Monday, December 23, 2019

Thoughts on reincarnation

Maybe the lesson of rebirth is not rejecting something that doesn't make sense to our modern scientific secular humanism mindset.

The system of Tibet identifies people to throw resources at to be spiritual leaders. In a way it's nice, but there's a random element to it, and the idea of a meritocracy is more appealing to westerners. Let the cream rise.

I am reborn every morning. I have had a million rebirths. I have changed my way of being and thinking a million times. Every death every rebirth, phoenix like, creates something new.

Metaphorical interpretation is what people object to? Literalism is probably the biggest problem in Christianity, as far as I can tell as an outsider who lives in a Judeo-Christian society. Why can't it be a problem for Buddhism?

It doesn't matter that you ate after noon, what is important is that you don't just give into your desire to eat sweet or salty crunchy things, that you don't eat animals and even better, anything from animals. The noon rule is pretty crude, just cut off the time, but as overweight monks in Theravadan countries show, you can eat more calories from sunrise to noon, than you need to sustain your body. The modern vinaya would be very different, and we need our critical abilities to update thinking on how to be.

Many westerners would probably like to be reborn, they have a survival instinct, they don't want to die. Thus they create heaven, to fantasy of living forever. Modern theologians talk about heaven on earth and grace. Live as though you are in the pure land of heaven.

The idea of delaying enlightenment to wait for everyone, to stay back to make sure everyone gets into the boats when the ship is sinking. Mahayana is reading the Buddha's actions, not his words, but in this aspect they don't follow the Buddha. The Buddha stepped outside causality, touched the transcendental. He could meditate all night and suffer little and get pleasure if he needed it--which he didn't. He would not go insane in traffic or the DMV or waiting in lines. He would be content, the world could not make him happy. Trump could not drive him mad.

His monks would tell him to go away, you don't understand. He wouldn't smite them like some angry god, for their hubris, he would just go away and meditate. Yea, maybe I need to let you figure it out.

People go to r/buddhism and ask for permission. It's kind of funny. Buddhism isn't about bossing other people around. It's about you taking responsibility for your life.

You look at "Buddhist" countries, as though a country can embrace the teachings as a whole, and what you see isn't Buddhism but genocide. Humans gathering will protect their tribe and persecute those outside the tribe. That is not Buddhism. Listen to your spiritual leaders? Only when it's convenient, and they say what you want them to say. And get them to say what you want them to say, find opportunists like yourself. The line of people waiting to take advantage of situations to get attention, power, influence, is endless. Unlimited supply.

There is no tradition that doesn't include rebirth and Stephen Batchelor isn't a sangha builder like Hannah. There are probably lots of ontological minimalists amongst the sangha, they just don't want to quibble in the sangha. There is a tradition of not quibbling in the true sangha because it doesn't move your towards enlightenment. Enlightenment comes out of meditation experience, not out of hair splitting statements of doctrine, as much as those branding exercises can make a name for one, maybe get a building built.

True spirituality isn't sexy, doesn't aggrandize you, makes you aware of hubris, narcissism and isn't a bypass or a short cut. If Pema Chodron chants the mantra start where you really are, then Joko Beck's mantra is that it's nothing special. You can take your internal experience as precious when you discover it, it can be fun for you to talk about it, but the point is self overcoming because there is no permanent self, and altruism is the best kind of hedonism.

So just don't go off the rails with reincarnation logic games, connect with sangha, sit in meditation, study the teachings with others, discuss face to face. Devotional activity is lovely. Mythology is lovely. Study the doctrine if it makes you sit more, connect with others. It's lovely to talk doctrine with other true believers. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

How to become a Buddhist

Here is my response to "how do I start?" posts on Reddit r/Buddhism

My journey started with a meditation class. Then I read a lot and meditated. I found a community and hung out with them. Then I went on a 9 day retreat. From there it was all downhill. I feel I have learned enough to buffet fads and praise and blame. I have a kind of confidence in the path and a confidence in myself in finding the path, and enjoying the mistakes in the detours.

There are many kinds of Buddhists in the world. You could meditate. You could chant. You could work on being a good person. You could work for others. You could read and become a scholar. You could not read and just be.

The first step to me seems to be trying out the various sanghas or spiritual communities that teach. There are many different varieties, and if you only have a Tibetan or a Theravadan or a Zen center, then you will learn through those eyes.

Which is the best one? It will be hard to say without discussing one's own journey. I like and dislike things about each tradition, but on one level I love all traditions and I think there is one dharma. It all connects up somehow.

The guidelines for behaviors are contained in the 5 or 10 precepts. There are also positive precepts. Being a person who doesn't hurt others will help one advance, and not wanting to hurt others is an important realization on the path.

I'm the kind of person who likes to understand the whole story so I can figure out how everything fits in. Not everyone is like that. Maybe you like arranging flowers. Or tuning into your body. Or chanting. Or maybe you love classical music. Maybe you like the mosh pit. Maybe you are really young. Maybe you just retired. Maybe you have substance abuse history. Maybe you are in jail.

For me, I look at the Buddha's life story. He became disillusioned, went on a spiritual journey. He tried a lot of things. There were some false starts and dead ends. He kept plugging away.

Then he remembered an experience, where he sat watching the ceremonial ploughing of a field. Was it meditation? He tried it out, and sat and sat and sat. Sometimes I visualize the Buddha under a tree, and he beckons me to join him on the tree next to him, to sit and meditate.

What he did when he felt he'd found some answers is to share them with the world. From 35-80 he taught the Dharma, and took care of himself enough to do that.

There are many stories from the monks who memorized the teachings, that were written down hundreds of years later. They are not easy to read because they have a kind of repetition that helps people to memorize. We read translations. You can glean the spirit from them, and it helps if you read them with others in a group.

There is a vast literature, from these ancient teachings to present day advice for updating them into modern existence. There are all sorts of explorations of various ways of developing spiritually.

I don't think you can not know enough about modern society and what it has done to you, and you can't bypass doing psychological work to reduce some of your craziness, maladaptations and negative habit patterns.

At one point, people thought the world had degenerated so much that nobody could get enlightened. That was a theory, but it lead to some development of non-meditation practices. All the developments in the history of Buddhism are interesting to me, I can see how they fit in.

For me, the faith is that the Buddha really did find something special, even if it's hard to talk about and not easy to get there. There are many teachers who are not as advanced as the Buddha who give suggestions. What can we do? We do our best. For me closing the distance between me and the Buddha is a worthy goal.

So connect with others in a tradition. That is the first and most important step. Understand they may have a perspective of their sect, but that is not a bad thing. Maybe the florid mythology of Tibetan Buddhism isn't for you, so you want Zen. Maybe the harshness of Zen isn't for you, but you like to chant. Maybe you want to go on long retreats and really go for it. Maybe you just want a simple kind mindful life with positive people. Maybe you are in crisis and part of your health is to reach out for a spiritual solution.

You live in nowhere America, or any country, and the nearest sangha is a 10 hour drive. Plan your next vacation there, and learn as much as you can online. There are so many talks on YouTube. You live in NYC and can't figure out which one to try out? Try as many as you can. But connect with someone else because we can go off the rails when we are alone. And you might be able to support someone else's spiritual life, a great gift.

Finally, I had my deepest "peak" experiences on retreat, those are the ones that helped confirm to me that I was on the right path. I must say I perhaps always yearn for retreat, but mostly I try to make every day a retreat by being mindful and ethical.

Best wishes to those seeking to join a community.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Book of the Year

My favorite book this year was The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien. It wins the annual Going For Refuge Blog Book of the Year Award. The prize is the recognition of a job well done.

This history of Zen Buddhism goes back to the Buddha and comes up into present time. Of all the books I read this year, this one touched at times, the intensity of the spiritual life, and explored the various possibilities and how circumstances change the Dharma to suit a time and place. Big overviews like this are very important even if the valleys between the peaks can feel tedious at times. Well done Ms. O'Brien.

Sunday, December 01, 2019


I'm reading Bloom on The Winter's Tale and Leontes nihilism is discussed. Bloom sees Iago and Iachimo and Edmond all nihilists to various degrees. When you believe in nothing, anything is possible, there are no limits.

That got me thinking about one of my favorite movies, The Big Lebowski. There are actual nihilists in the move. Nobody really espouses nihilism. I think even in the hope of anarchy and libertarianism, that underneath the humanity of people will self regulate.

Nihilism is to be avoided in Buddhism, it is seen as the polar opposite of eternalism.

Stephen Batchelor is seen as a materialist by some Buddhists. Of course nobody is a materialist, because you can't 5 sense the theory. There seems to be some push pull between modern skeptical people and the mythology of Buddhism.

I think the other default negative mind virus is materialism, the idea that material things make you happy. I think a lot of viruses take hold in the vacuum of nihilism: hedonism, egotism. The best way to be is altruistic. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Barlaam and Josaphat

"The spread of the legend of Barlaam and Josaphat in medieval Europe was a cultural phenomenon second to none at the time. Poetic and dramatized versions of the legend became what today would be called ‘bestsellers’. In Christian Europe these two names were commonly known and the Buddha as St Josaphat became a Saint with his own feast day in the Christian calendar: 27 November." (The Buddha's long journey to Europe and Africa)

That was yesterday the feast of the Christian saints appropriated by Christianity from Buddhism. Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, and I'm grateful for the spread of knowledge about the true Buddha.

Another interesting parallel is St. George and Manjushri. Both have swords in their icons, and St. George slaying the devil is similar imagery invoked by Manjushri's sword cutting through ignorance.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Ikkyu says:

Don’t hesitate – get laid – that’s wisdom. 
Sitting around chanting – what crap.

I'm appreciating more and more that within the Buddhist tradition you can find any kind of message you want. But I've come off a 30 day vow, and I wanted to think more about Brahmacharya.

"Yet there is so little writing or information about brahmacarya as it’s called in the Buddhist tradition. Why? Because almost no one is interested in it." Suvarnaprabha, June, 2010

3rd Precept: With stillness, simplicity and contentment, I purify my body.

Quotes from Celibacy and Buddhism

Sangharakshita in Seminars: "The Buddha did on one occasion say, according to the Sutra of 42 Sections, that if there had been another desire as strong as sexual desire, no human being would have been able to gain Enlightenment."

"If you look at brahmacarya in the strict sense, it is not only bodily, but also verbal and mental. You cannot really be considered to be fully practicing brahmacarya so long as your mind is not free from sexual desires. Even if you are celibate technically, your mind is not necessarily going to be free from such desires. So it is not a question of either being celibate or not being celibate. One might say that no one, probably, is so celibate that he could not be more celibate, and also that no one is so uncelibate that he could not be more uncelibate."

"brahmacarya as an ideal – that is to say, true, natural or spontaneous brahmacarya; and secondly, recognizing the obligation to work gradually towards that."

"You could be celibate because you were so absorbed by the beauty and attractiveness of the spiritual ideal, that sex just didn’t interest you. That would be a very healthy sexual mode. But then you could be celibate out of guilt, or for the sake of some material advantage. You could be celibate for all sorts of quite negative reasons, which would be neurotic. It certainly isn’t just a question of being celibate. Being physically celibate by itself probably has very little value. What is more valuable is being relatively celibate because the main object of one’s emotional energies is something of a higher order. You can’t be healthily and happily celibate unless you are celibate for the sake of a higher cultural, artistic, humanitarian or spiritual interest. You could even say that sexual frustration takes place when you don’t have at the center of your mandala an interest or an ideal which absorbs your emotional energies."

"Once Insight starts being developed, then of course you are attacking the craving at the source. The more you do of that, then the weaker any craving will become."

"Celibacy is unhealthy when it is too much of a discipline, when it results in the suppression, not just of one’s sexual feelings, but even of one’s emotions. That suppression can make one quite bitter and intolerant. I noticed this very clearly in the case of at least a couple of [Order members] when they were anagarikas [meaning they had taken a vow of celibacy]. It was quite obvious that the suppression of their sexual feelings resulted in the suppression of their kinder feelings, their human sympathies, and this came out in their quite cruel treatment of some people, and having rather harsh, negative attitude, in certain respects. This is a common phenomenon among celibates."

Suvarnaprabha, June, 2010:

"Tejananda says, ‘What we long for is the love that never fails.’ This is perhaps our deepest heart wish. Conditioned or fabricated love always fails. That’s its nature. What doesn’t fail is what’s beyond conditions: the True Refuge ... the awakened heart. Even in terms of our ordinary experience, the all-pervading compassionate nature is here and now as sensitivity. We are sensitive – sensitivity is our nature. This is why we can experience both pleasure and suffering. Our longing for unconditional and unfailing love is something very deep within us and at root it is genuine (not delusive). It’s a longing to return to the original sensitivity of our nature outside of dualistic distinctions. This longing is something we can get neurotic about, or we can cherish it as the seed of ...the Awakening Heart/Mind."

Pema Chodron:

"Sometimes [our] broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we’re arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that, when accepted fully, can be shared with all."

... Now my heart
 Turns toward you, awake at last,
 Penitent, lost in the last 
Loneliness. Speak to me. Talk
To me. Break the black silence.
Speak of a tree full of leaves,
Of a flying bird, the new
 Moon in the sunset, a poem, 
A book, a person – all the 
Casual healing speech 
Of your resonant, quiet voice.
The word freedom. The word peace.

from ‘Loneliness’ by Kenneth Rexroth

Here is a video by Ajahn Amaro.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Entering The Mind of the Buddha

The above is in my kitchen, a reminder of the aspiration.

Entering The Mind of the Buddha by Reb Anderson is a retreat in a book. In my 17 years as a Buddhist I have been on many retreat, but my recent poverty has me not going as much. There's enough teachings on line and meditation is free, so you don't need money to practice. Just be ethical, kind and meditate. Chant if you want, get together with spiritual friends. Doesn't cost a thing, but as we know money does by experiences, and those experiences can be positive. Which is a long way to go to say I appreciate a retreat in a book, and a refresher on the 6 paramitas and from a Zen perspective. We have Karen Muller to thank for putting it all together and Reb Anderson for leading the retreat and providing the talks and final draft. That's how I imagine it, I could be reading into it.

The following are ideas I liked in the book about the 6:

Dana (Generosity): These first three can be taught to children, before they are ready for meditation. I've been noticing her when she is generous, patient, does the ethical thing.

There are 3 kinds of generosity. One is the regular kind, giving your subway seat to someone who needs it, that kind of thing. The second kind is the gift of fearlessness. Like when it's dark and I take my daughter into a room to get something. She is afraid of the dark and I share my fearlessness of the dark. You can do similar things for adults. The third kind is the gift of the Dharma, the Buddha's teachings. This blog is in part sharing my journey as a gift of the Dharma. You can also give the gift of yourself. By being present in my sons lives, I give them myself, my history, my wisdom, and all the good I can share with them. The gift of the self isn't part of the traditional list, but I thought Anderson was right to include it.

Here is a Tricycle Teaching on Generosity.

Sila (virtue): I've come to appreciate how a lack of virtue can sabotage my meditation practice, see how ethical living is the foundation of the spiritual life. I've also come to see being vegan as an integral thing in doing something to improve the world, it helps me work towards the gladdening.

For some reason Anderson does the 3 pure precepts (never heard of them, so that's cool to learn some new teaching). 1. Do no evil. 2. Do good. 3. Save all beings. I usually think in terms of the 10 precepts.

Kanti (patience): Allan Lakos has a good book called Patience. Made me think a lot about patience.

Virya (energy): I always wonder how much of my energy can really be said to be going to refuge to the three jewels. I once did a mandala where I wrote what I thought was expected, but not what was really going on, and I think of that mantra by Pema Chodron, "start where you are." I also think of the guy who stands up at a meeting and says I have no ego; Someone kicks him in the shins and he doubles over in pain. There you are. Spiritual posturing doesn't get you anywhere. I like authenticity.

Like say I'm watching Gilmore Girls. I try to think about impermanence, how unsatisfactory strivings can be, and how we are our circumstances. But I can't say more than 5% of my thinking is insight related.

I have also taken refuge in William Shakespeare.

Dhyana (focus): Wikipedia.

Prajna (wisdom): This is the "wisdom that leaps beyond wisdom". It is creativity not reactivity.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien

This book had some interesting synthesis of global history with spiritual history, great teachers and great literature, and the forces around various movements and trends. The scope of this book is immense. There is overlap with other traditions and other histories. There were lots of interesting pictures in the book. The book functioned on many levels.

My critique that there wasn't enough depth in areas, seems to vanish when you think that she wrote a history of Zen in 287 pages. Through India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and to America. My list of Zen books to read has swelled. I have limned some of the resources available on the internet, but this book in my hand has been quite a journey.

Read back through my thoughts in my post prior to this one. I found this a fascinating read. From the examination of the sex scandals, to what modern Zen needs most. Do you shuck off Japanese culture, or do you embrace it? So many questions. This book was great at raising questions and that is wonderful.

Mims Florida

Previous Posts

6. Chapter 5 Song dynasty
7. Chapter 6: Korea
9. Japan

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Zen in Japan

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, a history of Zen. I'm on the chapter where Zen comes to Japan. Reading about the beginning of Zen in Japan, I came to appreciate the separation of church and state. I know that's been weirdly eroded by someone who isn't religious beyond signing bibles for people.

For me the history of Buddhism is a history of great Buddhists. Now in politics and history, I see things more in terms of forces, and great men are not all they're cracked up to be. I see the history of literature, contributions to world spirituality literature to be great. I do recall some discussion of the Diamond Sutra, and the Vimalakirti Nirdesa but those are some heavy hitters, great contributions to Buddhist literature. The Heart Sutra is the most distilled sutra of awesomeness. The perfection of wisdom sutras are quite amazing.

The mist of time, the first gift statue, and governmental type wrangling it's all pretty vague. I like something I can sink my teeth into.

I was excited to read about Kukai, but there's only half a page on him (p. 188). I had a friend who dressed up in white pilgrim garb and walked around a island, staying in temples, on a Kukai pilgrimage. It sounded awesome. I guess he's not Zen, so he gets short shrift.

The Samurai are an interesting phenomenon. Apparently this was a time when temples needed to be guarded. They were kind of monkish, shaved their heads, but they of course did not abstain from violence. When you think about the evolution of humanity, it really has come a long way.

As the country turned into a "Degenerate Age" Honen and Shinran were about in the 12th and 13th Century, made Pure Land Buddhism an option. Chant Amitabha's name with faith was something a layman could do. Nichiren wanted you to chant the name of the Lotus Sutra.

Then Dogen (1200-1253) comes. He's the big guy in Zen Buddhism, founded the Soto Zen sect. He was ordained at 13 and studied at Enryaku-ji and Kennin-ji and then went to China. Dogen's literary legacy is big.

Ikkyu (1394–1481) is the rebel bad boy of Japanese Buddhism. He seemed to partake in devine madness, crazy wisdom.

There was a combination of Pure Land chanting of "Namu Amidha Butsu" and hautou, "who is reciting the Buddha's name?" called Obaku. They have a temple still in existence.

It's hard to imagine a time when temple abbots were murdered or asked to commit ritual suicide. There are all kinds of amazing sentences like, "One day, he coughed up a ball of bloody phlegm and experienced a great insight." (P. 230) The he is Bankei Yotaku. You can read all about it in Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693 by Bankei Yōtaku.

Hakuin (1686 - 1769) is another Japanese sage with an interesting biography and spiritual journey. There is an article by Barbara O'Brien. You can see some of his art in a NY Times article.

There is all sorts of history to get through. Then we get into modern times with DT Suzuki, Watts and others. Zen at War is seen as an important book that O'Brien's teacher told her not to avoid, though she did for a while. And that leads into America's internment of Japanese Americans during WW2. There's a book on it that I'm dying to read.

Zen in Vietnam: Thien

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, a history of Zen, and she has half a chapter on Vietnam, where it is called Thien. When I googled the names in the book, I didn't find anything. She refers to 3 books in her bibliography.

For many years Vietnam was occupied by China. Later a Chinese master set up shop in Vietnam. There was a female monk I couldn't find any information about. Not a lot of history of Thien Buddhism. Of course Thich Nhat Hanh is from Vietnam.

Chapter 6: Zen leaves China: Korea

I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien, and she has half a chapter on Korea.

The story of Buddhism coming to Korea will be a complicated one. Maybe Sundo came from China in 372. Wonhyo and Uisang went from Korea (Silla) to China seeking teachings and Wonhyo had a realization on the way there and turned back. They were trudging through a muddy downpour and took shelter. Wonhyo found a gourd of water and drank deeply. In the morning they realize they were in a cipt and the gourd was a skull full of maggots. Wonhyo had a realization about how the mind makes the world and returned to Silla.

Uisang kept on going and returned later and founded a monastery. Wonhyo had an affair and a child and was defrocked. He kept writing about Buddhism and would travel around and play music to attract people to his talks. His writings work to make sense of the texts from China and making the doctrine into a coherent whole. After resisting it, the aristocracy embraced Buddhism, and the king was declared a Buddha.

There were all sorts of worldly struggles for power and the Buddhist monastic got involved in that. It was a reasonable life, avoiding peasantry and conscription, and there were times when families were limited to how many sons could join. When they gained too much power there was retrenching. There were exams, like civil service exams to become a monk. Women were not given power, but were also given more freedom to travel at times, and the women influenced things through being married to a rich man. There is a book on the influence of Korean women on Buddhism and Korea, in English.

Uicheon was the 4th son of a Korean emperor, and against his father's wishes went to China to study Buddhism, and propagated Buddhist scholarship in Korea. He did not like Zen.

Pojo Jinul lead a movement away from political influence to individual spiritual development (seen below)

Jinul wrote a fair amount. The book Robert Buswell, Jr., Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991) is quoted a lot by O'Brien and Wikipedia. I couldn't find his retreat center called Samadhi and Prajna Retreat Society, but they moved when it became overcrowded to Songgwangsa. The story of his awakenings involve 3 readings of various sutras, though he thought meditation was the center of his practice.

The last master mentioned is Taego Bou. Then Buddhism seemed to be in and out of favor. Supposedly in 1593 and 1598 Hyujeong led a monk army against invading hordes.

A later master called Gyeongheo (1849—1912) brought back a resurgence.

O'Brien mentioned Myori Pophui (1887-1975) as a dharma heir to Gyeongheo, but I couldn't find anything about her except reference to books.

Hyobong Hangnul (1888—1966) was a judge, until he couldn't judge Japanese rules any more during the occupation, and turned to the spiritual life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chapter 5 in O'Brien: Song Dynasty

I like it that neo-confucianism was against supernaturalism.

The Jingde Record of the Transmission of the Lamp includes Budai, the fat laughing Buddha, and women and the important people with interesting exchanges, "encounter dialogues".

O'Brien writes mostly about The Gateless Barrier, The Blue Cliff Record and The Book of Equanimity. These are the beginning of the koans.

I tried reading some of the book of Equanimity because I like the Brahma Viharas, but it's Zen stuff trying to confound your conceptual thinking. There are 100 short paragraphs, and I think I'll read it. Perhaps Yelu Chucai, who advised Genghis Khan after he invaded his lands is the author. He was very tall and had a deep voice, and composed the book at the request of the regional governor. The title literally means encouragement (hermitage) record = Congrong lu.

But it turns out later the systemization of koans leads in the original order I put forward. So I should start with the Gateless Barrier.

There are also longer puzzles and slogans that are called hautou. When Stephen Batchelor left the Tibetans over his skepticism about reincarnation, he went to a Korean Zen monastery and kept asking, "what is this?" That is an example of a hautou.

She also writes about the Ten Bulls. Pretty funky Zen version of the wheel of life almost. Lots of good commentaries on the Wikipedia site. I even found a manga version.

It was at the end of the Song dynasty that Nalanda, the first university, was burned, Odantapuri and Vikramashila, Somapura and Jagaddala were burned by Muslims. (P.154-5 The Circle of the Way)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Trust In Mind

I'm finding all these sacred texts in the Zen tradition (and not finding them) as I read through The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien. On one level I feel like it's too episodic, just mention a bunch of names and lineage, and spurt a little of their thought and move on. I'd like to spend a lot of time on each one of these teachers and teachings.

Anyway, here are more resources of ancient Chinese texts for Zen from the Tang dynasty:

Trust In Mind (Xinxin Ming) is a text from the Oxheard School.

O'Brien quotes: The Record of Mazu and the Making of Classical Chan Literature by Mario Poceski

Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall (Wikipedia)

Baizhang Huaihai (Wikipedia) was a Chinese Zen master of the Tang Dynasty


Identity of Relative and Absolute, the Sandokai is chanted in Soto Zen centers every day supposedly. This book by Suzuki explains. (More Suzuki lectures)

Platform Sutra

The history of Zen is tied up in the history of China, and the An Lushan rebellion is part of it.

There were 3 famous women in Zen of the Tang dynasty. Liu Tiemo, Miaoxin and Moshan Liaoran. The book of reference is Sallie Tisdale's Women of the Way.

The Record of Linji translation and commentary by Ruth Fuller Sasaki edited by Thomas Yuho Kirchner or this edition, or this edition or this edition.

Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi (Wikipedia--there are many translations). This is O'Brien's favorite text and she recommends the book Just This Is It by Taigen Leighton

The chapter ends with the Huichang Persecution. They list it among the 4 persecutions in China, not counting China blowing up statues in modern times. Though China has by far the most Buddhists in the world, it is not a majority and they have a long history of persecution.

Here is a scholarly journal article: On Some Factors Responsible for The Antibuddhist Persecution Under The Pei-Ch'ao by Kenneth Ch'En

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Matrix and Buddha Nature

When you take the red pill and you lose your illusions, the desire to live in a fantasy world, to see the desire to scramble for what you want will ultimately be a scramble into death.

You start to believe, you believe in your Buddha-nature despite the gnarly state of the world, despite the improbability of it all. Reading everything as Dharma, then the Matrix is about Buddha-nature. Call it appropriation or whatever you want. Everything is harnessed towards the goal of liberating everyone from samsara. We are all Neo, the chosen one. When we see our own blood we fight harder. The imagined death is real death, even if it is all in our own head. You have to be willing to really die and not be reincarnated on the path. You're conditions will live on in others memories, to the extent they celebrate the day of the dead exercises. Or maybe you postpone nirvana to collect everyone, get everyone in.

Intense spiritual movements water them down to keep them alive, because most people want to get to the next meal, get home, keep things as good as they can get for as long as you can keep them. When you take the red pill you don't care about all that. The matrix is shattered. Who cares if I starve to death. The person willing to die has courage, like a Klingon, today is a good day to die. The death of the ego, the death of the fixed self, the death of everything you hold sacred, which is going to happen anyway. Death makes Buddha-nature important and irrelevant.

The Theravadan criticism of Buddha-nature is that it's smuggled in Hinduism, the worship of atman. But if you assume that Buddha-nature is neither temporary or eternal, it's just the potentiality to become enlightened, for circumstances to coalesce in you. To minimally progress along the path. And yet as the Zen people say, nothing special, you have to power through the dark night of the soul.

I don't have any experience of reincarnation, except to get up every day, and that means I've got to do it in this life, like Milarepa, who's final teaching was to show his ass to a disciple, to show the callouses from meditated all the time. Pedal to the metal. All in. With kindness and love and concentration understanding the true nature of reality, taking the red pill. 

Further thoughts on O'Brien's book The Circle of the Way after finishing 2 chapters

I can't help but feel this obsession with lineage and doctrine are fairly misguided. I'm not sure how it helps me to practice. Feels like professional jockeying, not true spirituality. I think at the end of the day sutras can inspire one to practice. I'm not sure how much this book is inspiring me to practice. It's interesting, but not sure how important it is spiritually. The intensity is muted by brevity and the amount of time she wants to cover. Also the distance of time and language are pretty formidable.

I'm feeling more and more strongly that lineage is bullshit, we can't really know much through the mist of time. We can be inspired by all the Buddhists texts that reach us, and knowing the historical circumstances always helps us to interpret the texts in the milieu they were composed in.

I know a sangha can be a pretty amazing cultural force that carries forward the tradition, I'm not trying to downplay the sangha. Infact, without lineage, the sangha becomes more important. It urgency will be in the here and the now, not mythology about the past. Maybe the here and now needs some mythology.

In the books I like about Buddhism, the spiritual intensity leaks through. I feel everything tips one towards intensifying the practice. Go for it. Quibbling about sudden versus gradual enlightenment or what those original words really meant, feels pretty remote. I can remember a buzz from my favorite texts leaking through.

The legend says Dazu Huike offered his arm to practice with Bodhidharma. There's a pretty painting of it by

Links and resources:

I found The Gateway to Understanding Mahayana. There are quite a few texts on the Zen Center at Sunnyvale in California.

There are some amazing pictures of Longman Grotto.

The Gateless Barrier

Memoirs of Eminent Monks


When I study something, sometimes I read outside the area so I don't feel claustrophobic. I read this Wikipedia article about an obscure sect of Japanese Buddhism that has only one temple, called Risshu. Here is a book published in 1886 about the twelve sects of Japan. That leads to all the various schools of Buddhism.

Guoqing Temple: Built in 598 founded by Zhiyi. I don't think this is the temple supposedly built by the Oxhead School of Buddhism

Friday, November 15, 2019


Should Buddhists be antinatalists? Here's an article in the Guardian. Or you could be antinatalist because of the environment. The photo is a quasi wheel of life, and I wonder if it was Buddhist inspired. Anyway, stopping the wheel of life is stopped by not having children. I've always thought that Buddhism isn't going to take over the world because it doesn't have the evangelism and because it subtly suggests not having children would prevent suffering.

"Anti-natalists, however, believe that procreation has always been and always will be wrong because of life’s inevitable suffering." Writes Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow in the Guardian article "I wish I'd never been born: the rise of the anti-natalists"

I don't actually know what the optimum sustainable population is. And I know that in advance societies we are not reproducing to replace, but in the 3rd world having more children is like having more workers and more of a retirement plan options. So while france gives out medals for having children, the population of America is growing because of immigration, not because of birth.

My question to people who want people to have a license to have children, is how to you enforce it? I looked into the Chinese one child policy (1979–2015). There's a debate about how well it worked. I had a vision of snipers on rooftops shooting birth control into women. Not a pretty vision. 


Bodhidharma, by Yoshitoshi, 1887

Bodhidharma is thought to have brought Buddhism to China. His teacher was thought to be Prajnatara.

The work Two Entries and Four Practices is attributed to him.

The four practices are as follows:
1. Accept whatever befalls us without complaining about injustice.
2. Adapt to conditions and accept that we are ruled by conditions, not by ourselves.
3. Practice non-craving.
4. Practice the dharma.

I think we can accept circumstances and work towards fighting injustices. As I've said before we can examine the individual system and the larger systems. Practicing non-craving seems impossible to me, the key is to be creative and not reactive and act in your own best interest.

The Essence of Mahayana Practice is also attributed to him.

He is mentioned in The Blue Cliff Record.

He inspired the Daruma doll. "At the end of the year, all the Daruma are brought back to the temple they were purchased from for a traditional burning ceremony." Here is a video (7 minutes). The color means something for types of luck. The legend is that he meditated so much that his legs withered away. They are often weighted so that they always stand up. That led to the phrase, "fall down seven times and get up eight." They supposedly help people recover from smallpox and warn people if someone in the house has smallpox. I don't think this woman burns her Daruma dolls.

This is a 10 minute film about Bodhidharma's stupa, where he supposedly is buried.


Who Was Bodhidharma?

Bodhidharma by Lin Sen-shou


Was the founder of Zen Buddhism a female?

Prajnatara told Bodhidharma to go to China when she died and thus she is seen as the founder of Zen Buddhism.

Is this a case of wanting more gender equality being injected into the history of Buddhism, or is this really possible? I'd like there to be more women in Buddhist history, so I'm open to the idea. When we lose touch with history and enter into mythology, we can choose what our myths are.

One tantalizing idea is that the name is a combination of two female Bodhisattvas, Prajnaparamita and Tara.

Supposedly the first ordained female monk in China was named Zhu Jing Jian (292-361). O'Brian doesn't footnote the comment in The Circle of the Way, and I can't find anything on the internet about her. She supposedly founded the monastery in Chang'an. Maybe it's the Abundant Treasure Pagoda Monastery (according to p. 328 in Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming).

Zongzhi is another early female nun, and all I could find was a reference on p. 128 of The Power of Denial: Buddhism, Purity, and Gender By Bernard Faure, and The Circle of the Way by O'Brian p. 60.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Zen Books

I started reading the Barbara O'Brien book first. I've never seen her blog before but she has a blog called Mahablog. Like many Americans she's concerned about the America we find ourselves in. She became a Buddhist in 1988 going to Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper NY. I've been there, it's a pretty cool place. I hope to go on a retreat there someday. She was a student of John Daido Loori, Tokudo Jion Susan Postal and Myozan Shofu Dennis Keegan, who is part of the Shunryu Suzuki lineage.

You can't find a lot of History of Zen books, and current scholarship throws a lot of questions onto the standard volumes by Heinrich Dumoulin written in 1963 (Volume 1). Plus he was a Jesuit, not a Buddhist. At 287 pages, this is a tidy little addition to the genera hopes to be a rigorous condensed addition with an inside view, written by someone who practices Zen Buddhism. I like the introduction, and it has made me want to read more. She quotes David McMahan and our tendency to create a modern Buddhism that might not be accurate, by discarding things that don't jive with our western scientific rationalist ideology and thus confirmation bias rears its ugly head. On some level the ancient ways are truly unknowable. She starts the story a thousand years after the life of the Buddha in China.

I did not know about the Dunhuang manuscripts found in 1900 by a Daoist monk. There is ongoing work to digitize what was found there, including the British Library.

I look forward to this history and the other exploration of the 6 paramitas. I'm going to listen to a few talks by Reb Anderson in preparation.

Reb Anderson is a Senior Dharma teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center and at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County, California. You can listen to some of his talks, from 2006-2018. You can read a previous book Being Upright online.

I listened to a talk and it's ...  Zen has a style, I don't think it's straight forward.

One thing I like about Zen is that the nothing special, and just do it attitude helps you through the dark night of the soul, when the practice doesn't seem to give back.

False choices

I've never been tempted by the false choice of just focusing on the individual or just focusing on the larger picture, larger structures. There is an article in Tricycle: Who Is Misrepresenting Mindfulness?  It comes to the same conclusion I came to in social work school. People say that psychotherapy blames the victim. By focusing on the individual, you are essentially saying, you are the problem. That it is not racism, classism, skewed governmental priorities, politics, poorly run government because of low expectations created by a stream of incompetent people who are incompetent on purpose.

I expect more out of government, and I think by working to help an individual become empowered, you can also discuss larger forces.

I'm not even sure why we get so caught up in this false choice in politics.

I found this a paradox. If you talk to someone about individual forces, they often seek wider forces. When you talk about wider forces, they talk about individual forces and take responsibility.

But systems theory does away with the false choice. We can look at all the systems. We can look at the individual system, and we can look at the larger systems.

So to say that individual mindfulness teachers are at fault for all this McMindfulness stuff, well, I think you can also become mindful of the larger forces. It's not like becoming mindful necessarily makes you more individualistic or egotistical.

The plea of the article is to ask you to be more mindful of the larger forces. OK. We can look into all the systems. 

Saturday, November 09, 2019


Reading Brad Warner's book Letters To A Dead Friend About Zen has gotten me to look up a lot of things. He started Dogen Sangha Los Angeles. I haven't seen the movie Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen. This current book is autobiographical, and also instructs about the Zen style he sees as useful to him, that he hopes is useful for you. He's led a fairly interesting life, spending 4 years in Nirobi during his childhood, and spending time in Japan. He tours with a punk band, in which he plays bass.

Warner's teacher was Gudō Wafu Nishijima. Wikipedia writes that he said, "Nishijima stated that "Buddhism is just Humanism" and he explains Dogen's teaching on zazen in terms of balancing the autonomic nervous system."

There's a documentary about a Chan monastery in China called Amongst White Clouds. It's beautiful and interesting to watch if you have 90 minutes.

Fukan Zazengi (Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen) This is short instructions by Dogen on doing Zazen. I've always wanted to go to Eihei-ji, which Dogen founded, after I read Sleep, Eat, Sit.

I've got 2 Zen books on the way: The Circle of the Way, which is a new history of Zen, and Entering the Mind of Buddha, which is about the 6 paramitas, which I'm always interested in reading.

Here's a photo of a section of Brad Warner's book p. 83:

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Nichiren Buddhism

Someone downvoted on Reddit the suggestion that a way to become a Buddhist is to chant Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. I didn't like that. I feel like Buddhism is a big tent with all kinds of different Buddhisms. I also think there is just one Dharma. I don't think emphasizing other power is wrong per se, though it does rub me a little the wrong way. Anyway, that got me more interested in it, and I hope some day to go along to a center to check it out.

Nichiren Buddhism was founded by Nichiren (1222-1282) in Japan. Wikipedia describes it as follows: "Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the Lotus Sutra doctrine that all people have an innate Buddha-nature and are therefore inherently capable of attaining enlightenment in their current form and present lifetime. There are three essential aspects to Nichiren Buddhism, the undertaking of faith, the practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo accompanied by selected recitations of the Lotus Sutra, and the study of Nichiren's scriptural writings, called Gosho."

Some helpful texts for the beginner include:

Nichiren Shoshu: Basics of Practice

The Liturgy of Nichiren Shoshu

There is also an online library of the basic texts.

I listened to the chanting and chanted along today and I felt quite good. The two closest Buddhist centers to me are a Soka Gokkai and a MYOSETSUJI TEMPLE ---- NICHIREN SHOSHU BUDDHISM. I have not gone, but I will update if I do go along.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

One year since the passing of Sangharakshita

I never met him personally, just skyped in a group with him. I met so many people who were influenced by him. I've read so many of his books and listened to his lectures, and participated in the sangha he created for 10 years. I'm not currently connected to the sangha. I learned so much in the 10 years connected to the sangha, that I've continued to feast off the experiences of sangha meetings, meditation, and retreats. I love the writings of others, but I have to consider Sangharakshita my root guru. He more than anyone else, has pushed me towards spiritual intensity, and through his actions, I have learned meditation and gone on retreat, through his teaching Vajramatti, Manapa, Nagabodhi, Dhammarati and Manjuvajra. I am eternally grateful for their attention and time spent together.

There is a spiraling downside to his experiments in sexuality, which he admits and regrets. It's nowhere near as horrible Chogyam Trungpa or others, but that doesn't make it OK. Lots of people left the order, and the continued negative press in England give it the air of a cult.

Of course when you become devoted to your guru, that devotion can be dangerous, and you should never suspend your critical faculties, and never do anything you don't wish to do. Never override common sense, even for the spiritual life.

Sex and the Spiritual Teacher should be required reading for everyone. Hannah Nydahl has created more sangha in the west without scandal. Not that I'm aware of, but I thought Ray was pure, and someone corrected me so with all the breaking scandals it's hard to keep track. Shambhala is still reverberating from sexual scandals and even Rignald Ray is being buffeted by accusations and scandal. I couldn't be bother to watch Pema Chodron talk to Oprah. I sure she is deeply hurt by these scandals. Shoes At The Door is also a good book. Also The Buddha of Brooklyn. It's almost a main theme and not some sort of leitmotif. Watch out.

Having said that, I am truly truly grateful and feel lucky to have lived when Sangharakshita lived, and that I had the available resources to study in his Triratna Buddhist Community sangha for a time. The one year anniversary of his death is a good time to remember all that I am grateful for.

Just looked at my calendar and it has Nov. 18th as the death. Now I'm confused. Nope the calendar was confused. Wikipedia lists it as October 30th. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Dependent Origination

I've run my mind through the teachings on dependent origination. Sometimes I feel like the teachings are like water over a rock, little visible change happens. But even water over a rock creates some minute erosion, the rock gets smaller and smaller.

Listening to Rupert Gethin's talk in Tel Aviv on Dependent origination made me think a bit deeper. The twelve links are a deeper pattern to all this causality. I've always struggled with the connection between causality and the 12 nidanas in pratityasamutpada. Somehow I feel my mind is ripe for looking at these 12 nidanas.

Fundamental ignorance (Pali: avidya)
Formation (sankhara)
Consciousness (vinnana)
Name and form (namarupa)
Sense faculties (salayatana)
Contact (phassa)
Feeling or sensation (vedana)
Craving or thirst (tanha)
Clinging or grasping (upadana)
Becoming or worldly existence (bhava)
Birth or becoming (jati)
Old age and death (jaramarana)

I've always had a queasy fear that my conclusion to studying this would be chastity, a vow of abstinence from sex, a renunciation of sex.

I remember clearly a beautiful woman in a sangha meeting coming to a similar conclusion. The sangha filled with sexy young women who are looking for better concentration is not going to be as successful as a more elderly washed up sangha who is looking answers with time running out (urgency). Youth are intoxicated and can't see the preciousness of life.

I can't help but think that this is why Buddhism will not spread and take over the world. As you convert to it, you won't pump out a bunch of Buddhist children to grow the sangha. I can't help but think of the Jewish woman I knew who had 12 children. The Holocaust wiped out so many Jewish people, I'm sure they have not erased it's effects yet, since the Irish potato famine has not erased it's effects yet on the Irish yet. If you identify with a group that is shrinking, the urge to stop the shrinking might override the spiritual quest. Everything is impermanent, but our lifetime view might get us to think in terms of survival of the group to which we love.

Buddhism isn't about mere survival, though there were times in history when mere survival hasn't been the primary issue. The forces that push us away from thinking of mere survival are comfort in one direction. If we can get enough Hygge maybe we can take some time to think larger.

Capitalism wants us thinking about survival. One reason America has been the slowest to adopt universal health care, is that if you're threatened to die, if you have to pay off your college loans, you're a more compliant worker, willing to accept temporary positions, poor work conditions, the push to work overtime, putting work into the center of your life and abandoning family, fun and friends. Buddhism isn't against much except maybe cruelty for cruelty sake, but the neurotic quest for material comfort is not it's highest virtue. In fact you are encouraged to become more ascetic, renounce things. It's harder to hook people into the capitalist scramble if they're renouncing things. You have to hit them where it hurt, with their life, and having contingent on work health insurance is a major hook. Work is meaningful and social, we would do it without threats on our life, but not the kind of workers they want. A happy worker is 13% more productive without working more, but that's not the kind of thing companies want (except for the executives who squeeze more out of the workers).

I saw an interesting meme. It had the trolly problem, right. Someone is at the switch and you can send the trolly down one track instead of the other. On one there was nothing. On the other there was a cow. Put your pet dog Rover there, and they obviously don't send the trolly down that track. But if you eat meat, you are sending the trolly down the cow track. I think it's the consequential thinking that would lead someone to veganism. I didn't get there until I was 45, and I've been inconsistent, so I'm not trying to be judgemental, I want to be kind to myself, but I also want some observable progress.

Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory by Joanna Macy points out that causality means that even little choices by little people can effect changes. My favorite example is Greta Thunberg deciding to devote Fridays to protesting climate change in front of government. She turned vegan and made her family turn vegan. She refused to fly to North America and a sailboat was found. Her mother quit her opera career because of the flying. We all can't be lightning rods like Jeanne d'Arc. Try not eating meat at a BBQ and see how the questions fly. Someone will get upset. You don't even have to say anything. Just not for you. Or alcohol. And on and on.

Rupert Gethin talks about ignorance (the first link) as a willful refusal to see. You can think about the things Americans refuse to see: homelessness, poverty, consequences of murderous policies, climate change, animal cruelty, hypocrisy, death in general, 35 children dying every year for our love of guns. How many articles will I read about someone who died because they couldn't get their insulin. You could say ignorance is at the heart of the American system. That is why the status quo doesn't want to improve education. They want better workers, but they don't want to improve education. We don't want to hear about the founding fathers owning slaves, or the Ivy League being built off the back of slavery, we don't even want to hear about racism today because supposedly it's over. Yea, right. Forget the Native Americans. I thought it was funny if it wasn't so sad, Cheney's daughter accused the Native Americans of threatening her way of life. Now that is willful ignorance.

The feeling of the need to intensify practice is perhaps a mark of good dharma. I've always felt that lure, no matter how much I acted against that urge.

The next link, formation, is built up on the next ones: Consciousness (vinnana), Name and form (namarupa), Sense faculties (salayatana), Contact (phassa), Feeling or sensation. Those are all raw experience. Then there's what we do with that. That leads to craving and clinging. And the whole cycle begins again. And then you die.

When ever I've studied this, the "Mind the gap" slogan has come up between craving and clinging.

Gethin talks about formation in modern times in terms of genetics. Only Bolt has the right genes to be the fastest runner. I recently saw people trying to run at the pace of the latest unofficial breaking of the marathon record under 2 hours, by Eliud Kipchoge. I know I can't even hang with them for 50 meters, figured that out a while ago. I was so happy in the height of my fitness to break 6 minutes in the 1500 meter, metric mile. Watching the breaking of the 4 minute barrier gives me goosebumps.

Gethin talks about clinging to precepts and vows. He says this can easily slip into an unproductive anger. You see this in Buddhist countries making fun of a monk who wears a hat, or people who get upset that a bar has a Buddha statue.

I can't help but think of the fetter of relying on rights and rituals, which is also a fetter against superficiality. Great talk, made me get out my books.

I got out my two books on the subject to consider study: How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising by Geshe Sonam Rinchen, and This Being, That Becomes: The Buddha's Teaching on Conditionality by Dhivan Thomas Jones. I'm sure it runs through every book on the Dharma that I have, but these books target it in the title.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Basis for the pureland?

A basis for Pureland Buddhism from the Pali Cannon:

"Yet if he has merely faith, merely affection for the Tathaagata, that man, too, does not go to... states of woe."

From Sarakaani Sutta: Sarakaani (Who Took to Drink) SN 55.24 


"The Buddha sent forth a ray of light to attract the attention of the youth, who was facing the interior of the house. The youth saw the Buddha; and as he was very weak he could only profess his faith mentally. But that was enough. When he passed away with his heart in devotion to the Buddha he was reborn in the Tavatimsa celestial world."

Commentary on Dhammapada verse 2

Anguttara Nikaya 11.16: benefits to practicing Metta

Eleven benefits to practicing Metta (loving kindness meditation:
  1. You will sleep easily
  2. You will wake easily
  3. You will have pleasant dreams
  4. People will love you
  5. Devas (gods or angels) and animals will love you
  6. Devas will protect you
  7. External dangers, such as poisons, weapons, and fire, will not harm you
  8. Your face will be radiant
  9. Your mind will be serene
  10. You will die unconfused
  11. You will be re-born in happy realms
(from Anguttara Nikaya 11.16)

Monday, October 14, 2019

Warner Quote discussion

"No one can measure anyone else's practice. Well, they can try if they want, but that's a stupid waste of time and energy. Anyone who tells you your practice is better or worse that anyone else's has no idea what they are talking about. Anyone who tells you you've achieved something or solved something or failed to achieve or solve something is just messing with your head. There is no reason to listen to that bullshit." -p. 31 Letters to a dead friend by Brad Warner.

That's a good pithy statement and a good self confidence statement. But I think we can survey a practice and make comments, if someone asks for advice or wants to intensify or improve their practice.

Of course everyone has a kind of private battle that we don't know about and anyone trying to shame someone about their practice has perhaps a dubious motive, unless the criticism makes you exert yourself more or in a better or focused way.

I feel raw time and consistency is important. Whether you're meditating or chanting a puja, raw time in is a good measure. What is your average daily practice? Also level of effort. If you really bust your butt during meditation, that's presumably better than just sitting there and day dreaming. Maybe just sitting there and daydreaming isn't bad for you and what you might need at that moment. But in general time and effort are seen as promising markers for a practice. I certainly feel less well when I skip meditating for weeks on end. I dislike that.

I think the stillness in sitting is a good thing. I wiggle and move a lot and when I meditate a lot I do that less. Some people have really good posture.

Effort in being ethical and thinking about others is important.

Doing things to help others, even if it's off kilter or askew, is generally a good thing. Failed efforts are at least efforts to get outside yourself and think of others, which is a good thing.

Building sangha is considered almost a top activity. I see people who found sanghas like Sangharakshita, Hannah and Chogyam Trungpa as people who have done the greatest work, even if their efforts were undercut by their misconduct, which is an even more egregious wrong when it comes to undercutting a sangha (not aware of any misconduct with Hannah). I recently learned about some disturbances in the Dharma Ocean sangha, and Shambhala has been rocked lately. Seems like a lot of sanghas have been rocked in America. I've read Shoes Outside The Door. It takes charism to imagine you can influence people to practice, but those founding qualities often are not sustainable. Whatever some founders have done, founding is pretty awesome.

The lack of sangha building is perhaps a knock against someone like Stephen Batchelor, though I love all but his latest books (see this review by Dhivan). Robert Thurman has taught students and participated in Tibet House, but I'm not aware of him taking the responsibility of cultivating a sangha. Like Batchelor, he's a kind of star Buddhist who donates his time and energy, which is great. Taking the responsibility of leading a sangha is no small activity, not easy, and takes great depth and insight and a kind of constancy. I think both those guys are spectacular and I'm not trying to run them down, I just notice that they dip in and out, they are not a constant presence. They lead fairly normal lives, and nobody can say someone has to donate all their time to the cause.

I'm not up to date and fully informed to make judgements. I think in the end, making judgements based on limited information is of limited value. In that sense, I really like Warner's quote. We really don't know enough except about ourselves.

Knowledge and depth in reading, studying, talking about the Dharma is also important. You can be an academic who doesn't meditate, and that wouldn't be as impressive to me as someone who meditates a lot every day, but knowledge of the Dharma can be important. People who use the Dharma in their practice and not just as a parlor game--that is the top for me.

Finally, there are peak experiences. Talking with others, there are experiences that seem relevant towards appreciating someone's practice. I don't know much personally about the various measurements of the Dhyanas or in David Smith's A Record of Awakening bhumis. I can't claim to understand Ingram's book, I need to read it again.

I like the idea of open source Buddhism and really talking about people's experience. I cherish time talking about other's meditative experience within the intimacy of friendship.

There is also a culture of not bragging, perhaps that is good because it helps some people not to feel inferior about not having certain experiences. That might be why some teachers are not as popular as they could be. I perhaps have kept to myself too much, so I try and openly talk about experiences, because I want to honor them, remind myself of them.

So while I agree you shouldn't really criticize other's efforts in the spiritual world, I do think we can appreciate and work to invest our energy wisely on the spiritual path, and there are some ways of appreciating, identifying what to aim for, for myself. Appreciation does imply that others are less than, sorry. I don't think we are better off by saying there are no measuring sticks. But as a statement of self confidence, and skepticism, I like Warner's statement. And I'd question anyone's motives for putting down another person. I'm really just trying to clarify what I'm aiming at.

Like a lot of posts, I start out with one idea, and then when I explore, I find that I actually appreciate the perspective. I'm glad I examined this quote. While you can critically evaluate your own practice, out of a desire to deepen and intensify, commenting on others practices isn't really useful.