Monday, February 27, 2012

Guest Post: Reflections on my Ordination and Ordination in General

Below is a letter sent by my friend Mike.  He's writing to communicate his approach (and struggle) in the ordination process of the TBC.  I think he achieves clarity.  

I've always been impressed with Mike's ability to medititate, he's got good posture, doesn't move.  I wiggle and fidget, struggle with posture.  So to see him meditate is awesome, inspiring.  He's traveled around a bit, and see the movement outside the USA.  He's also a very authentic and honest man, and this letter is yet another example of his forthrightness.  The more I think about responding to this, the less I want to--I think it's grown on me, and I think it needs no response from me.  I think it's pretty awesome. 

Reflections on my Ordination and Ordination in General 
      For many years now I have been reflecting on, brooding over, and clarifying: why I want to be ordained?  And what are all of my reservations and resistance to ordination all about?  This compilation of reflections is not complete or definitive in that not much of anything is complete or definitive, but they are some of the key questions and points of clarification in this process for me as of late. 
      While most everything that ordination is said to stand for I feel whole heartedly behind in principle, I have had serious concerns about the spiritual benefits of having a label or a mark threshold that one crosses and then becomes what we call effectively going for refuge.  One of the potential pit falls of marking peoples effectivity with this label is that people can begin to rely on others to tell them what effective practice would look like, rather than having the individual study, meditate, and engage in dialog with others about what effective practice would look like in there lives.  I am not saying that people are not necessarily taking personal responsibility to some degree for sorting out what effective practice looks like in there own lives, but creating this system where you develop your practice and wait for someone to give you the stamp of approval can put too much of the emphasis on looking to other people to tell you what you should be doing.  I am sure that this can feel just as awkward for the prospective order member as it is for the order members involved in making the decision about someone readiness for ordination.  Over the years of going on GFR retreats I have seen a lot of people become too focused on what they need to do to get ordained rather than focusing on what they need to do to develop a more effective practice.
      The human tendency to attempt to reefy an identity while being blown around by the worldly winds is indeed very strong.  I feel that ordination can become just another way to firm up our sense of self and appropriate the dharma in a way that completely contradicts the teaching on see through a fixed sense of self.  While it seemed like I saw this type of spiritual materialism happening around me I was unaware that it was indeed having an effect on me as well until I had my first kula meeting two years ago.  Most of all the feed back that I got at this meeting was very encouraging, but there was a bit of a concern about the stability of my highs and lows in practice and I was not given the stamp of approval of being seen as ready for ordination.  A very painful psychic storm of the worldly winds fallowed this meeting.
      The strong emotional reactions that I had after this meeting made it very clear that I was not exempt from having some degree of spiritual materialism behind my intention to be ordained.  That as much as I wanted my ordination to not be about seeking some validation for who I was as an individual it was a part of what was happening.  This sent me into a long period of questioning whether or not it would be beneficial or not to be ordained.  Pretty quickly I decided it would be best to put the whole issue of whether or not I had crossed this threshold of effective practice aside and just focus more clearly on what I needed to do to develop spiritually.  This turned into a very productive time of developing confidence in my own commitment to the three jewels and clarifying my own intentions in practice.  It is arguable that witnessing my own spiritual materialism through the ordination process lead me into this place of developing confidence in my own commitment, but it is hard to say if this was not just bound to happen of its own accord.  I think there was also a certain cost involved in not being validated as effectively going for refuge sooner in that until your spiritual friends give you this validation to some degree this is a passive vote of no confidence.  These are the unescapable stakes of setting up the ordination process the way it has been, and I believe that these issues will be important to keep in mind when considering some ones readiness for ordination.  For me personally it has not felt helpful to get encouraging or critical feedback with someone standing over me with a stamp of approval. 
      Having recently reread Sangharakshita's definition of what effectively going for refuge is: I found that he essentially defines it with the word commitment, which I find to be a much more clear and inspiring way of looking at ones spiritual development.  I am however unsure about how possible it is to accurately say when someone has crossed this threshold of commitment to spiritual practice.  The conditions that are at play in ones life are vast and unfathomable and for some one else or one self to be able to clearly weigh these conditions and access whether they have crossed the threshold, it seems unlike that this could be done all that accurately.  Commitment to spiritual practices is of course something that is only done in real time, and all we can do is develop a growing understanding of the actions that we take of body, speech and mind that are committed and which are not.  I believe this would be a more helpful and beneficial way of framing the discussion around commitment to practice.
      Probably the part of ordination that I am most apprehensive about is potentially putting myself in a place where I have to access someone else's readiness for Ordination.  That said, I do think that it is possible to go through the Ordination process with more of the light and shadow aspects in view, and that a bit more emphasis on some of the potential shadow aspects that might crop up for people could be quiet helpful.  It does seem that some people are able to navigate this process without overtly glorify or idealizing ordination,  seeing the benefits without thinking that they have staked some claim to some type of attainment.  More open discussion about how much these issues may be at play for people in the ordination process may be enough to rectify some of these issues.  Continuing to down play the focus of the ordination process being about ordination I think would also be helpful.  This has happened some what over the last few years and it has made me feel more comfortable about the process.
      Now for some of the more positive reflection that I have had about ordination.  Ordination has the potential to be a beneficial act of the imagination through building up a connection between associations of lived spiritual commitment to the well fare of all beings, with this symbolic ritual act of being ordained.  But it is important for people to be clear that ordination has no inherent value and is only significant to the extent that it is significant in the mind of the person being ordained, and only as powerful as ones capacity to link their clarity of intention about what is valuable, with there lived experience through ones imagination.  My initial desire behind wanting to be ordained was set in motion by my response to hearing the stories about the life of the buddha.  The resonance with the Buddha's example was clearly then, as it is now, the most valuable thing that can be done with ones life energy.  It is an act of imagination how I turn this resonance into another living example of what the buddha discovered and taught.  Greedy, hatred, and delusion; generosity, love and wisdom this is the playing field of the conditions of my contingent self.  Am I committed? probably but no one can know for sure.  These are my associations with the significants of the private ordination.
      Though I have had my doubts about how beneficial certain courses of action within the order and by order members have been.  I have undoubtedly benefited great from the examples of some order members and through the friendships and communication that I have shared.  I intend to have my public ordination mark my solidarity with all of the fruitful interaction that have been, with all the fruitful interactions that now are, and with all the fruitful interactions that could be.  This is not to say that I intended to turn a blind eye to actions within the order that appear to me to be potentially harmful, but that I intend to focus most of my energy on ways of engaging that I believe to be most helpful and  beneficial.  Unless I feel like I have some constructive criticism that would be helpful I intend to not worry about actions that are taken within the order that I disagree with.  I hope to be able to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are engaging with practice in a way that makes the most sense to them given their conditions.  I hope to be able to skillfully offer my opinion and leave people to make the decision that seems appropriate to them.
      My final practical reason behind why I want to be ordained is because I want to be involved in the ongoing discussion about how to most effectively establish the dharma in our modern day context, and that I intend to play some part in sharing my understanding of the dharma with others in some form.  Being ordained I feel will help facilitate an engagement with the other people within the order which I hope will benefit myself and others.
      The clarity that has emerged around what I believe to be the value and potential hazards of ordination are the conditions that now allow me to more comfortably say that I am ready to be ordained.  Seeing the form of ordination like the forms of all things to be empty and the potential for the form of ordination to be an expression of the impermanent dynamic flow that is its emptiness, is as important as seeing the form of self to be empty without negating the value of that form.  This is the view that has given me peace of mind around the tension that I have held about the form of ordination.  It is a degree of insight that I hope to continue to apply to all the forms around me to further develop and strength my own peace of mind and the peace of mind of all beings.

Friday, February 17, 2012

admitting mistakes

Early morning musings:

On page 43 of Allan Lokos' book Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living, the author reports that in a study of successful college students, the successful ones admit to making mistakes and working to overcome them.  If you didn't admit to mistakes, you're less likely to overcome them.

I think of psychoanalysts who present their competencies.  I think in the psychoanalytic world these things are changing, I can think of Bromberg's admission of a mistake in his last book.

I read a lovely interview by Monk's son, the drummer, who said that jazz is all about the recovery.  I've adopted that idea in my works as a psychoanalyst.  It's all about the recovery from mistakes.  Supposedly Kohut talked about recovery from empathic ruptures as being important, though I haven't gotten that far in The Restoration of the Self.

The TBC is led by a man who divulged mistakes while on the annual GFR retreat.  I really admire that about him.

(The chairman of the college of preceptors, who's only job is "yes" or "not yet" to whether people are to be let into the order, is not really in charge of the order, but holds the highest position in the order.  In a way it's really cool there is no pope in the TBC or over Buddhism in general.  Many people project the Dali Lama as the pope of Buddhism, and I'm pretty sure he's an awesome fellow.  But he is not the pope of Buddhism, he's only the leader of one of the many sects of Tibetan Buddhism.)

It's one of my strengths, that I can admit mistakes.  Actually I apologize too much, stemming from my schema of depravation and subjugation.  I remember rebuking a student worker at a job site rather harshly 15-20 years ago.  I apologized to him later.  I had a teacher telling me they felt bad saying "shut up," to a student the other day.  That reminds me of the advice a good friend gave me.  I was complaining that I lost it a lot as a parent.  He said, essentially Sangharakshita's point in his talk about parenting, that you know, you're "up against it."  No reason to expect perfection.  It was a very mettaful response.  I often offer the gift of kindness to those who I see are being overly harsh on themselves.

Another friendly acquaintance, suggested that my spiritual impatience was to be addressed by patience.  And that's what Allan Lakos is writing about in the unnumbered chapter in his interesting book.

I like it that he see patience as seeing things as they really are, and thus it can be very creative and not passive.  I suppose it's superficial to see virtues as superficial.  There is great depth and it's often said that if you take a Buddhist virtue to it's limit, it will take you all the way to enlightenment.

I like this book because I don't think I've read a whole book devoted to patience.  Just like Ratnaguna's book The Art of Reflection, which in a way was revolutionary in that it's the first book on reflection as a spiritual practice in Buddhism.  Bodhipaksa's book on the 6 Element practice was an awesome book in it's own way, and the first I know on that lovely practice.  He's led me through the practice on retreat when I had a deep experience.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

spiritual death


I've listened a few times to this talk.  And I watched the last Harry Potter the other day, where (spoiler alert) he has to die to be reborn.  And I think about the 6 Element practice, and my intense meditative experiences.  We have to die to be reborn.  I think about my recent revelation that you don't necessarily need a hand-off to a sadhana.  I was thinking about the fear of growing, how it's scary to be vulnerable.  I was thinking about my own security operations that take me away from unpleasant emotions--Netflix, video games, ETOH, cannabis.  Addiction is just another aspect of the flight, as my wonderful Anandi points out.  The fight to see reality as it really is, is a fight for everyone, not just people with schizophrenia. Procrastination, denial, lack of insight, lack of depth.  "looking for water from a deeper well," is the line from a song, I think Emmylou Harris did a cover of the original.  This relentless pushing to deepen and self discovery can be a bit annoying to others.  I put the petal to the metal.  Maybe as a friend suggested, I need patience, to let it unfold.  And yet, I want to die, so I can be reborn.

Shanger (United States of Tara dialogue)

From Episode 10 in season 2 of United States of Tara:

Older gay neighbor:  I was so full of shame and anger, that my therapist called it "shanger".  Is that what it feels like to you?

gay teen son of Tara:  I'd really rather not have to use the word "shanger".


This is the theme song for United States of Tara, and I love the lyric:  "I know we'll be just fine when we learn to love the ride."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

We have not long to love. (by Tennessee Williams)

We have not long to love.

Light does not stay.

The tender things are those

we fold away.

Coarse fabrics are the ones

for common wear.

In silence I have watched you

comb your hair.

Intimate the silence,

dim and warm.

I could but did not, reach

to touch your arm.

I could, but do not, break

that which is still.

(Almost the faintest whisper

would be shrill.)

So moments pass as though

they wished to stay.

We have not long to love.

A night. A day....

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The World Is A Waiting Lover

"That was the beloved.  You've been saying all along that it's the seeking that's important, not the finding.  We never know when the Beloved will come, or even if, but that doesn't stop us from following
what calls to us.  You were following the Beloved that night.  And when you felt that joy at the end of your vigil, that was the Beloved coming to you."  (Trebbe Johnson reports her husband says this (to end her book, The World Is A Waiting Lover))

Friday, February 03, 2012

Revolutionize Your Soul

Maybe you can have all the things that you've ever dreamed of

Maybe you can drive your hummer down your gold plated streets with your dove
Of all the things you want to buy, how do they make you feel inside?
You won't find your light in the bargain bin
So you better start your path within and
revolutionize your soul
(revolutionize your soul)
What if you had never seen a skyscraper or a superstar
going up and down in an elevator never knowing who you are
Of all the things that you have seen
Do you even know where you have been?
Get up right now and look towards the light this may be your last chance to ignite and
Revolutionize your soul
Revolutionize your soul

(Susan Tedeschi off her CD Back To The River 2008)

Bhante and Nagabodhi video