Saturday, December 28, 2013


Accountability is something you don’t see in the media too often. Politicians and celebrities tend to see themselves as the exception because they are successful.

Then you see people like Wesley Autrey, the subway hero who jumped down to save someone, couldn’t get them up, so he laid on top of him, and risked getting run over. The story ended well. When asked about it, he said he’d do what anyone else would do. I wish that were true. What he did have was humility in that moment. I don’t know how much he got swept up into his fame, but in that moment he was not into self-promotion. He spoke of a kind of honest humanity he hopes everyone has.

Now think about publicity whores who think any publicity is good, whether the story is good or bad.
The media has twisted our values in favor of titillation, materialism, youth worship. The media would not use these things if they were not inside us, so the good fight is to fight against diversion, superficiality. You’d be surprised how many times, when I meet someone I like, they say they don’t own a TV. Then you think about people all the people you know suckling at the boob tube.

In meditation you gain a little insight into self promotion. You see through it for the ruse that it is. That’s why psychotherapist are so keen on it. Psychotherapist tend to see narcissistic people—they tend to like the direct attention of psychotherapy, in a distracted world. Another symptom of the loss of relationships through fragmentation.

Holding people accountable is not easy. People are often offended, they feel like you’re empathizing enough with them. They had their reasons for not being accountable. They get defensive, like their self esteem is challenged by accountability.

On the other hand, some people hold up accountability beyond the relationship. One of the things I like about Republicans is that they talk about personal responsibility and accountability. And yet they hold it up at the cost of truly helping people out. Tough love isn’t always the answer. We can do things that truly do help people without fostering dependence, which by the way in their mouths, lose all meaning. They make it seem like we’re not all interconnected.

A very difficult relational thing is to hold people accountable, without being confrontational, but coming from the place where you want to stay in relationship with people. Sometimes people get angry when people are not accountable and use the relationship to reject them, and dramatize their point of accountability. It is easier for them not to be around people who do not take responsibility. To me, that is the easy way out. To feel disgust for how someone has behaved is fine, but to keep in relationship with someone, chooses the person over the action, and holds out the hope that people will evolve and learn their lessons. I think we’re quick to withdraw second chances from people in our society, because of black and white thinking. I think like the the Tick, that life is a battle between good and less good, not evil. Evil posits a maliciousness inside someone, a kind of ethical cancer that can not be operated on. To be sure sometimes people take advantage of compassion, but then it’s the person’s responsibility not to have idiot compassion, the term Chogyam Trungpa coined. We evolve in our compassion, but I think withholding empathy is not the right course in the dialectic. We can see circumstances, and try to improve them for others. People tend to have a kind of momentum, but they also have the urge to improve that momentum, and I want to be on the side of people working to improve momentum, intelligently and wisely. And that includes keeping accountability while also maintaining the relationship.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Celebration for the 25th

I celebrate all religions, and true spirituality, not the worldly use of religion for worldly ends. I celebrate how spirituality brings us together, including secular humanism, pagans and non-theistic religions and the beautiful Abrahamic religions. I celebrate the earthiness and grounded spirituality that isn't seemingly transcendent but is mindful. I celebrate the kindness, non-judgementalism, acceptance and empathy, support of others, and feel the interconnectedness that makes the least of us, connected to us, and not separate. I celebrate the days getting longer, this glorious earth and the celestial seasons. I celebrate family, loves, friends, strangers and my solitude. I celebrate connecting to the real and the best in me and others.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Food Pantries for the borough of Queens, New York City, New York


Allen A.M.E. Cathedral
110-31 Merrick Blvd, Jamaica
Monday and Thursday, 11 am to 1 pm.

Bethany Baptist Church of Jamaica
110-47 157th St, Jamaica
Tuesday, 11 am to 1 pm.

Bethel of America Food Pantry
26-02 4th St., Astoria
718-204 2813
Saturday, 11 am to 12 noon.
ID preferred.

Bethel Gospel Tabernacle Church
110-25 Guy R. Brewer Blvd., Jamaica
Wednesday, 11 am to 12 noon.
ID preferred

Bethesda Mission Baptist Church
179-09 Jamaica Ave., Jamaica
Wednesday, 8:30 to 10:30 am.

Calvary Baptist Church
111-10 Guy R. Brewer Blvd., Jamaica 718-297-2301
Wednesday, 10 am to 12 noon;
Thursday, 11 am to 1:30 pm
ID preferred.

Center of Hope International – Bread of Life Food Pantry
38-49 12th St., L.I.C.
TuesdayWednesday and Thursday: 12 noon to 2:30 pm.

Church of Christ the King
145-39 Farmers Blvd., Springfield Gardens
Tuesday, 2 to 3 pm.
Must live in community; bring ID.

Cladagh Inn
316 Beach 73rd St., Rockaway Beach
Tuesday and Thursday, 9 to 10 am.
Bring ID for all in household.
Donations accepted.

Community Bible Evangelical Free Church
102-16 89th Avenue, Ozone Park
Saturday, 9:00 to 10 am.

Elmcor Youth and Adult Activities
107-20 Northern Blvd., Corona
Wednesday, 9 am pick up ticket; 12 noon food given out.
Bring ID for all in household.

First Church of God in Christ
187-10 Baisley Blvd., St. Albans
Friday, 12 noon to 3 pm.
Bring ID with address.

First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica Ave.
89-60 164th St.
718) 526-4775 Tuesday 10 am to 12 noon or until finished
Bring photo ID for all in household.


Goodwill Feeding Program
4-21 27th Avenue Apt. 4N, Astoria
718) 721-0825
Tuesday 2 pm until finished
Friday 2 pm until finished

Hollis Ave. Congregational Church
211-04 Hollis Ave., Queens Village
Tuesday, 12 to 2 pm.
Bring ID.

Hour Children Food Pantry
36-49 11th Street
Monday 2 to 6 pm. Thursday 4 to 7 pm.
Bring ID and proof of address.

Leviticus Church
114-12 Van Wyck Expressway
718-322-1095 Wednesday, 1 pm to 2 pm.
Saturday 12 noon to 1 pm.
Bring ID.

Macedonia AME Church
37-22 Union St., Flushing
Wednesday, 2 pm to 4 pm.
Sunday hot meals at 1 pm.

Mt. Calvary Church of God in Christ
194-59 Murdock Ave., St. Albans
Saturday, 9 to 10 am.
No referral needed / no phone.

Mt. Olivet Gospel Church
33-27 97th St., Corona
Wednesday, 5:30 to 6:30 pm.
Bring ID.

Our Lady of Grace Ministry of Care & Ser-vice
158-10 115th St., Howard Beach
Monday and Thursday, 10 am to 1 pm.

Peoples United Methodist Church
14-54 31st Road, Astoria
Call for times and dates.

St. Margaret Mary Church
9-18 27th Avenue, Astoria
For families, Tuesday and Wednesday 11 am until finished.
For seniors, Thursday 11 am until finished.

St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church 150-75 Goethals Ave., Jamaica
Monday to Friday, 9 am to 12 noon,
1 to 4 pm, with referral.
Thursday for everyone, 9 am to 12 noon, without referral.
St. Rafael R.C. Church
35-20 Greenpoint Avenue, 4C
Thursday 10:30 am to 12 noon.
Bring ID.

Salvation Army/Astoria Corps
45-18 Broadway LIC, Astoria
718-721-9046 Wednesday 9:30 to 11:30 am.
Bring photo ID.

Salvation Army/Queens Temple
86-07 35th Ave., Jackson Heights
Wednesday 9 am to 11:30 am.
Bring photo ID.

Salvation Army/Jamaica Citadel
90-23 161st St., Jamaica
Thursday; 10 am to 11 am.
Bring photo ID.

Salvation Army/Ridgewood Citadel
69-23 Cyprus Hill St., Ridgewood
MondayWednesday and Friday,
9 am to 3 pm.
Bring photo ID.

Solid Rock SDA Church
52-05 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Far Rockaway
718) 474-9306
Tuesday 10 am to 11 am or until finished

Tabernacle of Prayer
90 –07 Merrick Blvd, Jamaica
Friday 10 am to 12 noon.
Bring ID.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Listen up old bad-karma steve

An excerpt, which I found in Tricycle Magazine

sacred and the profane

Everything is spiritual and nothing is spiritual.

I used to wonder why people didn't like the term spiritual. For them it meant an artificial and inauthentic rising above, where as true spirituality is rooted in the body, in reality, where you really are, and not about aping behaviors. Trying to be spiritual can be taking the moto "fake it till you make it" too far. For me true spirituality isn't just trying to go deeper, it's connecting with the transcendental, in the world I experience. Transcendental can sound above and beyond, but is not.

Overflowing with a feeling of reverence, I just had a feeling to bow down in the courtyard, next to where the laundry room (After the ecstasy, the laundry). Something about the trees and the bigness of the buildings. Freud talks about an "oceanic" feeling. For me it's a move towards purity and vastness. Some friends get anxious when I talk about purity. When I meditate, I see better lines of action. When I'm not as mindful, when I choose not to formulate and investigate my experience, is when I get into trouble.

I put a football on my shrine and I felt for a second that that was blasphemous. I put it there just as a place to put it, not that I wanted to take refuge in football. Everything is sacred, everything is profane. It's all about the attitude.

Remembering this Israeli movie Kadosh, at one point in the movie a pious man is pleading with god to bring him closer. It was an interesting kind of dramatization of the desire to go deeper. I wondered if it really worked.

Devotional chanting is called a puja, and that makes me go deeper, connects me with what is really important. Today at 1015am in NYC, the moon is full. In ancient times, the sangha would get together when it was a full moon and chant, meditate and talk about the Dharma, connect in spiritual friendship. Now sometimes a Buddhist community isn't true sangha, but a Buddhist without sangha is also a lost Buddhist. You can treat everyone as if they are a Buddha, and when you do that you see more of that in the world.

Life is a self fulfilling prophecy. We choose where we go, or we just drift along. I don't want to drift along, I want to move towards enlightenment.

This is a picture of Milarepa's last teaching--he pulled up his clothes to show off the calluses on his butt from meditating all the time. That's my kind of spiritual hero.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

am I a tool?

"Whether you like it or not, we book bloggers are marketers."

I do get books here, but I don't review a book when I don't like it, or just can't generate the interest in finishing a book. Most of my quotes and reviews are books that I have bought. I often turn down books I'm not interested in, or just don't actually have the time at the moment. I feel kind of guilty about not reading some books that look interesting, but I just haven't gotten to them, and the window of a timely review is gone.

In the end, this is my blog, and if I ignore it, or write a lot, it all comes from my heart.

I do like to say positive things about things I enjoy. I love love loved going to the opera and seeing Philip Glass' Satyagraha.

I get a lot of press releases for Christian content. It often looks interesting, and as time goes on, I lessen my antipathy for a religion that was shoved down my throat my for much of my life. I really like Thomas Merton. I sometimes think it would be easier to just go to the local church and secretly see it as sangha.

I like what transcends all religions. I like it that spirituality counters the materialism that is rampant in myself and the society I exist in. Getting a book free in the mail does make it more likely for me to read it. When I choose a book I have paid for it, and it is therefore more interesting to me.

I do really enjoy Tibetan and Zen culture, and I find these traditions endlessly fascinating. I think Sangharakshita's syncretic, inclusive and ecumenical approach to be the one that speaks to me most. His approach includes the Tibetan and Zen traditions. On the refuge tree there are Chan teachers as well. I imagine he sees a spiritual depth even if he doesn't so much wish us to exactly follow their leads. I think he changed the wording to refuge and inspiration. If you tried to blend all the ideas together of all the inspiration, you might not be able to make it coherent. What underlies all that though is what he's pointing to, I think. So that's what I want this blog to be about, and my efforts to connect with that.

Bhante Quote

"Some religious texts talk about the need to give up worldly pleasure or happiness, but I would personally like to see people give up their attachment to worldly misery. I would like to see them enjoying more of the simple pleasures of life. Many of those who are supposed to be wallowing in worldly pleasures, are who have everything at their command, tend to look miserable, gaunt and even miserable."

p. 90-91 Living Wisely: Further Advice from Nagarjuna's Precious Garland

Friday, September 20, 2013

Buddhist Killer

I've written about buddhism and violence in this blog. People are surprised that "Buddhist" commit violence.

To put it another way, is someone Christian if they go against so many of the core teachings? You can call yourself anything. And some of religion is culture. People can superficially identify themselves as something, but perhaps they are making an expression of culture, not so much religion. I don't mean to be elitist, but you know you can't be a Mets fan if you never watch a game, and you don't pay attention to them. There are rules to language use that we agree on. For me violence is not something you can do as a Buddhist, although out of ignorance greed and delusion we make mistakes. To be a Buddhist means you are on the path towards enlightenment, among other things, but that doesn't mean you have to be enlightened.

So I read an article today about the "signs" that Aaron Alexis was taking a turn for the worse. I skimmed an article about how hard it is to really predict human behavior and the potential for violence. I read the article from Wildmind. Bodhipoksa points out that even ill will was considered dangerous, let alone violence. He says "Alexis was not a Buddhist representative. He’s not a Buddhist teacher. He’s just another tragic figure with a mental illness and access to high-powered weaponry — and a person who, at times, practiced Buddhism. The time he took a gun and used it to kill people is not one of the times he was practicing Buddhism."

Danny Fisher is quoted in a Washington Post article that Buddhists are human beings too. I take that to mean that they are not perfect, can make mistakes. My friend told me the comments are interesting in this article, but I didn't get a chance to read many yet.

In general, in the spiritual life, we take ideals and work to move towards them. At times I have beaten myself up for not living up to those ideals. Of course that is unproductive, and doesn't help me move towards them. The correct utilization of ideals is something you hopefully learn on the path. So anyone can look at Mr. Alexis and say, wow you didn't live up to Buddhist ideals. Yea, of course. On the other hand, we don't need to let ourselves off the hook easily, to dismiss our mistakes as just being human and move on. We need to look deeply into ourselves and try and figure things out, if we're to progress at all along the path towards enlightenment.

It is important to "start where you are", be realistic, authentic. To create a false self that apes the ideals isn't true spirituality, but an act. "I am not enlightened" is something one of my friends used to always say. 

We can sometimes project our idealism onto others. It is important to see people as they really are, and not just what you want them to be. I think that is an important step along the spiritual path--to realize you are projecting idealistic expectations onto others, and that perhaps you can just work to see people clearly and work on your own progress, instead of positing ideals in other people. When you become disillusioned, and see people for who they really are, that can be a fairly liberating and self empowering thing. 

To become enlightened is not an easy thing. I don't know how rare or common it is. I know one teacher who claims to be enlightened, and I know people who think that's really funny because someone who was enlightened wouldn't brag about it. It is certain that others are ahead of me on the path and that I've got a lot of work to do. I can learn from people, and especially to look towards people who are ahead of you can be one way to learn what is possible. 

This incident will of course bring out a wide variety of opinions. We don't do mental health very well in America. For one, you can't see mental illness the way you can see a broken arm. If someone gets cancer, people pour out sympathy. When someone gets schizophrenia, we stay away like we're going to get mental germs. Our policies reflect our ignorances, and we spend a lot of money on ER visits instead of saving money with a good solid system. You don't hear the save money, don't expand government republicans ever talking about that one, because they have a preconception that government involvement is inherently bad. In my opinion our country has swung towards the far right, and we are in an era of callousness and greed. Greed, hatred, delusion and ignorance. You could say all eras are in a phase of that. I know a lot about mental health, and I can tell you, we don't really do it right in the good old USA. A lot of that has to do with our medical insurance system.

We get so afraid that if we give people benefits without working, even if it's in our own best interest, then people will become dependent on the government. Forget that some people don't have family to fall back on. Forget it that there are many structural inequalities that reinforce inequality. Why are guns and drugs so available in poor neighborhoods, and medical care, good schools and housing are not available. We like to blame the poor instead of work towards social justice, because of our fear of dependence. We don't like to talk about dependency issues in the golden parachutes of ineffective managers. We don't like to talk about dependency of the military welfare queens. Being greedy is good when you exploit others successfully, but not when you're just poor. We don't like to talk about personal responsibility as we bail out corporations. Then we can see the larger picture.

Second is the issue of gun control in the USA. I was in rural North Carolina and I saw a bumper sticker that said "Charlton Heston is my president". He was the president of the NRA, and an actor. We have a twisted gun culture that is very well organized around the investment of not impinging on our "freedom" to own a gun. 

You're going to need a lot of guns to enforce the inequalities of our system. Like prisons, guns are big business, and they pay lobbyists to keep things the same. Our alienated and disaffected population is too apathetic to rise up and conquer with common sense. You can manufacture all the statistics you want, and say guns don't kill people, people kill people, but taking guns out of people's hands causes less violence. I don't think the solution is that everyone else has a gun and they shoot Mr. Alexis before he gets too far. That just doesn't work for me.

So, as I say, the murder of 13 people, including Mr. Alexis, is going to bring out a lot of opinions. I am among the people with opinions.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Quote from Living Wisely

"We fear fearlessness in the same way that we fear nonviolence. To act non-violently certainly appears to make one more vulnerable. You are dropping your defensiveness, leaving yourself more open, more exposed. However, this very vulnerability can be disarming, and even when it doesn't succeed in disarming aggression, the lack of desire for retaliation and security renders you much less vulnerable at a mental and emotional level. You do not feed the escalating verbal aggression out of which most physical violence issues. At its most developed, non-violence is equivalent to non-ego, there is no fixed identification with the threatened self, and therefore no fear for it, and no violence in defense of it." (p. 37-38)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Translating ancient wisdom

One thing that strikes me in Sangharakshita's recent book is how he is translating Nagarjuna into modern times. Reading his books on texts really brings them alive for me. I'm enjoying Living Wisely: Further Advice from Nagarjuna's Precious Garland.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

relationship mantras

1. Dear one, I am really here for you.
2. Dear one, I know that you are here, and I am very glad about it.

This is from the first essay in Right Here with You: Bringing Mindful Awareness into Our Relationships.

Monday, September 02, 2013

"I'll tell you one thing, Franny. One thing I know. And don't get upset. It isn't anything bad. But if it's the religious life you want, you ought to know right now that you're missing out on every single goddam religious action that's going on around this house. You don't even have sense enough to drinkwhen somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup- which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse. So you just tell me, just tell me, buddy. Even if you went out and searched the whole world for a master- some guru, some boly man- to tell you how to say your Jesus Prayer properly, what good would it do you? How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don't even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it's right in front of your nose? Can you tell me that?"

Sunday, September 01, 2013

I was showing my boys all the different rupas and tankas. "This one is manjushri, this one is avalokateshevra....

"That one is the funny one?"
I tried to understand for a second. He heard hysterical instead of historical.

That's great--the hysterical Buddha. Of course I don't like the negative connotation in hysterical, which is part of the history of mistreatment of women by the medical profession, but still.

I'm reading Franny and Zooey because when I was on a date at the movies, I saw there's a Salinger movie coming out. I'd read Catcher In The Rye recent enough to move to it. I think the movie is going to be stupid, because the guy just wanted his art to speak for himself, and people kept doing crazy things in the name of his book. To be so colossally misunderstood, is quite tragic. 

I was reading Franny and Zooey, and I was thinking about how Franny was being Holden Caulfield like, in that everyone was a phony. And you could see how someone who was alienated, would really identify with the character. But I think he's doing it for a reason. I don't really know how deeply Salinger got into Buddhism, but he obviously knows a little about Buddhism. DT Suzuki was big in NYC at the time. Salinger later moved towards Advaita Vedanta

Franny is experiencing the first noble truth, that life is suffering. And she's reaching for more and she talks about The Way Of A Pilgrim, which I've yet to read. 

Franny keeps talking about how everyone is ego ego ego. Now, I think that can be a pretty superficial understanding of Buddhism, though in the beginning of the journey you can notice how colossally self involved everyone is, but then you just can't look at that sun too long because it hurts, and you turn away.

I read a lovely post by Danny Fisher about how your practice isn't even really about you.

I know you don't have to read every book mentioned by an author to understand a book, but there are clues into which traditions the book is placing himself. And I think Salinger is pointing to a kind of transcendence, the path to lead from suffering.

Unfortunately, the internal dialogue of alienation, does not necessarily point to a solution.  We all find out own solutions, if it's drugs, or art, or family, science or religion. I think he captures a visceral disgust for the world amongst adolescents. To have adolescents read him and not have the keys to transcending alienation, hopefully challenges them to find a key to transcending alienation. I have a book on alienation on my shelf that I haven't read, a cast off from a friend's philosophy past.

As I've said before appropriating culture to your own purposes is part shady and part business as usual.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pasternak quote

"I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats--any kind of threat, whether of jail or retribution after death--then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whips, not the prophet who sacrificed himself."

(From Doctor Zhavago p42 1991 Pantheon edition, translated by Mas Hayward and Manya Harari.)

Or a prophet who sits under a tree and becomes enlightened.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

George Saunders' commencement speech

I know this video came out a while ago.

But I was reading a follow up interview.

Saunders commencement speech is a plea for kindness. In the interview, he shucks off Jesus-nature and Buddha-nature and suggests it's human nature.

Like the movie Groundhog Day, and other things, we can appropriate other's stuff to reinforce our ideas. I think that is a good thing. Syncretism is human nature as well. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. We live in dialectical times. There is no foundation. No one true perspective. We need to wear many hats as they say on Monty Python.

I was reading a review of a book, a book was being praised because it didn't just conform Buddhism to the current times and cultures, but really dug deep into the origins as they really were. That is important too.

I remember a bit in Vishvapani's book, Gautama Buddha: The Life and Times of the Awakened One. Vishvapani Blomfield, about how it's better to put your penis into the mouth of a snake than to put it into a woman. That's not amongst the most popular quotes you read about Buddhism.

There has been more violence, and discussion of violence, in Buddhism.

Finally I will note an excellent book review by Bodhipaksa. I was sent a review copy and really hoped to like Warner's book, but I stopped reading it and therefore could not review it. I feel a responsibility to say positive things. So I will end with a quote from Bodhipaksa's review:

"Brad Warner is a funny and interesting teacher. He’s endearingly self-deprecating. There are some great discussions about the nature of faith, about the need to be ready for awakening, about the nature of time, and about the problems of translation."

Saturday, August 17, 2013

worldly winds

The first time I saw Cloudy With A Chance For Meatballs, I was upset it was nothing to do with the book, which I quite liked. I saw a free outdoor screening of it last night in my community and I thought about the worldly winds. At first Flint's mother supports his interest in inventions, but then she dies. Then his father doesn't. The news girl thinks he's not good, then she grows to like him. The town really likes his invention, till it goes out of control. With any hollywood movie, it has to end nice, so in the end everything is OK.

The worldly winds are:

Gain and loss (materialism).
High status and low status.
Approval and disapproval.
Pleasure and pain (hedonism).

Other characters go through the worldly winds. The new anchor is just an intern and then she becomes famous because her silly assignment turns into a huge news story. The new station tries to belittle her even so, and when she returns to her nerd roots, they try to ridicule that too.

The town goes through the worldly winds. At first it's famous for sardines, and then they become unpopular. Then it's popular for raining food, then the food becomes too big and that becomes dangerous.

The cop is always trying to show his son that he loves him, he's trying too hard. Flint's own father, hiding behind bushy eyebrows, is concerned about the wildness of Flint's ambition; he seems a bit like a dream killer, but he's the one who buffets the various worldly wind storms his son creates.

There is a kid star who has grown obnoxious living off his old fame, trying to cling to the past. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

the dark side of meditation

The dark side of meditation is an interesting subject in that, to be completely honest, I've been guilty of tweeting all the positive article and never thought about the downside. I don't remember ever tweeting a negative article about meditation. 

There is a video, with Neuroscientist Willoughby Britton and Yoga / Buddhist Teacher Michael Stonewhich, which I found from a Wildmind post. I have to say I'm very curious what they will find.

Their point is that often trauma will come up and that people can be unprepared for it. Their other point is that people often need a kind of background to place their experience in, and that actually divorcing meditation from Buddhism might be one of the reasons why that might happen. (Or any other tradition.)

When I worked on Riker's Island, I didn't so much pay attention to the people who didn't get it. When I recently had a meditation at a staff meeting, I kept it moving when some people decided not to do it. Some people had a negative experience in the past, and I told them they didn't have to do it.

But I've always wondered why someone would not experience it positively. It seems so good, it's hard to imagine that for some it's not good.

I've always thought meditation and mindfulness are 100% pure goodness. But when I think about, I often find meditation harrowing. I have difficulty with negatvie content that comes up, from wincing at social faux pas, to the low light reel of my life, my low points in a kind of montage that proves how horrible I really am. There can be a shaming twist. For whatever reason, I struggle with constructing a positive view of myself, at times, and in meditation I usually work on conquering that problem; I also have more bold face reflections on my mistakes, which I see as positive. Usually I'm better defended. At times I feel I can see more clearly how to take a more pure tack. I see a goal and I take a direction towards it and sometimes I get waylaid. I experience that mostly as a positive thing to notice, even if it's sort of mistake oriented.

I didn't think my experiencing of myself as the wind and the trees after an intense meditation retreat as pathological, because in a retreat setting, there's lots of time and support to process your experience. I just thought it was nothing special.

There was a time when I was doing the 6 element practice at work during my lunch hour, and at a certain point I just realized that dismantling myself wasn't supported enough, and that I was beginning to experience it in a negative way or it was just too scary. I did not have enough of a foundation of positivity to support it. And to compound the problem, I didn't really reach out and talk to anyone until much later. So I just stopped doing that meditation, and I stopped meditating at lunch.

My feeling is that even though that was a kind of negative experience, in way what is negative to me is that I was brushing up against my limits, and I needed to sort of back off my ambition, and build up more metta.

I need to really work the Brahma Viharas. For what ever reason I don't have enough of a reserve of positivity inside me yet. And it's funny because I feel like I'm a pretty positive guy, externally. I'm in control enough of it, that I don't spill my negativity as much as I think others do, so I think I'm above average. But maybe I'm just not being authentic and real. It's a confusing balance. Translating our experience into appropriate action is an art. I think of that video where Patrick Stewart talks about how he donated and worked for domestic violence to honor his mother's experience, and he donated and worked for PTSD to honor his father's experience. He took the confusing experiences of his childhood and charted a positive course.

I think there are parts of ourselves we burry, because we don't know how to transform it enough to be public. I know that while we may have urges and translate feelings into extreme actions, like punching someone when we're angry, we can also just be present with our anger, and then act in our own best interest. Integration is not very easy for some people.

 I note there is a new book from Windhorse called Not About Being Good. The video suggests that we need to more fully embody our own nature, and not try to limit it.

I feel that for me, in the end, meditation is the solution. I will note with sorrow that there are some people who end up with a negative experience, and don't sort of turn the corner with it enough to make meditation helpful. I note that there are times in my life when I am trying to process something and it makes meditation really hard, and I need the patience to build up what's needed to help process some experience. I've written about putting the petal to the metal. I'd say in a way the spiritual life is about trying to be really efficient in the spiritual life, and not just pressing in the wrong way. Even so, when you realize you're pressing in the wrong way, that is a huge revelation, and contains much wisdom.

The easy thing to do would be to just exclude people who have too much trauma or are too unintegrated: The elitist sangha, the cool table at high school. But I don't think that's how the Buddha approached things. He was happy to take on Angulimala. Marpa was happy to take on Milarepa. But those are success stories. People drift away. There are stories where the Buddha feels limitations in people, or doesn't press too hard. He was always adept at seeing where people could improve and move along the path. He would do what he could to help. There's even the story where he tells a guy not to meditate. The guy goes ahead and meditates anyway and has a rough time of it, and the Buddha gives his best teaching on what you can do beyond meditation to progress and lay the foundation for meditation. (My source is the Meghiya Sutta.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday musings

"Job and Jesus, Pascal and Montaigne, evolutionary biology and neuroscience, Roland Barthes and William Blake offer glimpses of self and world that illuminated the path opened up by the Buddha." (p. 183 Living With The Devil by Stephen Batchelor)

What I found interesting about the above quote, is that I bet 100 Buddhist would come up with different lists of people who were enlightened outside of the traditions. And I bet these 100 Buddhists would probably not agree whether there were levels of enlightenment or what touching or coming close to enlightenment meant.

Job had patience, but I don't know enough about him. Jesus had some deep insights that many people groove on. I've dipped into Blake, I should read more of him.

Makes me want to try Montaigne again, I read a few essays and put the book down, even though I got something from it that I use every day. I know very little about Pascal or Roland Barthes.

I think at this point in human history you could become a genius by reading and trying to understand other's works, and you would be 100 times smarter than someone 100 years ago, even the geniuses of the time, but you wouldn't necessarily be original. I think originality happens all the time in problem solving and relationships because every relationship is unique, and every problem is unique in some way. But if you talk about contributing something original to science, mathematics or literature, then that's a harder test.

I've had some dim reviews of my blog, and while my partner reads it, she rarely says, "that was a good post." But I do think that the internet has democratized writing, and that more voices are potentially being heard. People who didn't necessarily find a book contract, can express themselves, and I'm willing to bet there are some real hidden gems on the internet. Sometimes you hear about people who get book deals from their blogs.

I'm hoping some day that Under The Influence of Food gets a book deal. But even if it doesn't, it's awesome that it exists. I think Justin Halpern got a book deal from his twitter tweets. I laughed so much with his book.

The internet has the illusion of permanence. But Amazon can change the terms of agreement about the books it stores that you bought, and think you own, and they could take it away or charge you more to store it. Blogger and WordPress could just go out of business. I felt entitled to Google Reader, and then they just discontinued. Then the next company I used stopped too. A quick reading, and I couldn't find out who pays for the space to store the websites of WordPress. Turns out you choose where to host it. Obviously I use Blogger, and I fear one day Google will charge for hosting.

I can't remember the science fiction book I read where it talked about layers of code, about ancient code layers. I know a computer scientist who was hired to go back and look on some of the original code layer he created.

Sometimes you go to look for a photo and the file has been "corrupted". How did that happen?

The internet is impermanent. I bet when the sun expands and engulfs the earth, that we have found another planet to get to. But will someone come and download earth's internet and transport it to another planet. Will their be interplanetary internet? Bet that connection will cost. Can you imagine a wire through space, like the wires they laid down along the Atlantic ocean for telephones.

I wonder how many people alive today will be considered enlightened by succeeding generations. I still think about the scifi book Forever Peace.

Living With The Devil Quotes

"The plight of both Mara and Satan is to be banished from life itself. My sense of alienation is like wise rooted in the numbness to interconnectivity. I feel as though I haunt the world rather than participate in it. Evan as I chatter to the midst of company, I feel eerily disengaged."(P. 139)

"To act is to risk. The contingency and complexity of life is such that we cannot foresee what will happen next. What seems a misfortune today (being crippled) turns out to be a blessing tomorrow (when all able bodied men are rounded up and killed). We act with the noblest intentions, having carefully weighed our options, only to make matters worse. Finding your kind smile and wise words patronizing your friend perversely chooses to do the opposite of what you suggest." (P. 141)

"Insight into the interconnectedness of life will only reinforce feelings of universal love and respect if we are alrady committed to the principle of equality, liberty, compassion and nonviolence." (172)

"As the deafening chatter of self-centeredness subsides, one recovers that silence wherein on hears more sharply the cries of the world." (173)

From Living with the Devilby Stephen Batchelor

Monday, August 05, 2013

violence and Buddhism

There have been a slew of articles asking interesting questions. The first one I saw was Raymond Ibraham's questioning of why the Muslims in Myanmar are getting no criticism, why do we assume that the Buddhists are over reacting? The Economist notes that conflict between Muslims and Buddhists is escalating. M. Sophie Newman asks if Buddhist are opposed to self defense? Bombs are going off in Buddhist sacred sites.  Michael Jerryson is a scholar of Buddhist violence and people accuse him of being anti-Buddhist even though he is a historian. I have even written a blog post about the hope of peace.

I'm not sure what to make of it. Does might make right? Is life just an eye for an eye? I hope for something different, but I also want to keep my eyes open and see what's really going on.

I remember when I would visit my father. He lived in a town that was a days bus ride away. I would go for holidays occasionally and for some time in the summer. He married a woman who had 3 daughters. I was older. The oldest daughter was used to being in charge. So the first half of the visit she would challenge my authority, and the second half, she would like having an older brother.

One visit, she was intent on challenging my commitment to non-violence by hitting her sisters, and seeing what I would do. The only thing that would stop her was to whack her back. So she exposed my lack of commitment to non-violence. I was willing to use violence to stop violence.

Now that's an artificial setup, and I'm not saying that's what going on in Myanmar. But what if the only response is violence. Tit for tat is the second best strategy. The best occasionally throws in some good, just to break any cycles, because if everyone is tit for tat, then the cycle of violence never ends. I can't remember where I read that stuff, but I believe in it to a certain level. I think often though, it's better to not strike back. The annoying thing with being more evolved, is that you overlook annoying and upsetting things because striking back won't solve any thing. Communication is the best way to resolve differences. And that's what peace workers do, they open dialogues and work to resolve conflict through communication and negotiation.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

closer to the truth

A friend of mine suggested that spiritual communities see themselves as "closer to the truth," and therefore automatically become judgmental.

I have met people who were deep into spiritual communities who were not judgmental, so I don't think that is necessarily true, but I do see where he's coming from, and expanded it to any community, not just spiritual.

Thinking about this stuff, it's been rattling around in my head, and I don't have anything profound on it, but I just wanted to note the idea of someone who thinks they are closer to the truth, and how that leads to judgmentalism. Of course we make judgements all the time, but in our public selves, tolerance of difference is a virtue. Everyone has different experiences, circumstances, culture, race, class, sexual orientation and religion. Now some things are against the law, and there are hopefully appropriate punishments for that. And some things hurt others or society. I particularly get upset when someone litters right next to a garbage can. Or honks a car horn out of impatience, adding noise pollution to the world. We can't help but be judgmental. You can't torture babies for pleasure, to cite a famous ethical example that seems self evident. Being aware of judgments, and only acting on the ones that are useful, is a skill. What is useful is defined by perspective too, we can't step away from a perspective.

To think you're closer to the truth because you're connected to a community that is a sliver of the world--that is hubris. Of course experts are needed. The scientific community see global warming as a truth, though in a portion of the cultural landscape, people see it as a political belief to deny global warming as a kind of expression of a certain identikit. I think the scientific community's idea is more grounded in rules and well thought justification, and the other belief is more of a kind of political fear of government "taking over our lives," because if we really believed in global warming we might have to restrict our emissions, and they feel that should not even be on the table. They believe in the right to warm the earth hidden in the denial that is happening.

That some people feel they are closer to the truth is a natural thing. We go to the doctors for their medical opinions because of their expertise. Spiritual communities are different though. Doctors in America do not necessarily put forth a religious brand of medicine, it is detached, even if spirituality guides a doctor in their personal life. So what is the expertise of a spiritual community? It is for those members who wish to pursue that particular path. So they are experts for those people. This is why, I think, America included a separation of church and state. People fled religious persecution in Europe, and then tried to gain power and enforce their religion on others. People pointed out that that was a contradiction, and thus included religious tolerance in the idea of America.

So while my friend points out something that isn't in my opinion only about spiritual communities, and he doesn't mention that experts are closer to some truths--the dentist knows more about teeth than I do, I did agree with him that is can be a root of misplaced judgmentalism, a potential trap that separates and doesn't partake in the virtue of tolerance.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


"The unrestrained wander about the world disguised as the well-restrained."

(p. 104 Buddhist Ethics, by Hammalawa Saddhatissa quoted from Samyuttanikaya)

"A fool is not company. The solitary walk is more worthwhile; a fool is no companion."

(p. 105 Buddhist Ethics, quoting 3 different place, including Dhammapada)

"Let no one neglect his own good for the sake of another's, however great. Let it be that, having understood the ideal, he engages himself in it."

(p. 115 Buddhist Ethics, quoting the Dhammapada)

The above quotes suggest not associating with others, not doing things for others. The Buddha of course thought the middle way was important. So we should probably walk between spiritual isolationism and spiritual gregariousness, between altruism and egoism.

In the end you can quote to justify anything, but judgement and common sense are to be your guide. Reflecting on behavior, ethics with others is important on the path to enlightenment. The path of ethics, meditation and insight starts with ethics. Getting one's house in order leads to the gladdening. To stop hurting others is a noble quest. It calls for groundedness and compassion, imagination about others experience.

Monday, July 22, 2013


The refuges are as follows:

Buddham saranam gacchami (I go to the Buddha for refuge)
Dhammam saranam gacchami (I go to the Dhamma for refuge)
Sangham saranam gacchami (I go to the Sangha for refuge)

I use this in devotional chanting, and it's a formula that has surprising depth. Sangharakshita thinks that it is what defines a Buddhist.

From Saddhatissa's Buddhist Ethics p. 31:

"Saranam, however, does not denote exclusively "refuge," and in the comprehensive sense in which it should be taken lies the relationship of the Buddhist to the Buddha, which will eventually determine his whole attitude for the Sanskrit Monier Williams gives: "Sarana: protecting preserving. (Vedic. say rakkhake, Rgveda VI. 47. 8; one who protects or preserves; a protector, preserver, defender. (a) n. help, defense; a refuge, place of refuge, sanctuary, asylum (sometimes applied to a person); a private apartment, closet; a house, habitation, abode, lair, resting-place (of an animal)." Regarding the Pali we have Rhys Davids and Stede: "Saran: (Cp Vedic.)...shelter, house, refuge, protection etc," Buddhadatta Mahathera gives: "Protection, help, refuge, a shelter""

(footnotes omitted, also I excluded the diacritics because I don't know how to include them yet)

Buddha and Kshitigharba


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beginning of Theragatha

My hut is roofed, comfortable, free of drafts; my mind, well-centered, set free. I remain ardent. So, rain-deva. Go ahead & rain.

from Theragatha

Sunday morning thoughts

Reading Buddhist Ethics so far, the introductions were not bad. Usually I skip those, but they were not bad.

The first chapter got technical quite quick. What struck me was that ethics is placed in the context of meditation, the hindrances, the jhanas. Ethics might be an expression of meditative depth.

That certainly grounds me. I make mistakes when I'm not meditating that I might not make if I were meditating. I'm going to go meditate now. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

thoughts of the day

Increased awareness can lead to problems. When you open up to the close calls between cars and buses and motorcycles and trucks on the roads of New York City, close calls happen every second. It's really terrifying. When you drive you have to be confident. But if you really think about how dangerous it all is, that is scary.

Metta and the other Brahma Viharas, helps us to frame things in a more positive compassionate way. Connecting with the spirit of Avalokiteshvara, you feel the interconnections that make it impossible to hurt yourself/others.

I saw a Bob Marley documentary the other day and began to like this song. Of course it has some things I don't believe in, but sometimes with some people you feel them raise above their tradition and speak to something universal.

"One Love / People Get Ready"

One Love! One Heart!
Let's get together and feel all right.
Hear the children cryin' (One Love!);
Hear the children cryin' (One Heart!),
Sayin': give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Sayin': let's get together and feel all right. Wo wo-wo wo-wo!

Let them all pass all their dirty remarks (One Love!);
There is one question I'd really love to ask (One Heart!):
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner,
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own beliefs?

One Love! What about the one heart? One Heart!
What about - ? Let's get together and feel all right
As it was in the beginning (One Love!);
So shall it be in the end (One Heart!),
All right!
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let's get together and feel all right.
One more thing!

Let's get together to fight this Holy Armagiddyon (One Love!),
So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One Song!).
Have pity on those whose chances grows t'inner;
There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation.

Sayin': One Love! What about the One Heart? (One Heart!)
What about the - ? Let's get together and feel all right.
I'm pleadin' to mankind! (One Love!);
Oh, Lord! (One Heart) Wo-ooh!

Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let's get together and feel all right.
Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right;
Let's get together and feel all right.


I've been doing a sort of manta, "one love, one heart, lets get together and feel all right." I can't stop thinking about these two opposed leaders who got up on stage, and Marley got them to hold hands together. I'm going to watch a Leonard Cohen documentary next because it's coming off netflix soon.

In the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha suggests you stay away from intellectual speculation, and focus on your ethics. In Buddhism there is no orthodoxy, there's only orthopraxy.

I feel like the 5 precepts are better than the 10 commandments, because you don't have to believe in anything. They are rules that would suit you to follow. In the ten commandments, you have to me a monotheist.

I'm going to read Buddhist Ethicsnow.