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.