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