Friday, December 31, 2010

spiritual books

So I'm enjoying a spiritual book by a friend in my spiritual community. He's ahead on the path, but we're in the same community. He's done years of meditation, friendship and study. I come along and pick up his book, and I can glean some of the insights he has developed. He's picked up some modern research to see if the results jive with current findings and lo and behold they do, he's found many many interesting studies. He's gleaned insights from an advance meditation practice.

So my question is, is that fair, or is it spiritual bypassism. John Welwood has, to my knowledge, coined this phrase. Where you use spirituality to not change, you just quickly and quietly incorporate this new system into your personality structure.

Is it fair for a person to go up the mountain for years of spiritual work, and then when he comes down we ask him all our pressing questions. They've put in some serious work, and you skip along and say, "hey, I don't want to do that kind of work yet, but can you just give me the secret and I'll skip the work please."

On the other hand, we learn from our elders, those ahead of us, that is a good thing. We seek guidance, and perhaps we're not trying to skip any work, but we just want to find some inspiration and mould our insights and clarify our vision of where we truly want to head.

I suppose the difference between the two is the approach to the book, whether it's a fickle fad, or whether it's the tenacious patient approach of a mature spiritual aspirant who has chosen one's tradition. And even if you're a dilettante or still on your spiritual journey of exploration to see what best fits you, that's OK too.

I feel the pull to go deeper, really commit to my spiritual life, and not get so swept up into irrelevant things. I want to simplify my life, unplug from distracting technology, and be alive as possible. At times I'm tired, and want lighter fare, lack of intensity.

As much as I like Living As A River, he's riffing off a meditation practice I mostly do on retreat, and is meant to be practiced in the run up to ordination, according to the system of meditation developed by Sangharakshita. I don't have a large enough well of metta to practice it regularly. Even if I am in harmony with the ideas and conclusions of his profound book, have I put in the work to really put into place his suggestions and really loosen up my ideas of self, to dwell in mindfulness and kindness more consistently and deeply? Sangharakshita has a quote to the effect that if the average westerner put into practice 10% of what they "knew" they would be doing good. Am I putting what I believe into practice. We are always not exactly there, we're unfinished projects in process, which is fine.

There's always a balance between pushing myself along and attacking myself when I'm in a depressive mood. If I dismiss spiritual ideals, I become poor, untethered, there is nothing to disentangle, no path to head on. If I use the ideals to beat myself up, I'm just reinforcing my own pathologies and smallness. If I use my ideals to spur myself along, then I use them properly, neither holding them too tightly nor too loosely.

So as I head into the new year, I wish to recommit to meditation, spiritual friendship, study of the word of the Buddha, continued ethical reflections based on the ten precepts, simplifying life, living mindfully and kindly, with an ever increasing appreciation for the reality and conditions, meanwhile keeping an eye on the transcendental as my reference point.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


In Living As A River, Bodhipaksa writes, "The Effects of loneliness on health are so powerful that isolation is as bad for you as smoking cigarettes" (p248)

This winter I've noticed two kinds of loneliness this holiday season. Family loneliness and friend loneliness. One patient has no family but has friends, so Xmas is hard, but New Years is not. Another patient has family but not the chum group he desires, so Xmas is fine but New Years is a crisis.

Ever since I went to social work school the effects of a positive social network have been trumped, and I find myself trying to sell the need for a network to my isolated patients. A friend of mine even said that in the 70's there was a book that essentially said that therapy was for these types of people, though I have the other type, manic hyper-verbal, charismatic as well. They suffer from affect regulation issues, though in a pro-social way, and are usually tolerated by others, though in a crucial way others have not yet helped them to completely manage their emotions and they suffer from self invalidation and obsessions. Alas trauma can clip the wings of the very gifted as well.

Just before the above quote, Bodhipaksa was writing about mirror neurons, which I first read about in Philip Bromberg.

I was just wondering whether people with autism don't have mirror neurons, a dot I have not connected when he speculated that they don't. I have two Aspergers type children, whom I work to draw them out into a shared reality, or more connected with others reality, when their own internal worlds are so vivid, much more vivid than the external world.

So I vote for Living AS A River as the best book of 2010. Bodhipaksa talks about so many different and interesting studies. One I keep coming back to is the idea that was literally can't imagine our non-being because the use of our imagination injects ourselves into things and to not inject ourselves into non-being leads to an inability of not grasping existing.

Now there's always a danger I'm riffing off someone, not in their intentions, but I think Bodhipaksa was making this point about our imaging our own non-existence.

There's a meditation on a corpse, and I've done a meditation set in the Bodies exhibit set up by Tricycle some years ago. I can imagine a world where I don't exist, but in my imagining, my existence is kind of implicit. Our knowledge of the world is through our senses and the stories we tell about that input. But imagine no input? That is hard. Sleep is the closest thing to that, we gratefully (mostly) close our eyes and fall into a temporary slumber of non-existence. And yet we dream, and wake up a little bit. It's no surprise death is called The Big Sleep, which is also the title of a famous Raymond Chandler novel.

I was watching the PBS documentary on the Buddha, which is quite beautiful in much of the artistic images it shows about the Buddha's life. Thinking about the 4 sights, illness, old age, death and the spiritual seeker.

As I get swept up into my worldly life, I am more and more conscious about how I am distracted from my death. Illness happens occasionally, and apparently there's a terrible virus going around NYC. I have suffered for a full week with the worst virus I've ever had. I kept wanting to say last words in case I didn't wake up, I felt a lot of self pity for what turned out not to be my sickness into death. I kept telling myself, this is preparation, practice, I can learn to do this better. If there's one thing you notice, it's when some people are sick they feel a little entitled, they grasp at what they feel they lost out in life, they become childlike in a not so flattering way. Getting sick gracefully isn't easy.

At 43 old age is becoming more and more imaginable. I had a beer at a bar, where the bartender was born while I was a Junior in college, I was twice her age. I was in a grocery store, and I said, "are young teenage women taking over the world," because all the cashiers were teenage women. I'm imagining old, though I easily forget all my visits to nursing homes. I have unvivid trace memories, but I can remember the feeling of horror and revulsion at seeing people grimly holding onto life past it's usefulness.

I'm seeing more clearly the actions to my consequences, that my youthful outlook and denial help me to overlook.

The holy life was at one time attractive to me, I yearned for escape into a monastery. I think that was escapism. Now I think I see more clearly the feet to the fire aspect of that way of living and I'm a little scared.

It was such an awesome thing that the Buddha went forth.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Regret to inform you of the passing of Vidyajyoti

She passsed away this morning, a few days short of her 72nd birthday. Here's a video of her.

She was a traveler who visited NYC frequently, and the NYC sangha appreciated her valued presence, she will be missed.

The official announcement.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Living As A River

I found a link to Bodhipaksa's original essay on the 6 elements in Tricycle.

He's getting amazing reviews on Amazon. "Bodhpaksa's book is literally the most amazing thing I have ever read, period - and I'm a well read guy, I've studied Carl Jung's writings, dozens of books on spirituality and volumes on Cosmology and Astronomy. I can honestly write tha...t I have never read anything that left me with such a sense of clarity..."

I have to agree. I've stalled a little bit on the chapters I've already read, but I'm voting it for book of the year.

I'm going to have to go on line and update his entry on Wikipedia, there are some inaccuracies. It could use a photo too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2 links

I wanted to share a link about a personal spiritual journey. There are 5 posts, and you can find the other links off this one. It's a personal account of a retreat, by a fellow I've met before who is an interesting guy.

The second link is a book review. This is a blog by Marnie Louise Froberg, a Canadian who lives in northern India who is open to all schools of Buddhism.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Those who say that the Buddha himself partook of flesh calumniate him.

(Sangharakshita in The Eternal Legacy, p193)
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Lankavatara Sutra

I found this book on my shelf and gave it a first read through. I noted that Sangharakshita hasn't done a seminar on it, while he's done many seminars on Mahayana Sutras. When you listen to the brief two comments on Free Buddhist Audio, he just summarizes it, and does not linger on it. He seems to know about it. He says it's a yogacara sutra, important in Ch'an Buddhism and very influential.

Padmavajra says it's a complex and rich sutra, and a grab bag, and reiterates what Sangharakshita says, that it was Bodhidharma's favorite sutra.

I read the "Epitomized" version, based on DT Suzuki's translation, compiled and edited by Dwight Goddard, which unfortunately cuts out the chapter on vegetarianism, which I was looking forward to reading. Another chapter is cut out as well. Other versions are more expensive, and here are versions on line, check out the Wikipedia page on the Lankavatara Sutra.

Perhaps it was good for me to read this streamlined version, because it is quite a complicated text. I can't say I got it, but there were times when I was reading it that I felt something strongly stirring in me, and it had an effect on me. I would like to study it more in depth.

I'm not a idealist, though as time goes on and on, I forget about the world of truth and move more towards the world of subjectivity. In a crucial way, we do make the world with our minds. When you work with a couple in therapy, the biggest foe to harmony is one's perception of truth. If you can get the couple to appreciate the other person's subjective reality and listen to their experience, then there's a better shot of blending together, instead of fighting it out for the truth, even though I often agree with the truth seeker. There's a school of psychoanalysis called intersubjectivist, and Wikipedia lists Stephen Mitchell as one, I'm not sure if that's true, but I'm dying to read Jessica Benjamine.

Looking on Goodreads, I find only 3 members comments on it, one longer one and two short comments. I was aghast when a commercial played on goodreads, so I'm not recommending that site any more. Anyone know a book social media site that is commercial free?

More importantly I'd appreciate any good links about the Lankavatara Sutra, as I try to learn more about this sutra. Seems very important and I'm surprised there's not more on line about it. I'm a bit hesitant to read Suzuki's book on it, outside the expense, because of a recent negative evaluation of him in the Western Buddhist Review, which has a new issue out by the way!

I will note Jayarava's essay on his excellent blog.

Also The Eternal Legacy has a chapter on the sutra, which I will read now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Parents quotes from the Anguttara Nikaya

From page 42-43 of the Thera and Bodhi anthology of the Anguttara Nikaya, the Numberical Discourses of the Buddha:

"...there are two persons one can never repay. What two? One's mother and father."

He goes on to suggest that if you carried them on your back for 100 years, that would not pay them back. Then he says:

"Parents do much for their children: they bring them up, feed them and guide them through this world."

can't figure out how to write in a book on goodreads

I want to write Living As A River as book of the year on Goodreads, in Firefox there is a box, but when I click it doesn't send it. And on Chrome it doesn't even show the write in box. So I don't like only having the preselected choices, and the fact that their websites don't work on two popular browsers. Not sure why I'm pasting their code into my blog, maybe you can have more success voting for your favorite book.

Vote for this book!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


"...sloppy thinking may even hinder one's spiritual development." P. 159
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Monday, December 06, 2010


Free Buddhist Audio is an evolving website. Recently they have put up more audios, as they allow people to upload talks from their centers: Aryaloka, Manchester, LBC. This has unlocked series from the vaults and perhaps more were just coming out like a historical series, one by Sona and one by Ratnaguna and a bunch of talks on the refuge tree.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Legend of Buddha 2004 animation movie

One day searching I found an animation movie about the Buddha's life. It seemed like it might be appropriate for my children, but alas, it was $40 used on Amazon.

Today I was searching for it on Netflicks, hoping to find it, so I could get it. It's not even listed on Netflicks, not by the director or the two lead actors.

All I could find out about it was that it was made in India, and came out in 2004. India submitted it to the Oscars for India in 2005. IMDB doesn't have much info on it, nor does Amazon. One article says it cost $1.5 to make.

A quick look at the google results shows torrents are available, but I see little critical attention. I found a version on YouTube, and watched it. See the first one of 12 sections below, and read further to see my review, which might make you not want to watch it. I think the scant commentary on the internet, the crickets show that it's not well received. The one review I did find was lame, simpleminded.

Review: I found the beginning fantastical, over the top, sensationalist. Great, draw the kids in so they will enjoy the show.

But the inaccuracies made the movie not even worth it on that level. He only saw 3 sights before he decided to leave? The dialogue was hokey and cliche riddled. Macalinda protects him from rain before he gets enlightened? Mara visits him as he's leaving his father's palace? The woman just walks up and offers him milk, he doesn't almost drown first? Did they have any actual Buddhist consultants on the movie?

I took offense to this movie. I was hoping to find a cool movie that I could show my kids. This is not the one. No wonder there are crickets on the internet about it, and no wonder it's so hard to find information about it. Avoid it unless you enjoy picking out inaccuracies, or even pointing out the spiritual simplicity of it. Unsmooth story line, weird animation, and just an over all lack of not getting Buddhism. The search for good material for my children continues. What a disappointment.

I'm going to try the PBS special next, which I hear was good, but probably not for children. I know Clear Vision released some stuff for children, so I'll check that out too.

I think many Buddhist were afraid to slam the movie, right speech and all. My goal is to evaluate it so people decide whether to invest time watching it, and hopefully save them time and possible money and internet downloading time. The movie wasn't worth it, avoid!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

two books connect in practitioners mind

I'm trying to read two books as quickly as I can so I can review them. But they are both so awesome, I find myself slowing down to fully grasp the profundity.

One is Living As A River. As I meditated this morning, I thought about the dust mites eating my discarded skin, making my studio apartment less dusty in fact.

The second book is Face Martin's Endless Path. This book is the best book I've ever read about the Jataka Tales.

He was talking about the tale where a past Buddha to be, gave himself to a hungry tiger, as meat. In seeing yourself as meat, you radically deconstuct the pompus self, similar to the deconstruction of the self in the six element practice, like in Living As A River.

In the second tale in Martin's wonderful book, I came across a stunning tale that was much more worldly. I won't tell it to you, but must just refer you to this excellent book.

Also Bodhipoksa has an interview here, which you can listen to. And here that you can read.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Flaxseed spread!

What does flaxseed spread have to do with my spiritual journey, you ask?

Well a friend of mine who works for a wonderful non-profit, which helps businesswomen, gave me a free sample of Laxmi's flaxseed spread. I put it on bread and it was yummy. The story is that she wanted a healthy alternative to peanut butter, which has too much salt, sugar and fat. The flaxseed spread is high in omega 3 and high in fiber. Tastes good too. I tried it and it was good.

So some yummy vegetarian treat is something to rejoice in! Check out Laxmi's website. I think finding creative dishes for the vegetarian is important, helps one reduce unkindness.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

worst horse found this video

Living As A River quote

"Only 1 percent of the genes in the human body are human." p. 159

"We are more virus than we are human: or to put another way, to be human is to be mostly viral. At a genetic level, you are mostly not you." p. 161