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.