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. 

Monday, October 07, 2019

14 Precepts of Engaged Buddhism (Thich Nhat Hanh)

The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism

  1. Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.
  2. Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.
  3. Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.
  4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images, and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.
  5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life Fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
  6. Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred.
  7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.
  8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
  9. Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
  10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.
  11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realize your ideal of compassion.
  12. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
  13. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
  14. Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns:) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relationships, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.

Sunday, October 06, 2019


The whole project of enlightenment is one of renunciation (of worldly things). The things could include music. I was watching a dharma talk and someone said they had given up music because they didn't want to hear lyrics when they meditated, and stopping listening to music is one solution to that.

That got me thinking. What are the things I'm not prepared to give up because I'm not enlightened. Not music, not killing insects, not ready for chastity.

I think I could give up a lot of things I'm on the fence about. That list feels mostly too personal. I could probably give up coffee for tea at some point. I could give up tea from there. I'd probably like 6 months if I was going to do it.

I love renouncing my selfishness.

Friday, October 04, 2019


Here's my response to someone who was confused about the language of attachment:

So in modern psychology attachment is very important and studied quite a lot. Attachment is a kind of psychological necessity. You can either be securely or insecurely attached, then variations off that.

What Buddhists mean is a kind of holding lightly to things, and what it's like to make the container of consciousness bigger through meditation and insight--the things inside the container of your mind have less urgency when there is more space in the container. The hope is to be creative instead of reactive. I never really heard the language of attachment in the Triratna Buddhist Community, that wasn't seen as helpful, and led to confusions like yours.

Loving your family is good. Being attached to them is good. In a prostration practice, I imagine all my fathers over my right shoulder, I imagine all the mothers, grandmothers, etc over my left shoulder. My whole family is behind me when I'm doing this.

There are lots of meditative states that you have to grow into, and it doesn't make any sense to pretend you have that state when you don't. A guy stands and announces to the group, "I have no self." Someone kicks him in the shins and he yells. There you are. Start where you are.

Even though there are confusing ideas to a modern person, higher meditative states and insight are talked about. For example, it's probably better to want chastity through growth, than to just force yourself into it because you imagine it's spiritual. The oath has to already be committed before it's even made, in a sense. There will be areas where you push yourself, but again there are two parables. One is lute strings. Tuning them hard or slack results in a poor instrument. Tuning them just right is a skill. So too with your effort. If you try too hard in a bizarre way, things won't go well. If you don't try hard in some place, it won't work. The other parable is the raft. You cross a river, but leave the raft at the side of the river. You don't carry it around the rest of you life because it got you across that river. So maybe you came to Buddhism with a certain kind of expectation. Maybe after a while practicing in a community expectations change, but they are no less interesting.

Buddhism isn't about making you believe anything (though some will try). It's about being mindful and kind when you do things. Turns out ethics are important to yourself and others. Hanging out with the spiritual community is important, so having a good family will help with that. Treating your family well is important. Best wishes.

Someone came asking for help not hating themselves:

So when people come here with harsh self judgement. I like to point out that conclusions about the self are not definitive. You may feel bad about yourself, but that's not necessarily true and it won't always be your assessment of yourself.

Second, there is a kind of assumption aspect to ideas about the self. It turns out assuming you're good enough, but you still have to watch things, is the best assumption you can make. Just assume you have a right to exist, and it is worthwhile that you are alive. Life can often be a self fulfilling prophecy. Assume you are good enough and worthwhile. Mistakes in the past can be learned from, but otherwise they cannot be changed. Move forward in a positive way. Do the next good thing.

There is a lot of overlap with the spiritual journey of Buddhism and learning about your mind. Also, psychotherapy can help some who are open to it, and friendships can be important.

What you can learn from Buddhism is up to you. There are teachings that stem from enlightened experience, and the community that supports people in their spiritual quests. The idea of "inner peace" is nice. I guess what it captures is that some people use their spiritual life to support a kind of transcendent resilience and they do have a gladdening in the spiritual life.

I have a picture. It shows a face with a boot smashing it. The second picture has the boot smooshing the face in the guys arm and he's doing it to himself, and now he's smiling. The hope is to understand how you "stick the second arrow in." In life there will be arrow wounds. Put often in life we stick a second arrow in, in our reaction to that first arrow. You know, when you don't handle something that has happened well because you are somehow resisting something that has already happened. The hope of mindfulness is that you can recognize this situation (and others) where you are harming yourself and that insight can help you do it less.

Here is what I wrote for someone asking about suicide:

I'm no Pali scholar but I remember a story about the Buddha telling some monks to meditate on death and they committed suicide. He considered this a mistake. The point of contemplating death is to make the most of this short life and to avoid superficial things. I've meditated in front of those dead rubberized Chinese guys in the body exhibits as part of a Tricycle event, with talk and community. You're not supposed to do that kind of thing too often. My teacher writes about his efforts to meditate at a charnel grounds, and that it's a rare thing to do, something you have to build up to and have supports.

There is no thing like in Christianity where they deny their loved ones burial in the church cemetery because of the prohibition.

The compassion your received for your loss was probably the best example of what to do. Your reaching out for support shows your smarts.

It behooves all of us to think of the consequences of our actions on others, and to cause others suffering is not seen as skillful and will hurt you. Of course the person is gone in all the forms we know anything about, so their suffering is gone. There is no prohibition against suicide at the end of life if it's done in a loving and kind manner, so there is no conflict with the end of life issues some Christians have. Your case seems different.

Depression that leads to suicide is something to be avoided. In America we are terrible at catching others going off the rails. There is no blame for you, I'm not saying you should have done something. Our individualistic ways lead people to isolation and disconnection where anything can happen. I'm probably some pie eyed idealist, but I imagine a more connected society, more supportive, more community. I work my best towards that. I'm not aware of this modern sense of the meaning of suicide being captured in the cannon.

My default is to meditate and watch my mind, whatever comes up. And to turn my suffering into compassion for others that leads to support and other actions.

Someone asked about the Buddha leaving his family. Most people said he wasn't enlightened yet, so that accounts for it. But this is my answer:

When I had a similar feeling, others responded that in those times the whole community raised children, and the subtraction one parents was less noticeable. A story was told where someone moved from India to England, and the child was wondering why these two people were just there, bossing them around. Some communities are so enmeshed that kids might not even know who their parents are. Another Buddhist told me how he grew up with his grandmother in a house across the street from his parents. The modern nuclear family isn't what it was like in ancient India. Also I'm pretty sure the intensive labor of child raising of parents also wasn't. And when he was 16 the Buddha brought Rahula into the sangha and taught him what he knew. So that kind of mitigates the abandonment. But it used to bother me to. But it does also point out that children do get in the way of meditating. I don't mind so much 17 years into my conversion to Buddhism, but getting up before the children to meditate has been a lifelong challenge.

This is my advice to someone's struggling with jealousy:

I always distinguish jealousy from envy in that jealousy is about something you could do. Someone went to France and you wish you could go to. Perhaps you could save and go. Envy is about something you can't have. I'm never going to give birth because I'm biologically male. Thus I have womb envy.

Sort the two out, figure out what you want in life, accept the opportunity cost--you can't do some things if you do some things. Paralysis isn't useful, that has its own opportunity cost.

Life is complicated, and we simplify it by following our emotions, we tune into what our gut tells us. Read your emotions and plan accordingly.

One place that isn't materialistic, though it could be materialist, is a spiritual community. Maybe you should look towards your spiritual life and see if there is anything you could pursue there.

It turns out relationships and altruism are the way to go, so doing things for others is a powerful antidote to want want wanting all the time.

Accept it that we live in a materialist society, get get get, status, appearances... If you don't watch TV and don't do social media, you won't have your wanting stove stoked, and it can die down a little.

Women are told they can give up on life and set up a life with someone else. That puts the power into another person's hands. Charting your own course will ultimately make you more happy. Develop a career and become financially independent. That will make you happier.

People can seem happy, but you know, the wheel of fortune turns and things get worse. Sudden illness happens all the time and accidents. Live life to the fullest now and plan for your future. Best of both worlds.

Someone posted the following texts:

AN:3.113(1) Bound for the Plane of Misery.

“Bhikkhus, there are three who, if they do not abandon this fault of theirs, are bound for the plane of misery, bound for hell. Which three? (1) One who, though not celibate, claims to be celibate; (2) one who slanders a pure celibate leading a pure celibate life with a groundless charge of non-celibacy; and (3) one who holds such a doctrine and view as this: ‘There is no fault in sensual pleasures , and then falls into indulgence in sensual pleasures.

These are the three who, if they do not abandon this fault of theirs, are bound for the plane of misery, bound for hell."

I wrote: A lot of mental states of enlightenment can't be forced, and shouldn't be aped when we are not really that spiritually mature. I'm not into the monastic/lay split, but I do think this is one thing the monastics have on the lay. There are supports to live a certain lifestyle that makes some things more easy, and you can progress that way.

I think art can be spiritual and the prohibition against some things can be a bit much. The point is to evolve past the lower self. It's not clear how to just evolve into the higher self. Oh wait, yea, you can evolve through the suggestions. For me the "don't do that, do this," doesn't work, I don't like being told what to do, though in a way that is what Buddhism is all about. You can even codify behavior into a tea ritual, and that works for some people. You can multiply that throughout your life to everything you do. I like to see the potential of the ideal and hope for more, but I need the tire to hit the road.

On the one hand you don't want to be too lenient, "like whatever man". On the other hand you don't want to become like a rapey repressed Christian hypocrite. Tune those lute strings just right.

There was a guy who started hating his child's teacher for killing ants. Here is my response:

I'm not the kind of guy who's going to walk out into the mosquitos and imagine I'm a bodhisattva for feeding them with my blood. I know there are people who think that way. I'm just going to kill bugs that annoy me. I'm not going to stop driving to avoid killing bugs on my windshield. I'm not going to stop using fly swatters.

A reverence for all life is needed, I'll give you that, but we're so far from that. I'm not going to turn up my reverence because it's so skewed in our world.

I don't eat animals, I don't drink cows milk, don't eat hens eggs, steal bee honey. I don't get an award for that, I'm not saying I can kill otherwise. But I'm not going to put pressure on myself to not kill bugs yet. I'm just not there. I'd say 99.99% people aren't either. So you're not going to respect anyone from that stance. Maybe just be happy you don't feel bad doing it and let others go their own way. I think not killing bugs is going to be one of the last few things to go on the road to enlightenment and I'm not there.

Here is what I said to someone who was away at school and homesick:

Doing the hard things as an adult. You will reap the rewards of your sacrifices. Life is filled with hard choices. You chose to develop a career. There are always opportunity costs to every decision. None of that hard boiled wisdom helps you cope with the loss of proximity of your family and boyfriend, your support network. You are seeking support which is smart. Good job. You will develop more support as you go along, and you can be the change you seek--you can support others through your challenges, because the pain has possibly opened up a route to empathy. Best wishes.

Thursday, October 03, 2019


So I've always wanted to read a Brad Warner book, but I didn't get into his exploration of his Zen belief and his theism. I wish him well on his journey. Maybe I'll like this one of his seven books. Already I like the cover. I love The Meaning Of Life by Monty Python, and this cover copies the look. I also like epistolary exposition. Warner lost a friend and writing letters to his friend was a kind of way of coping with his grief.

Combining the style of Zen and Punk has been done before. The urge to be unique and not follow the herd is part of Punk's appeal. Zen also likes to undercut conventional thinking to show you the nature of the mind. Is there too much spice in this combined style? You can decide for yourself.

In chapter 2 there is a section about misunderstandings about "being attached". He proud of how connected he was to his friend, he doesn't want to be more aloof. That's a common question when someone uses the term "attachment" in Buddhism.

Like all of the higher meditative states, there's no use in aping them if you're not there yet. The hope of enlightenment is that you'll evolve into these things you're heard about. The tradition gives you a vocabulary if you get into the rarefied air of higher meditative experiences.

I can't help but think of the Buddha saying that his two main disciples had passed away. I can't help but read that he's also sad. He's not going to go out and drink, or lose himself in some fleshpot, again he's just going to feel the feelings and keep on doing the next right thing. The evolution of renunciation is organic and does not get one more attached to your things, roles, and whatever. It goes along with the reality. But we're still human and we still feel human feelings. The container of mindfulness is bigger so you can just still be mindful and flow with reality.

Since psychological attachment to others is a healthy thing in psychology, there can be crosswinds with the language, and most people skip it because it's not helpful. But there are useful ideas behind it. With some spiritual maturity, you can put things in the right place. I think we have a better understanding of how various individuals have various existential commitments to survive, and that in a way that is inevitable.

I'm not into god, that's part of the appeal of Buddhism to me. Brad says you don't have to believe anything, then goes on to assert that god exists. There are archetypes that I can aspire to be like, there's a whole host of historical and imaginary beings to help inspire one along if you're that way inclined. I don't mind it if they're archetypes, and they could even be literally true for a person and I wouldn't judge them, but god talk isn't for me. I can't get past the problem of evil, and the fact that science explains creation. The big powerful god that doesn't interfere is useless also. A personal god doesn't make sense to me either. Just can't work it out for me, but I really respect a lot of people who can work it out and I wish them well.

I'm all in favor of whatever kludge works for you in the spiritual life. It's all syncretism, blending together what is available. I prefer the talk of higher power or source. That leaves it open. To say god exists, well, that is one element that pushes me away from Brad's writing. But I hope you read the book if you want to, and I wish him well. He seems like a pretty cool guy from his writing.

When you like autobiography, you lap up all the hints and disclosure in a text. Brad lived an interesting life that included living in Africa during his childhood. His description of his friend is touching. I'm a sucker for discussing friendships. His not pushing his speculation onto his friend about death seemed like a kindness.

Brad doesn't like the Tibetan Book of Dead because of the speculation. He's a Dogen fan as a Soto Zen priest. 

Odds and ends

There is a really good review of Stephen Batchelor's latest works by Dhivan.

I did a maximalist puja yesterday. The base was the 7 fold puja of the TBC. To that I added some things I've printed out about various issues, added the Bodhisattva Vow, and I add in the formulation of conditionality in Pali. I also added in a mantra to Milarepa.

Lion's Roar has a fascinating article on sujatha baliga who just won MacArthur Genius Grant. Here is a quote from the article: “I was sexually abused by my father, and what I knew then was that the very systems that were, in theory, designed to protect me, were what ensured my silence. If someone had asked me ‘What did you need?’ I wouldn’t have said ‘lock up my father’ or ‘take me away.’ I would have said ‘Help my family heal,'” she said.

Found this video of the 7 wonders of the Buddhist world. I think I've watched this before. But it's worth rewatching to me. Yup, I watched it 6 years ago. I love the little tents to prevent insect interference. I love it that she goes to LA.

Joke: What do you call a wolf who has figured things out?                                            Aware wolf.

Personal revelation articulation that has been resonating with me: Reading my actions is more important than reading Buddhist books. Every action speaks about embodying ideals. Eject sorrow over past mistakes, live moving forward.

I got pretty twisted up and confused about the phrase talismanic mysticism. Talisman is an object. Not sure if I see the Buddha as an object. But an ideal that hopes to show a important way of seeing things? Yea, I guess. I feel that the concept is slightly demeaning. Maybe it's not, maybe it's accurate and I'm the one putting demeaning onto it. Maybe all the Buddha is, is a magical incantation into the unknown.

Appropriations I don't like regarding Buddhism: The symbol that the Nazis took from India. Hindus who say Buddhism is just a subset of hinduism.