Monday, December 28, 2009

2 short Hanh quotes from Buddha Mind, Buddha Body

p. 99:

"Your family is also a sangha, a small sangha. Your family may have only two, three, four people, but you can very well transform it into a sangha. If you know the practice you can very well transform it into sangha. If you know the practice you can build beautiful Sanghas."

p. 100:

"Finding a community that you respect to practice with is crucial to your happiness."


"Please remember that you don't need to be rich to practice giving."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thich Nhat Hanh quote

From p. 77 of Buddha Mind, Buddha Body:

"When mind consciousness operates alone it can be in concentration or in dispersion. Dispersion is when you allow yourself to be carried away by emotions. When we feel out of control of our lives, as if we don't have any sovereignty, that's mind consciousness in dispersion. You think and speak and do things that you cannot control. We don't want to be full of hate and anger and discrimination, but sometimes the habit energy feels so strong we don't know how to change it. There's no loving kindness, understanding, or compassion in your thinking, because you are less than your better self. Like the man who yelled at his child in the morning, you say things and do thing you wouldn't say or do if you were concentrated. You lose your sovereignty."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vajrasatva Mantra Chanted

Family as a pure land

I can sometimes get trapped into thinking the family is an impediment to meditation, retreat, spending time with sangha, Dharma study. But nothing is so black and white as this. In what sense is the family a pure land?

My answer is that my children have helped me to see certain things, like that I have a bit of a temper and that I have more work to do. They have also taught me kindness and love. I think devoting yourself to the life of a child can be a challenge. I think that's why it's hard to be the child of someone famous: They're less inclined to do the slavery of parenting, they're too important, too busy, too powerful. One of my supervisors said of raising small children, that's it's wonderful but it's also boring. To subjugate yourself to such beings is self abnegating, and of course something useful in the spiritual life. My family life teaches me as many things as I'm open to. Sometimes I yearn for retreat, Dharma study, endless time with sangha. Family also helps me to clarify that that is what I want, because I notice I can't have it. Perhaps not the most important lesson in the world, but a lesson.

So this winter vacation, I'm going to look more towards, how is my family life a pure land, instead of feeling blocked in my other Dharma pursuits. I will work harder to love what is.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bante Quote

From page 428 of The Essential Sangharakshita:

"Buddhist meditation is a clearing of the decks for action, a transforming of unskillful and unexamined mental states into integrated and refined energy, for a purpose beyond self-absorption."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thich Nhat Hanh quote

From page 28 of Buddha Mind, Buddha Body:

"When you listen to a talk or read a book about the Dharma, it's not for the purpose of getting notions and ideas. In fact it's for releasing notions and ideas. You don't replace your old notions and ideas with new ones. The talk or the writing should be like the rain that can touch the seed of wisdom and freedom within you. That's why we have to learn how to listen. We listen or read not to receive more notions and concepts, but in order to get free from all notions and concepts. It's not important that you remember what was said, but that you are free."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Many videos

Sangharakshita being interviewd by Karen Armstrong in 1984.

You can click on Clear Vision Trust and look at all the other wonderful videos.

Here's one: Order harmony in the USA

I liked the energy in this one:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

new interview with Sangharakshita

On his website, Sangharakshita published his latest conversation. I found out about it from the FWBO/TBMSG News Website.

Here is a sample quote:

"I find it very easy to venerate, to look up: I enjoy looking up to those who are better or more advanced than me in this or that respect. I found it easy to look up to my own Buddhist teachers and I find it easy to look up to the great religious figures, philosophers, poets, and artists of the past. I am very glad that there are people who have been much greater than me: I would hate to think I was the summit of human evolution – that would be a terrible thought. Of course, I have no problem looking up to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas."

Here is another related quote:

"I am not happy with cynicism and debunking or anything like that and I strongly dislike the tendency to that sort of thing in the Movement and the Order."

In these quotes he expresses his credulity, his receptivity to others, his lack of cynicism, his positivity.

I think a major interest is in his discussing his own homosexuality activity, a word he doesn't so much like to use (I'll let you read why in the interview yourself). Others have accused him of internalized homophobia, which he denies, but he empathizes when others struggle with it. He goes into quite depth in his sexual evolution and can be quite specific at times. He's also sensitive to how this is all perceived in India, where a large part of the movement exists. I was interested in whether he had a relationship with Terry, and he explicitly denies it. But it's much more than about sex, it's also about his rejecting monasticism.

He also discusses his drug use, I'll let you read about that in the interview

He also discusses Muriel Paine, whom he got the communication exercises from.

He has an interesting aphorism: "Where there is trust, explanations are unnecessary. Where there is no trust, explanations are useless." He discusses why he didn't respond right away to the Yashomitra letter. He was sick, and he felt that people judged him quickly and would not listen to him. Earlier in the essay he says he does not even remember an encounter with him, which is certainly interesting.

I love Sangharakshita for founding the order, teaching my friends, writing all those wonderful books. I don't agree that he was equal to his sexual partners, even if that is how he approached people. As humble as he is, he's denying himself as the leader of the order.

He admits people had projections towards him, and insofar as he does that he's not relating to someone as an individual. He says that when you get Sangharakshita you get all of him, not just the good parts, you can't reject the bad parts, it's not helpful to see good and bad sangharakshita. He wants to be met more intimately. It's all from the same person. He never sets himself up as perfect. I think there's a lot of interesting stuff here, but in the end, it's like Subhuti's withdrawn book, a lot of fancy dancing, but for what? In this case, we get to know Sangharakshita quite a bit more, and for that I'm grateful.

More information hasn't really shed light onto the Yashomitra situation, because he can't remember it. It puts it more into a personal context, from his perspective. I don't hear him say it's unfortunate that Yashomitra took things the way he did, and that by no means did he mean for them to go that way. Of course he can't remember the incident, so I suppose it's hard to apologize for something he can't remember. As I say, while I helps one to understand what Bante was doing at that time, it still doesn't really shed light on the incidents that Yashomitra discuss, and the impact it had on him.

He does go on to say that his sexual exploration were a good thing, in that it was an exploration of sexuality within the Dharma life, and that for him the key was not to create children that would distract one from the Dharma life.

You can read Yashomitra's letter and the Guarding article on the FWBO Files, a anti-FWBO website produced by a former member of the order (which I don't feel like linking, but have in the past). I won't go into what is said about the author of the website, either.

Finally there is a lot about the nuclear family. He sees family life as in competition with the full time Dharma life.

I have to admit, children have taken a lot from me, my personal present Dharma malaise is related to my crushing responsibilities, my need for sleep, the need to provide for my family. My single friends are however under a similar crush with their careers, the struggle for self actualization and paying rent. It's not clear in NYC that I'm less committed than the single mitras and friends. Perhaps that's more a statement about the NYC sangha than parenthood and leading the Dharma life. I also wonder about integrations of family and Dharma life. Perhaps that's up to others to explore.

So on the whole a very interesting and informative letter. I recommend it to all those interested in the FWBO/WBO/TBMSG. In many ways it says things that haven't been said before. I am very grateful it's been shared.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I found this through Shambhala SunSpace, which, by the way, has some good articles on prison Dharma. I've been inside for a retreat and correspond with a Dharma brother inside. Many of my friends participate as well, it's a big part of their practice.

Also in the news, a man in a coma meditated... via Christoper Titmuss, who by the way has an awesome talk on FBA.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Bhante says in Wisdom Beyond Words. "Every advertisement that you see is in effect an advertisement against Buddhism, because it promotes greed, hatred, and delusion or all three"

Found at Ratnaghosha's blog.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Giving Yourself Away

From Karen Armstrong's biography of the Buddha (159):

"The Sangha is one of the oldest surviving voluntary institutions on earth: only the Jain order can boast a similar antiquity. It's endurance tells us something important about humanity and human life. The great empires, manned by vast armies of soldiers, have all crumbled, but the community of bhikkhus has lasted some 2,500 years... The message seems to be that it is not by protecting and defending yourself that you survivie, but by giving yourself away."

Book Review

Ethnic Buddhism is culture confused as spiritual teachings. You could use something like a Japanese Tea Ceremony to improve your mindfulness. There are hundreds of different practices to choose from. Buddhism is new to the USA, and we have taken to meditation and an intellectual approach, as far as I can tell. To be honest, I have not wandered far from the FWBO, which is an ecumenical and inclusive order. But I do enjoy reading about other traditions. I enjoy learning about other cultures as well. I don’t know if ethnic Buddhism counts as culture of Dharma. As the Dharma travels through different cultures, it changes, new aspects are revealed. The Buddha didn’t want his ideas translated into the formal Brahminical language—he spoke in the language of the people.

In reaction to monastic formalism, Shinran quit the monastery he’d been in for 20 years, and got married and preached a more devotional populist Dharma, Rejecting an emphasis on meditation. What I like is that Shinran followed his heart, he experimented against the grain. I don’t personally want to reject meditation, or attempts at stream entry in this life. But the most popular form of Buddhism on the planet Earth is Pure Land Buddhism, a devotional form of Buddhism. Shinran is part of the WBO refuge tree, which I do as prostration practice and visualization.

The Buddha’s Wish For The World
by Monshu Koshin Ohtani spins a basic unpretentious Dharma, that is deeply embedded in Japanese culture. (“Monshu” is a heredity title, by the way, and Buddhism was more about a natural hierarchy than being born into a role, but no doubt the training the Dali Lama has gotten has helped him to evolve to quite an awesome.)

Here are links to other reviews of the book.

One on Amazon:

"This publication honors the 750th memorial of the founder of Jodo Shinshu, Shinran Shonin (1173 -1263). Jodo Shinshu, who established this spiritual path in 13th century Japan, had much in common with his contemporary, Zen Master Dogen."

It's a positive review, but I don't share Ted Biringer's glowing review, but perhaps he was more in tune with the book.

Here is another positive review.

One of my friends said a practice of Shin Buddhism is to say the mantra eighty thousand times in a day. Now that’s something. Extreme things appeal to me. You have to do something challenging to shake up ordinary consciousness to move towards enlightenment.

I'm not attracted to the other power yet, but I'm going to keep reading Shin Buddhism to see if I can glean any insights into devotional aspect of Buddhism.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The appeal

"Many aspects of the Buddha's quest will appeal to the modern ethos. His scrupulous empiricism is especially congenial to the pragmatic tenor of our own Western culture, together with his demand for intellectual and personal independence. Those who find the idea of a supernatural God alien will also warm to the Buddha's refusal to affirm a Supreme Being. He confined his researches to his own human nature and always insisted that his experiences--even the supreme Truth of Nibana--were entirely natural to humanity. Those who become weary of the intolerance of some forms of institutional religiosity will also welcome the Buddha's emphasis on compassion and loving-kindness."

from Karen Armstrong's biography of the Buddha.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Aryaloka dome

Aryaloka dome
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

Aryaloka Buddha 1

Aryaloka Buddha 1
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

Aryaloka Buddha 3

Aryaloka Buddha 3
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

Aryaloka garden

Aryaloka garden
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

Buddha attacked by Mara, Bodh Gaya

Bhante Padmaloka

Bhante Padmaloka
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

Guhyaloka Shrineroom - Refuge Tree

Padmasambhava - Aloka Padmaloka

Missoula RMBC door 2

Missoula RMBC door 2
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

San Francisco BC front door

Aryaloka entrance

Aryaloka entrance
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

listening to a talk2

listening to a talk2
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos
For some reason I like this one.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bodhipaksa's next book

Bodhipaksa is working on a book developed out of reflections on the 6 Element practice, and he's allowed me to read 4 of the chapters so far. It's an amazing book, I can't wait till it comes out.

In the 6 Element Practice you contemplate how the elements of earth, water, air, fire (energy), space and consciousness are inside of us, outside of us, then you say, "they are not me, they are not mine."

It leads to a kind of spiritual death, and in the FWBO/TBMSG it is used as a run up to ordination, when you get a sadhana practice, a visualization of an archetypal Buddha, who has qualities you move towards, you become. I have not been asked to join the order, but I think about what sadhana I want to do when (hopefully) I'm asked to join. I have a connection with Avalokita, and others, and more recently with Amoghasiddhi.

But that's in the system of meditation designed by Sangharakshita for the F\WBO.
I think you can just do this meditation. I've spent time doing it after liking it on one retreat. I've had some profound experiences, and been brought up to the great fear.

So Bodhipaksa has gained some insights from the meditation and he's done some back ground research into various aspects, and it's really quite interesting. I find it quite amazing. I can't wait till it comes out. It's the kind of book that you read on a solitary retreat, it's that awesome.

Mamma Zen

Here's a quote from Mamma Zen by Karen Maezen Miller:

“There is a certain attitude, perhaps unavoidable, that most of us seem to adopt when we grow up. It’s a kind of self-satisfied conclusion that our parents didn’t love us enough. They didn’t love us the right way. They didn’t love us just so. Have your own child and you will penetrate in to he utter absurdity of that idea. You will love your child as your parents loved you and their parents loved them. With a love that is humbling and uncontrived, immense and indestructible. Parents err, of course, and badly. They can be ignorant, foolish, mean and far worse, in was that you can come to forgive in them and try to prevent in yourself. But this wholesale shortage of parental love at the crux of everyone’s story must be the product of shabby and self serving recollections. Now that you are a mother, and set that story aside, forgetting everything you thought you knew about love.”

I find this quote powerful.

Along similar lines, there is Naiken Therapy.

Bhante as boy

Bhante as boy
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

Dhammarati waist-up sitting on wall, just after his ordination, Blasy, Glasgow 1976(2182Ax)

Nagabodhi, 1978 Order Convention, Vine Hall

Nagabodhi, 1987

Nagabodhi, 1987
Originally uploaded by FWBO photos

USA Aryaloka community, New Hampshire 1990s (ref 1882aAx)

I know at least 3 of these guys.


Originally uploaded by FWBO photos
I've been reading Teachers of Enlightenment, and I found this photo on FWBO Photos. This is the FWBO refuge tree.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


On most retreats, I forge deeper connections to archetypal Bodhisattva. Last year I got into Ksitigarbha, which was appropriate because I was working in a prison at the time. I've had a lovely retreat on the historical Buddha, Gautama Buddha. My first connection was to Avalokitesvara. Then to balance that out I got into Manjushri, the two are seen as going together, wisdom and compassion. I've talked to people about various jinas. And of course the extensive work on the prostration practice to the WBO refuge tree, has us exploring these grounds over again. I have read Vessantara's Meeting The Buddhas, and I want to reread it all again, though mostly it's a reference book to look into. It's hard to digest it all. I suppose some people can swim in these kinds of waters, and I'm getting better at that. Some people don't respond to the archetypal Bodhisattva, and that's OK. There are many tools on the path, it's up to you to try and check them out. Of course it's also worthwhile to try some, maybe more than once, because others before on the path have used them.

Amoghasiddhi represents fearlessness, unobstructed success. We had a really cool mantra on the retreat about him, and I sang it all the way home. I've been chanting it a lot, and thinking about him. So I just wanted to remember when I first got my connection to Amoghasiddhi. I think I've heard a talk about him before, an order member had a sadhana of Amoghasiddhi. So maybe I was introduced to it then, but I did not feel so much of a connection. It was through mantra, in the midst of a retreat, during a puja, that I forged this connection I'm feeling strongly.

(All links to Wikipedia, the amazing on-line, open source encyclopedia, which you can improve!)

In an endnote, there is an order member in the WBO that is named Amoghasiddhi, and you can read his story by clicking on this sentence.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So in a way a retreat experience is inexpressible to people outside the spiritual community. Of course I talked a lot on retreat to my spiritual friends. I suppose what I'm doing is to try and think about he retreat now, as a kind of way to keep it alive. Of course I write in my journal and to friends.

In fact, spiritual friendship is one of the keys to retreat experience. I get into a kind of tender and soft place, and that makes me more open and receptive. That's what the retreat was about--receptivity. We focused on the acceptance verse in the public ordination, "with loyalty to my teachers." One aid in that is the Cetokhila Sutta. This translation is a little different, in ours it talked about "ardor", which is a lovely word. I'm not going to go into the sutta, except to say that I have to kind of map it out on a sheet of paper to make sense of it. Because it's from an oral tradition it has all these mnemonic devices to help the monks memorize it, and that makes it actually hard to me to hear it. My mind wants a kind of outline or a story. The other thing I would say is that I uncovered personal reasons why, in my mind, there is subtle doubt about companions in the spiritual life, and I worked hard to understand the barriers I put up. My isolation is becoming less and less tenable.

How do I become more soft, tender. Lots of meditation. I have to say, compared to most of my brothers, I'm too wiggly of a meditator. I'm not so flexible, and I quickly scratch myself, put my legs up to make them comfortable. Compared to my rock like peers. But this retreat I was trying to appreciate and explore my body, with the influence of old Reggie Ray and his last book on somatic meditation, and Paramananda's book The Body. So, when my knees began to hurt, I investigated, tried to bring a sense of play instead of feeling trapped. I get twisty knee pain when I sit in a modified half lotus, and straight on knee pain when I used my bench. There's a kind of princess and the pea situation where I pile up a bunch of mats to try and not feel hardness on my knees. I would modify my posture to put more pressure on my butt, but then I would be hunched. I was trying to keep my body aligned, the hips at the right angle, my head at the right angle, my arms just so, and my shoulders not hunched.

So the pain would lead to a panic attack, and the panic attack led to emotional pain. I cried a lot. Someone put a brownie on my pillow Wednesday. The cool thing was that I thought anyone on the retreat was capable of it. That kind of kindness kills me.

So in the company of men, we told our life stories, and met in small groups and heard talks, lots of discussion of the Dharma. I have to say, I love Dharma talk. We also went on walks with each other, I thoroughly enjoyed talking with everyone. I have to say it's a special group of men. The food was good. It was more nature than I'm used to in NYC, so I enjoyed looking at green, seeing trees sway in the wind, sitting outside.

Here's what google earth shows as the two domes:

View Larger Map

Looks pretty green around there. Here's where I live on Google earth:

View Larger Map

Not my real address by the way but my neighborhood. Anywho, to continue. We also listened to a good talk by Subhuti on just sitting meditation.

I also read David Smith's book, A Record of Awakening. Someone mentioned it, and I'd forgotten it, so since it's short, I read it again. I never got to read the letter as to why he decided not to try and join the order, and started his own sangha. It's funny, there are a lot of controversies going around the order, but out here you kind of miss them. Something to talk about I suppose.

So, that's all I want to say for now. I have to say, I'm not sure what my point about communicating this stuff is to the strangers, I question blogging. Am I some kind of exhibitionist? Am I really adding to the knowledge of the Dharma? I doubt it. I expect it's kind of like a public notebook record of my spiritual life, and that's not a horrible thing. I hope everyone is well.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I'm off to a retreat tomorrow. I'm very excited. With work school and family, I don't do retreat as much as I would like, but then again I chose to have a family and work, I chose an intense profession. It's a great thing that my wife doesn't raise a stink about taking care of our 2 small boys while I'm gone. Not too much. I encourage her to go on retreat, but she doesn't want to be away from the family and thinks I'm a little crazy to do it.

I don't work at Aryaloka so it's fairly untainted for me. I have dreams where I'm trying to get there. The retreat will be 9 days, men only. I enjoy being with men. I like single sex activity. The retreat is also for men who have asked for ordination into the Western Buddhist Order.

My friend jokes, so you can marry people? People ask me if I'm going to open up a church? Here is what the F/WBO has to say about it. I don't think I'm getting ordained any time soon, but I feel impatient to join the order at times. I reported in, answering questions, in an e-mail. Ongoing work in trying to deepen my practice.

I'm looking forward to a retreat from electronic devices. I don't even really read much when I'm on retreat. It's going to be a lot of face to face conversations, meditation, healthy vegetarian grub, chanting, discussion, puja and confession. I hope to go for walks and look and appreciate trees and the river.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My favorite restaurants in Queens and Manhattan

OK, so I'm no restaurant critic. But I want to notice the good vegetarian restaurants in NYC because it's not easy to be a vegetarian. I struggle, I have to call myself a semi-vegetarian at this point. I come home exhausted, and the food that's leftover has meat in it. I know I create demand when I eat it, so maybe I need to go firm again. Another strand is that I'm trying to respond more genuinely and not so pressured, so I want it to come from my heart, which might be a cop of but is what I'm going through in my struggles to evolve to a complete vegetarian. I do home to evolve to not even using eggs or milk.


The first restaurant is a romantic favorite: Dani's. It's a special place for my wife and I. I had the pumpkin ravioli last night and I love it. They also have a very good beer selection, I get Three Philosophers. It's the one restaurant I don't mind waiting for a table. And you have to, we went there Monday at 5:15pm, and it was full up (though we got a table). Also it's a good date night place, because there's a cool movie theater there with independent films.

Next is Tierra Sana on Queens Blvd., up from Forest Hills near Rego Park. It has good healthy economical grub. A place that deserves your attention if you're in the area.

I love Buddha Bodai Vegetarian Restaurant. I usually get the fake chicken. I think my criticism of this place is that I don't want fake meat, I want vegetarian food, but that's a small matter. A plus to this place is that it has a parking lot! Also next door is an India grocery where you can get some good breads.

No vegetarian review of Queens is complete without a nod to the Sri Chimnoy restaurant. I like the Oneness Fountain Heart Restaurant best. Good vegetarian grub.

There are so many Indian Food restaurants. My friend who moved to Canada, used to like to go to Jackson Diner, which is often rated well. I liked it before it became so famous and remodeled, but maybe it was already famous then. It's a bit of a warehouse. You can go next door and get roughly the same meal, but somehow I go there.


Next is Dojo's in Manhattan. I have spent so many good sangha meals there. Also it's very affordable. I get the Hijiki Tofu Dinner which is $4.95. I often substitute french fries for the more healthy rice. It is centrally located off Broadway on 4th Street in the NYU neighborhood, near where we have sangha night and practice days in Soho.

If you want variety, then the buffet at Temple in the Village, is for you. The Japanese-American family that runs this place is polite. I get a little of every green thing there. With the buffet you can get what ever you like. I used to go there when I went to NYU and I've met sangha there as well. Great place. Very healthy.

Uptown, near Columbia, where the highest concentration of NYC sangha resides (2 people makes a concentration) is this lovely cheap restaurant, Roti Roll. One guy I overheard, didn't like the cleanliness of the place, but I haven't seen anything dirty. Yummy roti rolls!

For more money, in the same neighborhood, and another favorite sangha hangout, where I've spent lovely times with visiting order members, is Awash. This Ethiopian restaurant serves you the food on bread that you rip off and grab the food with. A lovely tactile experience, you eat with your hands.

Finally near sangha is this crepe place.

No restaurant review of NYC is complete without Zen Palate. Their location off Union Square makes it good place to eat when you're there.

On 6th Street, between 1st and 2nd is a kind of Little India, but supposedly it's more Bangladeshi. I usually like Ghandi Indian Restaurant.

So these are the restaurants with vegetarian options which I really enjoy in my neck of the woods in Queens, upper west side near Columbia and around NYC. These restaurants make it easy to be a vegetarian. I wish there were more like them.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

meditation takes gumption

"Meditation takes gumption." p.7 of Bhante Genepola Gunaranta's Mindfulness in Plain English.

I've taken a bit of a Dharma holiday, and by that I mean a holiday away from the Dharma. I often try to surround my life with the Dharma through meditation, listening to Dharma talks, reading, spending time with friends by various means.

What happens if I stopped that, and saw what suck, reminded myself of what I lose when I don't do those things?

What happens is I don't feel as healthy, aware, centered, honoring what is important to me. I feel like I've lost my vision, I'm adrift, unmoored.

It's a bit of a crisis for me. How do I get it back? I'm going to have a big powerful retreat in a month and I really want to build up to it. In part I'm exhausted from work and family life, but I'm also not doing the most nourishing things I could be doing.

Another strand, is that reading The Essential Sangharakshita, I wonder if I can whip up the requisite intensity. This landmark book carries the most intense bits of Sangharakshita's corpus. I felt like I had to wear oven mits to hold the book. Can I sustain that amidst my ambition to be a good father, to be a good therapist to my patients? I have divided my energies into three big projects. Maybe they have synergy between them.

So another strand is the question, can I infuse what feels nonspiritual with the spiritual? Can I get spiritual nourishment from work and family life? I think the answer is yes, but it really works most when I surround myself with the other supports, like meditation, friendship and study.

So reading this quote this morning from Bhante Genepola Gunaranta helped me. I got up and meditated. I realized that what I'm trying to do isn't the usual thing, but that it's the thing for me, and that I really need confidence in my path, that I'm learning even as I try experiments that fail.

I think also I've kind of thrown myself into the Dharma willy nilly. I want to target myself more, be more judicious, really cull the wisdom I have gained about what's truly nourishing.

I've notice sometimes in myself and others, they can take the insights and use them to feel dispirited, when they could easily be empowering. Maybe my little experiment has shown me what is really important to me. I must do the best I can under the circumstances and work to improve the circumstances.

"You can make a great deal of effort, but if it does not include an effort to create more favorable conditions, you are almost wasting your energy. On the other hand, you can be in the most favorable conditions imaginable, but if you are not making an effort, what use are those conditions? Both are necessary." THE ESSENTIAL SANGHARAKSHITA page 629

Friday, August 07, 2009

new talk on video sangha

I've read Vishvapani's work on FWBO Discussion.
I'm removed from the order (not having been invited to join, and geographically) but I can get to know the order through these lovely videos on VideoSangha. Vishvapani has a new article out here. He's also a new father, always a joyous thing! Congratulations.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

silly satirical video

One of my patient's once said to me, "yea, he feels no desire, let me tell you Buddhist men feel plenty of desire."

Check out this video link. The video is a satirical look at a posing Buddhist, not too subtle.

On the teaching side, we're seeing some videos of Chogyam Trungpa coming out. Try this one. Second part. Third part. There are some other videos of him here.

The Shin Buddhism of Unno

First I’d like to indicate what is for me simpatico, before I review.

"There is never going to be a kind of spiritual welfare state. The goal for everyone is to be oneself a creator of a Pure Land, not an endless consumer of spiritual goodies." (p112 Living Ethically by Sangharakshita).

From the Dhammapada (p.44 Gil Fronsdale edition):

“Purity and impurity depend on oneself;
No one can purify another”

River of Fire, River of Water
by Taitetsu Unno is subtitled “An Introduction to the Pure Land tradition of Shin Buddhism”

My initial instinct is that I don’t want to chant a mantra to be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land, that feels too much like praying to get into heaven. But I like Blofeld’s quoting another in saying, “"All the sects are like beads on one rosary." (From Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin). So my question is what can I learn about the devotional from this tradition?

One thing I don’t like about Pure Land is mappo (as posted earlier). Even if you could prove it, and I don’t think you can, I think it has a whiff of a self-defeating idea. We can create our own pure lands.

The idea that meditation is elitist is also suspect (p.3). To say one aspect of Buddhism is superior is restrictive, reductive. Pragmatically for a person, that’s fine, but to state categorically shows a little sense of objectivity about the Buddhist tradition and the path of others. It seems true that if you focus just on mantra recitation you will develop that ability more. But restricting one’s practice to only one item of practice when there are so many feels artificial. It was a development perhaps about the rigidity of the situation in Japan at the time.

The idea that garbage is good, that you can ease into reality by just dropping all the intellectual stuff, and just being devotional is appealing. But you have to be careful not to just rewrite bad as good.

I have to admit that I prefer confrontation to consolation in spirituality.

I don’t feel the connection between the mantra and all the powers he attributes to it—that you appreciate the negatives and accept them; That you raise above your small self with “other power”. He does talk about good things, and it is good to accept yourself fully and work to grow beyond your small self. In a way this book felt like Subhuti’s withdrawn book Women, Men and Angels; It’s exquisitely argued, but I wonder why. If Pure Land eschews the elitist intellectual, than why use their language? I feel like poetry would be more persuasive. Milarepa eschews the academic lamas of his time, and so he sings songs. Feels bizarre to have a well reasoned intellectual justification of devotion. In Sangharakshita’s Ritual and Devotion, I felt like the book wasn’t intellectual, it was just persuasive.

I have to say I do like it that Buddhism appreciates it’s rebels, it’s heretics. Shinran and Honen broke with a rigid tradition, so in a way I appreciate their innovative spirit.

Here’s a good link on devotional practice from someone in the FWBO tradition:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

quote on practice


"You can make a great deal of effort, but if it does not include an effort to create more favorable conditions, you are almost wasting your energy. On the other hand, you can be in the most favorable conditions imaginable, but if you are not making an effort, what use are those conditions? Both are necessary."

Sunday, July 12, 2009


As FWBO/TBMSG News points out Sudarshan and Bodhisakhi passed away July 6th. There are 2 talks available, and there's an interesting interview in print. Sudarshan was born "untouchable" but luckily with prosperous and good parents. He says:

"I became conscious of caste system when I was about six years old. We couldn’t take water from the wells of high-caste people. We couldn’t go inside their houses. We couldn’t eat with them. It was our ‘caste duty’ to behave in a certain way. I was hating this. I often asked myself: ‘Why am I not allowed to go into temples? Why am I not allowed to take part in religious activities?’ I was feeling a lot of pain from that experience; some anger also. That was the usual feeling for us. Actually, most ‘untouchable’ people felt anger more strongly than me against high-caste Hindus and the caste system."

When I met him I got a really good vibe from him, and I really liked him. I'm sorry to hear he's gone. I'm going to listen to the two condolences speeches: One by Lokamitra. One by Subhuti.

Milarepa quote

From pp. 476-477, from chapter 41 of The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa:

"The Ultimate Practice is not to consider
Distractions and drowsiness as faults.
Doing so to stave them off is like
kindling a lamp in bright daylight."

I like this quote because I've recently been thinking about how Padmasambhava doesn't get rid of demons, but "pins them down," and stares at them. The evolution of a meditater might be about making friends with your weaknesses and problems.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

John Blofeld

I just finished Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin. Quite a lovely book for me. I'm considering Avalokita for my potential sadhana.

In the FWBO you get a sadhana when you join the order. You can of course visualize what ever you want, but to be given a sadhana, initiated, is a wonderful thing. I can also visualize the refuge tree, as part of the prostration practice, which is a maximal practice. Also in there have been other visualization practices done on retreat. So I wondered if Blofeld got the sadhana too quickly, without doing preliminary work, but with such a beautiful book, I think it worked out for him. This personal account is well worth reading.

I have a friend who has a tattoo on his left upper arm of Kuan Yin (Guan Yin on Wikipedia and I've also seen Quan Yin). I also have a friend who named her dog Kuan Yin.

I have a strong interest in Avalokitsvra. My first little talk in front of my sangha was about Avalokita. Avalokita is also in the Heart Sutra, which is an amazing text. The legend of wanting to save everyone in Enlightenment, and blowing up and being put back together by Amitabha, resonates with me. Amitabha's mantra is often chanted in Pure Land Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism which is more devotional. It turns out that Kuan Yin is also evoked and prayed to in a Pure Land tradition.

Blofeld write, "Do not fall into the trap of making distinctions that are meaningful only at a very superficial level. Ch'an, Pure Land and Vajrayana are not three paths to the same goal, but three gateways to the same path, or even one gateway seen in various lights." (p. 121).

He quotes someone saying, "All the sects are like beads on one rosary." (p. 84). He does come at it with a western rational mind, but comes to see Kuan Yin as something that really exists outside his mind, in the world. I appreciate his very personal struggle to make sense of the tradition he did not grow up in.

He gets a little polemical in the end:

"We must cease unctuously exposing children to boring sermons, to affirmations of belief in which we have little or no faith ourselves, to notions of vengeful deities befouled by the smoke of burnt offerings, to symbols of agonizing death quite opposite to a child's inborn conception of what is good and beautiful and joyous. Children's innate perceptions must not be smothered but set free!" (p.140).

I have had to live a lifetime under the dominance of Christianity. It did not fit with me. It wasn't until I found the dharma that I understood what everyone was going on about, I can imagine Christianity now.

To me Blofeld is persuasive about opening my mind to Pure Land, and to opening the mind to the richness of ideas outside our culture. I feel like he gets it, I feel sympatico. It makes me want to read the book on Pure Land that I got at Aryaloka.

I find it interesting the way he traces the origins of Kuan Yin to Avalokitesvra, and I wonder if there is not some American legendary figure that can be transformed into a Bodhisattva. Paul Bunyon? He might be more a manifestation of Manjushri, with his axe instead of a sword. Johnny Appleseed? He was a Christian missionary, so I won't appropriate him for Buddhism. The legendary figures of the west are too violent to be Bodhisattvas. I would say Casey Jones was too obsessed with work, he dies at the throttle. Likewise with John Henry. Roy Hobbs is too sports oriented. I can't find an American folk hero that can be an American manifestation of Avalokita.

Maybe that guy who laid down on the subway tracks to save a man, Wesley Autrey. I'm also inspired by the freedom fighters who died, like Viola Liuzzo.

Anyway, I'm not yet ready to chant their mantras to be reborn in their pure lands, but that brings to mind Bante's quote about pure lands:

"There is never going to be a kind of spiritual welfare state. The goal for everyone is to be oneself a creator of a Pure Land, not an endless consumer of spiritual goodies." (p112 Living Ethically).

I don't believe in mappo, Nichiren's idea that things have degenerated so much that we can't become enlightened. I just don't think it's a helpful idea. If it's proven true, I suppose I'd have to believe it, but I don't know how someone could prove it was true.

So to conclude, this book has many interesting angles from the slice of life in Asia, to the personal spiritual journey, to the thoughts about Pure Land Buddhism, not to mention a detailed meditation on Kaun Yin. I recommend it. It's published by Shambhala, a fine Buddhist publisher.

Monday, July 06, 2009


If you have not been on retreat I highly recommend it. My first week long retreat is the deep experience that made me want to be a mitra and ask for ordination into the FWBO. (btw here's a blog entry about becoming a mitra.)

So the retreat was lovely. Here is a brief post about the kalyana mitra ceremonies that were performed.

Here's a video of Sangharakshita promoting Jai Bhim!.
He's a bit cheeky. Sangharakshita clearly enjoys reading the book.

So Aryaloka is a lovely place, I always enjoy everything: food, green spaces, friendship, meditation, Dharma. It takes me 4.5 hours to drive there alone from Queens NYC. I listened to some lovely Dharma talk on Free Buddhist Audio on the way up and down. Going up I listened to What Is Enlightenment by Jinapriya. When he talked about a friend's feeling of concentration as he flew threw the air, being in the moment, I thought of my own recent skydiving adventure. (Photos on facebook.) Anyway, it's a lovely talk that I highly recommend. I first listened to it on a solitary retreat at Aryaloka and well, what a lovely thing to listen to.

One thing I did on this retreat was to process past retreat, especially my last solitary retreat. Since then I haven't been able to wake up and meditate when I don't have enough sleep. Hitherto I'd forced myself to. I think I tuned into myself in such a way that I was no longer going to not honor my experience of being tired. I'd heard the advice to push myself, but I wasn't quite honoring my experience. At times I see that as a step back, not meditating every day, but reflecting on it in the company of spiritual friends, I see it's a good thing.

I think I also invalidate myself by expecting more from my circumstances than are really possible. I had that mirrored back to me a few time. It's especially hard, as I noted when I was reporting out, that I am susceptible to Mahayana hyperbole. The first two days were on the first three chapters of Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara

The final day was, as noted above, on spiritual friendship. We can gossip, in a positive way about people we know. Among other things about this news.

So it was cool to be with just men. It's interesting to see how I feel as in comparison to being on a mixed retreat.

They have beautiful postings at Aryaloka and you can see this one which includes a friend's shrine on it.

And of course it's cool to dip into the library and read the latest periodicals. I read this article, about Harold Ramis.

So well done everyone, thank you for your hard work: Danakamala for his cooking, Steve Sloan for his organizational work, Steve Cardwell for his organizational support and the running of the book store. Thank you to Nagabodhi for coming across the pond. Thank you to Bodhi for dropping in to give a short talk. Thank you to Narrotama for his leadership and wonderful presence. Thank you to everyone who made the retreat so special.

I listened to a favorite talk of mine on the ride home. Manjuka talks about aping being a good Buddhist instead of being authentic. Buddhism isn't any specific content in the mind, it's an approach to that content. I'm not sure if emotions are givens that are exempt from asking of they are skillful or not. I think you can frame things in an unskillful way, and that that will lead to feelings, and you can change that dynamic, but I get his point that we really need to figure out what is going on before we work towards fixing it, and be careful not to pretend to be good while denying what is really going on. A lovely talk that I put at the top of my list of talks to listen to.

May you be happy, may you be well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Milarepa quote

From p. 378 of Ten Thousand Songs of Milarepa:

"I attain all my knowledge through studying my mind within, thus all my thoughts become the teachings of Dharma. So long as I do not become separated from my own mind, I am always accompanied by sutras. I have realized that all manifestations are Mind, and the mind itself is the illumination. These are my Gurus."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Living Ethically: Advice from Nagarjuna's Precious Garland

Sangharakshita has a new book Living Ethically on Nagarjuna's Precious Garland.

At first I didn't want to write a review because I'm not an expert on the Precious Garland. I've read it, and had parts read to me on retreat, but in no way do I feel I can judge whether Sangharakshita is true to the text or not, whether I agree with his interpretation. But in the end it's Sangharakshita riffing off of Nagarjuna's Precious Garland, and updating it with his unique vision for modern Buddhists. Whether you like his vision or not, will inform whether you find this book useful.

I would categorize with book with his Mahayana commentaries, Tranforming Self and World, The Inconceivable Emancipation, and The Drama of Cosmic Enlightenment. I might add The Yogi's Joy.

I would also connect it with Sangharakshita's book Ten Pillars of Buddhism in that much of the book is also an exposition of the Ten Pillars:

1. I undertake to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake to abstain from taking the not-given.
3. I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake to abstain from harsh speech.
6. I undertake to abstain from useless speech.
7. I undertake to abstain from slanderous speech.
8. I undertake to abstain from covetousness.
9. I undertake to abstain from animosity.
10. I undertake to abstain from false views.

There are also positive ones of these (which I have modified a little):

1. With deeds of loving-kindness I purify my body.
2. With open-handed generosity I purify my body.
3. With simplicity, stillness and contentment, I purify my body.
4. With truthful communication I purify my speech.
5. With words kindly and gracious I purify my speech
6. With utterances helpful, I purify my speech.
7. With utterances harmonious, I purify my speech.
8. Abandoning covetousness for tranquility I purify my mind.
9. Changing hatred into compassion, I purify my mind.
10. Transforming ignorance into wisdom I purify my mind.

So the above ideas of how to move towards skillful actions play a large part in this book, and I feel the exploration is positive and helpful. He puts it this way:

"Ideally, we should act spontaneously, with ease and flexibility, rather than acting out of a sense of being hedged in on every side by self-recrimination or out of fear of transgressing some immutable moral law. Having said that, our wider aim should be to reach out beyond our personal happiness towards what is of profounder concern to us, namely, benefiting others. If you succeed in doing this, you are being a true friend to yourself." (p. 18)

There is also references in the book to monitoring mental states closely, so as to try and cultivate positive states, which makes me think of Know Your Mind, which is based on the Abhidharma, and it perhaps one of Sanghrakshita's most complex books.

So categorizing aside, this book has many strong messages. In my 7th year or reading Sangharakshita, I'm noticing the theme of intensity. Being a Buddhist is more than just reading books, more than just meditating, there has to be a real translation into action, and not just an ethical action, but also action that takes into account others, the boddhisattva ideal. Of course this book is less intense than The Essential Sangharakshita, because those are the edited highlights of his whole career, and Living Ethically is just one edited seminar. By the way you can find the seminar or seminars this book was based on at Free Buddhist Audio.

For a sample of the intensity and clarity, consider the following quote about vows:

"You might want to make a vow. A vow is a very simply a statement - usually a public statement - to the effect that you will do or not do, something either for a certain period of time, or for ever. Not that you'll try to, not that you promise to: you will. When you make a vow it is already accomplished, and there is no question of your breaking it. To make the vow is to keep it. Even if you don't say it in front of other people, you say it in front of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and you call upon them to witness your vow. For example, you should know yourself well enough not to make a vow out of self-hatred, just as a way of making life difficult for yourself, although even if you did this, you would still have to keep the vow. Should you break a vow, it means you didn't really make it in the first place, and this wills how that you are not an emotionally integrated person." (p. 22)

I found this very helpful about vows.

Consider this quote:

A Buddhist should be a walking paradox in the eyes of the world: he or she should be obviously happy, even in the absence of financial security, social status, luxury consumer goods, or a sexual relationship - all of which are commonly regarded as being essential to human happiness. The sight of such a person would make people wonder, 'How can this be? Perhaps ideas about life are not the whole story.' It is what a Buddhist is that speaks to people, far more than clever presentations of Buddhist Doctrine." (p92)

And this:

There is never going to be a kind of spiritual welfare state. The goal for everyone is to be oneself a creator of a Pure Land, not an endless consumer of spiritual goodies." (p112)

The intensity is provocative. Am I a piker? I've got to get down to it!

There's a lot of really good stuff in this book, and I could have easily produced 3-4 longer quotes that meant a lot to me. I recommend reading this book. And may you be happy, may you be well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hello At Last

Hello at last.
You have only
just begun to
know each other.

(Allan Gurganus)

Reading Sara Jenkins’ book Hello At Last, is like meeting someone on retreat and going for a walk with them. On retreat there is a heightened sense of awareness, kindness and receptivity, so in a way you really get to know someone, in a way the ordinary world doesn’t support. There is time, mindfulness and kindness. I have the experience on retreat of wishing everything was retreat. Would not the world be perfect if we could sustain this intensity? I cling to the pleasure of it, and that’s another thing I get to work on while on retreat.

This idea is carried forward into a practical idea of living in a single sex community, working in a team based right livelihood and going along to the center. I’m told it’s like being on retreat in ordinary life. I’m told people make rather rapid progress under such supportive circumstances. Unfortunately, from this perspective, I have a wife and kids, and do not live in the heart of the FWBO order where that would be a real possibility. So my kids are my gurus and I don’t have maximally supportive conditions.

Speaking of living on retreat in ordinary life, don't forget the upcoming Urban Retreat. There are some new photos, videos and talks.

To keep the dharma alive in me, I read. Spending time with a spiritual friend is not easy so reading a book is a kind of substitute. I was quite happy to get to know Sara Jenkins though her personal account of friendship.

Friendship is a lovely subject and Sara Jenkins chooses a more personal approach than Subhuti does in his book, which is much less personal. She writes, “I’m afraid of saying too much, of being too personal. Afraid of saying something I hadn’t realized myself…” (p.72). She is talking about exposing herself to sangha, but her book too is an exposure, deeply personal.

She strikes me as an intellectual introvert; I think I would like her. She experiences TBMSG in India and tries the communication exercises there. I was jealous she went to Pune and toured the sites, met Lokamitra. I’m also reading The Prisons We Broke by Baby Kamble, a Dalit female memoir. My heart goes out to this community.

My first draft of this review focused on what I felt I would like to talk more to her about, my preference for different language. I wish I could be in dialogue with her. I feel this is a wonderful book, and wish to have her further elaborate certain issues.

Her teacher is from the Zen tradition and she talks a lot about dismantling the self. I have a close friend who likes that talk and finds it helpful. I respect other’s path. I myself don’t find that way of talking about it helpful. I prefer to realize my parts, in my multiplicity and transcend them, act skillfully, in my own interest. Of course with awareness, old selves peal away easily and we mature and plot a more pure path. Which is I think an approximation of what getting rid of ego talk is all about.

She writes about a response she thought of, “…it sounds like something a therapist might say", implying she was being “less than authentic.” (p.63). I wondered about her experiences in therapy, I felt defensive as if she was saying therapist=inauthentic. The section is a quite moving account of how deepens her communication and friendship, and perhaps I’m quibbling, but I wondered where this was based on her experiences in therapy. She is well read and elsewhere jokes about Business Attention Disorder (BAD), a made up disorder to describe her struggles to pay attention to the accounting of money in her life (p. 70), as though she has some familiarity with the DSM.

So I quibble with her book, like I quibble with my close friends, a kind of way of intensifying the dialogue, out of a kind of bizarre friendliness. This is a lovely book which I recommend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Someone blogged in reference to my article.

I'm not one to search out references to my blog, but I was heartened that The Breeder Files, mentions an article I wrote for Wildmind about parenting.

I was unfamiliar with the other article. Thank you for calling my attention to it breedermama, and your story as well.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Urban Retreat

Urban Retreat has a web page.

And it's on Facebook.

FWBO news talks about it.

Sona talks about urban retreat on Video Sangha.

The idea of urban retreat is to be on retreat in your ordinary life, a way of trying to bring mindfulness, and all the other things you bring to retreat, to your ordinary life.

The dates run June 20-27th.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Book Review: The Essential Sangharakshita

Book Review: The Essential Sangharakshita

This book is hot with intensity. You need oven mitts to read it.

When I read The Essential Sangharakshita, I read it as someone who has asked for ordination into the Western Buddhist Order, and has been in the ordination process for almost 6 years. I have read most of Sangharakshita’s books and essays, listened to most of his talks, some many times. I have reread many times The Survey of Buddhism, Know Your Mind, and reread The Bodhisattva Ideal, Vision and Transformation, and The Yogi’s Joy. I plan to reread The Three Jewels, Living With Kindness, Living With Awareness. My friends have traveled to meet him, my good friends knew him, and know him, were ordained by him, went on seminars with him, were at the talks I now listen to on mp3s, have lived with him.

I would like to meet him myself. I have a wife, children and work, and I can’t soon justify the expense in time and money, but perhaps someday. I write these essays in small snatches of times when I can, but I’d rather go visit him. I get away for the yearly weeklong ordination retreat, and that’s an imposition on the family, which they so kindly allow. I don’t give up hope to getting there some day. Maybe after I’m ordained, I will go to an order convention in England; I’d hope to meet him then. Maybe I will go over before I’m ordained. There is the risk he could die before I get over there. Life is short. Maybe I will die first, you never know. Reading so many of his books, hearing stories about him, watching videos of him, listening to talks, he is a spiritual hero of mine, but more than that I take refuge in the refuge tree of the WBO, and thus I take refuge in him because he is on the refuge tree.

I take refuge from suffering in the three jewels, the Buddha, the example of enlightenment, the Dharma, the practical teachings to move towards enlightenment, and the sangha or the spiritual community, which supports and is a place to give support on the path to enlightenment. This is an odd kind of formulation of commitment and yet one that yields to deepening practice. When I say I take refuge in the 3 jewels, that is something very important to me. I take refuge in other things, but they are not as substantial. I have other concerns, but they don’t conflict with this emphasis, and the three jewels are what I aspire to orient my life around.

I am grateful Sangharakshita has founded the order that I wish to join and I am grateful that in creating the order, I have a context to seek ordination. He has nurtured many of my spiritual friends. The ripples of his profound actions have touched me in many important ways. I go so far as to say I would not have become a Buddhist without his creating the context in which I seek ordination. I find the other groups too foreign, Sangharakshita´s understanding feel very pure, he has winnowed off the ethnic elements to the essence. To principles and not just practices, beyond literalism.

This is the context in which I read The Essential Sangharakshita. I can’t pretend to be very objective. But I’ve also read quite a lot of him, so reading this I’m not just stumbling upon him, and this context is deep, so there is a level of objectivity in reading him and being outside the movement.

There are many familiar old friends here in this book. Reading the essay about irregular and regular steps was one of the reasons that I asked for ordination. I wanted regular steps, please, in the spiritual development. The essay "Mind Reactive and Creative" is well known to me, but the redactor has paired it down to the most intense paragraphs. One might read this book, and wish to follow through to read the complete essays and books, listen to the complete lectures, which many of his books were created out of.

The essay on religion as revelation versus discovery captures the chasm I feel in difference between the Christianity I experience in the USA, and Buddhism. When I first read it, I was jazzed up in the articulation of the differences, they seemed to capture why I could be a Buddhist and not a Christian. Buddhism is rooted in the subjective experience of the individual and the individual is the ultimate test as to whether something is actually practical on the path towards enlightenment. There is no possibility for heresy, dogma is not part of it, there is no dependent relationship on the clergy, and the freedom and responsibility is up to the individual. The bodhisattva ideal is the antidote to excessive spiritual individualism. The advice of the traditions, the teachings, and advice of our spiritual friends further along on the path, are all important, so it’s not just merely about my experience, there is of course more to it than that.

Some of the writing in The Essential Sangharakshita is very familiar. Some maybe I haven’t read but I’ve heard, or maybe I haven’t read or heard it, but I’ve heard someone paraphrase his ideas. Some, I’ve read it, but I can’t really remember it, but it seem so natural like his essay on how to read the Dharma. Some writing I began to think along the lines in my own thinking, and then I read something that seemed like what I was just thinking on my own—I probably heard it before from him.

This book is almost like a party where I know everyone, and if I don’t know everyone they’re a good friend of a good friend so it’s almost like I know them even if I don’t. Often this book was a dose of spiritual intensity, and there were times when I had to put it away and read something else that was light, not intense.

The way a Mahayana sutra is collected over time, and edited and shaped, there is a winnowing process and a redactor who compiles and edits. I would argue The Essential Sangharakshita has the flavor of a Mahayana sutra to it, though it is more comprehensible because it is of our time. This book is my ideal Mahayana sutra.

Then there are surprises. I have not read the poem that starts Part Two: Buddhism and The Mind. I’ve read some wonderful poems which are included in a profound essay by Cittipala called The Bodhisattva’s Reply, which can be found on his website along with many other excellent essays, that are in the top right margin of this blog under favorite links. There are other poems I have heard before.

Sangharakshita doesn’t expect one to study all the time (even though he is astonishingly knowledgeable, and inspires me to study). Engaging in practice, which is a wide range of activities, is more important that intellectual accumulation, a sort of night table Buddhism. He is concerned that some suffer from intellectual indigestion because they have consumed too many rich texts, without really being ready for them. He’s saying it’s easy to read, run your eyes over the words, but hard to put in into practice. Putting Dharma into practice is the thing. I think Sangharakshita put me onto this quote: “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

I’m reluctant to say any self-respecting Buddhist should have this valuable volume upon the shelf. Saying that perhaps over reaches this books import to those in different orders, with different primary and secondary text. But if you’re at all interested in going outside your order’s recommended text, and looking at the larger Buddhist world around you, and you’ve read some Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nhat Hahn, Bhante Gunaratna, Shunryu Suzuki, Chogyam Trungpa, Reginald Ray, Stephen Batchelor, Charlotte Joko Beck, Ayya Khema, Lama Yeshe, Geshe Rabten, Dilgo Khyentse, Geshe Sonam Rinchen, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Gomo Tulku, Robert Thurman (and many more), well then you probably should read some Sangharakshita. I recommend reading Sangharakshita before you read all the previously mentioned writers.

Exploring the spiritual classics is a wonderful thing; I have read many spiritual classics that are not Buddhist. Perhaps The Essential Sangharakshita is a world religion classic that deserves attention from that perspective. I you want to work to deepen your own spirituality and you’re seeking a spiritual classic, I think this collection would be well worth your while. I don’t imagine only Buddhist will read this book.

One thing this collection conveys is spiritual intensity. It has challenged me to ask some hard questions. I have reflected deeply on how I could intensity my practice. My schooling in psychoanalysis will be over soon, and I am going to make a serious push to deepen my practice, and I am hoping this will be the final stretch in my efforts towards ordination. Reading this book confirms me in my desire to seek ordination into the Western Buddhist Order. Even though the book doesn’t directly speak about the nitty gritty of the FWBO/TBMSG, in a way it lays down the principles, which is what Sangharakshita is all about.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Enlightenment Therapy

I finally got around to reading the Enlightenment Therapy article in the Sunday NY Times Magazine.

My first thought is "alienated awareness". You can meditate a lot without integrating, if you force yourself. That's why it's important to look at the total being. Beware claims of spiritual advancement, it takes time.

You can also misread the theory of no-self, and use it to attack the self and nor nurture the self. In the FWBO there is the phrase, you have to be somebody before you can began to dismantle identity. Or something like that. There's a story where a man stands on a chair and says, "I don't exist." Somebody kicks him in the shins and he winces. You exist.

I've never read any Jeffrey B. Rubin. There is a plethora of Buddhism and psychotherapy integration, of varying quality. I can't say how deep he is yet. But there are 3 articles on line which you can read. I'll have to check him out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Reading The Essential Sangharakshita, I felt intensity. Sangharakshita says, " a liberal estimate, one in twenty Western Buddhists gets around to trying to practicing Buddhism." Sangharakshita challenges me in The Essential Sangharakshita. So I asked myself how I could intensify my Dharma practice?

Am I too much of a worlding with children, family and career? While it is not easy, I don’t think monasticism is the only way to move towards enlightenment. I think it is all a question of how you do what you do, not necessarily the circumstances and responsibilities. Of course we work to make better circumstances more conducive to Dharma practice. I suppose that is my first suggestion of intensity, to really work to improve circumstances to really intensify and go deeper.

I don’t think I could ever meditate enough. Meditating when free (instead of writing essays for a questionable blog) and meditating regularly two areas for growth. There were times when I meditated 3 times a day (not on retreat) for 40 minutes. I could also amp up the time. I have worked my way up to an hour, but I think meditating for 4 hours would be intense. I have meditated on a rotating schedule of 40 on, 20 off, 30 on, 30 off for 12 hours. That was difficult, also, because it was overnight. Getting up and doing that during daylight hours would be easier than the way we chose it.

Of course retreat is where one can meditate more deeply, away the usual responsibilities. I think going on retreat often and for as long as possible intensifies. I think going on solitary retreat is more intense than being led on a retreat. I have never led a retreat, so I don’t know what that’s like, but I imagine it is more challenging and therefore intense.

Devotional chanting, puja, has been said to be more important than meditation. Who knows if that’s said to counter the fact that we have a meditation and reading emphasis in the west. Chanting with others is of course better than chanting alone, but chanting alone is good too. I could work to organize more pujas with friends. Also there are more than just the standard puja and doing a variety of pujas would be an intensification too. Really meaning the words as you say them, instead of walking through it superficially is an intensification.

Spending time in friendship and spending time with my sangha, and spending time with other Buddhists is always an intensification of my Dharma practice. Making the effort to be with friends, and the various rings of sangha. Of course the more intense the sangha, for me GFR retreat, the better. Making the efforts to connect with visiting Buddhists, and reaching out to be with Buddhists of other sects is important. Deepening the most intense friends is perhaps the most important in this area. I think you can only really confess to your deepest and closest spiritual friends. But also superficial attendance at mitra ceremonies, sangha night, and other events is also very important. Attendance, just being there, showing up, is an intensification of my Dharma practice, instead of being by myself, not extending the effort to plan and travel to be with other Buddhists. When the Buddha was alive he wanted the sangha to gather every moon day to chant, meditate and discuss the Dharma all night. Appreciating others, and all the nitty gritty of being with others has so much possibility for intensification of my Dharma practice.

Writing e-mails and letters to my Dharma friends is another writing activity that combines friendship and the intellectual effort of writing.

Study of the Dharma comes natural to me, reading, thinking and writing essays is something that helps me to develop and clarify my thoughts, and if it is useful to others to read my essays, then that also helps others. I suppose I take this for granted in a way, and I think there, too, I could push myself in an intensifying way. I hope someday to give a talk worthy of some day. I noticed some non-order members there, and not just famous ones. I hesitate, because those who need to teach out of the desire to be superior don’t always make the best teachers. I think also if I end up giving a talk, then it has to be where I am asked to give a talk, and I reluctantly agree. I think the best Dharma teachers are not really into teaching, they are drafted to do it. Similar but not exactly the same thing is thinking, and thinking clearly and deeply. I could put aside more time to think. Sangharakshita said, "One penetrates beyond the rational mind by way of exhausting the resources of the rational mind."

Working for the good of the Dharma can be an intensification of the Dharma practice. I don’t teach or support meditation, which is the standard route, and we don’t have a center to pitch in. I do pitch in in many ways, and while on the one hand I don’t think I really do this one so well yet because I don’t support a beginning class, I do think I make up for it in other ways. There is always room for improvement. Here is an area where I can channel my energies, and work for the good of the Dharma in small and supportive ways, perhaps humbling myself to take an inferior supportive position. And also leadership by organizing and leading activities to the best of my ability. I fantasize about starting a meditation group or opening up a center in Queens, going to India and helping the movement there. Also just being open to who wants the Dharma and meditation instruction and providing that in a skillful way is very important. Also notice if it has a flavor of proselytizing.

Constant vigilance, and using the small spaces in life is also an intensification of the Dharma practice. Being aware of my mental states, just observing what is going on with me, and exerting efforts to change, and act skillfully, is a constant effort. What is the best use of my time? How can I intensify my Dharma practice? Consistently asking intensifying questions. There is vigilance about mindfulness, about being healthy, about being ethical, about being open to the beauty and kindness around oneself. Taking the time to nourish myself, watching out so that I don’t become too depleted and sink down too far away from mindfulness. Being a good husband to my resources and energy. Being playful and open. Having my mission statement at the ready, thinking about my legacy, the moral will I wish to leave my children. Exertion and clarity on the path, but also an experimental and exploring what works and doesn’t work. Vigilance is speech, saying kindly and harmonious things, using non-violent communication as much as possible.

Finally, I think I can simplify my life. Doing less really. Drop the impossible projects, and have more clarity in my going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Simplicity and clarity with vigilance and open playfulness…plus intensity.

Why I am a Buddhist

Why am I a Buddhist? I’d say I am a Buddhist because of deep meditative experiences, bolstered by sangha and study. My friend said she’s seen glimpses “over a wall”, or what could be. I feel there is more. I feel that closing the distance between me and the Buddha is a worthwhile project.

The meditative experience was a deep absorption, integrating, healthy, helpful to reach my potential, suggested something more, imagine an awesome potential, and suggesting the means to get there.

The ethical explorations, the ten precepts, are for me extremely useful guides in how to behave, not in a way that I’m controlled by others, a sheep, or declawed, but in a way that truly makes me happy. I’m convinced it’s in my own interest to be kind and mindful.

Little things. Hot weather doesn’t bother me as much. I don’t feel like drinking alcohol addictively. You can read all the studies about he benefits of meditation.

Buddhism is pragmatic, and not intellectual, it’s interested in turning us in the deepest seat of our being. It’s not about asceticism, nor hedonism. Against my former anti-religions stance, I have become interested in chanting and other devotional activity.

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. God is not pragmatic on the path to enlightenment. While I have some close friends who feel the issue of God is relevant to them, and I deeply respect their practice. For me, I don’t need something that doesn’t work for me. Some see that as making Buddhism not a religion. If you want to define it that way, I’m fine not to call it a religion: It’s not a philosophy, though, it’s too pragmatic.

Every step I’ve taken in the Dharma, becoming more devotional, developing friendships, reading primary and secondary texts, every retreat, every sangha night, every practice day. My friendships have been very positive. Every person I meet in the community seems awesome.

There has been nothing to make me wonder if I was going on the right path. While there have been revelations about imperfections and unskillful behavior by some people in the movement, the way it’s been handled has made me feel the FWBO is relatively transparent and integrated, open, not interested in covering up and misusing power. What I am talking about has been written about by people in the FWBO.

Look at the chairman of the FWBO, Dhammarati. Listen to his talks. He doesn’t seem to groove on the “power”, he seems to be slightly put out by it. He adopts his role reluctantly. He’s skeptical, curious and not interested in hypocrisy.

The organization is minimal. The preceptor’s college’s only task is to let people into the order. Every center is run by a chairman and a counsel and the people in the sangha.

The order is generous by offering it’s teachings free. There are some business, that teaching things like pain management, you can buy the books. Some people make a living through the teaching, which is fair enough; I don’t begrudge them that. But there’s some incredible commitment and generosity. It not an established religion, it retains elements of the forest tradition, appreciates the vitality. That’s what I feel about the movement—it is very alive.

I feel the ethnic elements of Zen (Japan) off putting, find Tibetan Buddhism alternately fascinating and ethnic. I think Sangharakshita’s modern synthesis the most appealing one, his vision of an order the most appealing. I’m not put off by his use of non-English terms. He is interested in all the movements of Buddhism, he’s inclusive, integrative, and well grounded in the fundamentals. I can draw the best out of these traditions, without having to shave my head or wear a robe.

And that is why I am a Buddhist.