Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Reading A Short History of Myth, Armstrong talks about how rocks are imbued with the divine. I have rocks on my shrine. I fancy myself some who is modern and fights against the inflation of meaning at times. I've been asking about sacred and profane in this blog, at times.

The book The Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together reimagines the story of Yashodra, sees the Buddha and his wife as a couple, not as a solo journey, and provides a flourishing of alternative opportunities for the transcendent principle. Yashodra is probably not historically true, but it is part of the mythology of Buddhism.

Do I need a mythology to help me get to work? Do I need a mythology as a parent? New York City is packed with psychoanalytic institutes. Why is the Jungian one the most expensive?

I've been working to be more practical, I think about the Monty Python skit where there is a philosophers soccer game. Nobody is kicking the ball because they're all thinking and then one of the philosophers stops thinking and starts kicking the ball, dribbles down and scores a goal.

I think about a painting at MOMA I saw once called "The indifference of Sisyphus". Instead of the drudgery of rolling a rock up a hill just to roll back down, Sisyphus is having fun, enjoying the process.

This morning I've been thinking about the great mother and the great father. It was father's day, and I think about all my male ancestors over one shoulder and all my female ancestors over my other shoulder. I think about someone in my life that I lost, and the cycle of life.

And the sky. There is talk of "big sky mind" in Buddhism. Armstrong talks about the sky being a connection to the divine. As a non-theist, for me the divine is the transcendental principle, the three jewels are my higher power. I love the sky, I think it's the most reliable source of beauty in my life. If you get a sadhana practice, you imagine your special Bodhisattva in the sky, connecting it to this special place.

There is a vastness in the sky, which can lead to reverence. Bowing to my shrine, bowing to the refuge tree, bowing to the Buddha, Kuan Yin, Manjushri, I open myself up to the wonder.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Many Dharma Doors

There was an idea in the introduction of The Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together, that there are many Dharma doors. I sometimes are concerned we've adapted Buddhism too much to our modern times, we don't need to be monks, we can meditate, we can pick and choose what we want. At some point the Buddha's got to be saying, "you've gone too far." But the idea that you can go for enlightenment with others challenges the notion that there's one Dharma door. Yashodra and Pajapati both became arhants and therefore the path of not going forth, living at home, could also possibly work. Maybe the path is very different for everyone. It's almost as if the Buddha's discovery means we have the information but we don't have to go to his extremes. We can learn from other's experiences. To some extent we can tailor the path to what works for us. There may be many Dharma doors. That feels like a good teaching to me, opens up possibilities. Of course you've always had permission to follow your own spiritual path, nobody needs to give that to you, but there are also prescriptions if you want to follow a certain path. We never give up responsibility for the choices we make, but sometimes we take on recommendations from one kind of source because there's a kind of promise involved. Just do X, Y and Z and you will get A, B and C. I've always thought the path justifies itself along the way, but there is also the dark night of the soul when it doesn't reward you and you have to see a larger gratification, and not smaller ones. I used to believe more in paths and formulas and whatnot, but I think you have to make it up the best you can.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Met a guy on the street

A monk on the streets of Jamaica Queens tried to get $20 for a  wrist Mala, but for a lesser donation I was given this amulet that has an image of Kuan Yin, that supposedly helps with work and lifetime peace. I gave to Anandi.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

intension in meditation

My errors in life, have often come at times when I wander away from my intensions because I haven't been meditating. I don't consciously think about what is important to me when I'm following the breath, but when the noise of life dies down in meditation, there's an inner voice that can be heard, I see more pure vectors of action, my brain just produces better fixes for my behavior and intension.

The famous cliche that the road to hell is paved with good intensions points out that actions are pay dirt, and that often times intensions only get you so far. I am an unintegrated person who has cross currents and undertow. So many times I set out to do one thing, and do another. And quoting Whitman about being larger, and containing the multitudes has become an excuse for me, not in the spirit of inclusiveness that Whitman intended. I think it points out that psychology isn't always consistent. Even so integration and integrity are something that just naturally happens when you meditate frequently. It's one of the many benefits--and I don't need science to articulate them for me, thank you, I know they are there, I have that confidence. 

And yet sometimes I don't have a regular meditation practice. Why don't I always act in my own best interest? I have that book on my shelf, Menninger's Man Against Himself. It's a very evocative title for me, I see in myself and other self confounding behaviors all the time.

Teaching children to meditate

I taught my son the 4 stage mindfulness of breathing. He is 11 years old. He wakes up early like me, and I was going to sit and meditate so I asked him if he wanted to join me. He did. So I explained the 4 stages and reminded him at each bell.

I have taught my sons and some cousins to sit once for 5 minutes. And I have sat for 5 minutes here and there with my boys. But this felt more serious and real to sit for a full 20 minutes with my son.

I read in One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps that one of the ways to teach children to meditate is to tell them to pretend to meditate. You can kind of sheep dog them over time towards what you want.

Next step is to teach him Metta, and get my younger son involved.

Reflections while reading The Buddha's Wife

I have been asking myself if this book, The Buddha's Wife, is good enough to be a modern sutra. How much is there a clang historically, how true does it feel, versus how it seems like setting a good intension. So that is what I decided. It's OK not to be totally historical, that setting the intension is just as important as being realistic historically. The danger in adapting the teaching to our modern times, is that we will lose the full intention of the teachings.

You don't really know if the Buddha said some of the things attributed to him, through the years. I remember reading in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation some examples that show the tradition has clearly reversed the teachings. And yet I know how self serving and rationalizing I can be in my own life. My "theories" have the stink of ego. That is why I loved the book The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of their Thought even though it would never be assigned in my undergraduate philosophy degree because the American philosophers pretend to be beyond psychology, they're so afraid of subjectivity, unlike their continental brethren. The answer is patience. Time will tell. A friend said that to me, and I've always thought that friend was very wise, and that was the apt response to my questions.

There's also that quote from Rilke about living the questions: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

And that always leads me to Keat's negative capability.

The other question I'm asking while reading this book is whether you need solitude to progress in the spiritual life? I have done several solitary retreats, and I have very fond memories of them, and know that I went very deep into my meditation, and it felt really good to get away from it all and have the space. It's not either/or. You can do both. A week of solitude does not preclude being in relationship. I think the Buddha left in part to get the teachings. Why he could not commute from home, I do not know. Why he could not stay in relation with the family on his journey, I don't know.

On the going for refuge retreats that I've been on, you can talk about "going forth" metaphorically. You can go forth from cruelty to animals by becoming a vegan. You can go forth from fossil fuels by not owning a car, riding a bike to work. You can go forth from the TV or from romantic relationships, or whatever, without leaving. I think think that was the unspoken lesson, that books like The Buddha's Wife draw out.

Maybe the Buddha had to do his journey that way, and it's our job to understand why, or maybe that's just a legend to try and sell the ideas. I wonder if he has to be a prince, why he can't be poor. Religious people always exaggerate to sell their ideas. Is the legend of the Buddha a well intentioned lie to try and lead people to the truths? Like parables in the Lotus Sutra, the house is on fire and there are toys outside. You get outside and the toys are not really what you think they are but actually they a pretty good if you open up to them. Again we're in the "ends justify the means" kind of space, which I usually don't agree with. Benevolent duplicity doesn't take into account people's process, and the importance of coming to one's own conclusions. You're going to get less malarkey in a religion where the prophet says, "don't take my word for it, test it in your own experience." That is a safety valve that is always there.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Buddha's Wife

The Buddha's Wife: The Path of Awakening Together is a fascinating book.

I've read speculative books before, one where Thomas Jefferson was counseled by a Buddha like figure. That book felt a little forced. The Buddha's Wife feels more necessary. There is a kind of anachronism, even though it is necessary for our time, it doesn't feel like it was necessary for that time, even though it's written in the style of the ancient texts. And what a wonderful thing that it has become needed in our time. We live in a time of multiple narratives, not just one. We live in a time where the female is valued as much as the male in most people's minds.

There is no such thing as blasphemy in Buddhism. The worst that can happen is that this book would be ignored. I've often felt that modern texts have a sutra in the future feel to it. Most recently I felt Joan Halifax's book (The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom), but I also think the The Essential Sangharakshita: A Half-Century of Writings from the Founder of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order also had that feel. I don't quite feel that with The Buddha's Wife. But I still feel like it is an important book. Why can't you get enlightened in relationships? Why do you need to seek solitude. In Reginald Ray's book Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values and Orientations he discusses how monastics preserve the tradition and it's possible they leave out non-monastic paths. The Buddha's Wife points out a similar discrepancy that being with and in relationships is also valued, and not solitude. The women's side of the story of enlightenment. Or even, is there a path that doesn't hurt others? Many people think the legend of the Buddha is apocryphal, that he was always spiritual and that he was not a prince or married or fathered a child. The clang in the story of the compassionate one is part of why it doesn't fit. Or maybe that's a modern projection as others suggest. Even so Yashodhara becomes an arhat, what is her story?

The Teragatha is a lovely collection of female stories, but there is no poem on Yashodhara. You can find it on line also here. Neither are complete. I read a hard copy while on retreat at Aryaloka from their library. Pajapati was the Buddha's step mother, and she has a teragatha.

Male identity is forged often in rituals that hurt the young man, and he can't go cry to his mommy. I'm hoping that is changing some and that males can be in relationship while they mature. The days of the solitary stoic hunter are gone, in our overpopulated postmodern civilization, being in relationship is important. The lone wolf is extinct in many ways.

Sometimes when people bring out new laws, people often say that the old laws imply what people want written into law. Does not the third jewel sangha imply the "right relationship" that the authors suggest is the 8th part of the path? Maybe but it's worth highlighting and exploring something that is applicable to modern existence.

You can see in a way that if the Buddha lead these women to enlightenment they might forgive him of the pain in the past. The ends justify the means. I don't usually think that is true, but I'm willing to make an exception in this one case.

Perhaps right relationship is something so obvious that it doesn't need to be commented on, and is cover in the other precepts. Sometimes something important is assumed and not even articulated in a culture. In ancient times I imagine people to be more connected. Technology hasn't alienated and isolated them. The suggestion was that to subtract the Buddha from his son's life, would not be as serious as it would have been now. In the modern nuclear family, there are perhaps unnatural pressures on the mother and father to be the be all end all. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends of the family are all lost in the modern nuclear family. Even so, you can't say subtraction is negligible, and the unspoken grief of Yashodhara is seen and heard in this narrative.

The authors are of note. Janet Surrey is a clinical psychologist with ties to the Stone Center. Sam Shem wrote House of God, about the internship of a doctor, a book I read when my friend was going through it.

I'm only on page 28 but those are my thoughts so far on this wonderful book. Because this is a personal blog, I don't write necessarily polished finshed-the-book reviews, instead I express myself on the journey of reading, as the thoughts come up. A kind of book review in process, a little more messy but a little less constricted. I used to love reader responses when I was in school.

Sunday, June 07, 2015


There is an interesting article in the NY Times about spirituality. It is a good article but it doesn't settle the matter for me.

An old high school friend writes about spirituality: Spiritual Side: Trust God even if you are going through a difficult time - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Columns. I'm not convinced by quoting the bible to prove something, but if you are in that tradition it can prove things. (Ahwatukee is next to the "Wonder Rift", southeast of Phoenix.)

It's not clear whether spirituality is transcendent or worldly. It's both and neither. Is it a force that pushes you away from egoism? Altruism is the road to happiness, so even if you're an egoist, being kind to others is the way to go. Nothing is other worldly alone. Is spirituality expanded consciousness? An inner and outer journey that brings out the best in us? Is it about rooting oneself? I dislike the phrase "higher" power, because it could be below you. I guess "other power" is the form that most appeals to me. That there is something outside you, that you don't know it all. I think sometimes people are willfully against other power out of a misguided self esteem, that they are skeptical of the obviously wrong misuses of religion, and therefore there is no higher power.

I have to say I'm so befuddled by the word. Is it an ineffable feeling that may or may not be connected to something more?

I'm reading the second step in One Breath at a Time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps. It seems like there's a kind of humbling and trust in things you can't fully understand to explore what a higher power means, "as you understand it."

I reread an old blog post on spirituality. I seem so certain, even though I'm groping in the essay. Is spirituality becoming unsure? It can be sometimes, but sometimes skepticism is pathological in my case. I remember once asking a friend on retreat, "what if there is an uncaused even in Alaska?" How would we know that causality is the one true law? He asked me what was going on? I think I push skepticism too far sometimes, because I think you need to have a reason to push the skepticism. Do I have any evidence there are uncaused events? You can be skeptical about skepticism. So skepticism can be spiritual but it can also be misapplied.

I like the whole "love" angle, because you can be a real jerk and still love someone, so it's a pretty elastic concept. Do we love other countries by creating peace keeping missiles to make sure they stay in their country? Love implies a thinking about the other is a real positive way, not to subjugate them or exploit them.

How do I account for why some Christian hymnals appeal even to this Buddhist? Is it because there's a deeper spirituality that even a non-Christian can appreciate?

I've been reading Circling the Sacred Mountain : A Spiritual Adventure Through the Himalayas. In it Thurman uses the The Sharp Wheel of Mind Reform to explore the Bodhisattva Ideal. There are free translation of this shorter sutra on line. The peacock likes to neutralize the poison of the challenging world, like a Bodhisattva. Thurman thinks about the craziness of the world with it's global warming and wars and all the insanity. Why participate in this world? The bodhisattva thrives amongst the chaos because of their strength, and they share that with the world out of generosity.

A friend did a Ph.D in theology and he talked to me about what we put into spirituality. Perhaps spirituality is what we make it. It is a self fulfilling prophecy. There is an element of striving in it, whatever ideals we strive for. Muslims strive for this, Christians strive for that, and Buddhist strive for enlightenment.

I started reading Mind in Harmony: The Psychology of Buddhist Ethics. As usual Subhuti cuts through all the nonsense and says he prefers to speak about the Dharma life.