My dharma practice has moved away from reading. But I am looking forward to Stephen Batchelor's book After Buddhism, which I read about on Facebook, coming out next year. I also saw a video that if Subhuti can get enough money to publish his next book, that it will be out next year, and it will be about the mental events. These are two books I am very much looking forward to reading.
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
My dharma practice has moved away from reading. But I am looking forward to Stephen Batchelor's book After Buddhism, which I read about on Facebook, coming out next year. I also saw a video that if Subhuti can get enough money to publish his next book, that it will be out next year, and it will be about the mental events. These are two books I am very much looking forward to reading.
What struck me about the movie was that the young woman struggled like young women, forget that they were nuns. They fight and argue, and they like to watch romance movies. Feels almost like a career decision. But it's not even a decision it seems, at times. The eldest son is supposed to be a monk and the youngest daughter is supposed to be a monk. Anandi kept asking, how does that help the society? I got the feeling that a few of the women did not really fit in to regular life, and did not want conventional lives, and so they just chose being a nun as the path of greatest freedom. I could see that.
My experience is different. I came to it middle age. I could really feel the youth of the students, the pull of the world. I'm kind of sick of the world, so it's easy for me to retreat from it. They had their whole lives ahead of them, and they wondered if they were doing the right thing.
They have a culture where this is an option. I suppose it's an option in my culture. America is supposed to be multicultural. But the fact it that it's mostly a Christian nation. So most Buddhists are in some way a non-conformist. I get the feeling that the women were trying to please others, were conforming.
The interviews with older men in power were politically correct. I want them to interview a sexist monk. In fact, if there was a defect in the movie, it felt like with the language barrier, that they were mostly speaking in slogans, saying what they thought people wanted to hear. The movie admitted as much in the end, that it was superficial.
There's a part of increasing nunneries, that is feminist revolutionary. They talked about how the modern world was impacting their traditional ways, and I felt like expanding the nunneries was one way of modernizing. But I also got the feeling that they were kind of like orphanages. I wondered if one mother was projecting her own spiritual wishes onto her daughter. She said her daughter was naughty like a boy so many times, it was kind of weird.
Sometimes I yearn for a culture in which to embed my spiritual practice, and sometimes I think I create my own world in my home, and that it doesn't matter what is outside the home so much, as long as there is stuff in the world somewhere that promotes it. I don't believe in the lay/monastic split, but I see how it functions to carry the tradition and in some ways I am very grateful. In some ways it seems cultural and superficial. The children are learning to read and write in a Buddhist context, but like any kind of education, it's a process that helps one to develop.
I certainly appreciate documentaries in that they present experience, but we also need to critically evaluate what we see. I saw a changing world of young female Buddhists. It's no easy to convey the spiritual life, less so in the movies. There was some interesting footage, and cultural information. I would have liked more geographical information. I would have liked more depth. Even so, it was an interesting movie. There's only one review of it on Netflix. It appreciates their honesty, that they don't try and sugar coat things, but I kind of felt they did. I mean a documentary does present raw experience, in a way, but if you don't think there were filters there, well, that seems naive.
There is another movie about Buddhist nuns: Blessings: Tsoknyi Nangchen Nuns of Tibet.
We got in late last night, and were pretty wiped out from the travel, so decided to make today a rolling into the retreat day, and not the rigorous and structured schedule we planned out. We're going to flow with how we feel. But we are having retreat oatmeal. Had to move the car so I didn't get a ticket.
Part of the duo home retreat is that we read to each other. When Anandi woke up I read her a Noah Levine interview from Tricycle. He started Refuge Recovery, which has a meeting in NYC. I should probably go to support my recovery, and working with people in recovery. I read his book Dharma Punx. Anandi read his second one, I could read that one. I recently got Eight Step Recovery: Using the Buddha's Teachings to Overcome Addiction. I stalled pretty quickly on that one, but I need to charge up my kindle so I can read that and The Purpose and Practice of Buddhist Meditation: A Source Book of Teachings.
I read section 5.2.4 of The Essential Sangharakshita about natural versus conventional morality, and how the mental states behind actions is a focus of Buddhist ethics. It's an excerpt from The Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism, which is an awesome book in it's own right. I think that was the first book we were reading when I originally started mitra study in the FWBO.
Hearing the words aloud helps to connect to the tradition that was originally oral.
We sat for 20 minutes of mindfulness of breathing. I had monkey mind of course, and my legs were not used to sitting.
I love talking about meditation experience with Anandi. I had a hard time not rearranging the books on my book shelf, they're all out of order.
I'm calling this the Hansel and Gretel retreat, because we're going to see the opera on DVD and live at the Met.
We're not strict yet about not watching TV or using technology for anything other than writing and reading. I feel a strong urge to clean the house strangely. I'm like space, I abhor a vacuum. I'll read non-Dharma today. Since we're doing this retreat with both of us we can have any form we want. I want structure and scheduling tomorrow and after that. We get more done that way. But with the travel I really need a transition day. Must be kind to ourselves.
We're going to have curried chick pea salad for lunch. Last time I went backpacking and totally bonked, when we were done I remember eating chick peas from a can I left in the car. That was really yummy. First few bites anyway.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Right intension is a very important aspect of Buddhism.
Yesterday I woke up and did a puja. While I was doing it, my son woke up. He is old enough to read quietly, and he did. I continued my puja. I think an old me would have been annoyed at the interruption, but I went with it. I handled the situation fine. I meditated for 10 minutes, but I heard my girlfriend creeping around, so I didn't meditate longer.
I'm working to build up my meditation endurance for a home retreat I'm going to have. Going places costs money, so I'm going to try an in home retreat for 3.5 days with my girlfriend, ending in the Opera Hansel and Gretel. I've started an opera blog.
This morning I started meditating. I didn't look at the time. My sons needed to get up for church. I was cranky because I hadn't understood my circumstances. Part of being a Buddhist in my opinion is trying to make circumstances conducive to practicing and understanding your circumstances. I didn't really pay attention to my circumstances, and then I reacted negatively emotionally because the "world wasn't going my way." Not very Buddhist of me.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
A part of spirituality is about striving for equanimity and not getting flustered and flummoxed so easily. There is a kind of emotional transcendence, not numb, still present and feeling, but somehow not fully embroiled and overwhelmed with horrified anxiety. The half-smile. I can do the facial expression, but are there corresponding thoughts? The guys that serve me food at the Sri Chimnoy restaurants have a goofy smile that feels forced. I’m very concerned about aping spirituality, pretending to be spiritually evolved. And yet, even trying is a good thing I think sometimes. It’s a balance. Authenticity is very important.
One sense in which spirituality makes sense to me, is that it’s non-materialistic, it’s not about your personal gain. But then again, people like to brag about how giving they are. There is nothing wrong with being proud about helping others. So doing things for others because that makes you feel good and proud of yourself is OK. But is there anything inherently “spiritual” about that. Is spirituality just not being egotistical? Thinking about others? Realizing our interconnectivity? I’m inclined to say that’s a piece of it, but it’s in conjunction with clarity of mind, with deep insight.
I would say there is an inner/outer journey to connect to something larger, a higher power. That includes being less egotistical and having equanimity, but it’s also true and authentic, not pretend. Does it matter what your higher power is? People will tell you absolutely, and fight wars over it, but that feels very worldly, materialistic, exploitative, and egotistical. I’m not prepared to say any spirituality is OK, cults are bad by definition, and you hear of religious practices that you don’t feel like they will stand the test of time. People could go on a journey, and not just join a group to enhance status. Secular humanism is a fine higher power, in my opinion.
Can I drive to work in a spiritual way? I don’t know. When I listened to talks all the time, I felt a little more spiritual. But now I don’t listen to those talks or read the books so much. I do feel less spiritual, but I also feel more independent, and filled with stuff. I think spirituality sometimes is about unfilling, emptying.
I still want to somehow progress. What does progress mean? You can get ordained, that makes people feel like they have achieved something. You can work for your community, build community, build a building. You can reach deeper states of meditation. You can be less ethically messy. You can be kinder. You can relate to people better. You can communicate better. You can feel a continuity of purpose, feel certain kinds of confusion less. Does the number of blog posts make me more spiritual. I think not, but I am at that moment trying to do something spiritual, so in a way it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being spiritual depends on what you mean by it, but if you’re not clear about what it means. People say they know it when they see it.
The religions will tell you what to do if that’s what you’re looking for. I find connecting and giving to others very fulfilling. I like to read and learn. I’m curious about psychology and how people work. I like to study great people, I liked watching a documentary on Thomas Merton and reading his books and journals, I like spiritual giants. I feel like some people throw themselves at spirituality, but they’re not very spiritual. There have been times in my life when I felt very reverential towards the Buddha, the Dharma and the community. There were times when my gung ho attitude pushed people away.
The people standing on the street just waiting to talk to you about something, the evangelists are really trying hard. I feel like they’re also pushing some rigidity, so I don’t like to engage, I feel like helping them, and that feels presumptuous, so I just don’t.
What about the dark night of the soul when you don’t get any reinforcement for being spiritual? Is that the true test, or is just how people open others up to manipulation? That’s the other thing. With so much exploitation through religion, you really have to watch out for that. Nobody sees being exploited as being spiritual. Sacrifice yes, but exploited, no.
I like the phrase “open handed generosity” because it conveys giving that has no regret or qualms, but is not just indifference or aping behaviors. I remember after my first retreat, I just felt like putting money in the dana bowl. I wonder if it was exuberance that was misplaced, but I was just so grateful and I wanted to try it out.
The complications of an organization can be confusing, the human and non-spiritual motives. Giving without regrets and qualms can sometimes be a hard ideal to reach. I think there are spiritual ideals that guide people, but what are the best ones for you? That’s to be discovered, I wouldn’t say there were necessarily universal ones for each religion. I find the differences between the many kinds of Buddhists in the word pretty amazing. There is something of an extreme in some spiritual approaches, but I think balance can be very spiritual.
So balance, generosity, energy, community, relationship, equanimity. The answers I tried to just pour forth could easily be put into the 7 noble truths. How would I know if I’m aping another’s ideas? Is originality important? I don't think in this case. Authenticity is important, “start where you are,” and all that. Becoming an individual, personal development seems an important aspect of it, regardless of spiritual development.
Religious organizations will give you a format to understand your spiritual experience. The Buddha is notorious for saying, "check it out in your experience." I believe in experience, that is non-denominational. The advice to Bahiya is about putting your experience into the right place, and thinking into the thinking category. Thinking is wonderful, I often have quite a lot of joy with my thoughts. But Keats' negative capability, not hankering after facts and theories, helps one to keep open to the information instead of quickly categorizing and taming it by boxing it. A better program for assimilating experience into the whole. I believe in experience, including the thinking that tries to make sense of it, and the negative capability that allows things to flower without quickly trying to control it.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Sunday, November 09, 2014
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Saturday, August 02, 2014
A lovely book has crossed my path: How Patience Works. It's actually a short novel, and while I'm only 10 pages in so far, I can say I'm enjoying it.
I read a straight up dharma book about patience. And I wrote about it as one of the 6 perfections.
Excellent fiction, in my mind, takes in the big ideas and applies them to lives. I'll let you know how it goes.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
My psychology transforms that one. Not sure if I'm the only one who noticed. I can really use that one against myself in a self attack. Shame is an attack on the self that serves no purpose. I think I heard "shame spiral" in a pop movie, but it applies. Using the teachings in the right way are important. Most people don't do close readings. I hope it's not just me. I think what the phrase is pointing out is small things. In recovery talk it's Apparently Innocuous Decisions (AIDs). Little things that lead to substance use. But aren't we addicted to fossil fuels, and materialism and titillation, distraction and high fructose corn syrup and lard drizzle.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
I watched light of the valley the 15th renovation of swayambhu which I'd recorded from PBS. It's about the Swayambhunath stupa west of Katmandu. It was beautiful to see how the local people were, the Newars were persuaded to deconsecrate things so that they could take them down and repair them. I remember seeing this site in the movie Little Buddha. It was beautiful to see the devotional reverence.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Read an excellent article on relapse prevention and came across the hassle and uplift scale. Fascinating. The enlightened person, I imagine has very few hassles and lots of uplift. Seeing that some situations gave me more hassle than uplift, I reflected by asking myself if it has to be that. Do I have to experience hassle.
We make the world with our minds. Why not live in paradise? Nirvana is not another place, it is here. We choose to live in samsara or nirvana. It's not easy, it's not like flipping a switch, there's the higher evolution. Those not busy being born are busy dying. Pathing is better than not pathing.
"A person who's life is full of demands may experience a constant sense of stress, which not only can generate negative emotional states, thereby creating high-risk situations, but also enhances the person's desire for pleasure and his or her rationalization that indulgence is justified. ("I owe myself a drink"). In the absence of other non-drinking pleasurable activities, the person may view drinking as the only means of obtaining pleasure or escaping pain."
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Religion is beset with this problem. While tolerance and the freedom of belief seems fundamental to me, I also felt in the heady days of conversion that my own spirituality was the right one, and wished everyone could see the light I was seeing. We mix personal with the social, and thus try to convert people. Why can't we just enjoy what we have? We need to see the reflection back in others, we are social beasts.
In the pluralism of modern day New York City, there are many different brands you can pledge allegiance and a tithe. You also have the freedom from religion. Most people take that route today, they have experienced the imperialism of their childhood, and declared independence. And yet they feel they are missing something. My atheist friend is always pointing out the study that atheist tend to know the most about religion.
Community is always imperfect, relationships are wounding. We project our original relations onto the templates of the past, with our habitual responses, and get snookered.
The existential crisis freedom from religion creates can be very creative, and you could say the world since the fall of religion has been a explosion of exploration of this. That has also lead to problems with substance abuse, and other addictions, as hedonism replaces spiritual ideas. The secular humanist ideals are attractive, but there is no church to reinforce the culture of it. Again, we are back at humans as social creatures.
Academics get lost in the minutia of being an expert, spiritualist preach cliched bromides, and it's hard to find someone in the middle, learned but of the world.
The difficulty is tolerating ambivalence, not knowing, Keat's negative capacity. We need stability, something to stand on, building blocks, psychologically. We need guiding principles beyond our own reactive pleasure seeking.
The Buddhist word for faith also means confidence. Developing confidence in the chosen path is not a bad thing, it's tested in the fires of your own experience.
I think all traditions are beautiful. When I learn about other traditions, I get that warm fuzzy feeling I get with my tradition, at people striving to be more. Hedonistic pleasure seeking has it's limits, and I think it's OK to seek your own pleasure at times, but there needs to be a balance.
Just likes in Buddhism there needs to be a balance between essentialism and nihilism, a fetter.
Friday, April 18, 2014
I quite enjoyed watching this video this morning.
On thing that strikes me about this video from 1993, 21 years ago, is that Bhante thinks about the consequences to others. Pratityasamutpada is the first thought. If someone references a red herring of other's behaviors, then he suggests people focus on themselves. He demonstrates a kind of democracy, in that they voted on whether to add a 11th precept, and it failed. He discussed the differences between the west and India, where drinking is more taboo. He talks about his own example, where he quit drinking all together even though he likes a drop of wine during a meal, because of the impact of others. I really like it that he supports the freedom of others, but shows such a kind example. Another tac he takes is that fine, you look at one example, but what about the majority example, can you see that? Finally he does say that there is to be no drinking in FWBO centers, now renamed TBC.
In all my time with the TBC, they were dry events, except parties. I do remember someone asking if I was fit to drive, after I'd had some beer. At the time I thought that was annoying question, but I think it's a fair question.
I have been reflecting a lot on drinking lately. I have brewed my own beer, and there have been times in my life when drinking did take energy and money from me. I do think I have alcoholic tendencies, and there were a lot of people in my life while I was growing up who you could say drink too much.
I remember in one of Bante's memoirs, he drove across Europe, and was astonished by how much of agriculture was given up to wine, and I think he said he stopped drinking at that point, because while he liked a little, he thought the world had devoted too many resources to drinking and he did not want to participate in that.
He also talks about contributing to the culture of bragging about drinking, and the effect that might have on other people.
One time when I wrote in the reporting journal of men who have asked for ordination, that I got tanked with my preceptor, and someone condemned me from Sri Lanka. I remember being very tired the next day for a retreat inside a prison. But in the end it went well. I think being in jail was very stressful for me, and that may have contributed to the drinking. Also some people bought us a round when we were about to leave, and they wanted to talk about Buddhism.
I guess I remember some bit in Milarepa where he drinks and thinks he gets enlightened. But if you look at that story, that is the only instance of drinking, and he's laid of lot of ground to get to the point, and maybe the drinking released some inhibitions. They talk about Ananda not being enlightened and wanting to join a counsel of remembered speech from the Buddha, but you had to be enlightened. This made his efforts more tense, but just before he fell asleep, he relaxed and achieved enlightenment.
What I think is interesting in all this is that it's a case by case example, and that you must consult with your spiritual friends. Friendship is the emphasis. They don't want to judge others. I really find the desire not to judge others as really important.
Bhante also uses the phrase "pseudo-spiritual book keeping" to refer to someone who says, "well, I don't drink so I can be a little lax with the speech precepts." Bhante says you must apply yourself to all the precepts and not look for excuses not to.
My son wants to use the computer to play Minecraft, so I'll edit this later.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
This could be interpreted 2 ways. Is he talking about the multiplicities within oneself, or is he talking about interconnectedness? Either way it's cool. I wonder if that's what the Buddha was thinking about when he talked about rebirth. How we all have a John Malkovich inside of us.
A surly troubled youth asked me the other day, "why do you care?" He was referring to the negative choices he was making. I think now my answer is interconnectedness. I think that's what the Bible is getting at when Christ says what you do to the least of me, you do to me. I feel like that my conservative friends have lost that insight.
Lawrence goes on to talk about a prayer to Saint Catherine. Again, it's ambiguous because there are lots of Saint Catherines. The most famous one is a virgin who every time she converted someone to Christianity, they were murdered.
It's hard for me to imagine Christian persecution in Christian America. It's the Christians who are doing the persecution here. It's not hard to see when people feel like they are closer to the truth, they can, out of insecurity, turn it into intolerance.
But a Bluesman (or woman) doesn't turn suffering into revenge.
What I like about Savage Pilgrims is that Shukman takes his own spiritual journey, and he's trying to shuck off his conditioning, and get closer to the bone, and embrace his freedom. I've only read 67 pages, but it's a beautiful travel memoir so far.
I haven't meditated in yonks. I asked myself why I haven't been. My answer was that I had lost the habit. How would I refind the habit? A commitment. How does one go about following through with a commitment? Thinking about it is my first thought. Why do I want to meditate? I hope to be more aware for the sake of others.
My standby meditation is mindfulness of breathing the TBC way, with 4 stages. I've done the 16 stage anapanasati on retreat, but it's just so involved. Not that I don't like a little insight even when I'm calming myself.
I take a look inside, and it's a foul rag and bone shop. And yet, to look at that a little, it dusts the shop a little, it doesn't look as bad. Perhaps one of the reason why people don't meditate and do therapy is that when they tune in, they don't particularly like what they see. For me, that's the whole point. You drag stuff out into the daylight and it loses it power. It's a painful process and I accept my resistance to it, forgive my foibles, weakness, imperfections. I'm a middle aged man with the same old problems, but then I tell myself about the spiral. The upward spiral. It's all to a point. Even if I'm knocking at the door of the spiral staircase, that is worth it.
They say spiritual traditions make sense of suffering. Nietzsche suggests you get too comfortable with suffering, but I think he misses the point. The grace to accept what is happening isn't easy to come by. We stick the second arrow in. One is enough. Pin down the demons and stair at them. They don't go away, but they lose their power.
So to confirm why I meditate, I reflect on the path. Meditation is the path.
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
Saturday, March 22, 2014
"It takes enormous will-power to think positively and no effort at all to let the mind dwell in negativity."
Friday, March 21, 2014
At first, such demand may sound outlandishly elitist. How could we possibly unlearn our extreme work habits, our overvaluation of work? Who’d pay the bills. Really, who can afford this? In her excellent book The Problem with Work, Kathi Weeks supports demands for basic income and shorter work hours.
For Weeks, the problem with work would not disappear if invisible labor would be more visible and appropriately compensated. The problem is not only about the degradation of skill, low wages/exploitation, and discrimination. It’s about “securing not only better work, but also the time and money necessary to have a life outside of work.”(Weeks 13) Do you remember the times when people still had hobbies and knew how to take a vacation?
The refusal of work is really a refusal of the way work is organized. Concretely, proposals for unconditional basic income, discussed intensely and for a long time in Europe, would make that possible."
"The dharma teachings explain in detail what a precious human life is. It is by no means a mere generalization. Rather, the precious human life means precisely you. You can practice the dharma and so your life is precious: you have the freedom to pursue the dharma; you have time to attend dharma lectures, you have the intellect to understand the meaning: and you hare physically able to do the practice. It makes you realize how lucky you are."
Monday, March 17, 2014
I don't think that should keep one from addressing the seven point mind training, but it could make one wish to study them within a tradition.
I think some writings make one meditate. Some writings make one seek sangha.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
There is a 6 page introduction to the teachings of the Buddha. I have not heard the teaching about the various turnings of the wheels. I have heard the teaching the three lakshanas.
In the introduction by Shamar Rinpoche he says he doesn't want his teaching to be secetarian, but then the first paragraph of the explication of the root text he says this is the primary teaching in the Kadam School. I think he can have it both ways, I don't get so caught up on contradictions, I see it more as a dialectic. There is something good about understanding what your tradition really is.
With Buddhism hitting the wide world, with the invasion of Tibet in 1950, culminating in the Dali Lama fleeing in 1959, you get the teachings going into a lot of different cultures, and that process can be like sifting for the gold. With Tibetan Buddhism spreading over the world, other traditions have found the west to be more open. Zen, Theravada and other traditions have seen an opening of receptivity and curiosity in the west. The dirt of culture drops out. Actually, I don't see culture as dirt, but it is important to see what is culture and what dharma transcends culture, and what culture does to the dharma. And dirt is a positive association for me, live rich soil is so important. This whole interplay between culture and dharma is interesting and important.
One of the things in America is that secular mindfulness is about denuding Buddhism of all the various sort of religious aspects. No foreign chanting, no weird drawings, no foreign rituals.
One of my facebook friends noted a study that showed meditation did not help with stress relief as much as therapy and medication. I'm OK with that, because to make meditation into stress relief is not really the Buddha's intention. That might be one of the things that's needed to progress on the spiritual path, and that might just be trying to curb some of the negative aspects of materialism, the idea that life is all about amassing the most possessions possible. People torque themselves up to a high pitch to succeed, and then need a way of winding down, when they realize alcohol or drugs come at a price. You can turn to meditation for that, and that might help, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just not particularly Buddhism, we have to be frank about that. You can use meditation to enhance your materialistic quests for security, housing, exquisite experiences, and status. This is why the military and the business world like secular mindfulness.
Phil Jackson can be the Zen basketball coach, and make millions and millions of dollars. And I am happy for him, and I'm really glad the Knicks are looking into him running the Knicks. But I don't see him as particularly Buddhist, and all the stuff about Zen and him is really overblown. Just like the Zen of Steven Jobs. I'm happy for people to be open to outside influences, but Steven Jobs doesn't really need to be co-opted by Zen to make Zen any better. I don't want Buddhism to become a kind of Scientology where it's really about making it in Hollywood. It's not some in club that is exciting because it's an in club.
People need a lot of metta though. I could use more. My partner was saying that the other day, people just need to try and be a little nicer. She thinks that would make our world a better place. There's nothing wrong with meditation making you nicer to people. Lets just be clear what our intension is. Are we meditating to be nicer so we can make more money or are we just meditating to be nicer. Are we meditating to move towards enlightenment, not matter how far off that might be? In the acceptance verses in the ordination ceremony of the TBC, you accept ordination for the sake of enlightenment. I've heard people disavow enlightenment, it seems to far off, it's said you can't know what it is until you are that. I personally see that as a denial of what the Buddha did as being special, that you can do it, and that it's worth aiming for.
I've read Becoming a Child of the Buddhas: A Simple Clarification of the Root Verses of Seven Point Mind Training a number of times and have studied it in study groups. This is by Gomo Tulku, translated by Joan Nicell. When you google Gomo Tulku, you get the rapping lama, which I think might be another incarnation. It's hard to untangle the thicket of lineages and teachers. But the one thing to know is that the Seven Point Mind Training might not be a standardized text, and might have different version in different traditions. The whole point of it is to have pithy short verses that pack big punches, so they are changed over time, and each lineage will see various versions as the best one. And then someone translates them into English.
The Seven Point Mind Training goes back to teachings of Atisa, through Checkawa Yeshe Dorje. So the various versions will be based on these. So we're reaching back to Atisa through a number of teachers and a translators.
This one by Shamar Rinpoche, is from the Kadampa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, though the teachings reach out into the modern movements, and other traditions. If you were in that tradition, you'd probably read this version first. I read the Gomo Tulku version as recommended by the TBC. I have no idea why or how that came to be the one to read at that time.
I've listened to talks from FBA on it. I don't know what's going on with their search engine, but I can't find the specific talks.
What strikes me in my memory is that all this stuff has to be critically evaluated, and made sense of. But if you spend time on them, they can come to have great meaning. And that is why I'm excited to read this new version of the teachings. I will check back with you when I get into the book.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
We shall die soon, but we wish to face it when it's more obvious. You can read Crap! I've Got Cancer. The author of How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter, New Edition just died. You can read his obituary.
You can read the obit section of the Times every day, and somehow it doesn't sink in. The death clock tells me I will die on February 25th 2041, but that's just an estimate based on whether I smoke and what my BMI is. Optimistically I could live to 2065. Pessimistically I could live 6 more years. All of these things are estimates. It is unknown when we die.
As you get older, you know more and more people in the obit section. Long life is also interesting. One of the comments in one of my classes wasn't that death was so bad, it was the trajectory into death that was the hard part. It was in Montaigne's essays that I read about how death is actually a release from suffering at the end, and not be feared.
I began thinking about death when I read The Denial of Death. The professor who assigned me the book is surely dead by now. I remember the book blowing my mind. I'm kind of afraid to read it again. In a way it helped me on my journey into deep psychology.
In social work school I took a class on death, dying and mourning. I read Intoxicated by My Illness and Other Writings on Life and Death, and had to write a paper on a movie. I think I wrote my paper on Antonia's Line (1995) (Import All Region). I say I think because I lent it to someone and never got it back.
One of the themes of Buddhism, is that life is impermanent. Life is short. One of the reflections used in Buddhism is to reflect on the shortness of life, to try and goose out your real priorities, and drop some of the superficial stuff.
My most frequented blog posts are entitled How Can I Die? I read an article about how you can increase your blog traffic and it actually works. I wrote a blog post that ended with the suicide hotline number. At times we feel overwhelmed with negativity, but rarely are things so hopeless that suicide is warranted just based on those feelings, so people should seek help. I believe a law against suicide is stupid, and I do feel people own their own lives, and they can rationally choose suicide, like at the very end of a well known terminal illness progression. But often in depression we feel was a in a bad place and that it will never improve. That is usually untrue.
I read a science fiction book about a future where people's consciousness is backed up and if they die, you can just download the consciousness. No wait, the book was a future that promised medicine had advanced to such a point that people just didn't die any more. And at the end, it had a bit about how you could freeze your body or freeze your head. (I think that's why Futurama has all those heads in jars. I love that show.) Reflecting on the idea of living forever, you realize that the shortness of life is what gives it such meaning, and yet the subjective experience of life can be that it goes on and on forever. I certainly feel that way sometimes.
We don't live through our children, but we do live on in people's consciousness, for a short while anyway. I still think about all the dead people in my life, and all the dead relationships. People are with us as kind of psychological ghosts. We think about people in history as well. What would the Buddha do?
I'm agnostic about the afterlife, rebirth, because while it doesn't make sense to me, I think there are strong cultural factors that make it dismissed, like science. One friend said, "it's hard to imagine all this energy goes to nothing." I don't really have a hard time seeing that.
As I say we live on in the tendrils of consequences and other's consciousness. I think while our consciousness is unique because no two circumstances are similar, I think personalities are fairly similar, and it's possible that reincarnation is just seeing lines of karma in personalities; I can imagine what it was like to be this person in those circumstances. I think when you understand conditionality in a truly deep way, all sorts of interesting things are seen, that are not part of normal consciousness.
Reflections on death are important and good, but I also think preoccupation with death, from a depressive standpoint, is a warning sign and needs to be addressed.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
In the TBC, the order is neither monastic nor lay. I think that comes from Sangharakshita's observation that "good monks" who followed the rules could be rather uninspired, and "bad monks" who didn't exactly follow the rules could be very inspiring and do lots of good in the name of the dharma.
Literalism is also seen as a big hinderance in the spiritual life, and the rules seem all about literalism.
Finally, the idea that all 5 monks who ordain a monk are pure in their observance all the way back to the Buddha is absurd. Someone in there has to have done something unpure, and therefore the idea of purity back to the Buddha can't be true. Anyway, maybe it's more of an aspiration than an actualization, but even so, the language is not true.
Along comes a free updated version by Thanissaro Bhikkhu free on their lovely website.
There is a kind of scholasticism that feels more academic than spiritual, but I appreciate the Theravadans for their translations of the primary texts, and their commitment to the early cannon.
Supposedly the Vinaya came about because a monk named Sudinna, was asked by his family to provide an heir because they were afraid their lands would be taken away. Even though he had renounced the worldly life and become a monk, where sexual intercourse is forbidden, he chose to sleep with his wife 3 times to try and provide an heir. Perhaps he thought it was a kindness to give his family an heir.
In the legend of the Buddha he hangs around until he's given his father an heir, then he goes off on his journey. I wonder if he's expressing his feeling that he shouldn't have done that. Some people think the legend of the Buddha's life is a story, and that the Buddha was always a spiritual monk.
The Buddha tells him a list of negative places it would be better to put his penis. You can find the list for yourself. He expresses himself strongly.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Sunday, February 23, 2014
I remember back in 2010, Brit Hume suggested that Tiger Woods convert from Buddhism to Christianity because Christianity has redemption. I remember at the time a flummoxed Buddhist going on TV to respond to this charge. At the time I was unclear. I wish to muse further on this situation.
Buddhism doesn't have redemption in the sense that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in the sense that we've been kicked out of the garden because Eve gave the apple to Adam. The whole metaphysical contraption of Christianity isn't, obviously, part of Buddhism.
But were there great comeback stories in Buddhism. Of course there were. Did the Buddha think anyone could stage a great comeback? He did hesitate with allowing women into the order, and he gave them more rules, but many think that was quite revolutionary and feminist given the historical context. Of course the story of Angulimala comes to mind. He had a necklace made out of the fingers of the people he killed. When he turned to Buddhism the people stoned him and didn't give him food because they could remember him as a murderer. But that eventually died down and the Buddha taught that you don't run from your problems.
It's not Darth Vader finally acknowledging his son and saving his life type of redemption, but then again no two redemptions are alike.
Thinking about the Tiger Wood situation, obviously he's lost his wife, and by extension full time with his children. I'm sure he visits his children and whatnot, but it's never the same after a divorce. He's been linked to Linsey Vaughn, the great female skier who is injured during these olympics, so his love life has bounced back. He hasn't really won a major since the incident, and the impact on his golfing life has been quite significant. I'm sure he's lost millions and millions of dollars. I don't really know what it's like when you're super rich, what it's like to see some money drift away from you. I'm not sure how bad that really hurts. I don't know his social context, whether people treat him differently or whether he lost any friends. I suppose a real friend sticks by your side even in the bad times, so I guess he lost a lot of friendly acquaintances.
What ever your motivation for "doing good", I would say if it's a kind of redemption motivation, to make up for the bad you've done, well, there's nothing wrong with that. You might realize that it's not easy to tighten things up and "act good". Our lives are a bunch of habits and when we dig a hole, we often find that it wasn't worth it when we start digging out of it. I think that's one of the themes of My Name Is Earl. I think that's the whole point of ethics. It's not to turn you into a sheep, or to flip pleasure upside down and call it bad. The whole point of ethics is that you get hurt by not choosing the best path in life at times, and you really suffer through not being ethical. And that kind of insight is worth all the tantric sex magic in the world.
One of the first things I learned in meditation, after the object of focus and the posture, was the five hinderances. They are sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and doubt.
I think at the moment, doubt is my biggest hinderance. I doubt that I can progress enough to be meaningful. I doubt that I have to fortitude to sit and advance. I doubt that I can take the content of what comes up. I've got troubling throughs I am afraid to face. But that's just another story, and sitting helps me to see that.
One of my favorite bits is from Milarepa, where he talks about the lion. The dog chases the stick, but the lion turns and faces the stick thrower.
Sense desire is tricky. I get intoxicated with ideas sometimes, dreams and fantasies. I can also have sexual thoughts.
Ill will is the least strongest, but I can become obsessed with what I experience is wrongs others have done to me.
Sloth and torpor usually hit me on a long retreat, after I've worked through a lot of sense desire and the others.
Restlessness, worry flurry, hit me when I'm not on retreat, when I do my daily meditation. I think about my todo list, all the things that "need to get done". In a positive way, my mind somehow winnows my todo list, or rediscovers important things that have escaped my list. But worry flurry is also more than just the todo list. It plays a part in doubt. The only good thing about it is that it's sort of the opposite of sloth and torpor.
I started reading The Purpose and Practice of Buddhist Meditation: A Source Book of Teachings. Sangharakshita is my teacher, and I learned to meditate in his tradition, so I really appreciate this book. He's got such a vast mind and he's written about so much. Living with Awareness: A Guide to the Satipatthana Sutta and Living with Kindness are both meditation books, but they are more recent. I suppose in a way, learning to meditate is something you get outside of books. But as the book claims, it's a source book, a collection of Sangharakshita's writings on meditation. In fact, Buddhist Meditation: Tranquillity, Imagination and Insight is the standard book on meditation in the order. And there are other good ones that enhance the two basic practices of metta and mindfulness of breathing. I particularly liked the book on the body.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
The premise of My Name Is Earl, is that Earl hears Carson Daily discuss karma, and he begins to think about the consequences of his actions. Here is the premise:
You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting round the corner: karma. That's when I realized that I had to change, so I made a list of everything bad I've ever done and one by one I'm gonna make up for all my mistakes. I'm just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl.
There's an absurdist quality that is reminiscent of Futurama and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It's absurdist humor without the intelligence of Monty Python. Again it's low brow.
It also has the humor of nihilism that I don't like, but mostly it's heavy on meaning.
I'm for any exploration of conditionality. Reminds me of the wheel of life.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Sunday, February 02, 2014
Tony Schwartz wrote an article in the New York Times entitled "More Mindfulness, Less Meditation". His conclusion that with the law of diminishing returns, and because meditation is so hard, maybe you don't have to do it so much:
"I’ve also found that it’s more practical to truly focus and relax for a minute or two several times a day than to meditate for a long period and constantly battle with distraction along the way."
He's meditating to get the most out of meditation, and as the years have gone by, he's not getting as much from it, so he's adjusted his practice.
I'm all for "practical mindfulness". What actually happens matters, and putting mindfulness into practice is very important. I was on retreat and someone asked me how I thought I would do that. My answer was that just being aware of the issue of putting mindfulness into practice, is a kind of mindfulness itself. You have to live the questions.
I think what Mr. Schwarts is really saying in a secular meditation has it's limits and that for all the people who pick it up and wants specific results, it's not that easy. The practice divorced from it's religious roots, traditions and community, is perhaps of limited value.
"What I haven’t seen is much evidence that meditating leads people to behave better, improves their relationships or makes them happier."
Meditating is unpredictable. You sit and tune into yourself. People find all kinds of different things when they tune into themselves. Maybe just underneath the surface they are deeply unhappy and they have been hiding that from themselves. I would argue that it's better to confront that fact, and dig deeper into it, and gain insight from that. But there's no guarantee you're going to gain insight, it's quite possible you get swamped and don't have the resources to dig yourself out. You risk getting to a place of resourcelessness. That is why it's so important to meditate in the context of a community. The community often has advice, suggestions and sometimes it might be to take the foot off the petal, and not try as hard. There's a kind of go for it mentality, and there are communities that really focus on that.
To move towards enlightenment in the context of a Buddhist spiritual community is another things. Getting past the dark night of the soul means you push past when it doesn't seem to be giving back. There is a context of ethics, meditation and insight. The Buddhist practice isn't just about meditation. The Pure Land tradition de-emphasizes meditation.
Maybe Schwartz is connected to a spiritual community and maybe he has spiritual friendships and at certain stages others things are emphasized. In a way he's giving himself permission to explore other routes of developing mindfulness beyond meditation.
I suppose the thing I'm reacting to is pulling away from dogging it out. The truth is I'm not meditating much these days, but that's because I'm avoiding something. I know I will get better and better at facing something and that it's in my own best interest to face things. He quotes Kornfield saying that meditation doesn't cure everything, and I'm not sure if anyone said it would. Sometimes you have to do other kinds of work. Meditation isn't for everyone, nor is it for everyone their entire lives. And intense practice is hard to maintain.
The other thing I have feelings about is my fantasy that in a deep spiritual community there will be people around to advice when practice is stale or stuck. I've overheard comments to the effect that that is a real issue in the spiritual life, and negotiating that is pretty important.
I resist taking the foot off the petal, slowing down, and yet that is exactly what I have done and what I have seen others do. I've know people who are in it for the long haul and things wax and wane. I have the belief that meditation is good, and more is better, but like everything there's no one answer.
Finally, so sell mindfulness in connection with happiness. I the lesson of insight is that basing happiness on conditionality makes you unhappy, and it's quite possible you will experience the first noble truth more acutely, and thus be aware of dukkha. I think people sell Buddhism by suggesting you will be more happy, but the happiness comes from enlightenment. So what do you do if you don't get there? The answer for me is that progressing on the path feels right for me, and that, you know, what spiritual ideals work for you is important, and you should really look into whether things are working for you or not.