Friday, December 28, 2018

spiritual science fiction

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

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

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Taking The Blinders Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Buddhamas

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Dharma of Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following is a list of videos to watch about Hamilton

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

You'll be back.

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

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

Room Where It Happens Elsie Fest

Room Where It Happens: Spirit Young Performers Company


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

Skyler Sisters 1, 2, 3, 4

Yorktown (Tonys)


These are versions by other artists:

Sara Bareilles does Dear Theodosia. 

Rise Up, Wise Up, Eyes Up by Ibeyi

Award Show Performances:

Oliver Awards First Song, Alexander Hamilton.

Tony Awards Alexander Hamilton


Compilation Videos

Here is a video ranking the top 10 songs.

And of course you can listen on YouTube.

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Love's Labor's Loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sonadanda Sutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2018


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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Roar by Matteo Pistono

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


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

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

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

Metta Hour Podcast 

On Being

Dharma Podcasts Upaya Zen

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

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Comparative Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2018


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

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

These are the words that supposedly helped Bahiya find enlightenment:

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

Monday, December 03, 2018

Civilizations and seeing Buddhist art

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

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