or two pictures, plus a few books, including one or two anthologies of the sayings of the Buddha, and a few favorite lectures on tape or disk. This is all you really need by way of intellectual equipment to take you as far as you want to go. If your practice does not keep pace with your theoretical understanding, if what you read is not being put into action, all that reading is probably hindering your practice. Milarepa goes on to explain that ‘in the teaching of Marpa’s line’ – the Kagyu or ‘whispered’ lineage – special emphasis is placed on actual practice as opposed to any kind of verbal proliferation.

(p.196-7 of The Yogi’s Joy by Sangharakshita)

He also writes later in his document "What is the Western Buddhist Order?" also known as his last will and testament:

"My teachings pertaining to method, and therefore those of my disciples, all centre,
directly or indirectly, on the act of going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma, and
the Sangha. These comprise all the practices that I have myself taught: for instance,
the observance of the Five or Ten Precepts; the performance of the Sevenfold and
Threefold Pujas; the practice of meditation, in the framework of the System of
Meditation; the group study of the Buddhist scriptures; the cultivation of spiritual
friendship, and the enjoyment of poetry, music, and the visual arts as aids to the
spiritual life. These teachings pertaining to method are connected, directly or
indirectly, with the Buddha’s teaching of pratītya-samutpāda through the sequence of
positive, spiral nidānas, for all these teachings contribute, in one way or another, to
my disciples' progress to ever higher levels of being and consciousness, even from
the mundane at its most refined to the transcendental. Looked at from another point
of view, they contribute to the deepening of my disciples' going for refuge, so that
from being provisional it becomes effective, and from being effective it becomes real
in the sense of being irreversible."

From that I take the basic of practice is meditation in accordance with his system of meditation, following the precepts, group study of the Dharma, Puja, cultivating spiritual friendship and enjoying beauty.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Shambhala Sun

Shambhala Sun has good blog, where I found this article.

My thought is that being .7% of American population is an extreme minority position. I find a collective history very important.

Celebrating Buddhism in America: 30 Great Years

By Barry Boyce

Buddhism in America has changed dramatically in the three decades since the Shambhala Sun was founded. It’s been a fascinating time of growth, scandal, deepening practice, and ever-increasing impact on American society. The late Rick Fields, a former editor of the Sun, wrote the definite history of Buddhism’s early days in America. Now our senior editor, Barry Boyce, picks up the story.

In the mid-1970s, Rick Fields embarked on a little journey. It began simply enough, with a piece commissioned by Stewart Brand (the Whole Earth Catalog founder) for his Coevolution Quarterly. In “Beginning Buddhism,” Fields, who later became editor of the Vajradhatu Sun, set out to explain for “my father, my mother, and many other people” why Buddhism was important and relevant in the “rocky, concrete soil of America.” Working on the article sparked journalistic wanderlust in Fields, and as such pursuits are wont to do, the cataloging of Buddhism’s arrival on Western soil got out of control. He decided to track down all of the many paths Buddhism followed as it worked its way west. Eventually, his story would start with the Buddha and leave off in the late seventies. The resulting four-hundred-page book ended not with a stirring conclusion, however, but faded to black with an air of “to be continued…”

[Read whole article here.]