Sunday, June 30, 2013

Tintin in Tibet

I'm reading Tintin in Tibet (The Adventures of Tintin)

I scanned it for Buddhist references. There is one scene with a stupa, that Captain Haddock wrecks when he bumps into it. Of course the setting in the mountains give it a sense of place.

They go to a monastery, where there are a bunch of monks. They have yellow hats, which makes them Gelugpa. One of the monks can levitate, and can sense where a person is from an article of clothing, and then denies it to be mysterious.

I don't really like the Yeti part of the story.

Herge wrote it before the invasion, and flight of the Dali Lama, in 1959 by China, but it was published in book form in 1960.

The Dali Lama said, "For many people around the world Tintin in Tibet was their first introduction to Tibet, the beauty of its landscape and its culture. And that is something that has passed down the generations," and he gave it an award.

Supposedly the author Herge was having difficulty at the time, falling out of love with his wife and falling in love with his younger assistant, according to the wikipedia article.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kids meditating

Batchelor quote

"As we proceed along the well trodden path of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, we may begin to weary of their certainties. Perhaps trails that branch off the main track and peter out in the anarchy of wilderness catch our attention. We realize that the path we are taking might disappear into a pathless land." p. 81 Living With The Devil: A meditation on good and evil

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Last Call" by Larissa MacFarquhar

I get sent books, and occasionally other things, like once I got opera tickets. I love the opera. I love movies. I enjoy free things, it makes me feel important. Some people joke that blogging is narcissistic. "Didn't you read my blog," Sheldon Cooper says in Big Bang Theory. There are some blogisattvas.

Sometimes I don't like a book. I try to only say positive things. I write detailed blogs about what I dislike, but I don't publish them. I have a lot of books I didn't really like and I guess the person who sent them might be disappointed. I only comment when I like a book. Often I report I got something in the mail, so as to give it some publicity. I get more than enough stuff though, and if it stopped I would be OK with that too. Often I review books that I have bought. I spent a fortune on books. I've sent a lot of workers at Windhorse on retreat. Sometimes I get something that I really like, and it's just a PDF. That's a low investment that makes me feel less pressure. No mail, no hard copy, just the electronic information.

I started reading the New Yorker in high school in Wisconsin. An English teacher brought in a stack one day and said "read this magazine, it's the best magazine." That's what we did in class that day. I loved the magazine. You'd think the class would misbehave, but we just enjoyed the magazine.

When I moved to NYC I got a subscription. Off and on I've read it over the past 23 years. More on than off. I don't currently have a subscription. When I was out of work I had to tighten my belt, and I will probably be tightening my belt for years to dig out of the debt I've accumulated. Have to cut expenses where you can. I don't have a TV, I don't have cable. I go into the projects, poor neighborhoods, and without fail people have huge flatscreen TVs. How do they get them? But I digress.

So I was pleased when New Yorker sent me this article called "Last Call". It's about suicide in Japan, and a monk who counsels people. It's a fascinating article for me on many levels.

When I was at NYU people started jumping to their death at the library. It has a huge internal space, and a long drop. NYU quickly put up plexiglass barriers. At the time I thought, "that won't work." But I read an article in the New Yorker about how a net worked at the Empire State Building. You'd think if someone really wanted to do it they would jump to the net, and then crawl to the edge and jump, but little things like that stop people. It doesn't seem too easy. Lots of people jump of the Golden Gate Bridge. A few survive. If you go feet first and angle it a little so you don't go too deep, you can survive. Universally everyone who survives reports the minute the stepped off, they regretted it. Instead of nets the Golden Gate Bridge uses volunteers that approach people who look like they are going to jump. They don't want to mar the look of this iconic bridge.

I've felt suicidal in my life. As a teenager who hadn't found his place in the world, I sometimes romanticized the idea.

I worked on Riker's Island in the suicide unit, and learned how to work with people who needed affect regulation and distress tolerance help. Most people just are expressing deep unhappiness. You really need a plan and the intent to carry out the plan to be truly suicidal. Most people are just upset and are trying to dramatize their plight. Once they ventilate their feelings and get some empathy, they settle down. Not that there is much you can do to help people who are incarcerated, but listening sometimes helps.

Riker's Island is a big mental hospital where people who were caught with drugs get time served. If we legalized cannabis we would save so much money. I don't hear the big government haters talking about that one too much. Colorado was smart. Legend has it that it's only an influential newspaper man's antipathy for cannabis that lead to it's being made illegal. Substance abuse is a huge tragedy, and we do need to try and keep a lid on it, so I'm ambivalent about legalization. In our current ruthless politics of the bottom line, I can see arguments for it.

More recently I felt suicidal when I made a big mistake. I never really developed a plan or the intent to carry suicide out, I just had ideation. But I felt so horrible for what I'd done, ending it seemed preferable. Luckily I had loyal friends and family who helped me through that time.

Japan has a particular twist on suicide. They're not the worst country in terms of suicide, a surprising list, not sure what it means to be on top, means. In Japan there are hikikomori, which are shut-ins who don't leave their rooms. They've given up on trying to find a place in society.

A Rinzai monk named Nemoto has connected with these people, and holds workshops where he has people imagine they are dead, and he holds a funeral for them. Often times it has a strange effect on them. Nemoto became weirdly giddy in life when he left the monastery. It was so hard being at the monastery that living ordinary life became so easy. The hardships he endured gave him a kind of perspective. And somehow people started being attracted to his counseling. He's doing bodhisattva work.

Nemoto started to feel overwhelmed by it all, and then his father got sick and he stopped responding to all the e-mails he got. He had heart problems, and got angioplasty. He finally wrote the people he'd been corresponding with for years, and they didn't care. Sitting in the hospital he supposedly cried for weeks. He entered a dark night of the soul, when you realize you're not getting anything back from your spiritual practice. And yet somehow he found a way back. He saw some messages of support. He decided he wanted to meet people face to face, and not take e-mails and phone calls. The ones who made it to his remote temple put in the effort to get there. He felt meetings got a kind of resolution that gave him a better feeling about working with people.

I won't give the dramatic ending away.

Larissa MacFarquhar has written a beautiful article. Unfortunately the content is not free yet. Magazines tease you by giving you some content, but they can't give it all away. A subscription to the New Yorker isn't that much and you really get what I consider to be the best magazine in the USA.

(I've had a few friends who've interned at the New Yorker, and I danced with Emily Naussbaum, the TV critic in the New Yorker, once, about 20 plus years ago at a party. My second ex introduced me to her probably the last time we went out together. ("All my exes live in New York and Connecticut" isn't such a good rhyme.) I don't really hobnob with the intelligencia of New York, despite my desire to join the club. But I can read their lovely work, and so can you.)

Supposedly Japan doesn't have a lot of psychotherapy. Nemoto was functioning as a kind of crisis psychotherapist, listening to people. He realized that people needed to extend some efforts to utilize him, and he wanted to step out of the circular talking. When I was a therapist I used to feel despair when I felt a kind of circular talking, a clinging to a story. What Yalom called the "help refusing complainer" in his famous book on groups.

I notice sometimes that people are focused on their rationalization, and have a hard time seeing past their justification of what they did to see that someone is pointing out "what about this". They just press the button and resume the story. Sometimes empathy can help people feel heard, and then they begin to listen to themselves more deeply. I do that too. I'm not putting myself above others. But it's an interesting phenomenon. How do you really change? I think meditation, relationships and psychotherapy are three ways lots of people work for change. Change isn't easy. We can't solve a problem on the terms that created the problem, we have to be infused with a new  perspective. When you're hunkered down in self justification, it's hard to take on another perspective. Koans are about breaking out of a perspective and trying something new.

So go get a New Yorker and read this awesome article.

(I read an article that you can increase blog traffic by saying "How Can I die?" I think our deep political unrest contributes to individual strife here in the USA.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013


As reported on TBC News, Mike Osgood becomes Vimalamoksa (dot under the s, Westernized spelling Vimalamoksha). A Sanskrit name meaning “Pure Liberation”. Private Preceptor Shantinayaka.

Vimalamoksa allowed an e-mail to be posted on this blog. Vimalamoksa embodies the true spirit of spiritual depth. I rejoice in your merit. 

Social Justice in the USA

I have been reading the writings of Henry A. Giroux. I am disgusted with American politics. I experience horrified anxiety, the far enemy compassion.

Just to take one quote:

"The neoliberal policies funded by the new financial elite cut funding for programs such as Head Start, eliminate breakfast programs for poor children and portray people on food stamps as freeloaders. The latter baseless insult is particularly vicious since the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is crucial for low-income children living in extreme poverty because it "greatly reduce[s] food insecurity . . . which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults."

(Giroux cites a Krugman article for the quote.)

Johnson's war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor. In this climate nobody is surprised by the idea of a coming civil war. When you hear things like the military has bought up a bunch of ammunition. I have friends who think civil war is inevitable. They are arming themselves against the upcoming civil war.

Giroux writes, "As public visions fall into disrepair, the concept of the public good is eradicated in favor of the narrow, private orbits of self-interest and individual happiness, characterized by an endless search for instant gratification, consumer goods and quick profits."

Non-violence is a key commitment in Buddhism. Violence tells one they have left the path. People are ill when they move towards samsara. We've lost a sense of interconnectivity, which is a force that counters isolation. We've lost a sense of spirituality that asks us to reach for more than instant gratification.

There is a temptation to turn away from what is happening; The social injustice, the politics of hate and hurtfulness, the pushing of people into precariousness, blaming the victim, the cultivation of fear and isolation.

Giroux suggests the appropriate response is more strenuous activism and advocacy. I think Occupy Wall Street is the the tip of potential for what we can do. I think there is an Arab Spring coming, and I hope it's non-violent. Social justice actions counter the dispair, isolation and lack of compassion.

I wish what Chesar Chavez said was true:

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. And you cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."

But I fear we lose focus. I've lost focus with meditation and vegetarianism. I forget what I have read in The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-vegetarian Critical Theory, 20th Anniversary Edition.

I'm listening to The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. and I am aghast at what has happened to America.

I'm looking into Barbara Kingsolver's solution, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Even if we've lost the activism of the Vietnam era, we still have the power of the consumer. An educated consumer that rejects "food science" that processes the nutrition out of whole foods, is one small positive step.

Buying food at your local famer's market helps us to wipe the carbon stench off our "organic" vegetables from the factory farms in California, and support local farmers.

I was sickened to read the other day that our ginormous corn surplus has found it's way into our honey.  (Honey isn't vegan anyway, it's taking the not given.) I read that farm grown Tilapia is as bad as bacon. To think that fish is free range from the ocean is just wrong. Even if it is from the ocean they take their huge dragnets and kill everything in the water and air.

The irony of KFC offering to donate money when you buy a giant soda... If you can't see the irony in that, you've lost any sense of propriety. That's like handing someone a crack pipe and giving them a coupon to a rehab. It doesn't make any sense. So many health problems addressed in the medical-industrial complex are our own creation. We are happy to spend billions of dollars trying to fix things after the fact instead of an ounce of prevention. And people worry about their freedom to buy a big gulp when Bloomberg tries to do one small gesture, by limiting the size of sodas. Soda is the perfect obesity machine--you don't feel the fullness of the calories you ingest. That is your freedom cause?! We've lost a sense of the larger social justice vision.

We've lost our middle class. I could go on and on. As this post demonstrates, I'm going to share more ideas of social justice here. Even if I'm not a perfect person, I can articulate social justice ideas.

So we fight the despair, become wise consumers, educate ourselves instead escapism, fight the horrified anxiety, voice our viewpoints in as many ways as politically possible, and work to evolve ourselves into the higher evolution.

Here's a video that challenges our current state of affairs:

The why and how of effective altruism

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Long Direct Quote from Living with the Devil by Stephen Batchelor

One moment we are "pathing," only in the next to find ourselves "stuck" and "blocked." We may not have lost our sense of purpose and direction, but feel incapable of making any headway. It is as though a barrier has been placed across our path and we can find no way to surmount it. We feel hindered, trapped, frustrated. The more we struggle to be free of the obstacle, the more we seem to bang our head against the wall. It is as though Mara deliberately puts immovable objects in our way to frustrate our aspirations. We find ourselves paralyzed by an obsession or fear, we meet with accidents and calamities, we are debilitated by disease and the ravages of aging.

Progress along the Buddhist path to awakening is said to be "obstructed" by the devil of compulsions. A compulsion is any mental or emotional state that, on breaking into consciousness, disturbs and captivates us. Whether inflamed by anger or inflated by pride, we feel ill at ease and hemmed in. A compulsion encloses us within its boundaries. When overwhelmed by depression, not only are we inwardly sunk in despair but whatever we see, hear and touch is abhorrent.

Shantideva compares compulsions to "bands of thieves" who lie in waiting for an opportunity to invade us and "steal the treasures" of our minds. As soon as there is a lapse in self-awareness, a compulsive thought or image is liable to erupt, triggering a torrent of longing or despair that leaves us rattled and bewildered. As creatures of Mara, compulsions act as if they were autonomous forces. We suffer anxiety or panic "attacks" and feel overwhelmed by unwelcome thoughts. We are seized by feelings and images that we cannot seem to shake off.

The depiction of Mara as autonomous being who argues with Buddha illustrates how such drives feel as though they happen to one. I do not choose to be lustful, lethargic, conceited, or deluded; I find myself feeling that way. I do not decide in advance to think a thought; it comes to me as a ready-made phrase. I talk of "my" desires, "my" fears, and "my" doubts as though I somehow owned and controlled them. But when I try to let go of them, I find that it is not so much I who have them, but they who have me.