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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Meditation and children: update

My eldest (5) went to his t-ball game with my wife. So I had the younger one (3.5). I asked him if he would mind if I meditated.

I used to get up early before everyone and meditate. But now I have a job where I don't get home until 10, so it's hard to get up at 6am when you don't get home till 10 and you still need to eat. So I've wanted to switch my meditation to the evening. I love love love meditating first thing in the morning, but alas, that's not what my life suggests. So I try to switch it. But I also try to meditate in the morning when I get a chance. Like if the kids go off to school and I don't have to go into school, and I have time before work.

Then there are weekends. I could wake up early and blow myself out with tiredness. But today presented a unique opportunity with one child. From my perspective, two is much more than one. They come together and challenge more. Anyway, Andres played in the room, and then was playing behind me with lego. But then I heard him grunting, some elimination communication. I got up after 20 minutes, but I think I got something, some integration and absorption and concentration, from a distracted 20 minute meditation.

I kept my meditation until recently, 6 years, 5 years with a child and 3.5 years with two children. But school, a new job and family finally ground me down and I would go weeks without meditating. Part of my practice is to accept the circumstances I created, and not be violently out of harmony by insisting on meditating or blow myself out with tiredness.

In my early essay on Wildmind
, I spoke of the struggles of trying to maintain a meditation practice with children. I read it recently to reconnect myself with the intensity I had for meditation. I've been ground down lately, and lost it a little.

Luckily school is ending soon, from the perspective of my meditation practice, and I can work to reignite my passion for meditation, as my circumstances change, and opportunities present themselves.

I have this fantasy that my meditation practice would not face any adversity, that it would be unbroken. Maybe it would be easier if I didn't have to try and get it back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

video about editing The Essential Sangharakshita

FWBO Day 2009 talk by Vidyadevi speaks about the process of editing 'The Essential Sangharakshita.

She addresses the criticism that The Essential Sangharakshita isn't about the FWBO, she says it's, "for the order".

Subhuti talks about the book too.

He suggests the order is what is in the book, so perhaps there doesn't need to be any explanation of the order.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Essential Sangharakshita Quotes

p. 150 "Human beings are today less free to think and feel simply, naturally, and spontaneously than at any other period in history."

p. 155 "One penetrates beyond the rational mind by way of exhausting the resources of the rational mind."

p. 156 "We are forever dropping one thing and picking up another, then when we sit down to meditate, unfinished business resurfaces and hinders our concentration."

p. 160 "These days we are constantly being given theoretical previews."

p. 168 " a liberal estimate, one in twenty Western Buddhists gets around to trying to practicing Buddhism."

Here's the latest review of The Essential Sangharakshita.

Here's an interesting quote in review of the book:

"One thing to note at the outset of this section is that those looking to this book for information about the Western Buddhist Order (WBO) or Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) will be disappointed. There is not a single reference (that I noticed) by Sangharakshita to his worldly projects within the text, and only the briefest of mentions in the introduction and in an end matter blurb. As a Buddhist who is not familiar with the FWBO, I would have liked a chapter or so of explanation about the sangha, especially considering some of the information about controversies (true or otherwise) available on the web. But I can also see not including anything about the Order in order to focus on the material itself."

I found the above quote interesting, because I didn't think about that, me being an FWBO person and all. I would recommend Buddhism for Today by Subhuti. I feel that book captures the ideals of the movement.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Thurman and Batchelor debate reincarnation.

I myself lean towards Batchelor's side. I think more along these lines:

"..if there were no rebirth, would I behave differently? And the answer is no. Rebirth was never actually a driving force. Is it for you?"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Essential Sangharakshita Quotes

P.108: "Where you are is less important than whether or not you know where you are."

P. 109: "One is not following the Buddhist path if one feels that one is being driven along it like a sheep, rather wishing one could stray off and have a nibble on some succulent wayside shrub or flower."

From the excellent The Essential Shangharakshita.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

quotes from Suvarnaprabha

Suvanrnaprabha has some good quotes.

Here's the last quote:

If you wind up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest or some guy on TV telling you what to do, then YOU DESERVE IT.
Frank Zappa

Friday, April 03, 2009

Aaron Lackowski's guest post

Interesting article about the future of Buddhism, taking roots in the USA.

Here are some questions Aaron Lackowski asks:

"How do Americans take a tradition with deep roots in contemplative practice and monasticism and broaden it for a society that will mainly be lay parishioners? How are families included? How are the communities of shared values and social action that are so much a part of American religious life to be included?"

I wonder about these things. There's a question about how I integrate this very personal spiritual approach with my family. They see me meditate, they see a photo on a book cover, they say, "it's the Buddha," and they can chant, "om mani padme hum." They play with my mala (that a friend brought back from Bodh Gaya).

Part of my Judeo/Christian conditioning maybe, I want to indoctrinate my children, really teach them a lot so they know a lot, maybe in a open ended way, but so they know something about the Dharma. I suppose I just need to trust that I'm going to teach them in a way that won't be indoctrination but will respect their individuality. I fear I will hold back out of fear.

The reason why I do feel confident is in part discussed in the following quote;

"y now everyone has heard the Dalai Lama’s apocryphal quotation on Buddhism and science. When asked what would happen if science discovered something that was at odds with Buddhist belief, he replied, “We would change our beliefs.” While some have questioned exactly what the Dali Lama meant, there does appear to be a very different attitude toward science in Buddhism than in other American religions. This is an important distinction that bodes well for the Buddhist perspective. The future of all religious enterprise will, to some degree, hinge on its response to science."

It just feels more comfortable to me that Buddhism is pragmatic and respects the individual. Not that other religions necessarily don't but I never felt it.

Manjushri Puja video

Here's a link to a Manjushri puja.

Here are my past links where I write the word "puja".

Challenging quotes

I reviewed a book which I read for the first time "warm Dharma hug" Buddhism, suggesting perhaps that we could challenge ourselves a little more than that, though of course one does not exclude the other. And if we are challenging ourselves, we could use a hug now and then.

Sangharakshita has some challenging quotes in the must buy book The Essential Sangharakshita:

"...if you are spiritually complacent, you will tend to seek a position of spiritual leadership by way of compensation for your lack of real spiritual effort." (p. 49)

"According to the Buddha, the spiritual life is an active life, a strenuous life. We might even say it is a militant life. We have to take offensive against Mara. We should not wait for him to tap us on the shoulder. Attack is the best method of defense; prevention is better than cure." (p58)

The second quote is embedded in a longer few paragraphs that are very inspiring.

another celeb convert?

I think it's an April fool's joke.