Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Hurricane Sandy came to NYC. I live away from the coast, so the worst of it was trees down. I've got a million shots of trees down. Lives have been lost, many people have had their worlds turned upside down. The marathon was canceled. The marathon wasn't canceled after 9/11.

I'm shattered, I've experienced an unnatural disaster of my own creation, that has totally mortified me, and sent me into a terrible depression and self loathing.  I'm trying to rebuild, so I like to see stories of rebuilding, recovery, redemption and second chances.  A chance to be more resilient, a chance to grow in unexpected ways.

I had a dream I was a logger.  Seeing so many trees down is disturbing to me.  A few weeks ago I witness a kind of Lorax machine taking down trees, to put a house where one did not exist before.  The friend I was with was fascinated, but I was disgusted.  I find all the tree loss disturbing, and that's just the tip of the iceberg for the damage of Hurricane Sandy.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Southern California as the center of American Buddhism?

Is Southern California as the center of American Buddhism? At least in statistical population.  From Wikipedia:  "In 2012, U-T San Diego estimated U.S. practitioners at 1.2 million people, of whom 40% are living in Southern California."  

(Another interesting fact:  "With combined surface area of 56,512 sq mi, Southern California alone is bigger than England.")

I've been to LA and San Diego traveling as a counselor with teens with disabilities.  Spent more time in the San Francisco area.  I think if I needed to be around more Buddhists I could go to another country, not sure why my initial reaction was, "I need to move to Southern California."  Plus, you can be in a Buddhist country, but the buddhism is cultural, not so much active.  I suppose like any religion, you can identify as something, but not so much study or really delve into it.  So where is the most Buddhist spiritual intensity?  Any why look for it outside, why not cultivate it inside?!

I was disappointed not to see the Triratna Buddhist Community in the entry on Buddhism in America.  Also the literal ideas of transmission are rather unprogressive.  I guess I hope the new buddhist movements section is expanded.  I expect a living encyclopedia to more up to date.

Teaching children to meditate

I remember a bit Raymond Carver wrote, where says something like, "at one point the kids took over, and I took to writing in my car in the garage."

One time I tried to teach my son's cousin to meditate and my two sons joined in. I taught them a form of metta bhavana, a kind of positive thinking meditation. We got into position, sat for 5 minutes thinking about lovingkindness in the world. They all liked it, but my son's were not wild about it, and they haven't really asked me to do it again, and declined when I asked if they wanted.

This morning my 8 year old son, the older one, woke up and I asked him if he wanted to meditate.  He said OK. I've been focusing on anapanasati, so I got him seated, told the story of the Anapanapati Sutta, and said to follow his breath. Sit up straight and proud. (My son is slumping a little in the picture after it was over.) If he thinks about something else, when you realize, kindly and gently go back to the breath. We sat for 5 minutes.

I asked him how it went. He said he realized he needed to brush his teeth. He said it was good. His eyes were bothering him, and after meditating they didn't any more. That was why I asked him to meditate, he couldn't really say what was going on with his eyes, and I wanted him to tune into himself a little.

I went to a public meditation at the bodies exhibit, and I was jealous when a fellow had two young daughters meditating with him.  My boys have been more resistant to learning meditation, and I've not wanted to push it.  I want it to be a natural thing like this morning.  And I am so happy I got my son on the cushion.  I have to be in connection with them, as I balance my enthusiasm, and where they are.  It's easier if I can get them one on one.  Now I need to give my other son a lesson so he doesn't feel like he's left out.

Monday, October 22, 2012

poem wrote camping this summer

The mossy logs change
from year to year
By the brook, and
Ash rains down on me
As the winds change
"we are star dust
And we've got to get back
To the garden"
Drifts through my head.
My mind settles a little &
I try to make sense of the
Turbulence of the past 5 years.
Ever since I went on a solitary retreat
And I had the corrosive thought
That my conditions are not right.
I began to resist reality
And gradually sunk
Into the negative undertow
Leading to selfish delusional greed.
But I'm turning this rig around
Not like the gliding circles
Of birds of prey
But like a Dharma follower
Who glimpses the goal

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ambition and surrender to blooming

On the one hand you’ve got to applaud mavericks.  I think about Daniel Ingram who writes Mastering Core Teachings of the Buddha, that lays it all out there: Here’s how to get enlightened.  I think about others like David Smith and his A Record of Awakening.  For the the phrase “go for it,” and “petal to the metal” capture this spirit.  And yet for 5 years Daniel Ingram was a “one technique freak”, and built up his practice.

Rosenberg talks about a retreat where he slept from 11-4, and basically mediated 50 minutes and walked for 10, ate at his meditation spot and slept at his meditation spot.  And you couldn’t move.  Then somewhere along the 90 day retreat, they were told they were going a week without sleep.

I think about Milarepa’s last teaching, lifting up his clothes to show the calluses on his butt.

How do you press, push yourself into something that is so surrendering?  In meditation, you’re just opening up to your experience, trying to become more intimate with it, really looking into what is going on in your mind with depth.  That’s a kind of surrender, a kind of opening, you're not forcing anything.  It's no slam dunk.  It’s not a detachment or numbing as you push.  It isn’t something you can just willfull come into being.  Deepening in meditation is a healthy intimacy, which passes through a kind of preciousness, and then widens into a stable openness, realization of conditions and compassion.

How willful can someone be?  I’d rather exert myself mildly in a community of strivers, than willfully pushing myself in a world of people who are quite happy the way things are.  Everyone is striving in one way or other.  We’re interconnected.  I see a webs connecting each of us, flexible, stretchy webs that are almost invisible, but I see them more and more.

I think about the science fiction novels where people connect together mentally to run robots in war.  They are told that if they do it too long they will be injured.  But the reality is that they will become enlightened.  The first group they tried this on became enlightened and wouldn’t fight the war.  So they were isolated and hidden.  But you can’t hide something as awesome as enlightenment.

On this anapanasati retreat, I focused more than ever on thinking how I can deploy these insights into my live outside retreat.  I had lots of little insight into how I make my own suffering, the second arrow that doesn’t need to go in.

I had plenty of interesting experience to contemplate on.  From borderline behaviors, to a dog attacking me, to a neighbor of the center making sure I wasn't a harmful stranger, to finding a tick on my arm.  I had lovely visualizations of riding around the circle of meditators on a unicycle and slapping high fives to everyone including the Buddha.

Cliches are not bad in Buddhism, and in a way you can read something without a felt sense of what they are saying.  The words run over you like water over rocks. But there's a deepening on retreat.  I became fascinated by my breath.  I felt more deeply annica, which is impermanence.

So many levels of goodness.  Seeing the foliage of New England in fall.  Walking outside.  Good vegetarian food.  When I walked in someone hugged me and I felt so warm and welcome.  Other people really helped me, and I hope I helped them.

Milarepa talks about stopping chasing the sticks like a dog, and turning to face the stick thrower like a tiger.

The overflowing energy on retreat I poured into howling along to my favorite Rush songs, driving home.  I couldn't stop laughing when my friend said he had to open his eyes in the shrine room to see who was licking their balls.  It was the guide dog of one of the retreatants.

It's cool to read another person's musings on a retreat, like the secular buddhist blog does.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Photo Essay

I don't take pictures of people on retreat, so it's just things.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

the sales pitch

I find the sales pitch to upgrade on Spotify prime interesting.  Usually ads aren't interesting.  Spotify is a music app that plays music (when did we stop calling them programs?).  If you don't upgrade to prime, you can play it on your computer, but not your smart phone, and there are adds.  I've used Rhapsody and Pandora, but somehow Spotify has enough of the music on line for me not to worry.  Only the heavy hitters aren't on Spotify and I'm OK with that.  Most of the music I like isn't mainstream anyway.

The add says something like:  Don't steal the music, listen to spotify, and every time you listen to a favorite artist, you earn money for the artist.

The argument appeals to your ethics, in the Buddhist's case, the ten precepts.  Not to take the not given, the second precept.  The flip side virtue is generosity.  This ad appeals to my ethical sense.  Usually ads appeal to the lower nature, desire for status, appealing women, ease in life.  This ad essentially says you will feel better if you stop stealing.  I like it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Going on retreat

The retreat I'm going on is not on the Bodhyanga's, as in the photo, but on Anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing.  Twelve years ago I went on a Brahma Vihara retreat, and it blew my mind.  I've missed the anapanasati retreats that came through for one reason or other.

Metta and Mindfulness of Breathing are the building blocks of the system of meditation.  To go deeper into them yields a richness.

As someone who has practiced for 12 years, I don't need a new practice.  I'm not interested in collecting new meditation practices that I don't have time to practice.  I need to keep banging away at these two practices, mindfulness of breathing and the metta bhavana.  And yet I look forward to the novelty of this retreat.

I've taken the next step into the 6 Element practice and my life wasn't supportive enough to build that one up.  I don't do the 4 brahma vihara's, even though I love them.  I just alternate Metta and MOB.

Still, going on retreat is lovely in so many ways, and deepening my appreciation of anapanasati is important, feels like completing the circle of learning.

With children, I always have a conflict of leaving them.  Some of my buddhist friends without children see that as pathological attachment.  My non-Buddhist friends wonder how I could leave my family, they see it as selfish to go on retreat.  You can't please everyone.  My true friends support me and don't try to change my course with their own agendas.

My retreat experience is very challenging.  It's not relaxing and I work very hard.  I don't skip things and I make the most of it, because frankly you never know if you'll ever get back on one again.  And sitting in meditation lots of things come up that I distract my mind away from, and I have to deal with my backlog of pushed away negative stuff.  It can also be blissful, I can get into deep meditative states that are very pleasant.  And it feels very healthy to be around the spiritual community.

I'm very much looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daw Suu

Things could be worse.  Things could be better.

Today I watched The Lady, about the life of Aung San Suu Kyi.  The Burmese call her Daw Suu.  The feeling you get is that people can get caught up on the larger world movement, and that can destroy one's personal life, and the struggle for integrity against the larger world.  What a weird long distance relationship.  What a dramatic conflict between the personal and the political.  I guess that's what being a political prisoner is all about.

She should have been the president of Burma, except for the Junta.  She could have left and just been with her family and lived a quiet life, except for her conscious.

Daw Suu sacrificed her family life, for her political life, though her sons were teenagers when she started her quest for democracy.  All she wanted was democracy.  It helps me to realize, as broken as our political system is, at least there's a shred of democracy.  It could be worse.  I like how she focuses on fear in what I read about her.  There's an amazing scene where a line of men are lined up, pointing guns and she walks into them.  I think that's why I'm sickened by the shenanigans in our democracy in the USA.  It's not so dramatic as guns pointed as people.

Daw Suu's life challenges me, why am I not more political?  I still struggle to find my cause, beyond being nice to the people around me, and blogging, though I am deeply touched by the Buddhist movement in India.  I have a hard time imagining what I could contribute, perhaps I need to work harder figure that out, raise money to go there and do some research.  Daw Suu quotes her father:  "You may not think much about politics, but politics thinks about you."

I've shot guns in my life for sport.  But seeing them used in this movie make me sick.  Guns are sickening.  It's time we move past guns, grow out of it, grow up.

I'm not a huge fan of Gandi because he wasn't really against caste, but Daw Suu continues the tradition of non-violent protests, which I do like.  She's really courageous.

I read most of the wikipedia entry about her before I watched the movie.  There's nothing about hunger strikes (presented in the movie), in the wikipedia entry.

Before today, I learned mostly about her through following the links of Rev. Danny Fisher.  He's a real blogsattva, and if it's social and political awareness you want, you follow his blog.  He's the one who hipped me to this movie.

I like Luc Besson.  I like David Thewlis (Naked is one of my favorite movies).  Burma is 89% Buddhist, btw, compared to 0.7% in the USA.  Daw Suu was married to Michael Aris, a scholar.  Her husband was a twin, both Himalayan scholars.  Another interesting fact, her brother drown in an ornamental pool.

Choose the world you build

P. 42 Inconceivable Emancipation:

"We can create a world of the gods, a world of refined, sensuous, intellectual, aesthetic, but rather selfish, self-indulgent pleasure;  or a world of human beings, a world of ordinary domestic, civic, political, and cultural obligations and activities.  We can create a world of asuras or anti-gods, a world of jealousy, excessive sexual polarization, over-aggressiveness, ruthless competition, and overt or covert conflict; or a world of hungry ghosts, a world of neurotic craving, intense possessiveness, and relationships characterized by extreme emotional dependence.  We can create a world of tormented beings, a world of pain and suffering, of intense physical and mental distress; or a world of animals, a world of straightforward food, sex and sleep.

Or, turning our back on all these, we can devote ourselves to developing as individuals.  We can devote ourselves to the Budhisattva ideal.  We can devote ourselves, direcetly or indirectly, to building the Buddha-land."

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

my other blogs

In the democracy of the internet, anyone can publish themselves.  No guarantee anyone will read it, but think the process of writing is what gives me joy.  Publishing is the final stage of the writing process.  The internet affords one an easy quick route to publication.

Face to face communication is the best way to communicate, but there are other modes.

And if people don't like what you have to say, well, they just don't tune in.  No harm no foul.  I enjoy reading the subjective personal narrative, and I enjoy expressing my personal narrative.

Started a gratitude blog to express my gratitude.  Gratitude is a way of putting your mind into an appreciative place.

I haven't been posting as much on my mental health blog, but I did recently.

Perhaps sports is a false refuge, but I like my male soap opera, so I created a sports blog.  "He made his appearance at the fields of sports and in the casinos, but his aim was always to mature those people who were attached to games and gambling." (quoted from Vimalakirti-Nirdesa in Inconceivable Emancipation p. 46)

Some culture ideas I have doesn't have a Buddhist twist, so I created a cultural blog.

I love hiking, so I created a hiking blog.

I love Wafa's, a Turkish restaurant, so I created a fan blog for it.  They have great vegetarian food.

I spent more time blogging about my sons when they were small, but I still hope to blog more about them.

My partner is awesome, so I created a tribute blog, that also has buddhist pictures.  I repost cool quotes, and Buddhist pictures.  I put my own pictures up of her, and the flowers I send her.

Hope you like them!

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Bodhisattva's Reply by Sangharakshita

The Bodhisattva's Reply

What will you say to those
Whose lives spring up between
Custom and circumstance
As weeds between wet stones,
Whose lives corruptly flower
Warped from the beautiful,
Refuse and sediment
Their means of sustenance -
What will you say to them?

That woman, night after night,
Must sell her body for bread;
This boy with the well-oiled hair
And the innocence dead in his face
Must lubricate the obscene
Bodies of gross old men;
And both must be merry all day,
For thinking would make them mad -
What will you say to them?

Those dull-eyed men must tend
Machines till they become
Machines, or till they are
Cogs in the giant wheel
Of industry, producing
The clothes that they cannot wear
And the cellophaned luxury goods
They can never hope to buy -
What will you say to them?

Or these dim shadows which
Through the pale gold tropic dawn
From the outcaste village flit
Balancing on their heads
Baskets to bear away
Garbage and excrement,
Hugging the wall for fear
Of the scorn of their fellow-men -
What will you say to them?

And wasted lives that litter
The streets of modern cities,
Souls like butt-ends tossed
In the gutter and trampled on,
Human refuse dumped
At the crossroads where civilization
And civilization meet
To breed the unbeautiful -
What will you say to them?

`I shall say nothing, but only
Fold in Compassion's arms
Their frailty till it becomes
Strong with my strength, their limbs
Bright with my beauty, their souls
With my wisdom luminous, or
Till I have become like them
A seed between wet stones
Of custom and circumstance.'

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bhante quote on Buddha-land

P. 40 Inconceivable Emancipation:

"Zen is a well-known example of the application of spiritual meditation to various otherwise mundane activity in such a way as to bring them into harmony with that realization.  In this way, Zen is applied to architecture, to landscape gardening, to archery or swordsmanship, to flower arrangement, and to everyday manners and customs.  The Zen approach, in which the human subject is creative in relation to it's object, is akin to the building of a buddha-land, in that it transforms various aspects of the world."

And later,

"If you don't have the power to build a Zen temple, you can at least paint your room, or even just tidy up a bit."

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Pure Land

The pure land is as pure as we make it.  If we are less pure, the pure land has impurities.  We can't even see the pure land if we're don't have any purity.

Bhante Sangharakshita sees it as a koan that the Buddha or a Bodhisattva creates a pure land, and yet what you see in it, is up to the person.  Something to meditate on, to transcend. (p.36 IE)

But if we are to make sense of conditionality, "this being, that becomes," we know that we're all connected an you can't build a buddhafield alone (as much as we might like to try).

Milarepa had build and tore down a tower for quite a while.  His teacher was helping him to burn off his negative karma.

In the Meghiya Sutta, the Buddha suggests what you can do if you're not ready to meditate.  He can work on noble friendships, ethics, listen to the Dharma, and develop discernment, to see conditionality.  He can also clarify what is to be abandoned, develop good will and a positive attitude, mindfulness (we have two meditations for this, this is the ground floor in the system of meditation) and understand the no permanent self doctrine.

Subhuti on the Buddhist Manifesto

I wrote a post when this came out.  Subhuti has a rare clarity of mind; Everything he says seems uncontroversial, yet he is challenging.

He used an metaphore I'd never heard of:  Aunt Sally

He uses a complex vocabulary, I will link 3:


"Post-Enlightenment Epistemology"


Listening to Subhuti, I can't help but wish he'd write a kind of Confessions of an Atheist Buddhist, Stephen Batchelor type memoir, which is an intellectual tour de force.  If he could combine his formidable intellect with a personal narrative, I would greatly wish for that.  He'd probably prefer to be a man of action, he does so much in India and Turkey.

I have to think more about the criticism that the internet is superficial.

I love his talking about the danger of formalism, and connecting it with conditionality.  One example is the focus on lineage, in which he quotes a sutra where the Buddha warns against that.  I loved the phrase, "gravitational pull of the conditioned," which he also talks about in terms of reliance on rites and rituals in and of themselves.  He sees the Buddha pointing to principles beyond the literal teachings.

He hammers on the monastic vs. lay dualism.  He really pushes for authenticity and a meritocracy based on commitment to the 3 jewels.

"People absorb 20% from a screen compared to a book"  He said he, "read it in a study."  Please post a comment if you find this study.

I hope this isn't superficial.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Cultural Wanderings

Bodhisattva Vow by Adam Yauch (deceased Beasty Boy)(1994)

As I Develop The Awakening Mind I Praise The Buddha As They Shine
I Bow Before You As I Travel My Path To Join Your Ranks,
I Make My Full Time Task
For The Sake Of All Beings I Seek
The Enlighted Mind That I Know I'll Reap
Respect To Shantideva And All The Others
Who Brought Down The Dharma For Sisters And Brothers
I Give Thanks For This World As A Place To Learn
And For This Human Body That I'm Glad To Have Earned
And My Deepest Thanks To All Sentient Beings
For Without Them There Would Be No Place To Learn What I'm Seeing
There's Nothing Here That's Not Been Said Before
But I Put It Down Now So I'll Be Sure
To Solidify My Own Views And I'll Be Glad If It Helps
Anyone Else Out Too
If Others Disrespect Me Or Give Me Flack
I'll Stop And Think Before I React
Knowing That They're Going Through Insecure Stages
I'll Take The Opportunity To Exercise Patience
I'll See It As A Chance To Help The Other Person
Nip It In The Bud Before It Can Worsen
A Change For Me To Be Strong And Sure
As I Think On The Buddhas Who Have Come Before
As I Praise And Respect The Good They've Done
Knowing Only Love Can Conquer In Every Situation
We Need Other People In Order To Create
The Circumstances For The Learning That We're Here To Generate
Situations That Bring Up Our Deepest Fears
So We Can Work To Release Them Until They're Cleared
Therefore, It Only Makes Sense
To Thank Our Enemies Despite Their Intent
The Bodhisattva Path Is One Of Power And Strength
A Strength From Within To Go The Length
Seeing Others Are As Important As Myself
I Strive For A Happiness Of Mental Wealth
With The Interconnectedness That We Share As One
Every Action That We Take Affects Everyone
So In Deciding For What A Situation Calls
There Is A Path For The Good For All
I Try To Make My Every Action For That Highest Good
With The Altruistic Wish To Achive Buddhahood
So I Pledge Here Before Everyone Who's Listening
To Try To Make My Every Action For The Good Of All Beings
For The Rest Of My Lifetimes And Even Beyond
I Vow To Do My Best To Do No Harm
And In Times Of Doubt I Can Think On The Dharma
And The Enlightened Ones Who've Graduated Samsara


(The capitals for the words is just from the website I found the lyrics.  They didn't spell Dharma right once, I corrected that.)

Rereading it, I think that's pretty awesome, a fair modern statement of the Bodhisattva Vow. I could see chanting that.  Better yet, create my own.

I found out about the song from Shambhala SunSpace, the blog of the Shambhala Sun.  Unfortunately, I didn't take Hip Hop seriously until a while after the song came out, so I've just found the song.  Listening to the song on spotify, I agree with a comment that it's a bit hard to understand, not easy to distinctly hear.

Wikipedia says, "Yauch was a practicing Buddhist. He became an important voice in the Tibetan independence movement. He created the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization devoted to Tibetan independence, and organized several benefit concerts to support the cause, including the Tibetan Freedom Concert."

Also, "In 1995, while attending a speech by the Dalai Lama at Harvard University, he met his wife, Tibetan American Dechen Wangdu. They married in 1998 and also had a daughter, Tenzin Losel, in the same year."

Here is an interview of Adam Yauch from Shambhala Sun.

(BTW on Spotify (in USA), when you search Bodhisattva Vow, you also get a decent song by Alex Walsh, and, I listened to his album Master and Disciple, which is  folk music with many Buddhist themes.  He seem to have Nichiren influences.  Pretty cool.

There's also a "classically trained" pianist, Carol Colacurcio, who has as song of that title too.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Fish Basket

The pure land is right here, right now.  We can live in the pure land that leads to enlightenment.

Bhante Sangharakshita tells the Indian story (p37 of Inconceivable Emancipation) of the woman with the fish basket.  She sells fish weekly at the market.  One day it's late before she sells her fish and she asks a flower seller if she can stay the night because it's late, and she doesn't want to walk home.  She can't stand the sweet smell of flowers, so she gets her fish basket to fall asleep.

He tells the story to point out that we might not be able to stay in a pure land, despite the initial response, "I'd like to be there."  So the question becomes, what stops us from living in the pure land?

I'd say my fish basket is sports fanaticism, and video games, but there are the psychological traits of dreaminess, brittleness in the face of criticism, lack of energy towards the good (laziness) and individualism and the desire to be left alone to figure things out in my own way in my own time (which may or may not be an evasion or just the way I learn things).  There are squishy things I avoid because they are somehow psychically too painful.  I haven't even figured out all the ways in which I hold myself back, or the underlying dynamics of all that.

As usual the way you work on things is meditation, noble friendship, dharma study and patience.