I eschew self help type books. The line between insipid simplifications and positive suggestions is so thin. I would not naturally pick a book like his up.
Sometimes I like a simple obvious inspirational books, and I've taken a run at quite a few.
I feel pretty full of facts and information, or not want the challenge of a more theoretical book. I'm enjoying process so much more these days. So I don't totally look down my nose at this kind of book.
I am in a book club at my sons' school, and I've always wanted to be in a book club. This is what they chose to read. So I read it.
I've teared up many times reading this book. It's a touching book.
I think Gottlieb is a JewBu, because he quotes Buddhists, and talked about coming off a retreat, and feeling like the gains were quickly lost. There's a lot of implicit Buddhism, though he doesn't make it explicit, though at times he runs straight into it and talks about the Buddha's ideas about desire. But he also talks about God and the divine.
He's not just a Buddhist, he's a psychologist and a human. It made me wonder about my obsession with the Dharma. Maybe I need to loosen up and be a little more free ranging for a while. I liked his Jewish stories. It's a very spiritual book, and not offensive to me in any ways (it's easy to offend me with facile comments about God).
He tells good stories, and I felt his advice was pretty good about trying to accept things more. He includes poetry and has written a really good book in my opinion. I like his messy authenticity, his commitment to get closer to the bone.
I think much of his insight comes from having quadriplegia. He has to just sit and experience his emotions. Instead of distracting or doing something. He has to just sit there. He shares the wisdom of this experience.
He's also donating the proceeds to charities! Amazing. I can get behind this book on another level.
Got an advanced copy of this little book coming out Nov. 1st 2010. It provoked a lot of thoughts.
First off, I have to note the destructive and liberating elements of sexuality. Many sanghas have been turned upside down by the power dynamics that lead to sexual expression. I also wonder whether there has been some liberating elements. Bante is his last will and testament suggested that his experiments in sexuality did not lead to anything that was useful.
Sexuality is natural, human and can lead to quite a ruckus. I think the positive ethical statement about sexuality is to lead life with "stillness, simplicity and contentment", and sexuality can certainly be the opposite of that.
Buddhists in the good ol' USA will surely have grown up in a confusing context of Christian sexual ethics, and the sexuality of materialism, where exciting body parts are used to sell merchandise, objectifying over intimacy. It's a task to shirk off the Christianity, materialism and not embrace the hedonism.
I had a patient once, who was a beautiful rising pop star. She said sarcastically, "Buddhist men haven't transcended desire!!!" She felt their lust as much as anyone else, maybe more. In away, being more mindful, you get in tune with all of yourself. And that can lead to some interesting place. My experience, like Bante's, is that sex is not really helpful to the spiritual life, but then again, not much is helpful except the sangha (sometimes) and your own pure will and effort.
I once drew a mandala of my life, and put yellow over it to mark sexuality, and while I saw it stained yellow, another person saw a rocket ship that propelled my practice along. So I think I still have some work to do shirking my Christian conditioning about sexuality.
On another level, I have read erotica, first reading it in Nicholson Baker, and then branching out. It's a kind of safe way to explore sexuality and sexual excitement. I find erotica an interesting genera. This may be reading this book in a way that it was not intended, but that happens all the time, right?!
Sangharakshita joked in Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism, that if you wanted to sell a book, include the following words: secret, tantric, sex and magic. I think John Steven's title includes three of them.
Often times, when I read books that feel like ethnic Buddhism, where basic Buddhism has gone by the wayside, and ethnic expressions of culture predominate, I see the book more as a cultural study than as a study on Buddhism. I am no expert of Japanese culture, but I note it has spawned many interesting sects of Buddhism. How accurate this is about a subset of a subset of Japanese culture, only John Stevens really knows. He claims in an afterword that it is based on many things.
I found the book a smooth enjoyable read, and it challenged me in some ways. To imagine the Buddha accepting rice milk from a lovely maiden after quitting the acetic practice, and then to suggest that he slept with her, well, if Buddhism believed in blasphemy that would make me wonder. But there's no such thing as blasphemy in Buddhism, Sangharakshita has expressed that clearly in one of his booklets. Who knows it was 2,500 years ago he walked this earth. It was before he transcended desire. It's hard to imagine he had the energy after coming quite close to death, but I've often been surprised at energy arising when I thought I had none.
So in the end, I really enjoyed this book, and found it thought provoking.
I've always been very interested in the question that intersect with Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. The question of no-self, is often confusing when you translate it into modern parlance. Everything about our present times says we need to develop a positive sense. Reading Living As A River, I have been thinking more on this.
There is a phrase, "you have to be somebody before you dismantle the self." So that brings up the question--do you need to create a positive sense of self, and then dismantle the self, or can you just go straight to dismantling? Which would be best in the psychotherapy situation?
Perhaps it's not even a question. A therapist will just ask questions and then, the patient will choose their course. On the one hand I do have values as therapist, but I do value self autonomy, and the patient choosing their course. Values: curiosity, hope, kindness, courage, sense of purpose, emotional balance, bearning loss, integrity and emotional use of theory is Buechler's list.
So, when I wrestle with this question, I really want my patient to wrestle with it, though we're always sharing the journey, and I can think about it too.
Is there a difference is letting go of a negative sense of self, and developing a positive one. Also developing a provisional positive sense of self is allowed. Bodhipaksa is good at clearly defining what sense of self he's against. It's a permanent one, not a provisional one.
I've been asking myself why is it so hard and scary to dismantle myself? I find it very threatening. I've freaked out in the past doing this meditation practice, and I think I need a bigger well of positivity to buffer me through the fearful times. I think it is a misunderstanding on my part. This book is great at clarifying. This is the perfect book for me right now in my spiritual development.
I would also note, that reading his section on the 3 fetters, he's streamlined it for his purposes in this book. I've heard a few talks on this from him and others, and they are a special list for me. You can tell that he's battened the hatches, as he's heading for a destination. He's sensitive to his writing purpose. I think Bodhipaksa's a really good writer. And yet each paragraph sends me off into a reverie of thoughts and feelings. This is a book for lingering and rereading.
I saw on one of his tweets that he hasn't read The Power of Mindful Learning. I read this book a while ago, and all I remember is that you look to notice changes. In a way the change blindness suggests that we forget to look for changes. I like to look for changes in people, I don't treat them as static.
I started reading this intense book this weekend. It is very well written and spiritually deep with a synthesis of the Buddha's teachings and modern research. An amazing work, which sends me off into reverie every paragraph.