Friday, December 28, 2018

spiritual science fiction

Science fiction is my guilty pleasure. I'm enjoying a novel by PJ McDermott called the Alien Corps. They have found a ancient book of the bible that predicts a messiah, and it's the future and they search for the new messiah on other worlds. It's mostly science fiction, but I thought it was an interesting premiss. It's mostly an alien thriller.

In a way I don't think you can talk directly about spirituality, which to me means a lot of things but mostly the preciousness of life and the connections and kindness. Awe at the mysteries. I suppose anything quasi-religious and tangential are interesting to me, and spiritual science fiction is a great idea. I'm working on my first novel along those lines. I'm not sure if this one is spiritual enough to qualify, it's more of a thriller, and spirituality is a small trickle, but anyway, thought i would mention it.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Taking The Blinders Off

When you meditate, you see things that are hidden in plain sight that distraction blinds us to. Righteous anger can be a hindrance. I need to vent spleen to get it out and move on.

The current president is a huckster, the kind of salesman that will say anything to sell something, so slick and oily. While he's visiting the troops in Iraq, he disclosed military secrets, like the bumbler he is, and took credit for an imaginary pay raise that does not exist.

He tweeted that he'd signed a contract to build a wall, when that's not how the government works, and thus lied or broke the law. As an ubermensch, he isn't really fettered by the rule of law, even though as president one of his jobs is to maintain the order of law, and if it ever breaks down, he's the first to whine about it.

He doesn't take responsibility for the lack of respect he experiences, and then rails about others not taking responsibility.

We are too reality oriented to not notice. The grounds for his impeachment come from multiple fronts, but the political reality is that he has to offend the Republicans that hold their nose and tolerate him, not out of principles, but out of the hatred of the political other. He is the ultimate us/them president.

He's the ultimate script flipper and bottomless pinocchio. That is his plan, just hear what other say and then flip the script.

He didn't even read the resignation letter of Mattis, and only by watching TV found out that it was basically saying, "here's what I believe and that's why I have to resign," which is a way of saying you ain't got any of this stuff and it's disgusting to work here. He believes in nothing, except his self interest, and that is becoming more and more evident. Not sure how it wasn't before. He's willing to make fun of people with disabilities to please a crowd, which is deplorable. That is our leader. Jon Voight goes on Twitter to say Trump has done great things, but can't both to list any of them.

As a liberal patriot, the fact that conservatives are getting off on the liberal ire, that the conservatives have already built up a campaign of calling Ocasio-Cortez stupid, trying to demonize her the way they demonized HRC, spinning with their Russian bots and trolls a raft of misogyny that carries America past true opportunity for growth. Trump shuts down the government and then imagines it's full of Ron Swansons.

The reason Trump doesn't pay attention to the environment is that conservatives are all about winners, and the earth is dying, it's a losing game. It doesn't have to be. Nevermind. Conservatives are about winners, not those losers who need welfare. They can't imagine themselves losing, so there is no need for compassion. It's only a lack of discipline that gets people on welfare. Never mind that this is the most undisciplined president in the modern era.

Now it is a valid theory to want a smaller government, or a least to check the growth of government. There are many Buddhist heroes who voted conservative.

It is a valid theory to want government only for defense, and thus the government has create the greatest welfare queen in the military. The billions that could be squandered on education, health care, infrastructure are better spent on 1.5 trillion dollar airplanes. The loser whiner liberals just imagine investing in the losers who aren't winning.

The reality is: America is superficial, anti-intellectual, confused, immature, befuddled, self confounding. It is short sighted, seeing economic growth only, not imagining grandchildren's future. The unprecedented deregulation by the Trump "administration" is already paying karmic fruit. It is cruel beyond belief, allowing children seeking refuge to die in their bungled care. We will change the laws around guns when we love children more than we love the idea of guns that wasn't even in the constitution.

Forget the history of ending slavery, the civil rights movement, moving towards more gender equality with women voting, or the Marshall plan that helped Europe recover from a second world war, that was perhaps created by the failures of not rebuilding after the first world war. America joined the World War to work against the persecution of Jews. We are beginning to own up to our history of massacre where the true "Indian givers" was the USA. This is the America that makes me proud, and it includes conservative heroes as well because of inclusivity, but not those who are against inclusion, they are out. I'll reserve my hate for the hate-mongers. Feel the feelings, but act in your own best interest.

What if these evil Megaminds resigned, and there were no need for these heroes? Do we need the Sith to create the Jedi? Or could we just tap into the force without opposition?

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Buddhamas

The place where Buddhism and modern psychology connect is that you can snuff out some underlying thought patterns that are semi-conscious. Putting a spotlight on thoughts when you're meditating, because nothing else is going on, can help one to sniff out some unhelpful thoughts.

I was running today and I thought about things I do for my partner and I slowed down. Like thinking about things I might do or have done, takes energy away from me. I watched my mind decrease the energy going to my body because of a thought. If you don't think thoughts are important to how your body is...

Michael Pollan has an interesting article about trying to describe complicated inner experience: "What do you do with an insight like “love is everything”? I wondered aloud. “Is a platitude so deeply felt still just a platitude?” No, I decided: “A platitude is precisely what is left of a truth after it has been drained of all emotion. To resaturate that dried husk with feeling is to see it again for what it is: the loveliest and most deeply rooted of truths, hidden in plain sight.”"

Want to listen to a banging talk by a stand up guy on the hindrances?

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Dharma of Hamilton

All religions notice anything cool. I remember when every religion claimed Groundhog Day as a parable for their religion. This musical, which I have only listened to, and seen video clips, is very meaningful to me.

The thing that comes to mind about Hamilton is the energy (virya), and energy in service of the good. Such a vitality in the music that uses all the various modern styles of music.

The idea that Hamilton is never satisfied, is the relentlessness of desire and the desire to be free from our traumas. The hunger pang face is never satisfied. The trauma of his childhood is countered by the relentless effort. Burr holds back, seemingly dithers. Hamilton is full bore, all out, petal to the metal. He hopes to be proven for how exceptional he is, and he strives to be exceptional.

The consequences of his actions confound his very project of being taken care of, when his mother died in his arms. He can't help but reenact by murdering his love, by out of exhaustion and loneliness at working so hard, he falls into the arms of another woman, who herself is in need of care.

To see his own son die trying to protect his honor. The utter sadness of that loss. The musical has built up so much drama and connection to historical events, that the profoundly personal loss is then our loss. Can you imagine losing a child? What a horror. There is so much loss in early America. No wonder we're so stupidly reenacting these trauma dramas. The relentless American striving produces greatness, but also spectacular crashes and wreckage. We need more insight.

I listen to it on Prime Music. I doubt I'll raise the $350 for the cheapest seat on an unpopular night and time. I'd give my first tickets to my sons anyway.

I'm also touched by the way Lin-Manuel practices to make sure he does it right. He includes a lot of clips of him practicing on his twitter feed. I found some of the videos from the Hamilton feed.

But through the magic of the internet you can catch glimpses of this catchy musical.

The following is a list of videos to watch about Hamilton

Here is the video of Miranda at the White House. He was working on it, it wasn't even fully fleshed out.

You'll be back.

One Last Time: Watching this performed in front of Obama blows me away. The peaceful transfer of power is one of the great inventions of democracy even if a bottomless pinocchio replaces him. The words come directly from George Washington.

Room Where It Happens: a PBS short video with clips of singing.

Room Where It Happens Elsie Fest

Room Where It Happens: Spirit Young Performers Company


Wait for it. This is a 360 video that you can pan around with.

Skyler Sisters 1, 2, 3, 4

Yorktown (Tonys)


These are versions by other artists:

Sara Bareilles does Dear Theodosia. 

Rise Up, Wise Up, Eyes Up by Ibeyi

Award Show Performances:

Oliver Awards First Song, Alexander Hamilton.

Tony Awards Alexander Hamilton


Compilation Videos

Here is a video ranking the top 10 songs.

And of course you can listen on YouTube.

The investors in Hamilton got a 600% return on their investment. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Love's Labor's Loss

"Therefore, brave conquerors, for so you are
That war against your own affections
And the huge army of the world's desires,
Our late edict shall strongly stand in force."

My thought about the above quote from Shakespeare's Love's Labor's Loss, in a Buddhist context, is that transcending desire, in a healthy way, is one of the fruits of deep meditation, but that aping and pretending to be there when you are not, can be quite painful. We try to do an end run around obstacles and get to the fruits without paying the price. Adolescents use asceticism to cope with life's richness. Guess I wish I could develop to the adolescence phase.

Aristotle says friendship is about the love of virtue. That's what I take away from him. Hanging out with guys who want to advance knowledge and learn is the great aspiration in Love's Labor's Loss.

Friendship is also about saying the hard dark truths about someone. The only problem is that it's easy to be judgemental and not hide your disgust at lack of virtue, at mistakes--which pushes people away and isn't an act of friendship. We have to be aware of our projections, our disgust at others can be really disguised disgust at our own projected traits that we don't own.

Friendship is complicated. When you're younger it's about playing together. As you get older it's more, concern and deeper conversations come into it. Friendship can be about someone you feel comfortable confessing your deep dark secrets and your shames. Deep thought is friendship, that is was I got from Sara Jenkins book on friendship.

The fantasy of the spiritual community providing deeper friendships was ripe for me to become disillusioned about. It's just like everywhere else, and humans are human. Even so, a shared project draws people together, so sangha is about the aspiration of deepening the spiritual practice.

Learning about friendship is also learning about the limits to it, and your fantasies about it. This may be masochistic of me, but I really think that a lot of life is about disillusionment of false ideas. So a friend will not ameliorate all your problems or be an always available safe harbor that if you can just get there, everything will be alright.

I've been thinking a lot about the idea that Republicans don't want to give out "free things" from the government because people lack discipline. Virtue should be rewarded, not lack of virtue. This viewpoint lacks compassion. As usual, the Republican ideas are good personally, but not so great writ large, when people are suffering. Because you can't imagine suffering the way people suffer does not mean they don't suffer. Government is about taking care of us, how ever "us" is defined, usually with borders, but also increasingly with ideas of citizenship. There are always limits and I appreciate that government can't solve every problem, and I appreciate that expanding government can't go on infinitely. I also appreciate that meddling in people's lives can be annoying.

A hindrance to friendship is capitalism. If it's not taking up all our time to make ends meet, then money can be an issue in playing and can be a bone of contention. I saw a man try and help out another who was stuck in the snow. In the process he smashed the other car. He weaseled out and denied he hit the car, and a family in financial crisis had to pony up for the expense. People don't want to be responsible financially when they are helping out. I could see that getting in the way of friendship.

We need time, emotional energy, curiosity, tolerance and many things to be a friend, but also interest in the other. Friendship dies when it's always about giving to the other or a patriarchal or matriarchal  view of a person. But nobody is always equal so there will be some of that.

In Love's Labor's Loss, these friends end up falling in love despite trying to stay away from it. In his previous play Shakespeare has a friendship where the friend tries to steal his friend's lover, threatened to rape her, and then almost instantly they make up at the end. Can you name that play?

As a fun exercise, go away and do something for 5 minutes, and then write down Love's Labor's Loss. I've had the dickens of a time getting it right, there are so many ways to mess it up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sonadanda Sutta

The Sonadana Sutta is the 4th sutta in the Digha Nikaya. Here is the brief summary on Wikipedia: "The Buddha asks Sonadanda the Brahmin what are the qualities that make a Brahmin; Sonadanda gives five, but the Buddha asks if any can be omitted and argues him down to two: morality and wisdom."

Setting: When I google Gaggara Lake, or Campa or Aiga Country, there is nothing, but we know that we are near the ancient kingdom of Magadha, which is in modern Bihar

Bimbisara has given Sonadanda some land, and it is thriving with wildlife and corn. When the Buddha comes around, Sonadanda is going to go see him, but his entourage, always eager to maintain his dignity and respect, tell him to make the Buddha come to him. But Sonandana has heard of the Buddha and goes to him. 

The Question: The Buddha asks Sonadanda a question: By how many qualities do Brahmins recognize a Brahmin? What determines a true Brahmin? 

Sonadana replies: 1. He has a good appearance (pleasing and handsome). 2. Well versed in mantras and rites/rituals. 3. He should be wise and knowledgeable. 4. He is of high birth, well-born on both parents' side of pure descent to 7th generation. 5. He should be virtuous.

What proceeds is a kind of socratic dialogue that eliminates all but 3 and 5.

When you think about all the ideas about the physical characteristics of the Buddha, these ideas of appearance maybe be contradicted here. But that seems to be a popular idea of the times, the idea that you can glean a lot from someone's looks. 

My idea about looks is that if someone has an unpretentious look, then they are more trustworthy because they are not afraid of being mistaken as a homeless person and that they do not need to create an impression. Of course dressing up can be seen as a sign of self esteem, but I don't personally buy this idea that is present in our times. 

One of my ex-wives thought K.D. Lang had really excellent shoes, when she saw them first, and thought more of her because of that. I remember I fell in "love" with a runner at the state track meet in Wisconsin, and I thought it was cool that she wore baggy oversized men's shorts, instead of the omnipresent form fitting running tights.

Another idea that is present is the idea that heredity is very important. The sutta makes a point of going back 7 generations, to prove a family is of worth. How many people can go back 7 generations today? Even so, we still have ideas about heredity. 

It is somehow relevant that Trump's grandfather was kicked out of Germany for not doing compulsory military service. That is seen as perhaps a prelude to his own wusing out of military service. I quite dislike the current president, but I don't actually know the whole story, and if Trump's ancestor was a weasel or maybe he was a conscientious objector.

I am proud of my grandparents who were part of the great generation. That's 2 generations back. I don't know too much about my ancestors before that time, except for emotional memory traces, like everyone misses my great grandmother on my mother's side, and some pictures.

I always think of Young Goodman Brown, the Hawthorn story. The fellow is haunted by his father's sins. (46 min reading on Librivox)

The Buddha seems to be arguing that it's only what you do that counts. (Did you read about the minister who bought his wife a Lamborghini?) So many of the things you might imagine that might inoculate you against doing wrong things--well, they don't. There are no shortcuts.

Sonadanda is pleased with his learning and serves the Buddha and his friends a meal. 

Friday, December 14, 2018


Reading Roar by Matteo Pistono, I'm learning some Thai history. Sulak didn't like the name Thailand, he liked Siam. Did you know that Thailand declared war on the USA during WW2, but the Washington diplomat for Thailand didn't deliver the message? The USA bombed Japanese targets in Thailand during WW2.

I found a Thai news website in English: The Nation. There is also the Bangkok Post and Thailand News.  Here is Khaosod in English.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Roar by Matteo Pistono

This book is about Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai, who is among the founders of the INBE established in 1989. He wrote Seeds of Peace (copyright 1992). There are other books. He was given the Right Livelihood Award. I've never even heard of this award, but it seems so awesome that this exists! I'm starting to agree with Stephen Pinker, the world is getting better! And this award has been given out since 1980.

(Robert Bilott is the most recent American to win the Right Livelihood Award in 2019, for his work as a lawyer exposing environmental atrocities by corporations and holding them accountable in the law.)

The forward to Roar is by John Ralston Saul, and reading his wikipedia page I thought I would like to read some of his work. I particularly liked the idea of "the failure of manager-led societies". We are all responsible for what happens in our society, not just the so-called leaders.

Matteo Pistono also wrote In The Shadow of the Buddha, which was about Tibet around 2010 (copyrite 2011). I want to read his book about Nineteenth-century Tibetan mystic Tertön Sogyal.

Not sure how I got a book that isn't published until March 2019, but the copy I have has the copyright 2018, so I'm making it my book of the year. You can preorder it for March 5th 2019.

Wow, learning so much and I'm just starting the book, and I'm blown away.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


I work overnight and can often listen to my iphone. So for a while I listened to music. I really got into the Hamilton soundtrack. I think it's one of the most amazing musicals ever. I listened to some musicians I've found: Rhiannon Giddens and Lianne La Havas, along with listening to Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Q and Gillian Welch more, listening more to Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan. I also just started listening to Mars Volta. Also listen to Joan Baez singing Bob Dylan (on YouTube).

Then, and now, I listen to Librivox. I've been listening to Jane Eyre.

More recently I've been listening to podcasts, and I've got a list of Buddhist podcasts I want to share:

Metta Hour Podcast 

On Being

Dharma Podcasts Upaya Zen

And of course there are talks on so many other places, but these are the ones I've been listening to these days.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Comparative Religion

From Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" by Reza Aslan:

"In any case, neither the commandment to love one’s enemies nor the plea to turn the other cheek is equivalent to a call for nonviolence or nonresistance. Jesus was not a fool. He understood what every other claimant to the mantle of the messiah understood: God’s sovereignty could not be established except through force. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of God has been coming violently, and the violent ones try to snatch it away” (Matthew 11: 12 | Luke 16: 16)."

Aslan suggests that all that peaceful stuff about turning the other cheek was imported later to make Christianity palatable for peaceful times. In a way it's a wonder that Christianity was founded off such a unique and narrow revolutionary like Jesus.

This is a book written by a Muslim about the historical life of Jesus.

I've spent so much time looking up articles on Wikipedia to get up to speed to this ancient world.

Reading about the other guys is interesting to me. I talk to people about their guy, whether it's Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha. Ethnic religions don't have universal creeds and guys, they have families, traditions, though they are not devoid of thought and can be turned into philosophies like the Vedanta and Kosher Sex.

There are lots of parallels between the Buddha and Jesus. The Buddha and Jesus both wanted to stop the sacrificing of animals. There are many parallels. Jesus was noted for not charging for his miracles, and the Buddha didn't want anyone to charge for the teachings, the teachings are free. They both spoke in the common language, not the language of scholars.

There are differences. It seems Jesus was out for his people, but the Buddha wasn't out for his area or king. He radically included those of lower caste and women, though some perhaps think he didn't go far enough. The nuns got extra rules. In Theravadan countries the nuns wash the men's clothes often. While the Buddha's times were fairly contentious, there were pockets of calm. Jesus was fighting to overthrow the yoke of the Romans from dot.

I can see how liberation theology can be inspired by Jesus. He really did seem to be trying to overthrow the oppressors. I would consider the Ambedkarite Buddhists to be a kind of liberation theology.

I can see why some Christians are so against magic. (I never understood boycotting Harry Potter, it's such an excellent series of books and movies.) The contrast between son of God and magician is perhaps not so easy to see sometimes, and they wanted their guy to definitely be the son of God. I didn't know that he wasn't into healing those who were not Jews. But he didn't make a living from it, he never charged for his miracles.

Aslan is himself in an interfaith marriage. A fascinating article in itself. His wife Jessica Jackley co-founded Kiva. They have adorable children.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018


When I first read the Bahiya Sutta, about Bahiya of the bark garment, I soft of imagined the rough and inflexible bark I've seen on the trees in North America.

As Justin Fornal find out, it turns out bark cloth is an ancient art. The Baganda of southern Uganda continue to utilize bark to create textiles from the mutuba tree. The bark is used to clothe the deceased, and is seen as having spiritual qualities. Witches and mediums wear the cloth. It is sustainable because the tree grows back the bark and you slather a resin over where you take off the bark.

These are the words that supposedly helped Bahiya find enlightenment:

In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Civilizations and seeing Buddhist art

Civilization has had an update, and Netflix has it in the USA. It's a show about the history of art through time. Civilizations has an episode on religious art and of course Buddhism is featured a little bit.  This BBC production changes the order in America, where it's the 3rd show, and it's the 4th show in England. It would be hard to not get some feedback on the project (Washington Post, Guardian, 2, 3). A gossipy Telegraph review suggest that American don't want to see an older woman presenting and emphasize Mary Beard (Who's SPQR is a lovely book about ancient Rome). If that's true, then that is a shame. I'm not sure whether I'm more offended by the edit, or by the British laughing at it when they are the ones who created it. Maybe I'm just cranky from working all night.

Anyway, saw some Buddhist art and I like to blog about anything Buddhisty that's going on with me. I've also pushed past my resistance, and meditate on my lunch break at 330am. It's not easy but I do feel energized after I do that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Sounds like a Pure Land to me:

"the place where I’d grown up and that I’d once described as the warmest, most generous place on earth, where parents routinely took it upon themselves to look after everyone else’s children or discipline them if need be; the place where one always cooked for more than the number of people in one’s household in case others dropped by; the place where old people were never relegated to stuffy barracks to sit for hours waiting for death; the place where vegetable sellers routinely gave their loyal customers a dash of several guavas or a small calabash of tomatoes for the evening stew, something small for free; the place where people said ‘sorry’ whenever someone tripped or fell or grazed themselves because that was the linguistic mirror of a culture based on empathy, having nothing to do with who was at fault; the place where Muslims celebrated Christmas and Christians broke the fast during Ramadan with their Muslim brothers and sisters; the place where grown men held hands and grown women walked arm in arm; the place where the term ‘cousin’ was never used because all cousins were brothers or sisters; the place where Sundays were spent visiting friends and relatives; the place where weddings and funerals and naming ceremonies and baptisms and graduations and independence celebrations and governor’s parties were lavish and celebratory; the place where everyone knew your family."

From Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Lama Surya Das

Fulfillment Prayer
May all those who offered me food & nourishment this year
attain the sublime happiness of total peace and contentment.

May all those who offered me drink and dessert,
who served, who received, who honored me,
who helped or collaborated and co-created with me,
or who made offerings to me and my altruistic spiritual mission---

May they attain happiness and well-being,
be well and joyful,
and enjoy complete fulfillment, peace, and harmony.

With love and blessings,
Lama Surya Das

Friday, November 23, 2018

When Breath Becomes Air

I stopped taking an SSRI a couple of months ago, and the only symptom so far that I can see, is that I cry fairly regularly. Often it is with joy when my daughter blows me away.

Often it is at other people's suffering. Like the young woman who wrote an essay about gun violence, and was killed by a stray bullet. 90 people die every day in America from gun violence. We are not at war. There are no barbarians swarming over the border. Americans just like to kill each other in a symbolic act of affirming their right to bear arms. When will it end? I think one of the biggest effects of Trump stealing the election from Clinton is that Hillary would have worked to change this. Instead we have limp leadership that idealizes all sorts of things I don't think need to be idealized, notably dictators, and whines about being treated unfairly. As the most lying president in history, he complains about being called a liar. Stop being a liar then, you're in control. I love how republicans talk about personal responsibility and then zoom to the larger forces effecting things. I'm convinced America has measures in place to avoid electing a true leader. Obama lost the legislature, Bush was a dry drunk, Clinton was a naughty boy who you liked anyway. But I digress.

The book When Breath Becomes Air had streams down my cheek regularly. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who loved literature and when he was diagnosed with cancer, he began writing a memoir that is stunning. It's like a live wire, you have to be careful or it's going to shock you more than you expected.

I've meditated on the rubberized bodies of Chinese prisoners in the Bodies exhibits. I've read about the charnel ground meditations. I even read that when the Buddha suggested to some monks to meditate on death, they committed suicide. This fallibility of the Buddha is heartening. He also went into a monastery where there was conflict, and in an attempt to support, was told to bud out, and he left. The earthly Buddha was fallible and ineffectual, and died the same physical death we will die.

One of the great tests of reactivity is to see your reaction to death. Buddhism to me is about looking at the reality of things, with unblinking eyes. Eyes wide open. Death is a good place to practice this attending to what is.

As a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi confronted questions of identity and death all the time. He thought he would just follow the footprints of those before him, but when he had to face it, he saw no footprints. It turns out you can't really practice or prepare for it as much as you think you could. It is the last great test of life.

I'm at 59% in the book. When I get done with a book, I tend to feel in such a way that it's hard to write a review, but I can comment throughout the book, not having completed it. Perhaps that is best, because I'm less tempted to give away the ending. Even so reading this article about his surviving wife and child has me with streams of tears down my cheek.

The Bright Hour is another amazing death memoir, this one written by a poet. Intoxicated by my Illness is another one. Of course Didion has her memoir of mourning the death of her husband. Then Denial of Death is for those who like modern psychotherapy and Otto Rank. I don't have a complete list, but there's the Amazon search on the sociology of death.

(By the way, I have earned $10 over 14 years of blogging so don't think I'm just linking things up to get rich because I've earned less than a cent per hour, and I ended up just buying more books with the $10 I earned. I write to create meaning in my life, to fight existential despair.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gus' Fortunate Misfortune

I love a children's book where a Buddhist monk is present, and is kind. This is a good and long book with wonderful illustrations. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ashoka on Netflix

How did I miss this in 2001? Been watching Ashoka on Netflix, with subtitles. My guru, I mean my daughter, keeps stepping in front of the screen. I think she likes Bollywood films. So far there have been 2 song and dance routines that were pretty amazing but had little to do with Ashoka, which is being remade into a romance thus far. Kareena Kapoor is the beautiful woman. Shah Rukh Khan is Ashoka. Watch this video of the first song San Sanana to get a flavor. Or this one. This one is fun. Nothing to do with the life of Ashoka, but it supposedly doesn't miss the scant known facts of his life.

I feel like the Bollywood formula has been overwritten on Ashoka's life, but it's a fun movie anyway. If you want to get to know the real Ashoka don't watch this movie.

Of course Ashoka is famous for being a brutal warrior who turned into a Buddhist monk, and built these pillars that last to this day. Not sure if I can get through the whole movie to find out how the movie treats these things, but Ashoka was an amazing dude.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ambattha Sutta

Access to Insight skips DN 3-8. When you look at the Ambattha Sutta on Wikipitaka you can understand why. It seems to be a confrontation by the Buddha on the Brahmin elite, and a young upstart. It seems to be mostly of historical interest, of the spiritual setting of the times. The complicated machinations of the caste ideas are hard to follow and seem to have investments we don't share today. Ambattha is disrespectful of the Buddha, who leads him through a winding socratic series of ideas that end up with him submitting to the Buddha's ideas that he is indeed enlightened, and he becomes a follower of the Buddha. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life

DN 2 is the Samaññaphala Sutta. The setting is Rajagaha:

King Ajatasattu sees it is a beautiful night, full moon, and wants to go see the Buddha. He hops onto an elephant with his entourage and heads towards the mango grove where the followers are hanging out. Over a thousand monks are quiet, and that scares the King, he thinks it might be a trap. But he gets to the Buddha and asks him what the fruits of the spiritual life are?

The answers the king has gets are that non-action leads to non-harm. Monks meditating don't mutilate people like an army would. Because they are not doing anything bad, they don't have to atone for bad actions, inaction is purifying. Because of the asceticism, they take so little and thus cause the least ripples. There is a kind of purification and annihilation of effects. Nobody is interfered with. Because of the restraint, it is hard to quibble with the renunciant. The renunciant evades problems and complications. There is a certain amount of respect you get for living such a life. There is a certain kind of resilience in this lifestyle. A king could lose all his stuff and would be upset, but a renunciant would not be. They cannot lose anything:

Household life is confining, a dusty path. The life gone forth is like the open air. It is not easy living at home to practice the holy life totally perfect, totally pure, like a polished shell. What if I were to shave off my hair and beard, put on the ochre robes, and go forth from the household life into homelessness?

Seeing danger in the slightest of faults, the renunciant cultivates virtue. Doesn't kill anyone, harm anyone. Doesn't cause drama and heartache through sexuality. Doesn't say harmful things. (This is a recapitulation of the Cula Sila).

Then they go into the monastic ethics that forbids things that perhaps are not harmful if you are neither monastic nor lay. There is a kind of strict fusty element to the monastic code that is hard to apply to current living. Another thing is that developing in the spiritual life the shenanigans fall away, but by cutting them out before you've developed beyond them can be a mistake.

There is no wrong livelihood in the monastic life. A wrong livelihood exacerbates worldly suffering. The easy ones are butcher, liquor and drug selling, arms dealers and the military life. I suppose by sorting boxes to go out for the largest online retail store, I'm stoking materialism and consumerism.

I'm not so sure materialism is always harmful. Dishwashers, laundry machines and fridges are quite amazing inventions. Diapers and paper towels are amazing. Things are not supposed to make you happy but a good spatula can really make cooking enjoyable. Enjoying and utilizing things is not always necessarily bad. It's when you push all your chips into that basket, that the problem begins. Pushing the fewest chips into that baskets is probably the happiest way to live. So just push the fewest chips into that baskets.

I feel like the middle way doesn't mean you can't enjoy movies, museums, concerts, and modern conveniences. But it is true that the time you work to buy time saving devices is potentially questionable. I read an article once that showed walking was probably just as fast than taking the crosstown bus during rush hour, and that the time you subtract to pay for it isn't too big, but overall it's shorter to walk. So Thoreau has a lot of questions about modern conveniences that we can't ignore.

Here are some fruits of the spiritual life: Mindfulness, alertness, contentedness, not easily distracted. Meditating can be intensely pleasurable. Insight helps one to avoid shenanigans. Insight into how we create the world with our minds is pretty important. With this insight you can hear things that are not being said, empathize with people, think about all the consequences of various lines of action. The fear of death decreases in significance. You gain insight into how you create your own suffering.

Looks pretty good, right?! 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bante's funeral

The funeral was streamed on FB.

I saw Vajramati do an offering. I will be forever grateful to him for teaching me meditation and guiding me for many years. I saw Parami talk, spent time with her brilliance. Spent time with others as well to my benefit, I greatly appreciate it. Forgive me if I couldn't hear some of the other speakers.

Subhuti said (paraphrasing) that Buddhism hasn't, as a whole, responded to consumerism and materialism. China tried to snuff out Buddhism in Tibet. It did not succeed. These two things make the 20th century a bad century for Buddhism.

Sangharakshita is complex, but the order of the TBC and TBO was founded through him, and that is quite a legacy. It was born the same year the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order was founded, later to be named Triratna because it wasn't just in the west! Thank you Bante.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Brahmajāla Sutta

I am going to honor my teacher's passing by studying the Dharma closely in the Pali Cannon.

Access to Insight has the sutta.

The frame of a student following around his teacher, and debating for the Buddha and the teacher debating against the Buddha is an interesting frame.

But then the sutra goes into the Cula Sila, which are the 10 precepts. The sutta takes it to where the tire hits the road--what do you actually do.

Having abandoned the destruction of life, the recluse Gotama abstains from the destruction of life. He has laid aside the rod and the sword, and dwells conscientious, full of kindness, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings.' It is in this way, bhikkhus, that the worldling would speak when speaking in praise of the Tathāgata.

The Buddha grew up in the warrior caste, so the first precept is interesting. It's all about laying down arms and not wanting to be part of the war business. It's about choosing compassion.

It's a valid political theory to not want the government to do things, that we can do thing privately to enact compassion. But the midterm elections just had a rainbow wave of diversity into Washington and I'm pretty excited. The youngest woman, a muslim, and people with non-conforming sexuality. I want to see Trumps tax returns. He can make a multimillion dollar mistake in Trump University and just write it off on his taxes so he doesn't have to pay taxes. That's not American, to have such protections for mistakes. What about the poor person who loses a job because they had to stay home because they couldn't find child care. That problem, not even a mistake, is hugely punished, but Trump gets a free pass. Just seems wrong.

I'm not all for government being everywhere. I dislike government. But I expect a better functioning government, not that I want to get rid of it.

Having abandoned taking what is not given, the recluse Gotama abstains from taking what is not given. Accepting and expecting only what is given, he dwells in honesty and rectitude of heart.

No stealing--that's a precept we could use for our times. No stealing the earth from our grandchildren. No stealing of the environment by corporations. I drink the radium in the water because I work near Grumman.

The Gore and Hillary elections that were stolen. Hilary had 3 million more votes! Get rid of the electoral college, or make it in line with population. This is the 5th time it's happened, the second this century.

Having abandoned unchaste living, the recluse Gotama lives the life of chastity. He dwells remote (from women), and abstains from the vulgar practice of sexual intercourse.

There is a heterosexual presumption here, but the opposite of this precept is to live with simplicity, stillness and contentment. Not an easy thing. The USA president got embroiled in a sexual scandal. The idea that you have a non-disclosure agreement for a prostitute--you're trying to hide something and why are your trying to hide something? Because if everyone knows, then people look at you with less respect. And why less respect? We are sexual creatures. Trump has taken no vow of chastity. I don't know if he has an open marriage. I don't have any problem that he used a sex worker. Trump has joked that he could murder someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight with witnesses and he wouldn't get convicted. So why hide things?

Politics aside, I have had my own misconduct. I strive for simplicity, stillness and contentment. Thich Nhat Hanh wants people to be in committed monogamous relationships. When you loose the bonds of Christianity, there's no reason not to be polyamorous, except it's so messy. And so many people want exclusivity. An easy formula for a drama is to create sexual infidelity.

The Buddha is supposed to have said it would be better to stick your dick in a snake's mouth--a lovely image. One of his disciples ex-wife wanted a child and the monk thought it would be kind to give her one. That's when he brought out the image of a snake.

With the amount of sexual scandals in the Buddhist community, I begun to think of it was the teacher's way of saying, "I'm not enlightened, just a leader and teacher with imperfections." There is no secret about Sangharakshita and his followers engaging in acts that hurt people. Sangharakshita deeply regretted the pain he caused. He said, "“I did not regard myself as a teacher with a capital T.”

I could explore sexuality and the spiritual life on and on. The first book you should read on Buddhism should be Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. Watchout.

The next precept is as following: Having abandoned false speech, the recluse Gotama abstains from falsehood. He speaks only the truth, he lives devoted to truth; trustworthy and reliable, he does not deceive anyone in the world.

Honest speech is hard, especially when in conflict. I was locked into my parking spot by someone who didn't want to wait and just parked blocking my car. Then he proceeded to argue with me about it. I said he was preventing me from getting to my second job on time. It's hard to be righteous when you're stopping someone else from working. But it's not true, my second job is unpaid, watching my daughter.

Many times when I use honest speech I get it trouble, and I am a people pleaser, so I when I'm honest and face the music, that's good. It's so convenient to lie and avoid problems.

Having abandoned slander, the recluse Gotama abstains from slander. He does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order to divide others from the people here, nor does he repeat here what he has heard elsewhere in order to divide these from the people there. Thus he is a reconciler of those who are divided and a promoter of friendships. Rejoicing, delighting, and exulting in concord, he speaks only words that are conducive to concord.

This is hard because we talk about other people and living in a crowded world of relationships it's hard to figure people out, relationships out. But when the motivation is to put others down, then it's slander. I like to speak nicely behind people's back. Being aware of why you're really putting people down is a good idea.

Having abandoned harsh speech, the recluse Gotama abstains from harsh speech. He speaks only such words as are gentle, pleasing to the ear, endearing, going to the heart, urbane, amiable, and agreeable to many people.

When I was a supervisor, dealing with conflict resulting from "blunt" speech. Basically instead of seeing communication in the context of a relationship and wondering how others feel is important. Some people try to make a virtue out it it--"I can't help but speak the truth." There's a kind of impatience and lack of discipline in it.

Having abandoned idle chatter, the recluse Gotama abstains from idle chatter. He speaks at the right time, speaks what is factual, speaks on the good, on the Dhamma and the Discipline. His words are worth treasuring: they are timely, backed by reason, definite and connected with the good.

Chit chat is a good way of tuning into people and gradually working up to more weighty matters. But then the chit chat is everything, that is a problem. It's the opposite of being blunt.

This last one is about monastic ethics, and is about being mindful: The recluse Gotama abstains from damaging seed and plant life. He eats only in one part of the day, refraining from food at night and from eating at improper times. He abstains from dancing, singing, instrumental music, and witnessing unsuitable shows. He abstains from wearing garlands, embellishing himself with scents, and beautifying himself with unguents. He abstains from accepting gold and silver. He abstains from accepting uncooked grain, raw meat, women and girls, male and female slaves, goats and sheep, fowl and swine, elephants, cattle, horses and mares. He abstains from accepting fields and lands. He abstains from running messages and errands. He abstains from buying and selling, and from dealing with false weights, false metals, and false measures. He abstains from the crooked ways of bribery, deception, and fraud. He abstains from mutilating, executing, imprisoning, robbery, plunder, and violence.

I find dancing an important part of my day with a toddler.

How many of you focus your time on buying things? I spend a lot of time thinking about purchases, even if it's just groceries.

You get the impression that a kind of fusty editor inserted this list of things. The last precept positive is to be mindful. Rooting out false views is important.

Then the sutta says the above is how a worldling would speak of the Buddha. That is an interesting frame too. How would another Buddha speak of it?

The next sections are on how a monastic gets food.

Then it goes into views. I imagined how I would write modern play about the qualms a modern person might have about Buddhism. We're so entrenched in materialism, capitalism, distracted by devices. Simplicity, stillness and contentment is not easy to come by. So go read the sutta.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Systematic Reading

I've been going through a list of Shakespeare plays, that was assembled in guesstimates of being published. I have read a lot of Shakespeare, but I'm not sure what I've read and what I haven't, so I'm going through it chronologically.

I've decided to do that with the Sutta Pitaka:

DN 32 suttas
MN 152 suttas
SN 56 chapters
AN 11 chapters
KN 18 books: (Khuddakapatha, Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka, Sutta Nipata…)

Like Shakespeare, I have a lot of books and there's a lot on line free. Who needs new expensive books?!

I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Poem by Sangharakshita

Secret Wings

We cry that we are weak although

We will not stir our secret wings;

The world is dark - because we are

Blind to the starriness of things.

We pluck our rainbow-tinted plumes

And with their heaven-born beauty try

To fledge nocturnal shafts, and then

Complain `Alas! we cannot fly!'

We mutter `All is dust' or else

With mocking words accost the wise:

`Show us the Sun which shines beyond

The Veil' - and then we close our eyes.

To powers above and powers beneath

In quest of Truth men sue for aid,

Who stand athwart the Light and fear

The shadow that themselves have made.

Oh cry no more that you are weak

But stir and spread your secret wings,

And say `The world is bright, because

We glimpse the starriness of things.'

Soar with your rainbow plumes and reach

That near-far land where all are one,

Where Beauty's face is aye unveiled

And every star shall be a sun.

- Sanghakshita (written circa 1946)


There is a strength, fortitude, and persistence one needs to follow the path. (I have been pulled by the undertow away at times.) Thus there are ancillary aspects to the path that a book like Resilience can support. I'm just starting it.

Yesterday Sangharakshita passed away. He taught so many of the people that taught me. I only got to meet him in a group on Facetime. Can't go visit him now.

I shed tears for my teacher. With Halloween, all souls day, the day of the dead and then daylight savings time, we are entering a time of celebrating the harvests and preparing for winter.

All holidays, festivals and parties are coopted from the past, for our present needs. I've been thinking about how to increase the Buddhism in holidays around me. Simchat Torah is a celebration of sacred texts and reading. I haven't pinpointed one text, but it's a lovely idea.

Holloween is a opportunity to dress up, trying out an alternative persona. I've never really felt like doing it and always did it reluctantly. Children can see it about collecting candy, trick or treat. It's a community day when children go out and trick or treat in America. It's a bizarre holiday but in some ways they all are.

Halloween is when the leaves begin turning in NYC in earnest, and the sunset colors in the photo above are the colors of Halloween. It is a time of orange.

Halloween can be the beginning of a 3 day celebration of the Tomorrow is the beginning of two days of the "day" of the dead. I'm not Mexican but celebrating and remembering deceased family and important people seems like a good activity. In my head I have a shrine of the deceased relatives and family that have passed. I've been watching Coco with my 2 year old daughter.

My grandfathers and grandmother have passed away (all 6 of them as the child of divorce and remarriage). They all brought so much sweet sweet richness to life.

I had a foster grandfather as well James Schwalbach and grandmother in Mathilda, who were so wonderful to me. His funeral was the one that made me imagine reflecting over a whole life in 1984. I had a cool gay uncle who was an architect who passed away, and an uncle who was a cool architect and was instrumental in me moving to NYC, who has passed away.

Finally, I've been listening to They May Be Giants and I think they've been influenced by the Dharma. I don't have the mental space to explicate, but trust me. I've also been enjoying Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z at work.

There are some Buddhists who avoid art because it seems imaginary and I don't know, fun. Great beauty has a connection to the spiritual life, that is one of the ideas of Sangharakshita, who we will be missing, my spiritual family.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Self defense versus aggression?

The question for me with Myanmar and the well documented (1, 2 ...) persecution and genocide of the  Rohingya Muslims, is how does one go defend oneself and what is worth defending? Many people in the USA military want to defend a country that doesn't have segregation, one that is more kind to it's citizens. Do we sometimes betray our ideals to "defend" ourselves? Is this a self defeating behavior?

On one level you could see the "Buddhist" majority, cultural Buddhists who don't see a contradiction in genocide. You are a Buddhist insofar as you partake in the ethos of Buddhism, and when you don't, then you are a cultural Buddhist, you have trappings of culture and you call yourself a Buddhist.

One could endlessly defend oneself against the encroachments of others. Walking down the crowded streets of NYC, you can bump into others and get upset that they did not respect your personal space. Or you could see it as a crowded city and that people are going to accidentally bump into occasionally because, you know, you can't be 100% vigilant about bumping into others all the time.

That's where you have to pick your battles. What is important to you?

I thought there should be no response to the felling of the Twin Towers. They got off a lucky pot shot. There's a pithy saying about giving up the victory in mind training. Anyone who's played sports knows you can't always win. I'd almost say that sports is all about having ambition to win and accepting that you lose and still trying hard. Living in an imperfect messy world when the black and white of winning and losing is appealing. You could let them have that basket, like the Knicks playing fairly even pace with the Golden State Warriors last night, but then in the 4th quarter they just crushed the Knicks.

It's an open question whether doing something actually improves the world. The unintended consequences of prohibition was to create elaborate criminal organizations with the violence and flouting of the rules. When the rules are too strict, people revolt, and make themselves into the outsiders. That is exactly Myanmar's failure--they were not inclusive--they created outsiders. They could not see the benefit of including another ethnic community. We don't usually have enough imagination and information to see all the consequences of their action. I hope this doesn't boomerang against the Myanmar people. They certainly are losing face as a Buddhist nation and in general. The United Nations has condemned them. They can try to change the name of the people to imagine they don't exist, but they do. We know that toddler trick.

I live in NYC where yesterday at the park with my daughter I met all kinds of immigrants and cultures. That white flight exists and I have friends who remember the houses going up for sale and moving to Long Island, the second most racially segregated place in America after Arlington Virginia, across the river from Washington DC. When given the choice people match up with their race and culture, but a move to New York City is the opposite of that trend. And living in the city is the most environmentally friendly thing you can do. The person who builds a house where there was not one before is ruining the environment, not loving it. But forget these paradoxes, I digress.

The political debate in America is what should the government do? Should we help each other out and support those who don't have strong families, treat everyone nicely. Or should we let people make their worlds in a free and fair society that gives everyone a chance. Trump is about taking a crap on the government he hates, that limits his freedom to be the beast he wants to be. That he gets the ire of progressive liberals is a bonus to his voters who hated the straw horses of who they imagine is liberal. I find political discussion in America often to be about an imagined foe, not real people on the ground.

(What are the unintended consequences of housing, feeding and educating the poor? Some think it's not fair to give away stuff to others, while some work. We've made sure the housing is ugly, food stamps are complicated and restricted, and the education is subpar. Most people don't know that and imagine the poor are welfare queens, living large, pumping out more babies to get more money. So called liberals can think that sometimes (I met a guy once). You don't give your child every little thing they want, you just make sure they have the basics.)

So what is the opposite of genocide? Learning about the Rohingya people. That's not easy. They are an ethnic group far away.

Speaking out about my vision of hoping we don't need to murder people for any reason, especially perceived self defense. That's my beef with the gun lobby and gun lovers in America. Where they see threats I see lost opportunities. Too optimistic? Maybe. That's the wolf I want to feed. And as always you live the questions, tolerate the negative feelings of ambivalences of not knowing.

The funny thing is that the monk who is agitating for perceived self defense is more like Mohammed, who was a general, a mayor of a city and a husband to multiple wives. Mohammed was the most worldly of the spiritual leaders. He was alternative for the tribes who were not Jewish or Christian, his was an act of cultural creation. We need more ways to make outsiders, insiders. In AA there is the gradual transition from thrill seeker to responsible meeting leader.

The Buddha when he came to a sangha that was fighting about a monk leaving a bowl in the wrong place, was to just realize he couldn't intervene to change things and he walked away and meditated. His actions were powerful, though, he wasn't about getting high and watching Netflix. He spent his whole life teaching and leading others. The first person he came across could not be persuaded to join him, so the Buddha developed his teachings to help others who were more sympathetic, the five ascetics who abandoned him after he found the middle way. Having insight into fixing things needs to be accompanied with the power to do so. You can begin to do so in a smaller community, in the spiritual community. Think globally, act locally.

That doesn't mean we can't be political and agitate for more kindness in our government. The Buddha converted a criminal and got him off the streets as a killer. The Buddha regularly counseled kings, and was a fierce leader of his own community. When a monk was sick, he chided his monk friends for ignoring him. Compassion is active.

Only you can get yourself enlightened or woke. To be sure you need other power and help from the spiritual community. One goes for enlightenment with everyone. You are included in others push for enlightenment. But it starts with your decision. I think that's why some Buddhists are conservative. This philosophy conflates the personal to the political--people need to make their own worlds, and not worry so much about others. Self reliance is a wonderful virtue.

The Myanmar government isn't going to make it's people enlightened. Individual effort is the root. But context matters. That's why I'm against the strict "pro-life" stance--to insist on bring a child into a world without supports--well, you might as well kill someone with educational neglect, housing neglect and food neglect, health neglect while they're alive. Not everyone has a family or strong community. Is that an essential trait to receive support?

So that begs the question, can someone become enlightened in Myanmar in the context of a governmental genocide? This is my ethical concern--when you do gnarly things or not act to prevent negative things, does that impact your meditation practice? I say yes. When I make ethical mistakes, it invades my meditation, and decreases my depth. You can't meditate in a vacuum.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A story I hadn't heard before

When it came out that the Buddha was going to let himself die, his stepmother asked if she could go first, and she led many of her elderly cohorts with her. Here is a female who's attainments were great, and Analayo suggests with all the men about, reflecting on her would be a good antidote. She did something amazing and you 'd have to read Analayo's translation to get a sense of it. What a lovely book, my best book of 2017 so far.

He says that exhaling is relaxing and inhaling is energizing. I guess that's true broadly, but I feel like so much goes on with the breath.

I wonder what it would have been like to grow up with Buddhist parents. Instead I found Buddhism in 2004.

Reading and listening to talks and audio books is one way I keep connected to the Dharma. Listening to The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Mysticism: The Essential Teachings was off-putting in several ways. First the collection was a hodgepodge. One minute we were skimming the surface, another we were plumbing the depths. The second problems was that the actor reading the book mispronounced so many Tibetan names, and even English words. Even so, the influence was positive, I was more kind at work.

What should I read next? I've been working my way through Shakespeare but I always am reading a Dharma book.

Monday, October 01, 2018


(Rupa at DHARMADHARA (Lake Country CA)) 

I noticed that sleep was not on list of asceticism the Buddha tried (link to book I've been reflecting on). But he could easily meditate all night and probably for several nights. Just like eating, bathing and breathing, sleep serves a function to the mind, to reset and refresh. We don't have limitless energy. Having children and working at night, I have pushed through some of my conceptions about how much rest I need. In the end it's the middle way. You don't ignore your needs, but you don't indulge yourself and put comfort first always. You can't progress on the path without extending effort.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Reincarnation was one of the ideas that seemed like a religious metaphysic that did not correlate with Buddhism's minimalist methodologies. The Dharma is a way to move towards enlightenment, that is all. If believing in something helps that, OK, but mostly understanding that everything is impermanent is more likely to help.

Conditionality has a funny psychological effect. If you think about causes and conditions long enough you can imagine yourself as everyone on the subway. You can see in their body language, how they are dressed, what they are doing--their whole being. I have been everyone and I will be everyone.

Every day we wake up is a new rebirth. But that is not what they thought in ancient India. And my above metaphor might not be what they meant--empathy into all existence.

The Wheel of Life is a specific take on conditionality. It leads you through how life is perpetuated. The gap between sensory input and what you conclude from it is where all the mistakes are made.

Was the Buddha's recollection of past lives an opening up of realizing conditionality? Did it give him confidence to think he'd been working on enlightenment for aeons? It's the whole of human evolution that has been working on enlightenment.

I can't help but think of Forever War and Forever Peace. They have created robots that fight for you, but being connected to your platoon leads to enlightenment, so they get you out quickly, you can only work in short shifts. Would we all be enlightened if we were connected deeply with our minds. That is the hope of empathy.

Analayo is pointing out that the Buddha realized past lives in his book. Realizing past lives is a step in the progression of the Buddha's enlightenment. Analayo wrote a book about Reincarnation, and in a talk I watched, he talked about little kids who recite the sutras, though they can't even read and don't speak the language they are reciting the scriptures in. His idea is that probably only reincarnation explains this phenomenon. I'm not convinced. I'm more convinced that as the Buddha neared enlightenment he remembered past lives. In my mind that was an insight about conditionality and my experiences on the subway that I could imagine all these lives. I can imagine being Caesar or even Trump's reactive arrested development.

The short upshot is that I feel like reincarnation is less unimaginable.

More of a problem in modern times is believing in moving towards enlightenment is possible and significant.

I met a Tibetan Nyingma Buddhist in my neighborhood. I was so excited.

Reincarnation was a big reason Stephen Batchelor turned from Tibetan Buddhism to Korean Buddhism, and later developed Buddhism Without Belief.

Conditionality is the thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Chapter 6

It's amazing that the Buddha knew there was more out there. He'd tasted the heights of pleasure (for a heterosexual) by living in a house where there were only women and they were there to please him. He left his family and home to search. He went to 2 teachers who could do amazing meditations. But still they were not enough. He spent years in ascetic practices--fasting, bearing the elements (heat, cold, wet), physical discomfort, controlling his breathing.

The idea of transcending desires, Nirvana, was his goal. To go beyond illness, old age and death. His mind control was so good he was not even overwhelmed by the painful feelings of his asceticism.

Any temporary victory did not lead to not having a struggle again and again.

It is just like meditation. We can only not take up the unwholesome ideas. It is a gradual method, repeated again and again. Here are the strategies for addressing unwholesome thoughts (from Analayo):

-turn to something wholesome.

-think of the dangers of giving into such an unwholesome thought.

-set aside the issue at hand.

-gradually relax the motivational force behind thought.

-forceful suppression (You don't use an emergency brake all the time, you use it sparingly in extreme cases).

Sunday, September 16, 2018


(from the Ruben Museum)

"..saddha is precisely the confidence that it is possible to liberate one's mind from hinderance and defilements." (Analayo 2017)

For some reason this quote catalyzed something for me. The idea that you can actually liberate yourself from hinderances and defilements. For me that means they won't even be gone, but they will be surrounded with mindfulness such that one can be active instead of reactive.

The hinderances of restlessness, doubt, sense pleasure, sloth and ill will. I had to google 5 hinderances to remember ill will.

The defilements are the kleshas:  ignorance, attachment, and aversion which lead to anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, desire, depression, etc.

Friday, September 14, 2018


Previous practices of the Bodhisattva:

#1,  #2,  #3,  #3 . OK, so I did #3 twice. Now onto #4

Loved ones who have long kept company will part.
Wealth created with difficulty will be left behind.
Consciousness, the guest, will leave the guest-house
     of the body.
Let go of this life--
     This is the practice of the Bodhisattva

We can't fool ourselves that things are permanent. Our sun will expand and encompass the earth, so even the planet that seems so stable and forever, in the cosmic perspective, will end. Things can be ours for a long time, and change is more difficult when we lose someone who's been in our life for our whole life, like a parent, or perhaps a house you've always lived in. Humans are conservative, we don't like change. We do like change for the better, but you can't just siphon out the bad.

Even though you can't take money with you after death, it's great to have money. Looking at the larger picture realistically is important. Through penny pinching my grandfather who grew up during the depression saved a lot of money and invested it, and did well. He did a lot of amazing things with his money but of course he's gone now and can't enjoy it. But think of the Carnegie libraries they built and other social infrastructure. You can have an amazing lasting impact. Maybe it's just in children or the effect you had on other people in your life. Those traces can't go away all together.

Nobody has an original idea. There are some amazing new scientific discoveries and you know, the first 5 minute mile. The Buddha was the first to present enlightenment to everyone. Who knows if someone got there and didn't communicate it, it's hard to imagine someone wouldn't. But you go to college, watch TV, and you're filled with memes. There's one Buddhist who thinks we're Meme Machines. Shakespeare never created a plot, but he created dialogue in a plays that brought humanity to new heights. Every lama in Tibet created their own Buddhism. I could not accurately convey Sangharakshita's dharma, because I just don't know it enough. I must create my own. Even these excursions into the 37 practices is my attempt to make sense of the practices.

Letting go is not easy, to the things we like. Leaving a job you hate is a relief. Letting go refers to the internal resistance not to accept the passing of things we hold onto unrealistically. It's bound to happen, we're human. That's the human drama. Watch any TV show and it's about fighting to let go of something, in many different ways.

This mindset will be part of the ideas into which all the other practices are set.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

quote from Analayo book, chapter 3

Continued reflections on A Meditator's Life of the Buddha.

"[When] a thought without sensual desire arose in me, I thought of it much. [When] a thought without ill will arose in me, I thought of it much. [When] a thought without harming arose in me, I thought of it much."

My first thought was that everything is sense desire. When I feel sympathetic joy that my parents are traveling to Machu Picchu in the spring, the joy I feel is a sensual pleasure in my mind. Perhaps they mean non-mind sensual pleasures. Like I need to adjust my pillow my neck hurts. That's a sense desire thought. I say adjust yourself, don't stay uncomfortable.

In the end I know roughly what wholesome and unwholesome thoughts are. Some lead to ruin and come from a small place, are selfish. Others are more large minded, take in the family, the community, the cosmos. The suggestion is to just label thoughts, and usually the changes follow just noticing. Some thought and reflection might go into examining patters and whether thoughts are wholesome or not.

And then the paradigm of wholesome thoughts are contained in metta, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Meditator's Life of the Buddha

Reading Meditator's Life of the Buddha by Analayo, there are two interesting changes in the legend of the Buddha.

The first is that instead of meditating as a young adolescent under a tree, the story is that he had a series of reflections about sickness, aging and death. Not that the two are exclusive. Perhaps the reflection led to meditation. Analayo points out that it's hard to believe he never saw these 4 sights in the legend where he goes out and sees these things for the first time. Perhaps instead he was preoccupied by these things for a long time.

Second is that his stepmother cried when he cut off his hair and put on robes. So he didn't sneak out in the night, or maybe he did, but everyone knew he was going during the day. So that tender image of him gazing on his wife and infant son, well, everyone knew he was going. His family was very much involved in his decision to leave, which does seem natural in those times.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

A koan I'm pondering

I am a man of constant sorrow, 
I've seen trouble all my day 
I bid farewell to old Kentucky, 
The place where I was born and raised 
(The place where he was born and raised)
For six long years I've been in trouble, 
No pleasures here on earth I found 
For in this world I'm bound to ramble, 
I have no friends to help me now 
(He has no friends to help him now)
It's fare thee well my old lover 
I never expect to see you again 
For I'm bound to ride that northern railroad, 
Perhaps I'll die upon this train
(Perhaps he'll die upon this train)
You can bury me in some deep valley, 
For many years where I may lay 
Then you may learn to love another, 
While I am sleeping in my grave
(While he is sleeping in his grave)

I am a man of constant sorrow, 
I've seen trouble all my day 
I bid farewell to old Kentucky, 
The place where I was born and raised 
(The place where he was born and raised)
For six long years I've been in trouble, 
No pleasures here on earth I found 
For in this world I'm bound to ramble, 
I have no friends to help me now 
(He has no friends to help him now)
It's fare thee well my old lover 
I never expect to see you again 
For I'm bound to ride that northern railroad, 
Perhaps I'll die upon this train
(Perhaps he'll die upon this train)
You can bury me in some deep valley, 
For many years where I may lay 
Then you may learn to love another, 
While I am sleeping in my grave
(While he is sleeping in his grave)
Maybe your friends think I'm just a stranger 
My face, you'll never see no more 
But there is one promise that is given 
I'll meet you on God's golden shore 
(He'll meet you on God's golden shore)
Maybe your friends think I'm just a stranger 
My face, you'll never see no more 
But there is one promise that is given 
I'll meet you on God's golden shore 
(He'll meet you on God's golden shore)