Sunday, February 23, 2014

tantric sex magic

Just kidding. I want to write about redemption. Even so this is one of my most popular posts.

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.

Five Hinderances

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.

The show is like Enlightenment. It starts out making fun of the simple spiritual notions, but it also takes us into spirituality, where inevitably not everything is simple.

The humor is low brow, and silly. It's a combination of Shameless and any half hour ensemble sitcom. I'm almost embarrassed to say I like the show because it's a little too much of an adult Spongebob Squarepants.

There is an element of AA in the show because he wants to make amends. The first lesson is that you can't undo things. It's like the surprisingly good Madona children's book: Mr. Peabody's Apples. And yet the effort to make amends is a kind of kindness, that always wins over people who are wronged. At times, people take advantage of his desire to do right, but most often people are grateful of his efforts. In the end whether things go right or wrong, causality is complicated, and things are not simple. There are unintended consequences you can't see. Our efforts often can achieve the opposite results we're aiming for.

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

Ayya Khema quote

"If we want to be loved, we are looking for a support system. If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth. "

- Ayya Khema, "What Love Is"

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Tony Schwartz article in NY Times

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.

He writes:

"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.