Sunday, February 22, 2009

Geshe Sonam Rinchen

I read How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising by Geshe Sonam Rinchen. Transcribed talks are edited and translated by Ruth Sonam. This is a deep book that at times went over my head. The twelve nidanas are one conception of pratitya samutpada, conditioned existence. This is not a book for someone new to Buddhism who wants to know about karma.

Here a quotes I liked from the book:

"As intelligent people we must look for the very heart of Buddhist practice and investigate how this relates to our minds and whether it is relevant to our lives." (p.16). In fact reading the whole page and the next one are good quotes, but I don't want to quote too much.

The tradition allow for doubt, and the real test is your pragmatic application. This is one reason why Buddhism doesn't have to have schismatic debates. Nobody can say to me, "no, you will pragmatically benefit from the concept of motivation by rebirth." That sounds absurd. You could have a debate about what would be the best way to motivate Americans or women or some such group, but that would perhaps be part sociological, and I just won't be interested in that kind of marketing.

"We cannot hope to transform ourselves by constructing fantasies. Transformation must be rooted in reality and based on seeing things as they actually are." (p.42)

I can be a bit of the dreamy type, so I find this quote a wonderful antidote. This should be one of my slogans.

"Our attention should be firmly directed inwards and we should take the teachings very personally, constantly relating them to ourselves and to the search to discover the real cause of our difficulties." (p. 55-56)

This is another theme I like: You need to directly apply the teachings, more is folly. Reading a bunch of books, but not changing who you are, is not what Buddhism is about.

I think what I like about these quotes is that they get filed under right motivation, of the eightfold path.

I don't like the idea that we know anything about rebirth, and in general that is one of the most off-putting aspect of various Tibetan Buddhism--the idea that you should be motivated by rebirth. Rebirth does not motivate me. I have no real information about it. I don't dismiss it, because it is foreign or because it's not part of my experience. But I also honor my feeling that it doesn't signify anything I can make sense of. On p. 133-4, in note 46, explaining the "eight assets" the author discusses actions that result in different rebirths. I feel incredulous. I'm skeptical someone could actually know that. I do believe that people have deep spiritual experiences and that they might see things that I can't understand or imagine, but I'm going to honor my experience in this one. I would refer you to the early works of Stephen Batchelor for further development of this theme. He is famous for his break with the Tibetans over this issue.

My solution was to insert for, "and you should not do that because of rebirth," something like, "and that's why you would benefit from putting in the extra effort to work towards enlightenment," or something else I believed in.

Now is this me holding to a belief, clinging to an idea? Or is it the tradition clinging to a belief? Time will tell. Anyway, it's not a debate about truth in philosophy, I'm talking about the pragmatic application of the teachings. Rebirth just doesn't motivate.

"The purified side of the twelve links begins when we become exalted being with direct experience of reality" (p. 91). What this reality is, and if there's some special emphasis in Buddhism is another thing. We have so many defenses and our distortions of reality make a closer perception of reality difficult.

The FWBO has a strength in that it thinks also about the positive spiral, and not just the negative 12 links. While this book misses this canonical stuff, this book is excellent for going over the 12 nidanas. I must admit that I have to reread it, it's pretty complex and there were sections I didn't understand.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


When I do visualizations I often place them on top of this mountain. Someone once told me to imagine pampering the Buddhas, like washing them, like feeding them food. I imagined a little stream with boats floating delicious vegetarian cuisine. I imagined a cone that had ever widening circles, similar to the refuge tree. Sometimes I imagine Buddhas or myself as a Buddha meditating on this, the second highest peak in New York state. It occurred to me that I could search for some images, and I found this panorama cool. You can do your own search for Adirondacks Algonquin

Monday, February 16, 2009

only 81%

Supposedly 81% of Buddhist believe in evolution?! So what if they are the most to believe in it of all the religions in America. What do the other 19% believe in?! Buddhism is a non-theistic religion.

I was riding the subway reading my Dharma. There are 12 seats between the doors in my section of the car. Of those 12 people 2 were reading the Bible, one wear reading (aloud) a Jewish book, and the woman next to me was reading a Christian tract. Who knows who was chanting a mantra in their head, or silent prayers, or imagery. I see a lot of people studying, but it struck me, that the subway is a good time for spiritual matters. Mostly I read enjoyable novels to pass the time well.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

the one thing

For about 6 months I've had the curious tautology go through my head occasionally, "The one worst thing, is the one worst thing."

Thinking about Dhammarati's talk, which contains many excellent elements, I've inserted "suffering" into my formula. When I first did it, I didn't feel natural, but it's gotten more and more natural. "Suffering is the worst thing."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

neither monastic nor lay

In Dhammarati's excellent new talk, which contains many excellent elements, he talks about how in the FWBO we don't have to be a monastic to be mindful, you can practice it in any circumstances.

There's a quote of Charlotte Joko Beck, which I carry around, which I can't seem to find on the internet to link. It was a Dharma Dew or a daily teaching for one of the fine Buddhist magazines on line. Basically she was saying anything is your teacher. Life is the teacher, what ever it is, and it doesn't have to be a special monastic experience to be the teacher.

Now ask yourself a question. You're about to be born. Do you want your parents to strive to be mindful? The answer is yes. Caring is a natural outgrowth of mindfulness. Insightful is a natural outgrowth of mindfulness. Empathetic is a natural outgrowth of mindfulness. Responsive and responsible? Can come from mindfulness. All the things I can imagine I want in this thought-experiment could easily flow out of mindfulness.

Another thing about parenting and practice is it's great at exposing threats to equanimity. I find myself undone, challenged beyond my capabilities, at times I feel resourceless. I am utterly flummoxed. Children by their nature explore our boundaries, test, push the limits. It's not as glamorous as going on a long solitary, meditating in a cave, or running off to help the Dalit movement in India.

I have discovered many demons by parenting. I watch myself fall short of my ideals of kindness and mindfulness. I absolutely need to be responsive to my boys, even if it's not always appropriate. I have a hard time taking time for myself. And I'm utterly overwhelmed at times, I've discovered some sensory integration issues. The utter challenge of it, limits my ability to actually meditate at times, and thus deprives me of a crucial tool to help me be mindful. There are countless challenges to mindfulness as a parent. And why can't that be a prime spiritual challenge? What would be more beneficial than being a mindful parent?