Friday, November 30, 2012

Violence and Buddhism

One of the Buddhist precepts is: abstention from killing of living beings. Another is: abstention from taking the non-given. Another is: abstention from covetousness. Another is: abstention from hatred.

Now these precepts are suggestions from the enlightened one, as handed down by the tradition, on how to move towards enlightenment. Can you be a Buddhist if you're not trying to move towards enlightenment? Perhaps you just want to make merit by supporting the monks. In America, the lay/monk split doesn't play as well, and seeing merit literally seems wrong. But perhaps you can be a Buddhist if you try to be kind to people, and try to be mindful, even if you don't have the confidence or resources to actually try for enlightenment. In the TBC going to refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is seen as the defining act of Buddhism. Now there are levels of going for refuge, which I don't want to go into. But someone can see themselves as a cultural Buddhist or a nominal Buddhist because the just adopt the local culture, which is Buddhist.

I thought Genghis Kahn was a Buddhist, but it seems he was more of a waring and political beast, who consulted with many religions, and grew up in a Buddhist Mongolia, though it's by no means a monolithic culture. That was when I first got involved and saw anyone who might be labeled a Buddhist as really being Buddhist. Also I didn't know that much about Genghis Kahn, who it turns out, after his death, had begun what would be the largest empire on earth. Did you know that? But I digress.

So what does a Buddhist do with a history of violence by Buddhists? I have not read Buddhist Warfare. Nor have I read Buddhism and Violence (Publications of the Lumbini International Research Institute, Nepal). The first one is new and in print, but these books don't seem to be about spirituality, more about history and culture.

I don't know if reading about Buddhist culture moves you on the path towards enlightenment, but I think an understanding of causes and conditions is never wrongheaded. If I was enlightened, I think this blog would be different, but since I'm not, I do write about culture. A way of keeping me in the game sometimes is to just do anything buddhisty, even if it's tangental.

Obama was in Myanmar and said recently, "What we’ve learned in the United States is that there are certain principles that are universal, apply to everybody no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what religion you practice.” In Myanmar they have pushed out ethnic Muslims for fear of Islamization. This has been going on for a while. This seems to go against the Buddhist precepts listed in the first paragraph. I believe in religious freedom and tolerance.

A state or culture can't prescribe one's spirituality. And yet what do you do when someone says their child can't have a simple operation because it's against the family's spiritual belief? There are limits. I would force the family to accept an operation that saves a child's life even if it goes against a religion, though I wouldn't do it lightly or easily, and there might be some rather negative consequences to that course of action. There are many complicated issues here.

But what would I do if someone told me I couldn't be a Buddhist? What if the price to be a Buddhist was too high? There's lots of books about that kind of situation, horrifying novels, history and memoirs. There is also subtle ways of prejudice and are just as unacceptable to me, and yet I've said negative things about other religions. I confess to hatred and false views (ie lack of tolerance). I hereby wish to move forward with religious tolerance.

You can read about violence done by nominal cultural Buddhists, and you don't want to tell someone what their designation is, but then again you can be wrong about what you think you are. It's possible you think you believe in creationism and evolution, but if you understand them both, it's impossible to believe in both (DARWIN'S DANGEROUS IDEA: EVOLUTION AND THE MEANINGS OF LIFE). And yet when I took an informal survey at the school I worked at, the majority of the people claimed to believe both. So what do you do with a group who sees themselves as Buddhists, but doesn't really follow the teachings of the Buddha? Do we say they are not Buddhist by virtue of the violence?

My solution is that a nominal or cultural Buddhist can commit violence, but that anyone moving past a superficial level of Buddhism can not engage in violence. And a self proclaimed Buddhist did some violence, the would see in meditation, reflection and discussion, that it wasn't the way towards enlightenment. I have agonized over my own personal mistakes, confessed them, done pujas to them, and in general work to evolve past them, with admittedly mixed results at times. Violence is not a way to become enlightened. Now you can concoct some weird scenario where you have to kill one person to save millions and billions (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine nailed that.). Even then it's not a slam dunk, that it's obvious.

The dean in the school I once worked in said he thought there would always be war. And I think that it's pretty much evident that war is constantly happening on this earth, and to say it's not happening is a weird kind of digging your head into the sands. But the idea that we can't, as a species, evolve past it, is a kind of pessimism. Maybe you'll see aggression in the playground of children, but there's always adults there to break it up. We have violence inside us, maybe that will always be there till we get into the higher evolution. I hope we can evolve past state violence, at least, even if, like Spock, it takes a while to master our turbulent emotions. Even if you're not a Buddhist, a world without state violence is an appealing idea.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Loy writes excellent essays

David Loy comes from the Zen tradition and is an academic, and I've enjoyed his latest books of  essays.  Here is his latest essay:

Here are some quotes:

"The Buddhist path is not about qualifying for heaven but living in a different way here and now. This focus supplements nicely the customary Western focus on social justice and social transformation. As Gary Snyder put it half a century ago, "The mercy of the West has been social revolution. The mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.""

later:  "The basic problem in our society is not rich and powerful bad people, but institutionalized structures of collective greed, aggression and delusion."

I know from reading his book that corporations lead to greed (we need dividends for our investment!), media, advertising leads to delusion, and our military is a tool of aggression and not the alleged self defense.

"The bodhisattva's pragmatism and non-dogmatism can help to cut through the ideological quarrels that have weakened so many progressive groups. And Buddhism's emphasis on skillful means cultivates the creative imagination, a necessary attribute if we are to construct a healthier way of living together on this earth, and work out a way to get there."

Also:  "As T. S. Eliot put it, "Ours is in the trying. The rest is not our business.""

Also:  "Have we already passed ecological tipping-points and human civilization is doomed? We don't know. Yet, rather than being intimidated, the bodhisattva embraces "don't know mind," because Buddhist practice opens us up to the awesome mystery of an impermanent world where everything is changing, whether or not we notice it."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

more popular culture notes

Is this too wet? It's not such a great song, but I was looking over Alanis Morrissette's recent production, and saw this interesting song.

"Empathy" by Alanis Morrissette

There are so many parts that I have hidden and denied and lost
There are so many ways that I have cut off my nose to spite my face

There are so many colors that I still try to hide while I paint
And there are so many tunes that I secretly sing as I wait

You come along and invite these parts out of hiding
This invitation is the one that I've stopped fighting....

Thank you for seeing me
I feel so less lonely
Thank you for getting me
I'm healed by your empathy
Oh this intimacy

There were so many times, I thought I'd die not being truly known
There've been so many moments: forever lonely in my vocation

You come along and celebrate each feeling
And there you are all honor and inquiring.......

Thank you for seeing me
I feel so less lonely
Thank you for getting me
I'm healed by your empathy
Oh this intimacy

There was a day where the trust that was being asked of me
Required too much you see
To accept your generosity
And to know myself enough to let you help me

Thank you for seeing me
I feel so less lonely
Thank you for getting me
I'm healed by your empathy
Oh this intimacy

Also this one is interesting:

Alanis Morissette
In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man

You are the bravest man I've ever met
You unreluctant at treacherous ledge

You are the sexiest man I've ever been with
You, never hotter than with armor spent

When you do what you do to provide
How you land in the soft as you fortify

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won't you lead the rest of your cavalry home

You, with your eyes mix strength with abandon
You with your new kind of heroism

And I bow and I bow down to you
To the grace that it takes to melt on through

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won't you lead the rest of your cavalry home
This is a thank you for letting me in
Indeed in praise of the vulnerable man

You are the greatest man I've ever met
You the stealth setter of new precedents

And I vow and I vow to be true
And I vow and I vow to not take advantage

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won't you lead the rest of your cavalry home
This is a thank you for letting me in
Indeed in praise of the vulnerable man


Well, what does empathy and vulnerability have to do with the spiritual life?  One of the things holding me back is my guardedness, protecting my sense of self.  It turns out relaxing into challenging feedback takes mindfulness, creativity.  Empathy also is one of the many fruits of practicing.

It's interesting Alanis has faded into obscurity after her intense first album Jagged Little Pill, with the song "You Ought To Know" about a romantic breakup.  Supposedly her second album was successful too, and after selling 33 million on her first, it says she's sold over 60 million total.  Listening to her acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill, you can still feel the intensity.  

Rock and roll is an intense medium.  Not sure if it's conducive to the spiritual life, though interestingly there are converts.  And there are even movements who identify with a genera of music like Dharma Punx.  I don't identify with one genera of music, but if I had to it would be jazz.  There are some jazz musicians who are Buddhists.  BTW, I wish I had the money to travel up to Aryaloka to see Heather Maloney.  She is awesome.  Music and Buddhism is too big of an area, and I digress.

Alanis' wikipedia article says Alanis is a Buddhist, but then it has a big blue thing that says, "citation needed".  She's also vegan.  There is a cite for that.  PETA says she's one of the sexiest vegetarians in 2009.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Before Dawn

Before Dawn by Sangharakshita 
(p.583 of Essential Sangharakshita)

Cut off from what I really think and feel,
The substance of my life becomes ideal.
A whited sepulcher, a plaster saint,
Is not much use however bright it's paint.
Dreaming, awake, I must do all I can
To join the inward and outward man.
Death Stares me in the face:  I watch and pray,
So near the goal and yet so far away!

I don't really like to comment, the poem stands on it's own, but I have thoughts, and I want to communicate how the poem affects me.

I think what he's pointing at in the first two sentences is narcissism. When I take a hard look at myself, I see some narcissism. I think I was brought up to push hard questions under the rug, or when I heard that message, I found it something to internalize and not reject.  But reading the beginning of Stephen Johnson's Character Styles (which was lent to me once, and taken from me once, so I've never finished it), he has a sort of accepting curiosity necessary to look at what for me isn't easy to look at.

I saw my son crumple when I pointed out that he didn't live up to a standard in completing his homework. Instead of righting the ship, he crumpled into emotional unavailability.  It annoyed me.  I hate that trait in myself.  I've done something wrong and I need to fight to make things better.  No matter that it doesn't easily yield to solutions.  That's another little character issue I have with myself, I want to not just crumple like Ned Flander's parents, who say, "we've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas."  (I can't find it on YouTube, but that's irrelevant.)

I like the line by Shantideva, where the warrior, when he sees his own blood fights harder.

I like the Milarepa line where in the spiritual practice you don't chase the sticks like a dog, but like a lion you turn and face the stick thrower.

I like the way the Buddha looked at old age, sickness, and death, and chose to become a spiritual seeker, in the legend of his life.  I like the way you can take a cold hard look at the three characteristics of existence.  Goldstein says in Breath by Breath that people often don't attend the lectures on impermanence, it's a kind of inconvenient truth.

What I hear Bhante saying is that when you lose connection with reality, you build up ideals that are unrealistic, that perpetuate the narcissistic disappointment, and leads to not moving in a positive realistic  direction.  You can get stuck.  Pema Chodron drums on this drum:  Start where you are.  Where you really are.  I suppose I'm one of the silly people she keeps talking to.

I can usual spiritual lingo to not change, hide my flaws, etc.  I've always loved the talk Dharma and Denial.  That talk has always spoken to me, and yet, I'm frustrated I'm still working on the same issues. I used to tell patients that it's a spiral, that you engage the problems at a higher level, hopefully.  I need to take my own advice.

So little time lift. "Death Stares me in the face" the poem says.  The stakes are high.

When I drop my children off, after my time with them, I often cry.  I cry for a million things, least not just pure not wanting to drop them off. But I also cry that I'm not a better man, and yet I need to keep asking myself what I am doing to work in that direction, and not just wallow in narcissistic self pity. It means something, I've got work to do.  Without blinders.  "I must do what I can."

The dawn in the birth of a new person.  Change is hard, but it is possible, and it's even more possible when you try and do something realistic about it.  And watch for entitlement and narcissism, two character traits I wish to move away from.  I wish to be humble and clear sighted.  I must tolerate that the electricity that comes through Sangharakshita's writings often only shocks me for a little bit and I move onto the next thing, and yet see if there's anything I can do about keeping the pressure on, tuning the lute strings appropriately.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Buddhafield Festival 2012

I've been looking at these Buddhafield photos. You can click on the link under the photo to see the rest. Buddhafield is a Buddhist outdoor festival in Great Britain, that I hear is really fun.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Zen Life: Film Review

As usual Wildmind has a good article on this movie about D.T. Suzuki, and put his influence well:

"Avant-garde musician John Cage; Catholic mystic Thomas Merton; Beat writers Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac; psychotherapists Carl Jung and Erich Fromm; Zen teachers Robert Aitken and Philip Kapleau, philosophers Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger: 20th century giants all, and all have one thing in common — they were deeply influenced by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, a gentle scholar-practitioner from Japan."

A Zen Life is a documentary film about Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. He was an early popularizer of Zen in English speaking countries, mostly America. He met many interesting and famous people, and plays a part of the cultural history in America.

It's hard to portray in depth a life, with episodic quotes and interviews. This movie gives a kind of broad impressionistic summary of Suzuki's life. I had a million thoughts during the movie. I'm always interested in biography, the arc of a life. I thought it was interesting that his deep experiences were similar to mine, I once felt that I was the wind and the trees. I didn't see that as enlightenment, just a deep meditative experience. I found it interesting he adopted a mixed child in a time in Japan when these children would be shunned, but he had an American wife, Beatrice Erskine Lane.

While I respect Bodhipaksa's idea that Suzuki was unfairly blamed for being pro-war, reading Zen At War, Suzuki clearly makes pro-war statement in his writings. The fact that many good people got swept up in the country's ideas, doesn't make him less pro-war, though perhaps it makes him human. We look back now that it is a mistake to be pro-war, and that's easy with hindsight, but we don't really appreciate all the complexities and circumstances with a snap judgment.  Everyone gets swept along in a tide of ideas, none of them their own.  For someone of Suzuki's stature to be swept along is understandable too. I still think he was pro-war, in writing anyway if Zen At War is to be believed, and am not sure why we would have to protect him from being, at least at points in his life, pro-war.

I think you can also easily criticize a popularizer's work, the first person to really begin writing about something to a country unfamiliar with Zen and Buddhism. At times Suzuki seemed profound to me.  The interviews were a mixed bag, I wasn't sure why some people got so much time.  I suppose it's hard to get footage of some people. I wanted more from Snyder, Fromm and Merton. Making a movie is not easy. I think writing something critical is easy, takes a few seconds, but making a movie takes a lot of time and effort, so I respect that.

I recently saw Crazy Wisdom, and this can be set alongside A Zen Life. They summarize a Buddhist life, and the influence people make in sharing their knowledge, in a foreign language such as English would be to Trungpa and Suzuki. Two early communicators of the Dharma in America and the English language world.

One thing that is easy in life, is to deny and cut off parts of it.  I have learned the spiritual lingo and yet it's not easy for me to change and evolve. I found it weird that Mihoko Okamura, the woman who cared for Suzuki in his later life, denied that he was dead, saying life and death were dualistic ideas. I felt sad for her loss, to such an important part of her life.  She seemed like an excellent caregiver; It's important noble work, and you can tell her devotion in her facial expressions and body language.  Suzuki seemed to be lucky to get such a devoted caregiver. I wonder how she made the decision to do that, and what her story is.  (Here is a blog of someone who met with Mihoko Okamura.)

I want to write a play about Suzuki living in a household with 5 young women, when he lived with Paul Carus, when he first came to America.  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that house.

I read a few of Suzuki's books in college and was totally befuddled.  Now I have a glimmer of where these Zen masters were coming from, but at the time it was very confusing.  When I was reading the Lankavatara Sutra I saw that he had some essays on that, but the book is out of print and used copies are expensive.

So I don't know if learning about Suzuki gets me closer to enlightenment, but I do enjoy the peripheral history and culture of Buddhism in America.

Quote from MCTB

"If you feel frustrated that your practice has not been as energized or as clear as you wish it to be, first sit with the fullness of that wish, with the fullness of that frustration, with the fullness of your fears, with the fullness of your hopes, with the fullness of that suffering and compassion, as clearly and bravely as you possibly can until you understand them to their very depths as they actually are. Channel all of this energy into clear, precise, kind and focused living and practice." P.113 MCTB.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Enlighten Up!

At a certain point of insomnia, I couldn't read any more, so I watched Enlighten Up!  It's a movie about a guy who committed to go on a yoga journey.  He's a kind of skeptical fact based journalist, who liked rock climbing.  The person doing the film really loved yoga, and he felt a pressure to get into it.  He felt she should go on the journey he went on.

He did a bunch of classes in New York, and the surrounding area, and then went to Hawaii and then India.  In the journey visited many famous yoga teachers.

I saw Beryl Bender Birch, who taught me yoga, years ago, when I had achilles tendonitis after running my third marathon.  I got into Astanga Yoga.  But I haven't practiced in a while, and I turned more towards spirituality, and BuddhaDharma, so I was hoping it was more towards enlightenment, and not so much yoga, but that was interesting too.

I enjoyed the journey that included laughter yoga, which I've always wanted to try, and seeing gurus, and getting a larger perspective.

It was interesting when the movie kind of exposed the guy's fight between his internalized mother and father.  His father is a criminal lawyer, and his mother is a shaman.  As a journalist, he was basically a materialistic, fact based fellow.

He was kind of pushed into being "spiritual", which is his experience of his mother.  What I think was cool was when he got to the point where he wouldn't talk about it.  Things were clearly going on inside of him, but he just didn't want to expose it in public, including trying to date a woman without a camera around.  You could tell he was lonely, and he missed his family and he normal way of life.  He tried his best, but you could see it in his facial expression that he wasn't that into it.  He looked put upon.

In the end, the journey went from the physical to the internal, and while the fellow wasn't very forthcoming, you could feel it changed him.  He just couldn't put words to it, which must have been hard for a journalist.

What was most interesting was the pressure he put on himself, and his recognition that he was who he was.  The gurus told him that, he was getting out of it what he put into it.  He stopped going yoga in the end.

An interesting kind of project--to push someone into something they are not really into, maybe for their own good.  A surprisingly interesting movie for me.  Maybe because it's 4am, and I can't sleep, but sometimes a documentary hits me just right and I really appreciate the real human experience, it seems somehow universal and archetypal.  His trying to hear god and not hearing anything.

Ingram quotes

"Discipline and resolve allow one to make choices about what we do and stay strong in the face of difficulties."  P.78

"There is so much completely useless and harmful sectarianism in the spiritual world, within Buddhism and between Buddhism and the other spiritual traditions. People can get so into their particular trip and get all down on the other perfectly good spiritual trips. This is faith out of balance causing rigid adherence to dogma, isn't it? This is a lack of understanding of what the basics are and what are just the inevitable cultural trappings and individual emphases of each tradition." P.85

"I have grown tired of people routinely quoting profound dharma statements from such works as if this represents their understanding when they have no idea what they mean. They seem to derive some false comfort from being able to parrot the masters. While I can understand the appeal of behaving in such ways, as I have done so myself on numerous occasions, I will do my best to keep the second two parts of this book from contributing to this phenomena. Thus, I have intentionally written some sections of Parts II and III in a style that is designed to sound combative and abrasive. Also, I must admit that it was fun to write that way." P.89

"Many seem to have substituted the pain of the pew for the pain of the zafu with the results and motivations being largely the same. It is an imitation of meditation done because meditation seems like a good and noble thing to do. However, it is a meditation that has been designed by those “teachers” who want everyone to be able to feel good that they are doing something “spiritual”."

Cautiously Curious

Daniel M. Ingram is a controversial figure because he claims to be an arhat.  It makes him easy to dismiss because boasting of spiritual attainment goes against the culture of Buddhism.  I wouldn't say you had to read his book to dismiss him, but I'm finding his book intelligent and helpful in places.  Some people think he's too intellectual, but you only transcend reason by going through it.

On the other hand people can get very excited about him, because he is explicit, smart and explains what he has done, and he seems to have put some work in.  You can judge for yourself, or read some of the many discussion boards where he is discussed or participates in, or dismiss him.

I started reading his Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha, and found some of his style bombastic.  I have also found some of his writing rather intelligent and apt, as previous quotes in this blog show.  It's like a young Bret Easton Ellis if he became a Buddhist and wrote a book, sometimes.  He can also be irreverent and flippant and call himself a maverick or playful, and it's up to you to see if it's right for you, which one it seems or which percentage of which you get.  The best comment I saw on the boards was basically, if he helps you, then great.  What ever works.

None of the comments on the discussion boards really struck home to me, so I keep reading.  And yet I don't feel like the really excited five star reviews on Amazon.  I'm not done with the book yet.  I tend to feel more positively as a book goes along, if I keep reading.

You can get the book for free.  You can buy a hard copy of the book, if you choose.  But it's a living organism as he keeps working on it.  I'm not sure if that link will work, you have to sign up for the discussion on The Dharma Overground.  That's free too.

So on the one hand you don't feel a movement behind him, and you wonder where he goes, if at all beyond "meditation reform" and whether he can create a movement, though maybe he has fans.  If you google "retreat with Daniel Ingram" today, there's no retreat you can go on, only advice on how to approach a retreat.

On the other hand he seems like he's dipped into the tradition and puts it forward in a forthright manner based in his experience, and isn't afraid to say when he disagrees with tradition.  Time will tell how great of a teacher he is, or even whether he wants to create a movement, or be a teacher beyond his writings and podcasts.  I haven't listened to the Buddhist Geeks podcast with him in them yet.

He's trained in the Vipassana tradition, but doesn't have any formal titles or anything, beyond informal verbal encouragement of one teacher that he should teach.  (Can't find the reference to that statement any more...)  He is compared to Brad Warner in 2 blog postings (1, 2) and this is in 2010, so I'm behind the curve obviously.  Perhaps the published at the same time I don't know.  Warner is a Soto priest, and does retreat, so that's a difference to their supposedly shared hardcore buddhism.

Recently they changed the name of the movement he seems to be involved in, to Pragmatic Dharma.

I find the way I try to be careful writing about him is interesting.  I don't want to be too gung ho, or superficially dismissive.  I'm not even done with the book.  But I thought I should give more background to "Ingram Quote" blogs I've been doing, and probably will do.  I think his book is filled with interesting and sincere experience, mapped over the Vapassana tradition, which he seems to know pretty well.

May you be happy, may you be well!

Ingram quotes

"Sometimes looking into suffering and desire can be overwhelming. Life can sometimes be extremely hard. In these moments, try looking into the heart side of the equation, compassion and kindness. Connect with the part of your heart that just wishes the suffering would end and feel that deeply, especially as it manifests in the body. Just this can be profound practice."  P.64 

Ingram quote

"The whole problem is that “misdirected” compassion, compassion that is filtered through the process of ego and its related habits, can produce enormous suffering and often does. It is easy to think of many examples of people searching for happiness in the strangest of places and by doing
the strangest of things. Just pick up any newspaper. The take-home message is to search for happiness where you are actually likely to find it." 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ingram Quote

"Connecting with the truth of suffering can actually be very motivating for spiritual practice. Most traditional talks on the Buddha's teachings begin with this. More than just being motivating for spiritual practice, tuning into suffering is spiritual practice! Many people start meditating and then get frustrated with how much suffering and pain they experience, never knowing that they are actually starting to understand something. They cling to the ideal that insight practices will produce peace and bliss and yet much of what they find is suffering. They don’t realize that things on the cushion tend to get worse before they get better. Thus, they reject the very truths they must deeply understand to obtain the peace they were looking for and thus get nowhere. They reject their own valid insights that they have obtained through valid practice. I suspect that this is one of the greatest and most common stumbling blocks on the spiritual path."

Sangharakshita Quotes

"You have to do quite a lot of strenuous thinking and I think the majority of people nowadays, especially those who get into anything like Eastern religions, Eastern mysticism, are trying to avoid anything of the nature of strenuous thinking. Their thinking is appallingly weak, a sort of vague meandering, dream-like, semi-speculative excursus [Laughter]. A sort of science fictional without the science, sort of attitude, if you know what I mean, is regarded as adequate. The thinking is left to the scholars of course who are despised anyway." 

"When you are in contact with external reality you are as much in contact with ultimate reality as when you are in contact with subjective reality."

" is the responsibility of thinking that so many people don’t want. Whereas if you retreat into the subjective, into your feeling, you don’t have to think, you don’t have to test your thought against the objective reality. It’s just like people avoid saying, ‘I think’ and they say, ‘I feel’, because that can’t be challenged. ‘I feel he’s no good’, ‘What makes you think that?’ ‘Oh, I just feel it.’ Well, you see, this is supposed to be conclusive - that you feel it. If you say that you think it then you are obliged to give reasons why you think it, but no one expects you to give reasons why you feel it. So if you actually think it by saying that you feel it you exempt yourself from all rational discussion and it may be that rational discussion is what you are afraid of." 

"So I think within the FWBO, broadly speaking, there is very little actual thinking goes on."


I wonder if Bromberg is intentionally evoking the bardos when he talks about "standing in the spaces".

Sangharakshita quote from seminar

"...supposing you are just waiting for somebody to turn up, someone that you are very attached to, and supposing they promised to meet you at 2 o’clock, and they don’t turn up and they still haven’t turned up at three, four, five. You go through all sorts of torments, agonies, you feel like killing that person, committing suicide. [Laughter] You are never going to speak to them again. You go through all that and at the same time you see perhaps, quite clearly within the context of all those very painful experiences, your own utter dependence, your emotional dependence, the utter uselessness and utter foolishness and ridiculousness of it. You see it very, very clearly. In the midst of the insanity there is a real glimpse of sanity. You can sometimes have that sort of experience, in all sorts of ways and all sorts of contexts." (From Seminar on Bardo Thodol)

Bardo Thodol

My friend recommended I watch the movie Enter The Void a while ago and I finally go around to it.  It's buddhisty in the sense that the Bardo Thodol is referenced, even explained a little, and the suffering of life is palpable and there's a larger picture aspect of it that I feel in spirituality.  It might be about the Tibetan wheel of life, taking off from the Bardho Thodol.  It's not a feel good movie (thus the photo meme above).

Watching Enter The Void, I got interested in the Bardo Thodol.  It got me reading the Sangharakshita seminar on the Bardo Thodol.  Also Padmavajra has an eight talk series on it in FBA.

If you've seen Gaspar Noé's other movie Irréversible, you know he's not about pleasing entertainment, he paints rather grim pictures.  These movies are gritty reality, with seedy underbelly, base nature, violence and exploitation.  Not really my cup of tea.

I didn't know that the Bardo Thodol was supposed to be written by Padmasambhava, which means it's going to be very rich in mythology and magic.

I think this might be the last Buddhist classic I approach because I don't really groove to the whole reincarnation thing, not my expeirence, doesn't make sense to me.  I don't want to dismiss it because it's foreign.  I don't want to dismiss it because it seems to be part of the Buddhist tradition.  But I fall along the lines of a secular buddhist, enjoy the works of Stephen Batchelor and others along those lines.  Even so, my interest has been piqued because of this profound and horrible movie.

I'll end with a quote from the Gardian review, the first link above:

"Some may find Enter the Void detestable and objectionable, though if they affect to find it "boring" I will not believe them. For all its hysterical excess, this beautiful, delirious, shocking film is the one offering us that lightning bolt of terror or inspiration that we hope for at the cinema."

Friday, November 09, 2012

Bhante Quote

"We need to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that we are accepting Mara's daughters as Vimalakirti did when we are really only succumbing to them like an ordinary person." p. 79 of The Inconceivable Emancipation

renewing inspiriation

Reading Inconceivable Emancipation, chapter 4, based on this talk, seemed to be saying that focusing on remorse isn't so much helpful and that's where the Christians get it wrong (psychologically, though of course, you must judge for yourself).

What Bhante seems to be saying to me is that you really need to ask why you've lost the inspiration in your spiritual life, such that you made such a mistake.  As though inspiration in the spiritual life is what keeps you from making ethical errors.  And that while the ethical errors hurt someone else, you're really hurting your own practice, which is what keeps one out of the negative place that creates errors.  So when you make an ethical mistake, the most important question is:  How can I renew my inspiration?  (And for me, how can I move away from the negative self attack and self loathing?)

So I'm reflecting on that today, letting it simmer, percolate.  Please feel free to put your answers in the comments section.

My first thought it to go on retreat.  That is good use of the retreat as triage for life.

I think applying the mindfulness spotlight to problem areas helps one to define the problem, and observe for potential solutions.

It's a good practice question:  what inspires me?  I like to be positively challenged to grow.

I get positively challenged by the readings of Bhante, talks, friendships, meditation, sangha gatherings.

I'm inspired by the positivity of the spiritual life.  I recently realized that I am a bit demoralized by crime and that's why I'm not really into the mystery genera.  No matter how interesting the trappings around a crime, that is the spark of a mystery.

I'm inspired by action, and not just being the hot house flower I can be.  The liberation movement of the dalits in India.  Sanghas flourishing throughout the world.  Good worksinnovative programs, and festivals I hope to connect with in the future.

And then I suppose a solution is to look at what's demoralizing me, and dampening inspiration or blocking it.  What am I doing to block inspiration?  There's plenty there, which I won't go into now.

A major problem for me is how I can work for the good of the Dharma.  I just don't see that clearly.  I yearn to put my shoulder to the wheel of the movement, but my actions say otherwise.  What is holding me back?  Like always I'll just have to live the questions.

May you be happy, may you be well!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Pico Iyer's The Joy of Quiet

T“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” 

That is from a lovely essay called The Joy of Quiet, from the Times, by Pico Iyer (which I found through Wildmind).

Also, "Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.”"

Also, "Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but by also acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister."

Also, "We barely have enough time to see how little time we have..."

Also, "We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say."

Also, "MAYBE that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation."

Also, "Nothing makes me feel better — calmer, clearer and happier — than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”"

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Prajnaparamita Puja

I did the Prajnaparamita Puja this morning on Wise Attention.

It's probably my spiritual immaturity that has me craving new things instead of keeping to the same stuff, but I love new pujas, and puja in general, ever since I read Ritual and Devotion while I was on a life changing retreat on the Bhrama Viharas at Aryaloka.  I have a friend who likes to sing, and it's so cool when good singers do a puja.  I like it that I can join in too.

I'm not familiar with some of the mantras in this puja.  I didn't know what "dhih" is, so I looked on Visible Mantra.

I used the TBC Heart Sutra, even though Vishvapani linked the Lok To translation.  When I asked him why he chose that, he wrote on Wise Attention:

"...both translations are problematic. The Triratna one is Philip Kapleau’s translation of a Japanese text used in Rinzai Zen temples, which derives ultimately from the Hsuan Tsang translation from sanskrit into Chinese. So this one is closer to the source, but not much. I’ll seek out a replacement I think."

Fair enough.  I couldn't figure out how to cut and paste the Lok To translation, so I used the TBC one (found here), but I was tempted to use the other translation just to shake things up and give me more of beginner's mind with the heart sutra.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Good talk

I've sort of lost my will to listen to talks on Free Buddhist Audio.  I felt like I'd listened to all the talks that had vitality to them.  I have a blog of my favorite talks from a few years ago.  I've heard some good talks since then, but this one made me want to blog.

The talk is by Chandradasa.  It's part of a series called Religion Without God: Death and the Biggest Questions of All.  It addresses the question of what happens after death.  It's a well researched talk.  It basically points towards uncertainty, and puts ideas of rebirth into a rich context.  I've heard a version of this talk on retreat, and it's cool to see how people evolve as teachers and speakers.  The talk is given at the Portsmouth Buddhist Center New Hampshire.  Click on the first link to go to the talk.

(Now for a wee bit of winging.  I used to be able to click on listening to a talk, and I could listen to it on my phone.  Now it just replays the first track. Strike one. At FBA they like to break the tracks into sections so you can search for things, but I've always liked the talks not broken into tracks, and the problem I have wouldn't happen. So then I try another way, and it just plays one track at a time, and the "Play all" doesn't work on my phone. Strike two. So you have to click all tracks, so you can't really fall asleep listening to it, like I like to. So then I downloaded it. And when you download it, and open it up, it opened up mixed up, so I had to create a playlist with it in the right order.  Strike three. I hope it's not this complicated for you to listen to this talk. I used to point these things out to FBA. They're doing their best, I'm sure, and technology is complicated. I'm not the kind of person who blames myself when technology doesn't work, but perhaps I've done something "wrong", or didn't solve it when it can be solved.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Sanjay Nambiar

Sanjay Nambiar has written 3 Zen books for children.  (You can click on the icon and go to Amazon)

I read them all. I think the first one was good, I liked the second one even better, and while I like the last one, it's my least favorite.

I'm not sure why he chooses "Zen" instead of "Buddhism", except it's a short, cooler word.

Anyway, if you have little children, check them out.