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)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The battle with the possible is to not trip up on hubris.

Korean pagoda with fans

Some spiritual cheerleading for myself, I hope it helps you.

The battle with the possible is to not trip up on hubris. While imagining that you can become enlightened, that you can significantly move towards enlightenment, you can slip into hubris. The overarching pride that leads to mistakes like Noah Levine's fall. He built an amazing movement, and it's still going in NYC with Dharma Bums, and Josh Korda, but it seems it's closing out west. Korda, I think got Dharma Punx so Noah started Against The Stream, which will be closing down.

To create a movement is amazing. Personally, I fell away from his teaching when I read he couldn't handle it in a monastery, and had to go to the beaches in Thailand. His father was a spiritual teacher, though his mother wasn't with him. I never really got the California punx over hippies thing.

But I've been on retreat with Josh Korda and also listened to his talks, and he's quite insightful. If I had more energy I'd be involved in his sangha.

Some joke that Sangharakshita had no charisma, so that his movement of the TBC can't be claimed to be built on his charisma. Since I've never met Noah Levine, I can't comment on his charisma. I have read 3 of his books.

As we watch men fall from grace as sexual exploitation becomes less allowed in our society, there is hope that we are building a more sane society in a time when things seem to have gotten out of wack. The rapid changes brought on by technology are straining humans ability to adapt and there are considerable growing pains.

The children's show Masha and the Bear, Masha says, "I didn't want to, I just did." I told my daughter she can't use that excuse.

"That wasn't me," is the refrain from a Brandi Carlisle song. "Did I go on a tangent?!"

I haven't read Man Against Himself by Menninger, of the famous Menninger Clinic, but the idea that we have many self defeating behaviors is a key one in my life. To act in one's own self interest is surprisingly difficult. We can lock it down and lose our inspiration and fluidity, dynamism. Or we can let loose and get messy. Life is messy. That sexual misconduct hurts people is terrible. Something that at it's best can transport one in a celebration of life and intimacy, can be twisted to harm someone. It's the age old problem--desire can lead us astray, and our irrational efforts to extend the unextendable, lead us astray. We forget to kiss the joys as they go by, and try to make out with them. There is another way. We need fans to feel comfortable, but chasing after comfort will ultimately founder on the fact that life is uncomfortable. We can train ourselves to not over chase comfort. Now I don't mean we don't work to be comfortable. I tend to try to go the extra yard to impress sometimes. Never forget the middle way between asceticism and hedonism.

(Levine's response in a video on FB can be seen here. He claims none of the people were students and he essentially told his board for directors, they investigated and found what he said was true. My therapist talked about people revealing their clay feet...)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Family life for me

Family (with small children) sangha is harder than community sangha for me, and friends who go away (their home). Family exposes all your impatiences, cuts through the grandiosity. Being the adult around a child, being honest about housework with your partner, I'm finding honesty a challenge, though I'm also working to ask for help and confessing my limitations and struggles. The prefect place to grow. In a way, that's why they have communities and monasteries. To challenge one all the time.

Sangharakshita thought that if you worked in a right livelihood business, attended the center and lived in a single sex community of Buddhists, then you would essentially be on retreat all the time, and make the progress you make on retreat, in your regular life. And you wouldn't need to be in a monastery.

In the west we don't give out free lunches to Buddhists, though to be sure religious organizations can raise funds in the west, look at the mega churches. I wonder how much of the retreat from religion is just not wanting to part with time and money for a hollow lifeless religion. Spirituality takes upturns after deadening periods, and the Buddhism in the west is very vigorous and mostly Mahayana. I'm not trying to downgrade the Theravadan, it's just the one monastery I know if within driving distance is supported by Thai Internationals and Immigrants. I'm sure there are others, but I think another monastery is supported by International and Immigrant Sri Lancan folk. They essentially import their culture onto American soil, which has room for many. While amazing and vibrant transplants, they are hybrids that it will take time to fully blossom.

Family life is big on ethics, trying to develop positive habits and routines, civilize and culture the youth into good citizens who will be successful, and take responsibility for their lives. I always feel like I can communicate better, be more generous, have more equanimity, problem solve better. Not too many people are confident in these modern times. It's hard to imagine Trump not having insight into his own bluster, but the sad thing is that he's dragging us all along with his self deception.

The demands of modern life are many. Run to your car so you don't get a ticket. Try not to soak through your shirt on the subway before work. Take your son to soccer practice 3 times a week. The way utilities and electronics break down is a kind of lesson on impermanence. I remember seeing a light bulb in California that has been on since 1901. You can't even work a 9-5 job any more, those jobs are gone. I knew a guy who worked all night and his wife worked all day and they somehow raised their children in-between work and sleep. Was it only a fantasy of the 50's that women could be house wives? Everyone would like just a little more, one more notch up the class ladder.

Eating with moderation is difficult. I finish off the things my two year old doesn't eat. Meditation is difficult, but if I prioritize it, it's not difficult. Lack of sleep is a technique used in some zen monasteries, to challenge our attachment to comfort.

Zen Bunnies

The little books of quotes can be good for changing one's mindset without getting bogged down in a whole line of discourse. Welcome into the fold of collections is Zen Bunnies, which includes cute pictures of bunnies with the pithy saying.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Anamist, pagan, Taoist, humanist, Buddhist

I'm an animist, pagan, Taoist, humanist, Buddhist with American Christian and Jewish cultural roots, a Northern European mutt from my ancestors. I'm a straight edge vegan in spirit and an omnivore historically with serious periods of vegetarianism. I'm so curious about the ancient ones and keep up with the new.

My partner said the exact same thing I'm always saying to her (in her personality), "there are too many unknowns to plan."

She is a mastermind, plans, plans, plans compulsively, plans successfully. She rules where ever she is, or spins in frustration because she doesn't. She doesn't plot to take over, she doesn't want that stress. She wants a more simple life despite her urge to take over and do things right with foresight.

Then I thought her personality is not ideologically committed if she can say that.

Then I wondered if I was ideological about my personality. My first thought was Taoism, which really tries to put words to my feelings that come out in Murphy's Law and other ways, about the nature of things.

We're all connected by systems and the small things we do matter. In the cosmological sense, we are pretty insignificant. And yet we are connected, and that makes being vegan meaningful.

My first ex-wife said that the way way I liked jazz was unusual. I like the idea of it, improvisation, the African-American history, the musicianship. Every performer creates a unique composition every time. I guess she wanted me to love an artist, or a kind of jazz. I sometimes find jazz hard to listen to and even unpleasant. I think of Fred Armisen's comedy for drummers where he plays jazz and raises his hand when he's bored, pretty quickly. Sometimes the solos can be difficult to follow. Sonny Rollins' solos can go on for a long time when you tune out a little.

As I age, I see the impermanence to the grand schemes of myself and others, I see the unsatisfactoriness of pleasure seeking, how desperate we are for certain kinds of pleasures, at times, how sort of desperate and manic the endeavor is. I see how people change with different circumstances, and while self esteem is important, self development and integrity, that ultimately we're all beholden to circumstances. There are other systems, like genetics, or personality, that seem to hold sway in the personal experience.

I like celebrating equinox, full moons and the cycles of earth. I imagine trees have personalities and rich back stories. I imagine sprites, and naiads in the water, a rich unseen life. Not because I don't fully understand science and conventional wisdom, but because it feels more rich and alive. I like the old rituals and old cultures that spring up to cope with the world before technology took over. Father sun is the most natural phrase, even though I don't have the direct teachings of the Anasazi.

I love pictures of wild pagan festivals. I love Where The Wild Things Are.

I love the idea of hozho.

I like Kintsugi.

I can go on and on and I will in this blog.

Saturday, July 21, 2018




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The Supreme Path The Rosary of Precious Gems

I've been reading The Supreme Path The Rosary of Precious Gems, Gampopa's 280 yogic precepts. Gampopa was a student of Milarepa. The precepts are pithy statements that focus the mind. 

At one point he references the Kali-yuga and that is the Indian idea of living in degenerate times. I was struck by this point: "Rulers will become unreasonable". There are all sorts of things that seem to resemble our time, like the issue of widespread substance abuse.

"One must know that misfortune, being the means of leading one to the Doctrine, is also a guru." This idea is one that really took hold of me, and helps me quite a lot.

I've been reading The Supreme Path The Rosary of Precious Gems, Gampopa's 280 yogic precepts. Gampopa was a student of Milarepa. The precepts are pithy statements that focus the mind. 

At one point he references the Kali-yuga and that is the Indian idea of living in degenerate times. I was struck by this point: "Rulers will become unreasonable". There are all sorts of things that seem to resemble our time, like the issue of widespread substance abuse.

"One must know that misfortune, being the means of leading one to the Doctrine, is also a guru." This idea is one that really took hold of me, and helps me quite a lot.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Happy 4 Noble Truths Day!

Independence day celebration in America is a perfect opportunity to go over the 4 noble truths. Sangharakshita says something to the effect that just like the taste of salt in the sea, the taste of freedom is a part of the Dharma life.

The Mnemonic way of remembering the 4 noble truths is as follows: Dukkha, samudaya, niroda, marga:

1. Dukkha: a feeling, a felt experience of discomfort, disease, pain, suffering. Infatuation of sense pleasure stops us from seeing dukkha. Nobody is saying life is only suffering, there are many great pleasures. But the idea is that those little moments of pleasure sort of put us onto a path of chasing desires and pleasure that, well, it's just going to be a chase that will be mostly unsuccessful. Thinking about things we want is much easier than than thinking about satisfactions, even if we keep a gratefulness journal. Trying to focus on things we are grateful does shift the focus a little, but it won't get rid of the human reaching for more.

(I think that's some of what Christianity is reaching for with the Garden of Eden myth, with God as the ultimate prankster. Hahaha, you are thrown out of paradise.)

(Dukkha is shared with Hinduism but in Hinduism the goal is to understand the ultimate nature of the self, where as in Buddhism we are taught that there is no ultimate nature of the self, it's conditioned.)

Condition existence has it's limitations. You can build a wonderful life, but you will not escape aging, illness and death. How many times have you been disappointed because things didn't come out the way you wanted them? It almost seems like life is set up to fall short of our hopes. You could see life as a process of making important relationships and then saying goodbye to them.

Seeing into dukkha is a key insight in Buddhism, reality, that has depth and can keep growing. Like so many of the things you can read about Buddhism, you can say, "oh yea, I get that," but over years and years of dedicated practice, you see how your understanding and appreciation can grow and develop. You can look at dukkha without getting depressed.

Think about insecurity, fears and safety. I see gated community with guards. I think about looking at people on the subway. Think about how in a city you can't go a long time without hearing an ambulance. I think about temperature--it's so easily too hot or too cold. Think about the news. Even when everything is going well, you want it to continue. I feel this on a retreat or camping. I think about litter, urban decay, someone puking after a night of celebration, divorce court, venereal disease.

Dukkha is one of the three marks of existence, namely dukkha ("suffering"), anatta (not-self), anicca ("impermanence").

2. Samudaya: The root of dukkha which is craving. You can get a moment of satisfaction but how many times have you gotten something and it just feels empty. Or you get something wonderful and it's gone so soon. I see my grandmother when I say hello, then so soon, saying goodbye. She loved to be around family so much and they all went away.

The link on Wikipedia for samudaya leads to the twelve nidanas which is a key teaching. The wheel of life is a visual representation of it.

Hedonism doesn't work. This is the push towards spirituality, the desire for something more. If there was no dukkha there would be no religion or spirituality. We try so hard to make ourselves happy, it can really help you with empathy to think that. Donald Trump is really just trying to be happy, and push away pain. Look at the whole life of rock stars. There is so much substance abuse and early death, fading into obscurity.

The Lotus Sutra includes a parable where a house is on fire. The father wants to lure the children outside with a promise of greater pleasures, they won't leave the house because they are having too much fun playing and don't notice the fire. Think of kids at the park who don't want to go home and their parents are trying to drag them away. Fire is an important idea in Buddha. Things are burning. The arrow is in the air. The new toys outside the burning house is the Dharma, meditation, spiritual community, the vision and path that leads us away from the futile effort to not suffer.

3. Niroda: is a release, ending of suffering, is possible. There exists liberating insight.

Realizing a possibility is amazing. I think about realizing things I can do on the computer or the revelation of a city or a museum, a view on a mountain top, or skiing, or sex. It's amazing to know there is more than just chasing sense pleasure. The toys outside the burning house are fun, even if they were not what we thought they were.

4. Marga: The path. The eightfold path. I'll do a post on that tomorrow. There is a path towards radical waking up. We can relate to dukkha with equanimity.

Here is a good talk on the 4 noble truths based on the Sattipathana Sutra by Vajradevi of the TBC. (Vajradevi has a good article on Vajrapani on Wildmind). I have based my post on this talk, so this is also a footnote. Her presentation is more clear, she is not responsible for my muddled presentation.