Thursday, January 31, 2013

Buddhist Fiction

I read on Buddhist Fiction Blog that Francesca Hampton was going to answer questions about her new book Buddha on a Midnight Sea - Short Stories, which I note is only $5 in the kindle version. I didn't see that, and got a hard copy. I'm going to read it some today.

The first question on the Buddhist Fiction Blog, was what is Buddhist fiction? You can read her answer in her preface to the book on her website, and in the blog, following the links I've put up.

My answer to the question is it's just fiction with Buddhist themes. If everything is a story, then a Buddhist story has certain themes like the Buddha's teaching, struggles to practice Buddhism, etc. The writer, or the characters, or the themes can be Buddhist. It seems Francesca Hampton is a Buddhist, and her characters are Buddhists, and she writes with Buddhist themes. It's not pure, there could be other themes, characters, and a writer could not be a Buddhist but write about Buddhist themes or include Buddhist influenced characters. The cannon of Buddhist fiction will tend to include a higher preponderance of these themes, characters and writers. I would also say it includes certain transcendental science fiction.

The emergence of Buddhist Fiction in the English language parallels the growth of Buddhism in the west. More and more people are converting and more and more people are sympathetic and curious about Buddhism. I can't prove it, but I think it's the fastest growing religion in the west.

Which begs the question, what took it so long? Christianity and Islam spread rather quickly. Is there something about Buddhism that made it spread slower? (Here I leave Francesca Hampton and her book, and I will report back in here later with more thoughts.)

I think coming from Japan isn't easy because there is a strong isolationist streak in Japan, up to World War 2. In the book I reviewed recently, a Zen student talks about how school children always say "foreigner" when they see him. But when he visits many years later, they no longer say that. We are living in a less isolated world.

Coming from Tibet, Buddhism spread in 1959, when China invaded Tibet. If you look at the recent Vajrayana social media guidelines, you see that it's pretty secretive. In a way, you don't want to spill to the entire universe the most intimate teachings of your private and personal guru.

On the one hand, some of the teachings, if you get them too soon, could not be ready to be used, and could easily be misused. Sangharakshita talks about spiritual indigestion, from reading too many rich teachings that you can't put into practice.

On the other hand, it's the way the world works. You can't get training in something unless you pay your dues. Like sitting outside a Zen monastery for 3 days, or developing a relationship with your guru (and out of pure gratitude, you give them money). It's a kind of way of keeping the business going by supporting the teachers, which isn't to be taken lightly. In a way the Tibetan system is great for preserving the teachings, as their diaspora has proven out. But it's also a kind of way of saying, this is really precious to me. I don't want you to treat it lightly. Like trying to get kids to take something seriously, or leave it alone.

There's a new kind of movement though, where people are speaking out, it's a kind of open source dharma. Where the information is shared, and the practitioner decides what they can or can't use. This may or may not be betraying a tradition, and may or may not be good for practitioners. You could see Daniel Ingram's proclaiming to be an Arhant as obvious proof that he wasn't, or you could see it as encouragement that it can be done, to make enlightenment possible.

(Sangharakshita wants order members to focus less on themselves and more on the movement, for the good of the dharma, to enact the bodhisattva ideal, and inspire through that kind of kindness and generosity.)

In the TBC, which I've chosen to seek ordination, there are strains of the old model, but there are also strains of the opposite, like Free Buddhist Audio. And yet, there are talks on FBA that only order members can listen to. FBA is surprising frank with Sangharakshita transcripts of seminars, I read once him saying, "remove that from the public transcript" and it wasn't. Those are the unedited ones. One wonders if that will last. There are people in the movement who want more transparency, and there are some that are more secretive. It's like herding cats to try and control all the order members. What connects them all is their understanding of the Dharma based in the principles Sangharakshita has laid out.

But I digress. My original question was, is there something about Buddhism that prevented it from spreading as fast as Christianity and Islam? And I think the answer is yes; It's built more on personal relationships, less on a kind of missionary and procreating zeal that preaches at people. It's not about spreading it at any cost. Buddhism is careful, which is another way of saying mindful. And I think that's why it's so popular, up and coming and apropos for the world we currently live in. It's a sleek meme that really does improve on past programming. It's a bug fix for many, an upgrade.

This is also why there are more and more anti-Buddhism statements by nervous people of other faiths. Why we elected our first Buddhist senator in the USA, (though she considers herself a non-practicing Buddhist). Why Brit Hume attacked Tiger Woods, implying only Christianity could save Tiger. I use the word "attack", because that's what it feels like when someone implies someone has the wrong religious perspective, in our multicultural society. Brit Hume could have spoken more personally about how he used Christianity to cope with the death of his son, and that would have been more honest and interesting. It just points out the abrahamic presumption in the west.

On the other hand, I'm not afraid of blasphemy. I don't want to go around pointing out Buddhist negativity. Spirituality is a choice, and only the individual can control that, no group, society or family can control individual choice, as much as they try to influence it. And because we supposedly have religious freedom in the USA, Buddhism will continue to grow. (BTW I predicted at the beginning of the season that San Francisco would win the superbowl, even though I'm a Jets fan.) Another book on my pile is How the Swans Came to the Lake.

So onto reading some Buddhist fiction.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Straight Road with 99 Curves

Gregory Shepherd has kindly shared his spiritual journey with us in A Straight Road with 99 Curves: Coming of Age on the Path of Zen.

It's hard to develop the frisson you need to write a review, with a memoir, because it's his account of his personal experience. If you agree with a book, then you're just doing a summary of a book in the review. Perhaps it's an example of a trend you want to reinforce. I like hearing about the spiritual journey, so that's what I want to reinforce.

I like memoirs. I was interested in Sheppard's experience. He had the same lack of connections to help him through a difficult period in his meditation practice, though he might not put it that way. He explored, but was repulsed by another sangha's leader and his successor, and then eventually came back to Zen in midlife. A fascinating journey.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

resisting reality

(The above photo is Rasheed Wallace, telling the ref that the player missed his free throw because it was a bad call. He shouted "Ball Don't Lie" many times, and got a technical foul, which hurt his team, but it was an interesting cultural moment for Knicks fans. Not exactly the point I'm trying to make, but close enough.)

I went to the DMV yesterday, and I asked myself what the resistance was, instead of focusing on my resistance, adding fuel to it. I even asked the person who helped me. He said the DMV was a nightmare in the 70's but that now it was pretty streamlined.

You see it all the time. I was watching Freaks and Geeks the other day, and one teen was lamenting, "why are men like that?!" Well, that one was, the one you wanted not to be like that.

You see it all the time--resisting reality. I have a friend who is resisting the end of his marriage.

When you resist reality, you put yourself in an awkward position.

How do you accept reality? That's not so easy. It's really a matter of accepting the fact that things are not going your way. Sometimes we get on a run, things are going our way. But that just builds up the expectation that they will keep going our way.

I'm not so proud of my internal momentum to resist the DMV, but I was relieved there's a part of me that could see it, and was curious about why I was resisting it. I hope I am committed to seeing things the way they are.

I think part of why we resist is that we can build a world based on what we hope for. We actually will certain things to happen. But there are limits to that. In a way it's a balance, trying to will the world we want, and accepting what's really happening. If you're too accepting, you become passive and accept what doesn't necessarily have to be. If you're too willful, you fight reality too much, and get quite disappointed.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Shoes Outside The Door (Book Review)

Shoes Outside The Door (Book Review)

The photo above captures something about the split in idealism about the spiritual life (bottom), and what it's really like (top). Buddhism is about seeing how things really are. Disillusionment is good, you are taking your blinders off. You can always recover your true motivation if it's been hijacked by illusions. Maybe the top one is more beautiful because it is more true. We need our ideals to move us forward, but they are just carrots, and they can mislead us when reality doesn't jive with it.

This book made me think of a lot of things, it's about complications, multiple viewpoints, and displays a rich reality about many thing, and my review will in some ways mirror it's messy inclusiveness.

Michael Downing is the author of many books, and is on the faculty of Tufts. Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Centerwas published in 2001, and has 385 pages, without footnotes, or index.

Through tape recorded interviews, Downing puts together a portrait of a sangha, that includes a meteoric rise through a charismatic but flawed leader Richard Baker at the San Francisco Zen Center. Other teachers are discussed, including Reb Anderson. At the beginning, the writing style is too much tilted towards a teaser, to my taste, but soon enough he's into the story, or setting the background and conditions for the 1983 resignation of Richard Baker, and the aftermath. In a way that's a focus point in the book, but when I read it I'm also thinking about developing a sangha, and Zen culture. I have seen the movie about Edward Espe Brown, How to Cook Your Life. He's famous for his cookbook, which the story mentioned he only got 20% of profits, the rest going to the center. (I reviewed the movie.)

At the heart of the story is the life of Shunryu Suzuki, who's lectures Zen Mind, Beginners Mind is a classic. I've read it many times, and will reread again. My memory of it is to try and be present in the moment by not thinking so much, but by just bringing a beginner's mind to things. I struggle with the anti-thinking way Zen comes off. Thinking is very important, and as my teacher says, you transcending thinking by pushing through and developing thinking, not by avoiding it. My fear is this Zen teachings sometimes subtly suggest avoiding thinking instead of going through and transcending thinking. Here is a quote from the ZMBM:

In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means "beginner's mind." The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind. Suppose you recite the Prajna Paramita Sutra only once. It might be a very good recitation. But what would happen to you if you recited it twice, three times, four times, or more? You might easily lose your original attitude towards it. The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner's mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

When I read that this book was from recordings an obscure disciple made, who died of cancer, I thought of Suvarnaprabha, who has a cancer blog.

Shunryu Suzuki's own son inherited his temple back in Japan, and he worried this was not good for Zen. Transmission was essentially about families, not necessarily about the Dharma. Suzuki died in 1971.

Dainin Katagiri is included in this story. I read a book by one of his disciples about him, Dosho Port, who has a good blog.

Gary Snyder is also someone interviewed for the book. He is a treasure of a poet, including No Nature: New and Selected Poems. Also Philip Whalen is part of the story and many others, who I need to look into.

The journalist, just trying to understand what is going on, is a familiar kind of Buddhist account. One strand of this book reminded me of The Buddha from Brooklyn: A Tale of Spiritual Seduction, about a charismatic teacher that was recognized as a Tulku.

The book is about a bunch of people who sought to practice Zen Buddhism in San Fran from 1960's to 2000. The stories of how people came, how they were treated, what their experience was, what made them move on, is fascinating.

The was well researched, well written, and it's a compelling story. It's sketchy about administration, there's a lot of general talk, but that's part of administration. You're never at a meeting in the book, but you meet people who never want to go to a meeting again. Sitting in on a meeting might be boring. The running of the center was a major part of the narrative. Mostly you feel there is objectivity, but when the writer pipes in, you feel like it's good to get to know him a little too. In a way this was like a soap opera, with rich vivid characters whom you became interested in. Downing isn't a believer, but he he's sympathetic enough. He never actually states what he believes in, which makes him a little Baker-like. At times something outrageous suggests a belief, but he never formulates it. Perhaps he didn't want to insert himself into the story more.

Also fascinating was how the 3 different centers worked together, the layers of administration, and the businesses that supported it. I think of the right livelihood business in the TBC. I think of Housings Work, Inc.'s book store, and thrift shops. I'm fascinated by these interlocking institutions that had a spiritual base to them. It's too bad, most of them in SFZC were sold off.

Richard Baker ended up using transmission as a carrot to get away with all kinds of shenanigans  which is surprising for a so-called spiritual teacher. It calls into mind questions about trasmission.

Suzuki's son, who was consulted at times, suggested that the teacher never run the place, and not have money, and just focus on teaching the students. Baker was a rain maker, a visionary, and a teacher. I've always thought a charismatic but flawed leader must be the one to start up a center. Is anyone not flawed? Life is messy business. I knew someone who worked for a visionary once, and she found it very tedious at times.

After Baker resigned, the question became "why did we tolerate all that." Literal mindedness and not hearing your own voice led to people being conned.

Richard Baker is compared to Chogyam Trungpa. Some say he was more honest because he didn't hide anything, the way Baker did. Others say Trungpa was more wild, than was possible in the confines of a Zen tradition. (I reviewed a movie about Trungpa.) It's especially apt when Baker takes the wife of a major patron as a lover, and holds her hands at a huge conference. That is the beginning of his downfall and people wonder if he was sabotaging things by acting that way. His narrative is mostly dismissed in the whole book, or trotted out to show how unthoughtful he was. If there's one point where the writer's ideas come through it's in his portrayal of Baker.

I've never met Baker, and I don't necessarily like him, but direct charisma is missing in the narrative. He discusses a few meetings with him, and he paints him as a materialistic guy who liked the finer things, and liked to run with the rich and famous people, who donated money or attention. Jerry Brown hangs out a lot at the Zen Center, but he doesn't meditate. Baker is supposed to walk to Tassajara from SF, as a kind of punishment for what he did, to refind himself, but he took a detour and went to Disney with Linda Ronstadt. That's probably the weirdest thing about Richard Baker to me. I'd love to sit sesshin with him. If I come across free talks, I'd listen to one, or at least start one to see if it was something I want to listen to.

My problem with Zen is that it filters Buddhism through a foreign culture. Don't get me wrong, I love Japan, and find it a lovely country, which I could study endlessly. If I want to chant in a foreign language, I want it to be Pali or Sanskrit. Not Japanese. The historical Buddha was never in Japan. I think it's cool that Japan is a Buddhist country, but I don't think that in America we have to do things necessarily the way the Japanese do. Maybe we could develop an American Buddhism. Maybe we can find out own way, inspired by Japan, Tibet, India, Sikkim, Thailand, and all the great Buddhist countries, but still not just adopting another culture under the guise that it's Buddhist. I prefer to practice essential Buddhism, not cultural Buddhism. Buddhism passes through many cultures, and in America, we can create our own Buddhist culture. Buddhism has a sense that it will coalesce with circumstances. At least make it a western Buddhism for me. That is what I love about the TBC. Even though it's Victorian English at times, that's not so foreign to me. And I can chant things in English. I also chant things in Pali and Sanskrit, which is closer to the Buddha, though still removed. My mind revolts at chanting in Japanese. Since I wrote that, I should try it, I probably won't mind it at all. I do like chanting.

There's a long chapter on Greens, a restaurant my father and stepmother took me to many years ago, and got me the Somerville cookbook: Everyday Greens: Home Cooking from Greens, the Celebrated Vegetarian Restaurant. It's a beautiful, if pricey restaurant, with an interesting and rich history, which is told a little in the book. It has good views and is in an interesting development. My stepmother and father were pretty cool to pick that as something to do when I was visiting out there. They are so kind.

Literal thinking of lineage is a dead end; Inspiration and relationships are what's important. In the book there's a real question whether Reb got a full transmission, but I guess I feel "who cares". The way the book portrays lineage, it's just about maintaining and expanding power, not about deep practice and heart connections.

So it's hard to have a general feeling about the whole book, except it stirred up a lot for me, and I liked it more than I thought I would, approaching the book. I'd recommend reading it if you're interested in sangha politics and the history of SFZC.

A big question when reading a book for me is: Where does this book lead me next, what should my next book be? Do I read the book about Buddhism in America How the Swans Came to the Lake? Do I read Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It's a Problem, and What We All Can Do? I think what I really want to read is Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which I already have. That contains some of the positive spiritual force that brought about what is coined as the first buddhist monastery in north america. I want to read Philip Whalen, he goes on my poetry list. I think I'll quick polish off a memoir by someone who grew up at Green Gulch from 3-7. This book suggests a lot of other books.

(They say you can't quote wikipedia in an academic research article, but this isn't an academic research article. I know that it's contents are open source, and you can go on line today and change the contents, but someone will turn around and just change it back quickly. I think it's the mother of all wiki. And I link sometimes in case someone is interested in source material, or just want to follow that interest. Linear narratives are so over with.)

Here is hyperlink an account of a visit to the SF Zen Center. An acquaintance had an interesting experience, which he wrote about.

There were a lot of interesting views about what happened in this multi-determined book, but here is a little of the author's voice, which is used very sparingly. Supposedly often in the TBC the founder of a center is autocratic, and things are more democratic after they leave. The author is into hearing everyone's voice, so naturally he's not like Richard, at least in creating this work. Is someone who impresses their will on others oppressive, or they're just a kind of Ayn Rand superman? To a certain extent, the author weighs in by including many voices, which makes for a great narrative.

End: Here is hyperlink an account of a visit to the SF Zen Center. An acquaintance had an interesting experience, which he wrote about.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Review: Lust for Enlightenment

In a previous post, I discussed sexuality through the prism of current American Buddhism and the Christianity presumptions of America, and used the catch phrase "eyes wide open" to really look at human sexuality in it's positive and negative potential. So I went looking for a book about Buddhism and sexuality. Lust for Enlightenment is positive or neutral towards sexuality, though it acknowledges there's a puritain strain of Buddhism, and that the Buddha was not longer interested in sexuality once he was enlightened.

John Stevens has been reviewed here earlier for his Japanese Buddhist erotica, which was a more recent book than Lust for Enlightenment: Buddhism and Sex, which came out in 1990, 23 years ago. In this 5 chapter book with 141 pages, John Stevens looks at sexuality through the history and mythology of Buddhism. He is a professor at Tohoku Fukushi University in Japan of Buddhist studies and is my mother's age.

The first chapter is about the Buddha, and includes his enlightenment where he transcends sexuality. It's a sexed up account, until he is enlightened, and then he's beyond temptation.

One might note he sees the Buddha as staunchly heterosexual, which he insists a few times, without proof or cites. Every time he insisted, my mind, trained in many graduate schools, shouted out, "heterosexual presumption!" In fact the book deals with homosexuality in the last pages of the book, where he noted it could be quite common at times.

In the second chapter Stevens discusses the "puritain elders" who say to try and extinguish passions in favor of non-attachment. People are persuaded to be celibate. Meditation on the loathsomeness of the body is seen as a method for calming the passions. See the body as a bag of blood, pus and filth. Also imagine the decay of a dead body. (The author identifies the voice as "puritain Buddha".) I used to have trouble sustaining the image of seeing someone throughout the life cycle, but I'm getting better and better at not reassembling the body into voluptuousness.

Chapter two is a ribald tale where for every monk's transgression, but Buddha makes a rule against such and such. Every, and I mean every, scenario is considered, and forbidden for the monks by the Buddha. This section is derived from the vinaya, which might be a fun read in terms of what people did to bring about such and such a rule. It's a kind of Starr Report; under the pretext of condemning actions, it titillates. Wild times in ancient India with salacious details. I read them out to my girlfriend because they were pretty shocking at times.

Reading what I first read in Vishvapani's book on the Buddha, that the Buddha said it would be better to stick your penis into a snake's mouth, than into a woman, I find that pretty shocking.

My complaint about chapter 2, is I don't know why he occasionally inserts more modern examples into the ancient Pali sanskrit examples. I would have preferred a historical order. But I also admire that he's read all this stuff and collected all these stories into one place.

Stevens is good at culling from the buddhist tradition sexuality, though he doesn't repeat the suggestion he had in his last book, that the Buddha has sex with the rice milk woman. He quotes a lot of primary texts from the Pali Cannon

In chapter 3 he makes the common mistake to see Vimalakirti as a "layman". Sangharakshita deftly puts that silliness to bed in his book about the Vimalakirti Nirdesa, called Inconceivable Emancipation, which is one of his best books about a text. The whole book is about how silly the different dualism of Mahayana and Hinayana are, so to say Vimalakirti is a lay buddhist is to kind of not get the whole text's point.

Stevens uses good footnotes, and he refers to a literature I'm not familiar with. But there were key Buddhist quotes that could be controversial, and called to mind Bodhipaksa's wedsite Fake Buddhist Quotes. He combines the Buddha's last two statements into one statement, for one thing.

Chapter 3 continues on into Tantra, Cha'n and Zen tradition, as does chapter 4. Which brings to mind something a friend said. Someone quoted another order member to support their position, to which my friend said, "you can find an order member who believes in everything." Just because there were times when it was OK to be a Buddhist monk and be very sexual, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. If you are suffering under a repressive idea of sexuality, then this book might be a kind of Kinsey report for you. And I want to know what the tradition says.

Through the countless examples you see varying tolerance to sexuality by society, and how sexuality bubbles over despite "spiritual" desires. At times the guru gains status, at others he loses it.

He also mentions that in quite a few of the sexual practices, the man is not supposed to come.

Chapter 5 is about marriage, and has many examples of various configurations of polyamory, and examples of love and fidelity. You can find statements suggesting monogamy is the best. Here as in other places takes a kind of bookish sociology--what can be found out in books about a buddhist society of the past?

To refrain from sexual misconduct can be interpreted narrowly, a point to chastity, or it can be interpreted widely, and point to the potential joys, and just don't do anything extreme that hurts someone or yourself. Deceit is seen as the unskillful act. Lust, if it is pure, can be a path towards enlightenment, according to Stevens. How to purify lust, he does not really say.

I get the sense that Stevens is interested in his subject, but he doesn't share any instruction in spiritualizing sexuality that he has gotten. All the books that purport to instruct along those lines are out of print, and cost a fortune used.

Stevens is mostly an expert on the Japanese tradition, and he doesn't bring much beyond reporting things. The only implied perspective in the narrative is that collecting and reporting all this stuff is a worthy project. I don't think I was harmed by it. Buddhist culture is very diverse. I bet there existed traditions within all the major religions to spiritualize sexuality.

Writing a book isn't easy, and this one isn't bad for a trail blazer. To my knowledge it's the first English language book on sexuality in buddhism. I don't know why it's so natural to criticize. Listen to sports radio and you mostly hear about how people made mistakes. Teams win sometimes, and then it comes to testosterone filled taunting of the opponents fan base, not a real joy in success. So, avoiding that spirit, I wish to say that while I have these nit picky things to say, it's out of joy in the book that I comment, and that I'm a work in progress, who has a lot of work to do.

Now to read a book about the negative side of sexuality: Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center

Monday, January 07, 2013

mushroom model?

From Subhuti's latest paper: 

"...there can be an inappropriate over-concern with calibrating one's attainments and pronouncing claims to Stream Entry or the like. Sangharakshita goes so far as to say that it is not helpful, or even strictly correct, to speak of oneself as a bodhisattva: better to think of 'participating' in 'the Bodhisattva' or allowing what appears as that supra-personal force or energy to work through one. Even what has been said here about Sangharakshita's own experience of himself as an impersonal force or reflection that it was as though the Order and movement have been founded through him should not lead us to speculate about where to place him on this or that spiritual scale. He is simply giving a kind of poetic expression to his impression of what had happened to him. He felt it was as if a consciousness greater than his own was working through him."

The quote stands on it's own, but I have some musings this morning.

Ingram has the idea that if we talk about people's attainments, then others will go away, and you can't have as big of a sangha. Teachers purposely obscure where everyone is, so that it can include people who aren't making much progress or are real beginners. He calls this the mushroom model because it seems to not need the light of enlightenment, or maybe even spiritual progress.

Here, another reason is put forward for avoiding "over-concern for attainments". Talking about attainments can be an "over-concern" mostly because when you open up to conditionality, then you realize your ego is so interconnected, that in a way it's not you who has attained things. There's a larger transcendental force, a supra-personal force that pulls one.

So it seems his objection is that it's a kind of gramar mistake. That "you" ceases to be the interesting or important thing. So to focus just on me myself and mine, in a way, speaks to a person not having those experiences they claim to have because their experience would change to a more external locus of control. Or maybe the experience was a glimpse that didn't last.

Now there can be talk about attainment, he doesn't say you can't talk about your experience with your spiritual friends.

But what if "bragging" about one's attainment helps attract people to the Dharma. It might attract people in the wrong way, though skillful means are used throughout the tradition to try to beckon people towards the spiritual life. I can't help but think about the Lotus Sutra, where the "father" buddha entices the children out of the burning building with toys. And then when they get outside the toys aren't what people think they were going to be, but they are excellently good things anyway.

The idea that you can actually do something, might appeal to people who see enlightenment as too remote, too cold and unemotional. Not that you don't have emotions, but you're not reactive, and perhaps it scares people to think someone could be so clear and creative. People who are further on the path can be quite challenging.

Perhaps people don't understand enlightenment and think of it as being like Spock, which is Gene Roddenberry's idea of enlightenment--very logical. Of course Spock was half human, so he had more of a war with his emotions, more than full vulcans do. While Spock is a wonderful character, who points out the importance of integrating emotions and reason, he's not what I see as enlightenment. 

There are other misconceptions. Perhaps one misconception is that nothing will change, and that you won't feel the supra-personal force. I wonder at someone who would claim to be an arhant, and not have to go full force into a life of Dharma. I think if I became enlightened, I would have to work full time for the good of the Dharma. But maybe that's just me. Perhaps there are personalities who can become enlightened, and can then work beyond what is necessary. 

Why is it OK for David Smith to rake leaves and garden, and not OK for Daniel Ingram to be an ER doctor? I don't think I'm prepared to say if you become enlightened, then you will quit work beyond sustenance.  One would minimize it, and work to move into more supportive conditions, and devote time to the Dharma. I read a fascinating article that Ingram has people stay in his shed and do retreats, and he checks in on them. He's trying to get other people to be enlightened. And his doctor income affords him some quiet remote land in support of that project. I also note that Ingram gives his book away, unlike the Dali Lama, Sangharakshita, Thich Nhat Hanh, etc... Of course Sangharakshita gives away his poor selling and out of print books, as do other teachers. And the money he does get he gives to Dharma causes, like building sanghas and charity work. Anyway, it's hard to judge how generous someone is from a distance, so actually that works in Ingram's favor, because while he's an ER doctor, I don't really know how hard he works for the good of the Dharma. Which makes me really suspicious of the people who just dismiss him. Again, I guess they think it's a kind of gramar mistake to talk about personal attainments, or a mistake in thinking what skillful means one can employ.

It's important to talk with our close friends about our spiritual experiences, so I want to stay far away from any taboo that says you can't talk about your experiences.

I would also point out that Sangharakshita is not an egalitarian. He believes in the spiritual hierarchy. It's not like he denies there are differences, in fact he thinks it is important to see them. To have vertical and horizontal friendships, so to speak.

So, I don't think that just because a sangha has a culture of not "bragging" about attainments, that it subscribes to the mushroom model. In fact to boil things down so cynically, might mean something. A sangha might see interconnectivity and altruism as more important, and focus on that, and keep the attainments more to a circle of close friends, not something for public consumption. 

You could further argue that not talking about attainments is a way of trying to build your sangha only, and not something spiritual, a worldly way of trying to gain power, but I think that's just too cynical. People choose to work in right livelihoods for low wages because the workplace is with friends. Not that you don't need to watch out for manipulation  You still have to think critically. 

If true Buddhist spirituality ruled the world, the world would be such a wonderful place. It would be a pureland. But I know that's not happening any time soon in America, and while it's nice to think about a pureland, it's good to be realistic about it. Building a sangha is the first step, realistic.

Which makes me wonder if America's rugged individualism is a factor holding us back in building sanghas. More traditional cultures are more community oriented. America has become fractured, alienated, isolated. Our relationships are more like two people on horseback, passing on the plains, than it is sitting around a campfire sharing a meal. Now we sit around our own TV's. My friend's wives don't make my friends feel like they can socialize with their friends in their own homes.

My son is friends with all kinds of children of diversity--racial, religious, cultural, linguistic, class. I happen to live in one of the most diverse areas in America, but I know that outside the city, people choose to live roughly amongst their own, what ever that means, and the suburbs of big cities are the most self segregating places in America. The game of tag before school seems to transcend all that, but I wonder as everyone goes off to their own high schools, what is going to happen, and they leave the integrating local elementary school. Diversity within the sangha is another thorny digression I don't want to go into now. Better end.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Restorative Justice

I'm wiping the tears from my eyes after reading this long and grizzly article.  It's about restorative justice.  “I had mistrust of the potential for people to be this amazing.”

Subhuti quote from last paper

"Some might argue that it is best to avoid all such metaphorical language and stick to the safe ground of pratītya-samutpāda. I personally have some sympathy with that point of view, because anything else offers hostages to eternalistic misunderstanding, which certainly grates on my own sensibilities. However, failing to offer more itself invites a nihilistic interpretation. Sangharakshita says that we need a 'transcendental object' towards which we can orient our lives. We need that because our most basic way of perceiving and understanding the world is in terms of subjects and objects – however relative and constructed the Dharma may have taught us to know them to be. We cannot but think of, and more importantly feel, the Dharma in terms of the most basic building blocks of our experience – until we are able directly to see their relative character for ourselves. In order to slip through the gap between eternalism and nihilism, we need both a willingness to think critically about what we say, so that we avoid taking it literally, and a preparedness to imagine a 'transcendental object'."

From his last paper "A Supra-personal Force"

Friday, January 04, 2013

Predicting the future

We underestimate how much we will change in the future. Buddhism, in a way, is about the idea that we can evolve towards enlightenment.

Here's a quote I liked in the NY Times summary of the article published in Science.

"When asked about their favorite band from a decade ago, respondents were typically willing to shell out $80 to attend a concert of the band today. But when they were asked about their current favorite band and how much they would be willing to spend to see the band’s concert in 10 years, the price went up to $129. Even though they realized that favorites from a decade ago like Creed or the Dixie Chicks have lost some of their luster, they apparently expect Coldplay and Rihanna to blaze on forever."

I thought about my cousins, who I lived with when they were 3 and 4:

"Dr. McAdams was reminded of a conversation with his 4-year-old daughter during the craze for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1980s. When he told her they might not be her favorite thing one day, she refused to acknowledge the possibility. But later, in her 20s, she confessed to him that some part of her 4-year-old mind had realized he might be right."

So the point is we're not great at predicting where we're going to end up. I remember reading about a study about romantic partners. People described who they would be with, and then in the future they checked in and asked them to describe their partners, and they were usually wrong.

Anyway, some people balk at the idea that they can evolve into something better along the path to enlightenment. I fervently hope it. There's lots of room for improvement in me.

Book of the year

I've read a lot of books this year that were not published in 2012.

I just read Breath by Breath by Goldstein, which came out in 1998. I really enjoyed discovering Thomas Merton, who's been dead since 1968. Money, Sex, War, Karma by David Loy came out in 2008. That book was challenging in trying to connect current world issues to the Dharma, though I'm liberal too. I wonder what a book that transcends the dualities of American politics would look like. I don't like to pigeonhole things into the American political dualities, but I'm afraid I know my conservative friends well, and if they were Buddhist, they would dismiss the book based on politics, not Buddhism. There's a way to dialogue above the partisan fray. I also enjoyed Buddha Is As Buddha Does, because I was following up on the 7 paramitas. Lama Surya Das wrote a book I read just before I began to meditate, go on retreat, and whatnot, so he has a special place in my heart. For what ever reason I'm not interested in his latest book.

Some books are free. I just read Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha by Ingram, which came out in 2008. I thought it was awesome. When I got a present of Tricycle magazine from my most glorious lover, I downloaded their collection on addiction, which is pretty good, though I'm stumbling on the last essay, and put it down. I had to take them off my blogroll because they were infected with malware, but I love Tricycle. I've finally gotten a subscription, so I don't have to read it on retreats, when the ads are just too tantalizing for me. My beloved gave me a subscription. She is my amazing dakini, who helps me on the path.

I've found free version of books I've wanted to read, but haven't yet. The Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga are two of those books. These ancient classics on high on my to read list (which is not real). Giving the dharma away is a noble tradition, and you'd think more people would do that.

I'm partial to Windhorse books, but to be honest I haven't read many Windhorse books this year. Noble Friendship came out in 2004, as well as Living With Kindness, and Through Buddhist Eyes. Certainly last year was a banner year with Vishvapani's book on the Buddha, and On Reflection, which is the first Buddhist book I've read on reflection as a spiritual practice, instead of just reading someone's spiritual reflections.

Sailing The Worldly Winds  by Vajragupta did come out in 2012, and was the first ebook I got from Windhorse. I didn't really connect with that book so much, though that is, as always, possibly more of a comment on me. I think Vajragupta, like Lama Surya Das, focuses on writing beginner books, and to be honest, I think I've outgrown them. A really good one can simplify me back onto the basics, but that's a rare talent; People go twisting off onto so many different things. And they all come back to the same places, but I don't like beginners books that assume people are retarded. Or else they go slowly, as if you are retarded. 

I could be prickly and sensitive to people calling me stupid, so don't really see my feelings about beginners books anything more than just the blatherings of my subjective mind. Of course you could say that about anyone saying anything, but I'm honest enough to point that out about what I'm saying. Just because I know something basic, doesn't mean they're calling me stupid. I guess I just don't like the way they're trying to make it easier.

(I'd just like to note that I can use the word "retarded" because I used to work in special education. In general I don't like the way people use that word, and I can laugh and laugh at the Matt Damon character in There's Something About Charlie, when he says, "I love those goofy bastards." because it's so politically incorrect  Retardation ain't no joke, but sometimes these juicy words really do convey what you want to convey, so I'm going to allow my use of it this once. For the juice.)

Among the books that came out in 2012, I did enjoy Living Fully by Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, and Patience by Allan Lokos. Both solid first books from different traditions. I give Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche best first buddhist book award for 2012. I looked at Lokos' pervious book and it's a daily meditations kind of thing, which is a buddhist book. In The Shadow of the Buddha by Matteo Pistono was a an important contribution to Tibetan culture and politics.

I probably read the least amount of Buddhist books in years, and that trend is growing. It's hard to concoct the intellectual frenzy that makes me feel a book is challenging me to practice. I have a lot to learn, though, so I'll try to be humble. There is the question whether you need to do much Dharma study, to progress as a Buddhist; It's quite possible you need none. Of course scholarship wasn't so much of a thing in the Buddha's times; he couldn't major in religious studies over at the local community college.

I'd like to also point out The Prisoner, transcendental science fiction, which is a kind of dharma book written in a different way. It was an interesting read.

There are bigger themes that I like in Buddhism:

1. How does Buddhism changes and adapt in American culture, in good and bad ways?
2. How does one apply the wisdom of the Dharma to modern problems?
3. What is Buddhist fiction?
4. What happens when we combine psychoanalysis with dharma?

I could go on and on, but onto the award.

This year, I will choose my first non-Windhorse book: The Best Buddhist Writing 2012 has the kind of title that makes you feel it's cheating. The 28 essays are diverse and deep. They provoke and challenge me to develop a deeper spiritual practice. So I'm going to say that's the best buddhist book, and lets just say every other one gets honorable mention into the past and into the future. 

Also my beloved gave me this book. She's be a fount of generosity. You could call it spiritual materialism, but she really gives from the heart, and I really appreciated the gifts. I thank the publishers that think my blog will somehow promote their products, because I'm surprised anyone reads this.

There were years when I read the The Best Stories of year 19XX, and the poetry ones. They are great ways to get great gobs of a thing you might like. My friend reads the science writing ones, and for a while read the erotic ones.

The essays in The Best Buddhist Writing 2012 were chosen by the editors of Shambhala Sun, which is another worthy buddhist magazine. They include essays from Tricycle, so they're fair in judging the essays. They don't just choose essays from their magazines. I wish they had put something by Sangharakshita.

So congratulations Shambhala Sun editors and Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche, this years winners. 

As I write this, I think I'm going to give out an award for female buddhist writing next year. I want to get more into the intersection of feminism and buddhism. I've read a lot of female writers, but it has to be said that it's a fairly masculine world, and I want to bring out more of the female writers next year.