Monday, August 27, 2012

Thomas Merton

Just watched a documentary on Netflix about Thomas Merton.  (In the USA, not sure if Netflix is around the world.)  He seems like a very interesting spiritual person, who didn't necessarily conform, and followed his conscience.  He was open to eastern insights and was impressed by any tradition's spiritual depth.  

I glossed his Wikipedia entry.  He had a tragic death. Wikipedia (today): "On December 10, 1968, Merton had gone to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks in suburban Bangkok, Thailand. While stepping out of his bath, he reached out to adjust an electric fan and apparently touched an exposed wire and was accidentally electrocuted. He died 27 years to the day after his entrance into theAbbey of Gethsemani in 1941. His body was flown back to the United States and he is buried at Gethsemani Abbey."

(Also interestingly he fathered a child, who has not been identified, before his conversion.)

One of my therapists, who died while I was in treatment with him, said the beginning of The Seven Storey Mountain is difficult, but I got a used copy recently, so I'm going to give it a try. I read 50 pages into it and it's pretty interesting.  He's a good writer, I can see why this was a surprise best-seller.  He lived in Flushing for a while, where I live.  His father was a painter, who took him all over the world.

I haven't been able to find any free audio or videos of him, but the Netflix movie has some good footage of him, and other people.  It's not too long.  Britannica has an entry on him.  They only let you read the first page.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


"Any kind of life that is making no effort to evolve is escapism." (Sangharakshita)

I was visiting a friend who lives on the beach, and we listened to Margaritaville Radio.  I had a little resistance to it, but then I read the Jimmy Buffett wikipedia article.  They describe his music as "island escapism".  Jimmy Buffett has best sellers on the fiction and non-fiction best selling list, which only 7 other authors have done before, the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck.  A famous musician, author, business man and philanthropist, he's seems like he's not a bad guy.  I asked myself why I would have a kind of antipathy towards his "island escapism" style of music.  

What's wrong with escapism?  It's not like you go to his concert and somehow escape you life.  Any kind of escapism is only temporary.  Like everything there are extremes and of course the middle way is perhaps the best.  The Buddha had the middle way really refer to between asceticism and hedonism.

My understanding of the talk about dualism is that it's bianary thinking and there are grays in life.  That we do better with Keat's negative capability.

In the spiritual life there are extremes of confrontationalism and consolation.  I used to think confrontationalism is the only way, but then when I reflected, I thought consolation is OK, we don't have to be ascetics.  The Buddha talks about tightening the lute strings not too tight and not too loose, when he comes across an extreme ascetic.

In the above quote by Sangharakshita, he doesn't say only give effort to evolving or no effort to evolve.  He just says effort.

There is the idea that no effort is a kind of spiritual laziness, and that being really busy with worldly life is a kind of busy laziness.

Most people see monks or religious people as extreme.  When I see someone in religious garb, I wonder, have they gone too far.  Why can't they just be spiritual on the inside, why do they have to wear special clothing that marks them out in a specific sect or religion.  But then again, why not try to show on the outside your effort on the inside.

I remember a movie (Kadosh) where this guy is pleading with God to help him in his spiritual life, it's kind of touching, even though I didn't like the character in the end, there was a kind of brutality to his parents and another family forcing a woman to marry him without love (even if that is my modern conceit about marriage).  But I digress.

I was in Fat Cat celebrating two years of a relationship.  (We'd been to the Cloisters and Awash already.)  I have been there in many years and they tore down the walls of the jazz room, so you could hear all the people playing ping pong and billiards and all the other games there.  (The place was jammed btw, on a Wednesday night in the mid August.)  I have a kind of reverence for jazz.  Each musician is a composer, their solo is a unique composition.  They play between the rules of a song, how long they get to solo, and in what keys they can solo, and yet there is a kind of freedom and expression of individuality.  Asians and Europeans usually pack jazz clubs, Americans don't so much appreciate this unique contribution to world culture.  That makes me sad.  So this place has people walking in front of the musicians with their game equipment.  At times it's hard to hear the music the hubbub was so loud.

But then I liked the buzz or an active social life.  It reminds me of old recording where you can hear people talking in the background, when jazz was the popular music, it was the rock and roll, the hip hop music of it's time.

Jazz is a uniquely live art form.  You can crystalize it, but seeing live jazz is a million times better.  Every moment is unique.

It's a lovely dance between individualism and collectivism.  The way a well honed quartet plays off each other is a beautiful dance of collaboration.  It's a model of working together and harmony to create art, the beautiful.

And I found myself annoyed at these yobbos disrespecting the artists.  And yet, it was cheap vibrant jazz, it only costs $3 to get in.  They have a normal bar, but a lot of people seemed to be drinking PBR.  I like beer, and I like beer with flavor, which goes against perhaps modern American beer making culture with it's various brands that I won't list.  I guess I'm starting to sound like a snooty aesthete.  I backed down.  Maybe all the cover money went to the artists.  Maybe these people dabbled in listening to a form they might not have, while they waited for a table to become available.  I talked myself out of a negative mental state.

I really enjoyed watching the musicians and telling myself stories about about how they talked to each other, the pecking orders, the silent rules.  I loved seeing their collaborations and solos.  

I've drifted away from jazz because in a way it's so complex, that in middle age and with meditation, I've sought out simplicity.  And I don't know the song forms or keys, the rules underneath what might seem like chaos to people who don't know jazz.

I thought about Dharma Punx, and how Noah Levine's presentation of the Dharma comes out of his subculture of punk.  I love all forms of music, but I think Dharma Jazz is a really cool idea.  I know Herbie Hancock is a Buddhist and there are others.  Spirituality can be a private thing, I'm sure there are others.  My friend who is a jazz and music aficionado, references an article in a major jazz publication, which I can't find on line.  If anyone knows of the article link feel free to comment below.  

Jazz is the opposite of John Cage's music, which I read in Nothing and Everything - The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde: 1942 - 1962, with it's silences.  You can make up your mind whether you think avant-garde is indulgent or revolutionary.  

I heard Stanley Crouch quit the jazz scene because too many people were showing up to jam who didn't understand the rules of jazz and thought free jazz was an opportunity for people without talent, supposedly.

I've recently let go of a relationship I've over-invested in, and I feel a kind of freedom to express myself, so I hope you've enjoyed the musings.  

Monday, August 06, 2012

And end for Jayarava's Raves?

Jayarava writes, "So that's it for Jayarava's Raves. I have nothing else planned out to say on Buddhism. In a sense I feel I've said what I wanted to say about it. If you read one essay a week it would take you six years to read them all. I have been working on packaging some of the essays up into a book (or perhaps two) but I have no deadline in mind at present."

Friday, August 03, 2012

Critical Ecumenicalism

Subhuti came out with a Buddhist Manifesto.

Go read it, and process what you think, ponder on it.

My feeling was that not much new was said, but it's cool to see it all in one place, but then as I read it, I could feel the spiritual energy coming from it.  Subhuti has a fantastic mind, and he's very active in India and Turkey, and probably a lot more stuff that I don't even know about, including pumping out these amazing essays.  I wish Windhorse would just go ahead and collect them all in a book.  (And reprint Meeting The Buddhas, an awesome awesome book.)  Subhuti is an admirable man.  And by the end of pounding away, he has me wanting to take over the world, create a pure land.  Awesome.

Here is a quote from it:

"The challenge Buddhists face today is to find ways of communicating and practising the Dharma that are truly effective in these new circumstances."

I'm actually having trouble getting quotes off my iPad, so I'll just leave you with this one.  It's a rich document that doesn't really lend to quoting, though there's a lot of interesting stuff in there.  

Googling "Buddhist Manifesto" you only get references to Glenn Wallis' Buddhist Manifesto, from 2009, other than Subhuti's, 2012.  Mr. Wallis has similar themes of getting back to basic Buddhism, which accepting modern developments, founding things on Gotama's teachings.  He sees meditation as the basis, he references the Anapanasati Sutta, and, "careful analysis of the categories of lived experience."  He's afraid that "skillful means" could easily lead to "anything goes":  What would stop us from saying that something was Buddhism?  From there he goes off on solutions that have a faint whiff of recognizability to me, but honestly, I didn't connect ultimately with this manifesto as much as I did with Subhuti's, and therefore I highly recommend Subhuti's as the best on the internet in the summer of 2012--and likely much beyond.