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.

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