Saturday, March 31, 2012

Manjuvajra Video

He taught me the prostration practice and ran the first few GFR retreats I was on, for which I'm eternally grateful.  It's cool to see him on video.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lovely evening

Nine people came to my sunday drop in sit, amazing.  While everyone had tried meditation, this was the first class with others, for several people.  While the discussion was chaotic at times, I felt I learned something about helping others in the Dharma. It's not so easy.  Saddhu to those who lead beginning nights and sangha nights and any other dharmic gatherings.  Thank you to Cori who really made it warm and welcome to everyone.  She made it much better than it would have been if it would have just been me.

I started a new blog to provide resources for the group.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Starting a sit tonight

So the day is finally here.  Perhaps it's a small thing, but to me it is huge.  I'm going to have a drop in sit at my house.  I developed a plan, talked about it with my friends, and executed my plan with lots of support, and there's even potentially 2-4 newcomers coming.  I'm very excited, and anxious to make it the best supportive thing for meditation.

It was suggested to me that if you've only got one night reliably free, have a drop in sit.  It mixes beginners with the new.  So my concern is that I will be basic enough for the beginners, and interesting enough for those advanced.

So we'll gather, have a sit, with instructions for the beginners, process our experience, take a tea break, and then have a Dharma discussion.  I can see things spinning off in different directions.  Maybe I give a short talk.  Maybe we listen to a snippet of talk from Free Buddhist Audio (I've been downloading Dharmabytes trying to find one I feel is appropriate for the first night.)  Maybe we will have a simple meal if we're all hungry.  Who knows.  But I have anxiety about the unknown of how it will evolve.  Will there be regular attendance.  Will it fluctuate with new people and regulars?  Will it fluctuate greatly.  Lots of questions and unknowns.

I was talking to someone, and I worried that Sunday night would be a bad time.  But I was talking to someone who said that Sunday night is a good time, it's a good ending to the weekend, a good transition to the week.

I'd better go clean some to make it a welcoming environment.  Wish me luck!

And e-mail me at if you'd like to join in, here is Kew Garden Hills, Queens, New York City, New York, United States of America.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Aloka on YouTube

Aloka is a major artist in the TBC revolution, who's art I recently blogged a photo of.  Someone showed me these videos, which I've enjoyed watching.


Not Painting:

On Death

Go ahead on click on the ones that look interesting to you, pop it out to YouTube and get out of my blog if you want more.

Also, click on this to see a video about one of his paintings,  Sangharakshita as Mythic Psychopomp or just the photo here.

Check out more on the Clear Vision Trust page on YouTube.

video games

In our dada world, of intellectual overload, video games provide refuge for the cave man, or the problem solver, or the visually leaning mind.  Video games simplify the world, and like the Futurama episode where life is like a video game, the terms are much less ambiguous.  Even though we've had existentialism for over a century, we're still just as clueless on how to make meaning--soon cookie cutter religions that dispense other's revelations grow dull as they are not authentically ours.  Video games (or drugs or sex or materialism or career or subjugation to others needs) fill the void.  And yet they can't fill the void for long if you tune into yourself, and feel more void at your void erasing attempts.  So many heroes and heroines in literature look for solutions in the wrong place, desperately, frantically.  There are so many wrong paths.

I've enjoyed Sim City, and Civilization and visual games like tetras or bejeweled.  I had a PS for a while and did a snowboarding game.  I've been disgusted by Vice City type games, where the player is a criminal who has to accomplish criminal missions.  I have a friend who was in the Marines who can play combat games all day, even though he's a successful professional in perhaps the top profession.

At the moment I'm addicted to Edgeworld and MyTown2.  It seems I like building worlds and conquering worlds.  I'm Robert Moses and Genghis Khan.  In a way, I feel puny in this vast universe.  (That makes me think of the Monty Python skit.)

Video games are another kind of thinking, that I enjoy.  It's not intellectual wool gathering.  In a way it's a do nothing activity.  Sure, it expends energy and time, and what are the results.  "I'm up to level 42."  Is that good?  And yet there's a sense of accomplishment, pride in effort. In the grey world of existential wilderness, do I move up levels, do I win the day, do I defeat my opponents?  It's this simplification, this black and whiting of life that helps ease the existential tension.

I think the good news of Buddhism is that, yes there is a void, but we can come to understand it, and through altruism and personal effort, master it in a very satisfying way.  We can develop the grace to tolerate ambivalence, ambiguity, confusion and dispair, without hankering for limited solutions.

The Galaxy Song Lyrics:

Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That's orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it's reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the 'Milky Way'.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It's a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it's just three thousand light years wide.
We're thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go 'round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Davidson's research and book

Reading the introduction of The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them, I was instantly hooked because I learned something.

When you think about research on meditation, Davidson is the first name I think of, and not because I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I never met him, but I spent 16 years of my life in that lovely town.

I don't really think I need research to prove to me that meditation is good.  I guess how, is important, the details.  I am resistant to some of this stuff because I just don't need any proof.

As a therapist, I found the brain structures and emotional styles idea very interesting.  Patience is high self awareness and sensitivity to the context.  That's something I didn't know.

There's two kinds of psychological research.  Some proves common sense, I find utterly uninteresting.  But when you learn stuff, that is interesting to me.  And after reading the introduction to this book, I am fascinated.

I love reading about scientists lives, and personal narratives.  Davidson was steered away from his interest in meditation, and it was only after he'd gotten tenure, that he followed his interest in meditation.  I'm so curious about his journey.

Also the book is co-written with a science writer, Sharon Begley.

I'm really psyched to read this book for many reasons and on many levels.  Hopefully more updates to follow on this book.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Long Quote on Confession and Ethics

"For many people, a belief in divine punishment or reward is integral to their sense of the meaning of religion. For instance, on a recent journey to India, I met a Sri Lankan Muslim while I was waiting for a connection at Kuwait airport. He was a nice chap and we got talking. When he heard I was a Buddhist, he started asking me about the violent things that he had seen some Buddhist monks doing in Sri Lanka. I had to agree with him and say, ‘Yes, it’s terrible’, because I knew about them too. He went on to ask, ‘Well, what is there that guarantees morality in Buddhism?’  So I tried to explain about Buddhist ethics, but he could only comment, ‘Well, that’s not enough is it? Who is going to refrain from doing bad things, or care about doing good, if there is no punishment for evil?’  To him it seemed obvious that, if people did not believe there was an all-powerful God waiting to fry them if they stepped out of line, they would throw all moral restraint to the winds.

This attitude is found in all theistic religions. In a sense, it is found in Buddhist societies too, although it does not really fit in with the Buddhist view of things. Bhante has often commented that the gory detail in which some Buddhists speak about the torments of hell is really a means of social control, comparable to similar talk in the theistic religious traditions. It seems that most societies have considered it necessary to frighten the mass of people into morality (or at least into docility). I doubt whether such terror tactics are beneficial or even effective, but this is not the place to explore that question. The point is that this fear of a punishing power has got nothing to do with Buddhist morality as such. We should recognise that some of the difficulties that we typically face in our spiritual lives come from our inability to distinguish remorse from its near enemy, namely the fear of losing love and acceptance, or of being punished (or some poisonous brew concocted from the two)."

(from "Remorse and Confession in the Spiritual Community" By Subhuti)

In a way, there's nothing to add to that, but it's a point I struggle with others.  They want ethics to have more bite.  They want to judge people.  The idea that ethics is something you develop for yourself, that you apply to yourself, is a foreign thing.  People want to hack into others.  In a way, there is something profound about just working on yourself, and letting everyone else sort themselves out.  It's the thing you have most control over.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I want to die. How can I die?

So I was looking at my analytics, and as predicted in the Elephant Journal, my post I want to Die, how can I die, is by far my most popular blog post.

Depression is a terrible thing, and to suffer so much, the easiest way of dealing with that is to end life.  It speaks of great suffering.  I've only had one patient who tried, and he hid it from me.  Others who talk about it, they lose it when they express and problem solve their suffering with me.

I read in a book once that sometimes people don't need rehabilitation, they need habilitation.  I think as I've gone on as a psychotherapist, I've moved more towards existentialism and the creation of meaning.  What is meaningful for you?  People are in a fog.  They don't know what is important to them.

For me, on that journey, the discovery of Buddhism, the Dharma.  This blog is an elaboration of that.  Taking a spiritual journey to explore all the religions and spiritual classics is a wonderful thing.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Subhuti Quote

"When we are on a retreat, meditating, absorbing the Dharma, perhaps spending a lot of time in silence, we become much more sensitive and our actions start to reflect the great ethical principles of metta, generosity, contentment and so on. We usually carry something of this state away from the retreat, but back in the hurly-burly of everyday life, surrounded by distractions, we soon start to lose the spiritual ‘edge’ we acquire on retreat. After only a few days, our actions of body, speech and mind start to coarsen. Before long, we are quickly forgetting or even not noticing the little unskilful acts that we are committing and so have no chance of confessing them."

From "Remorse and Confession in the Spiritual Community"

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Loch Voil rock tree

Loch Voil rock tree by shantavira
Loch Voil rock tree, a photo by shantavira on Flickr.

Tara and the beech tree.

Tara and rainbow dreamcatcher

Aloka's Shrine Cabinet, LBC Breathing Space 3

Taraloka 007

Taraloka 007 by Roger Bygott
Taraloka 007, a photo by Roger Bygott on Flickr.

taking stock

taking stock by balajit
taking stock, a photo by balajit on Flickr.

Public Journal

One weird thing about the blog is that if you read from top to bottom, it's like reading a book backwards.  Like reading a book of essays backwards.  You read the latest thoughts first, and don't really know the evolution (unless you follow someone, which is not so easy with all the blogs out there).

I just went back and updated some old entries.  I don't think that appears in the reader, which is fine.  I'm setting the record straight for myself.

I appreciate it when people point out spelling mistakes, and often I reread this and am horrified with mistakes of unclear writing.  The speech precept urges me on to speak truthfully, clearly and kindly.  I make mistakes.  This isn't a book with an editor, this is a personal blog without any formal editors.  So please forgive the mistakes.  Even so, I do hope to put enough attention into it so that people are not turned off by the mistakes.  And I'm open to feedback.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to practice writing and express myself, for free (beyond the price of computer equipment and internet).

Apt, useful to me, at this moment, Dharma

Subhuti, in a recent essay, writes (edited with American English spellings):

"I suspect that, too often, we tend to think of sraddha only in its affective aspect, and to have an unrealistic idea of how strong that should be. We look for a sort of exhilarating fizz of inspiration, filling our consciousness. But that is not its only or even its most characteristic mode. Faith is not always an ‘obvious’ experience. It can be present as something embedded in our assumptions and behavior, something that is too close to be seen clearly. Sometimes, in moods of critical self examination, we ask ourselves, ‘What do I really want? What am I really interested in? What really inspires me?’  It may appear to us at such moments that the answer is not the Three Jewels. And this can easily make us disheartened, especially if we have been trying to practice the Dharma for a long time. But when this happens, instead of getting despondent, we could try saying to ourselves, ‘Yet, the Dharma does seem true and profound to me. Not only that, but I am still here, still practicing after (however many) years. And if I am here, that can only be because in some sense I want to be here. There must surely be some faith in that.’  In other words, we can try to recognize the strength of the cognitive and volitional aspects of our sraddha, instead of dwelling too much on the apparent weakness of the affective aspect."

When I look at the GFR retreat pictures, the pictures of people on the ordination retreat, over the years, I see a third of the people have been ordained, a third have dropped out, and a third have disappeared and not formally dropped out (maybe).  I'm the last man standing, except a few new guys.  I've been in this process almost 9 years.

Now you can say that it's harder in North America, away from the bosom of the order.  You can say it's harder for someone with a family.  

One talk on FBA, the speaker pointed out that people who immerse themselves in the 3 C's still get ordained pretty quickly; Community, Co-ops and Centers--you live in a single sex Buddhist community, you work in a right livelihood business, and you help out at the local center.  In this way it's like being on retreat, and yet living a worldly existence.  Of course, here in NYC, I would have to start a community, a co-op and have more free time to help out at the center.

Anyway, I think I can be proud I'm "still there," as Subhuti says.  That shows some sraddha.

Remorse and Confession in the Spiritual Community

I'm reading Subhuti's essay "Remorse and Confession in the Spiritual Community", which can be found on FBA.  Not sure when it came out.  I didn't see the paper announced, but a friend hipped me to it.

Reading the following paragraph of Subhuti's, I had a few revelations:

"According to the Buddhist tradition, laziness has three forms. There is laziness as everyone understands it – ‘the laziness that takes delight in lying down and not getting up’. Then there is the laziness that consists of yielding to unskilful impulses when we should resist them. But there is also the laziness of despondency. This is the state of mind in which we tell ourselves, ‘Poor me! What can I do? Not only do I lack x, but I also lack y and z. I’m just not up to it. Ah well, there it is’. This attitude leads to (or rationalises) the giving up of all effort. The tradition unequivocally regards this as a form of laziness: an unwillingness to put forth the virya, or spiritual energy, that is needed to close the gap between ourselves and our Ideal. It is important to distinguish this attitude from the objective self-criticism that is informed by faith and which leads (as we shall see) to confession. But before moving on to discuss confession, we need to look still deeper into sraddha."

So I had this revelation that in a way the following idea snuck into my head:  ‘Poor me! What can I do? Not only do I lack x, but I also lack y and z. I’m just not up to it. Ah well, there it is’

I recognized myself in that, unfortunately.

The second revelation was that I haven't really talked enough to people and connected with others to process my experience.  I'm too much of an isolato, as Melville coined.  I want to be more connected to others.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Horrified Anxiety

Horrified Anxiety is the near enemy of compassion.  I think that's why people turn off to the suffering in the world.  I know it does it for me.  Reading In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet
by Matteo Pistono, I am horrified by what has gone on in Tibet fairly recently--the torture and oppression continue.  In one small example, the Drapchi 14 were tortured for singing a hymn to the Dali Lama. I've also read the horrible account of Palden Gyatso:  The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk

Pistono's book is a  swashbuckling adventure, a mixture of spiritual practice and political activism, which confronts my idealist hopes and disillusionment.  He chronicles the ups and downs of his efforts to bring more justice to Tibet.  I find it hard to read it straight through, I get filled with horrified anxiety about what is being done to the political prisoners of Tibet.

And sure enough, Pistono gets depressed, and has a bit of a crisis.  But he gets out of it by going to visit a friend in Costa Rica and tending to it.

Here is a video about the book In The Shadow of the Buddha:

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Buddha and Recycling Bins

Buddha and Recycling Bins by Akuppa
Buddha and Recycling Bins, a photo by Akuppa on Flickr.

Meditation Drop In starts March 25th

Announcing a new meditation drop in night in Queens New York City, starting Sunday March 25th at 6:30 pm (EST).

Starting Sunday night March 25th, we are going to be starting a drop in at our home in Kew Garden Hills, Flushing, Queens, New York City.  Please e-mail me to join in.  This is intended to be a weekly sit, come once, come often.

If you live in a neighborhood near Kew Garden Hills, please come:  Briarwood, Flushing, Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Pomonok.  You may even travel further, there is parking on the street, and mass transit available.  You may come from where ever you want!  Please come and meditate.

Travel Directions:  E or F Subway to Union Turnpike, take 46 to Main Street.  Click on the link above to e-mail me about the drop in address.  (I'm not publishing my home address.)

Here is a google map of Union Turnpike and Main Street in Queens, New York City.  This is near where I live.

Beginners are welcome.

We plan to gather, meditate, and then discuss the dharma.  That may include listening to speakers, audio talks, reading, reporting in, and anything else that advances our practices.  You can just be curious about Buddhism, you don't have to be a committed Buddhist.  What ever the group wants, as long as it builds sangha and our practices.

Please come if you think this would be useful for you, and you feel you would be a positive addition to this group.

It will be Triratna Buddhist Community inspired group.  While I am not yet ordained into the order, I have been in the ordination process for many years, and feel I could facilitate and lead a meditation drop in based on the vision of the TBC.  My preceptor agrees, and has suggested the drop in, and I'm following through on a dream I have had for a long time.  Please come, and invite anyone you think would benefit from this.