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.