Saturday, March 22, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

digital intelligence

From an essay: When The Factory Turns Cold:

"The French revolutionary (and Karl Marx’ son in law) Paul Lafargue wrote “The Right to be Lazy” in 1883 that the “proletariat has allowed itself to be seduced by the dogma of work.” In his provocative tribute to the merits of laziness, Lafargue refuses to privilege work over all other pursuits (Lafargue). No, this is not a call for a population of couch potatoes; it is rather a refusal of the configuration of the work society. Kathi Weeks, a Duke University professor, explains that Lafargue’s extravagant refusal of work is not a refusal of productive activity. Lafargue speaks out against the ideology of work as highest calling. Weeks points to the autonomist Marxist critique that does not only focus on alienation and exploitation but also on the overvaluation of work itself (Hoegsberg and Fisher 151).

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."

I quoted my favorite part of the essay but it's so much more than that section. It questions our use of the internet in smart ways, and brings a kind of mindfulness in digital interactions. Wonderful essay.

Preciousness of life

From page 42 of The Path To Awakening: How Buddhism's Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness:

"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


"It must be mentioned here that even today some things are kept hidden from all but the most serious practitioners. Here, wit it comes to the teachings on ultimate bodhicitta, much will remain unwritten." p. 28 The Path to Awakening.

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

Sunday thoughts

So I've begun to read The Path To Awakening: How Buddhism's Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness.

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.

Seven Point Mind Training

The Path To Awakening: How Buddhism's Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness arrived in the mail today. This is by Shamar Rinpoche. The Shamar Rinpoche version is translated and edited by Lara Braitstein.

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

The shortness of life

Why do we forget about death? Forgetting is an important human function. We could be plagued by existential crisis at an early age, without the resources to combat the crisis. Forgetting trauma is only temporary, it bubbles up later when we are strong enough to address it, process it, metabolize it better. The defenses are truly wonderful things even if we rail against our limitations.

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

the monastic code

In all the books I've read, the Vinaya is something I have not read about beyond The Ten Pillars of Buddhism (Sangharakshita Classics). (You can hear the talk on line if you don't wish to read the book at Free Buddhist Audio. When I search "ten pillars", I can't find it, but I know it's there.)

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


I was reading Encounters with Enlightenment: Stories from the Life of the Buddha, and I read the story of Sona to my sons. He's the lute strings guy. He was too intent on the spiritual life and was pacing back and forth and it made his feet bloody. I didn't know that at the start of the story, he's famous for having hair on the soles of his feet. Anyway, the Buddha tells him when his feet are all bloody that he's thinking about going home. Having a balance in the spiritual life helps you not to quit. The Buddha remembers that Sona played the lute string and made an analogy about keeping the strings not too tight and not too loose. The point is applying the right amount of pressure in the spiritual life makes sweet music.