Friday, January 31, 2020


I'm really attracted to the old Norse mythology, I really need to read about it. What I did read was The Overstory by Richard Powers and theme of the book was that trees are awesome. There were great characters that work to defend old growth Redwoods and the forests. I thought the book was a collection of short stories, but they were introductions to the characters, but then the main body of the book weaves them all together into interesting stories that have interesting insights.

I told my cousin, any book that references Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Thoreau is cool in my book.

Another mark of a good book is that I look up a lot of things. I kind of hoped that Dr. Patricia Westerford existed, but I read that she was modeled on Dr. Suzanne Simard. I wish she'd written the book in the novel, but it turns out that Peter Wohlleben wrote The Hidden Life of Trees, which is my next book to read. Turns out trees communicate with each other and do all sorts of amazing things:

Dr. Patricia Westerford says "We found that trees take care of each other. Collective science dismissed the idea. Outsiders discovered how seeds remember the seasons of their childhood and set buds accordingly. Outsiders discovered that trees sense the presence of other nearby life. That a tree learns to save water. That trees feed their young and synchronize their masts and bank resources and warn kin and send out signals to wasps to come and save them from attacks."

Turns out there are a ton of trees that are older than Jesus.

I suppose Buddhist fiction has a Buddhist theme or Buddhist characters that lead to Buddhist struggles, or oh heck, I don't know. But The Overstory has a leitmotif of Buddhism appreciation, and one of the characters allegedly gets enlightened. I think. I'm a bit skeptical because there's no mention of her meditating prior to meditating all night. The ancient literature has people becoming enlightened after a deep insight experience, like Bahiya of the Bark garment. He hears the words, "in the seen, only the seen, in the heard, only the heard..." and becomes enlightened. He was a spiritual seeker for a long time, though and was told that he didn't have it all and sought out the Buddha. He's also famous for dying when a crazed bull runs him over just after he got enlightened.

I found the character who studied the psychology of human blindness fascinating as well.

Fascinating book, best novel I've read in awhile.


Trees and the Sacred

Tāne Mahuta (New Zealand)

Lady Liberty (Florida)

Cleyera japonica

Old Tjikko (Sweden)

Notable trees in NYC

Best book of the decade

I'd say Great Faith, Great Wisdom: Practice and Awakening in the Pure Land Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism  – June 21, 2016 by Ratnaguna  (Author), Sraddhapa (Translator) is my favorite book that I've read from the past decade.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Imagine that

I love science fiction and Jemisin is on the top of my list of to reads. I love Octavia Butler. I like Nnedi Okorafor. I want to read Samuel R. Delany

“I was at some stupid-assed retreat, and I kept ducking out to take calls from my agent,” she told me. Pillai won the auction, with a six-figure bid that included a commitment for two more books. “I started screaming,” Jemisin told me. “People at the retreat were, like, ‘Should we call somebody?’ ”

From interesting New Yorker profile of Nora Jemisin

Also from the article: "In 2013, she gave an impassioned speech about race in the genre, noting that a white supremacist had just run for president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Though he lost, he had secured ten per cent of the vote, prompting her to criticize the “great unmeasured mass of enablers” who had been silent. The former candidate, in turn, called her an “ignorant half-savage” in a racist screed. Jemisin told me, “That touched off a whole big foofaraw.” Threats of violence poured in. She scrubbed her online presence and began to vary her commute."

Also, "Accepting her third Hugo, Jemisin stood at the lectern, with the rocket-shaped award beside her, and declared, “This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers, every single mediocre, insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me could not possibly have earned such an honor, and that when they win it’s ‘meritocracy,’ but when we win it’s ‘identity politics.’ ” Holding up the award, she added, “I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining rocket-shaped finger in their direction.”"

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Buddhist Holidays 2020

Full moons were meant for gathering with the spiritual community, the sangha. These holidays are on full moons with the exception of Bodhi Day, because the Buddha didn't become enlightened on a full moon. As always you can develop rituals and devotional activities on these days and create your own tradition. This is a living and breathing tradition in America where I am, and bringing devotional and rituals from other traditions can be OK if they are done with a Buddhist spirit. Every day is a Buddhist day if you are a Buddhist, but holidays are an excuse to shake things up and do something different.

January 10th - Mahayana New Year. This day celebrates the altruistic element in the spiritual life, the importance of thinking of others, the giving of the self in the aid of others, and the insight that we are all interconnected and what you do to others, you do to yourself.

February 9th - Nirvana Day. You could read the 500+ page The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, or you could read for favorite excerpts. This is the day that the Buddha went to parinirvana. As all holidays, you can chant (puja), gather, rejoice in merit, meditate, and recommit to the spiritual life. This might be a good day to do charnel meditations if you do such a thing. You could imagine what you want people to say at your funeral and plot a course based on that.

Magha Puja is Sangha Day - March 9th. This day celebrates the spiritual community in it's wide definition and in it's narrow definition. Gathering with others to discuss spirituality should be of optimal importance today. The joys of gathering and friendships are celebrated. A great excuse to get together with spiritual friends. You'd contact your kaliana mitra, your special spiritual friend, on this day, and thank them for their friendship. You can always do a solo puja if you are alone and do metta for all your friends, and everyone, because it's not just friends that help you on your spiritual journey. You could also read the scriptures which were lovingly memorized by the sangha. It is a good day to show respect to the elders that support and carry the tradition. It is traditional to read the first sermon on this day.

Vesak Day - May 7th. This day celebrates the birth, and life of the Buddha. Hoist the Buddhist flag, sing song, light incense, do a puja, read the teachings, listen to a teaching by a living teacher. This can be a day to recommit to precepts that you follow. You can put offerings on the shrine at your center or at your home shrine. Doing things for others, bringing joy to others is always a good idea, but if you can think of something like that today, all the better.

June 5th - Royal Ploughing Ceremony. When the Buddha wondered what to do after he'd explored all the existent traditions but still felt he'd not hit on what he was looking for, he remember back to the day he'd sat off in the trees on the royal ploughing day, and reached a deep state of meditation. He thought to explore that route further and that course correction was what led him to his enlightenment. Thus aside from a Asian farming festival day, this can also be a day when you consider course corrections. It's a kind of easter and rebirth day. The fertility of the spiritual life should be celebrated. You can think about the seeds you wish to plant in your spiritual life and wish to harvest.

July 5th - Dharma Day. You could again read the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion. This is the day you celebrate the teachings that lead to enlightenment.

August 3 - Oban Day. This Japanese celebration concerns the ancestors. Maybe a kind of day of the dead, you can reflect on all the important people in your life that are gone. A kind of global day of mourning and celebration. It is also a family reunion holiday opportunity. Gather with your family and let them know how much you love them.

Also called Hungry Ghosts Day: Chinese: "Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is veneration of the dead, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths." And, "...releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities."

December 8th - Bodhi Day. This is a celebration of the Buddha's enlightenment (not on a full moon day). What is enlightenment? How did the Buddha obtain it? Celebrations around this. You can read the Maha-Saccaka Sutta. The tradition says that the Buddha saw the morning star when he opened his eyes after enlightenment. Consider meditating all night until you see the morning star. I don't know, you could do a silly children's play where Mara is defeated. This is the day Siddhartha became the Buddha. It would be a good day to get a Buddhist name that captures your aspirations.

There need to be September, October and November holidays but I couldn't find any. In America, September is Labor Day, which is back to school for many, end of the harvest. October is Halloween, and November is Thanksgiving. These are lovely and you can inject Buddhism into those holidays. And of course December 25th is Buddhamas, when you celebrate winter solstice by giving presents to young people and loved ones, for people who grew up with the culture of Christmas and Hanukkah, but transform it more in line with your own beliefs. You can light candles along with Hanukkah. You can also celebrate the spiritual teachers of other traditions and eat their birthday cake.

I got to refuge to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha (to the best of my unintegrated abilities). So those three days Vesak, Dharma and Sangha days plus Bodhi Day, I'd say they are the 4 high holidays.

Tibetans will have a lot of other holidays to celebrate Dakinis (Every 25th of each month) and whatnot, such a rich and beautiful tradition. Every tradition will emphasize various things.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Scandals Continue

Ani Pema Chodron stepped down from Shambhala. Read her letter. In case they take it down I'm going to reprint it here:

January 14, 2020
Dear Acharyas and Shambhala Board Members:
I send New Year’s greetings and my love to you all.
I’m writing to let you know that I have decided to step down as an acharya.  As you know, I haven’t actually served as an acharya for a long time, and I have been considering retiring for a few years.  And now, the time has come.
When I read the recent letter from the Sakyong saying that he wished to start teaching again and would do so for all who requested, I was disheartened.  I experienced this news as such a disconnect from all that’s occurred in the last year and half.  It feels unkind, unskillful and unwise for the Sakyong to just go forward as if nothing had happened without relating compassionately to all of those who have been hurt and without doing some deep inner work on himself.
Then came the letter from the Board informing the Shambhala community that they have invited the Sakyong to give the Rigden Abhisheka in June, and I was dumbfounded.  The seemingly very clear message that we are returning to business as usual distresses me deeply.  How can we return to business as usual when there is no path forward for the vast majority of the community who are devoted to the vision of Shambhala and are yearning for accountability, a fresh start, and some guidance on how to proceed?   I find it discouraging that the bravery of those who had the courage to speak out does not seem to be effecting more significant change in the path forward.
I understand that the Board’s decision to invite the Sakyong was based on the compassionate intention to benefit the 125 people who wish to take the abhisheka in order to continue on their path.  But for me, personally, to have the very first indication of how we are going to manifest be that we are returning to business as usual is shocking and also heartbreaking.
I feel that as a community committed to creating an enlightened society, we deserve something better than business as usual.
Hopefully, it’s not too late to reverse this trend.  For instance, the Board could be proactive and invite a few small groups of people with differing views to propose ideas for how we can go forward – ways that include everyone in the community and that provide accountability for all that has happened.  If the Board could then make it their priority for 2020 to start to implement some of these plans … that, in my opinion, would be very wise.
I will close by just saying thank you very much to the acharyas for continuing to teach and help the community and to the Board for the admirable work they have done to stabilize the community’s finances and to establish a new and more efficient code of conduct.  Nevertheless, I do not feel that I can continue any longer as a representative and senior teacher of Shambhala given the unwise direction in which I feel we are going.  
Yours in the vision of the Great Eastern Sun,                                                                         
Ani Pema aka Pema Chödrön

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Don't think you need to take a hallucinogen to have a spiritual experience. I have had them from meditating a lot, though I wouldn't say meditating a lot is recommended with a goal. If you're on a retreat, and something happens, then great, but don't expect that. Meditating with expectation is counter productive. I think that's what the Zen people get right--nothing special, just sit.

Watched Graham Hancock's talk on YouTube. His Wikipedia entry considers him a pseudo-scientist. It's pretty damning. He may have propagated some cockamame ideas in his time.

He points out that it's for adults, and in my mind that's 25 or older, when the brain finally settles down from adolescence.

 Not sure when he started to suggest that all the problems in our times would be solved by connecting with our spirit through hallucinogens. There is a certain alienation that is undeniable in our leaders. Whatever that could expand their consciousness, I'm not going to put my eggs in any one basket.

Very interested in his description of the Albigensian Crusade. It was a 20 year war against people who had merely ideas. The Cathars were wiped out in a crusade of Catholics. They believed in an active evil god, it's kind of Taoist in there being 2 gods, two forces. There was also a profound reluctance to tell others what to do, so there were different variations. Women were not oppressed. It's not hard to project your beliefs onto a movement that lost most of its literature.

Another phrase Hancock used was, "another Abrahamic death cult," to describe the forces that lead to the crusade.

Hildegard of Bingen was against it. I've watched a bunch of movies about her and wrote a blog post. She was a pretty interesting nun, but I think wrong about supporting hate towards other spirituality groups. If she did in fact do that. You can speak out against something and still not want them wiped from the planet. Not sure what she thought on that.

Still want to read Michael Pollan's book How To Change Your Mind.

Brad Warner in his Letters To A Dead Friend about Zen, in chapter 19, writes fairly persuasively that hallucinogens are not a gateway to spiritual realization.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

"The energy of love is necessary for me."

NY Times

David Marchese: Did the nuns’ anger damage your relationship with religion?

Rosie Perez: It tainted it. The abuse that I endured at the hands of nuns made me the type of person where I don’t believe in anybody’s dogma. I don’t buy it. It’s just a form of control. I do believe in energy. That’s my religion. The energy of love is necessary for me. That’s what I pray for. People are like, “How come you pray when you say you don’t believe in the Catholic Church?” I say, “Because I made my own church.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Rise of Skywalker: Spoilers

Spoilers start below, so maybe skip this post if you haven't seen it and want to see it. My therapist said he hadn't seen any of the movies, and I was kind of shocked. I know Michael Kay hasn't seen any, that makes me think less of him. And I was in the park talking to a parent and they hadn't seen the movies. So I guess it's not a universal thing to see the movie, and love the space opera.

I was 10 when I saw the first Star Wars movie. The movies have imprinted on my psyche, and I passed on my love of the franchise to my children. My son liked the second trilogy, and saw himself as Anakin, and my younger son saw himself as Obi Wan.

I heard in one talk on Free Buddhist Audio, that one order member in the TBC wished he was a Jedi. I've sort of seen a parallel with Samurai, fighting for justice, through being mindful and cool headed.

One of the tattoos I would consider is the Jedi symbol. The unalome is a Buddhist symbol, but tattoos are not considered good in many Theravan countries, so I've decided not to get one, in the hopes that one day I would travel to one of those countries.

When the 3rd trilogy started to come out there was excitement at being able to see the movies again. My sons wished to see the latest movie with me, but because of availability there was a bit of a wait and one of my sons wanted to just see it. But we got to see it together.

As I sat in the theater before the movie, I had an almost pre-meditative stance of relaxing my body, tuning into my body, and committing to my object of focus. Instead of my breath, it would be the movie.

SPOILERS: The Rise of Skywalker

The movie reveals some interesting connections. Rey is the grandchild Palpatine. Rey chooses to be a Skywalker instead of a Palpatine. When they had the picture of Lea and Luke at the end, where she is choosing her parentage, I thought of the TBC refuge tree. As a Buddhist I choose to be inspired by the teachers of the past.

I realized Star Wars is more of a fantasy movie than a science fiction movie, and the increase in powers of the force helped clarify that for me. I wasn't aware healing was an aspect of it. Rey seems to have quite a lot of powers. The force was conceived by George Lucas as a non-denominational power of spirituality.

When I walked out, I wondered how to neutralize the Palpatine in Trump. I wish the fight between good and evil was that easy. That rallying the forces of good was pretty easy. They could do a whole movie about raising the troops to come fight the death star armada. I thought about D Day when the English helped a retreat, all those private boats coming to rescue the military across the channel. If only knocking out the coordinating things was as easy as knocking out one coordinating bit of technology. They transferred it to another ship but they knocked that out, so why not transfer it to another ship? Seemed a bit simple, I thought about the Borg Vinculum, and my friend making fun of that idea.

Anyway, it was a bonding activity with my sons like fishing or hunting might be to some fathers and sons. 

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Ovid's report of Pythagorean Vegetarianism from Metamorphosis

Bk XV:60-142 Pythagoras’s Teachings: Vegetarianism

There was a man here, Pythagoras, a Samian by birth, who had fled Samos and its rulers, and, hating their tyranny, was living in voluntary exile. Though the gods were far away, he visited their region of the sky, in his mind, and what nature denied to human vision he enjoyed with his inner eye. When he had considered every subject through concentrated thought, he communicated it widely in public teaching the silent crowds, who listened in wonder to his words, concerning the origin of the vast universe, and of the causes of things; and what the physical world is; what the gods are; where the snows arise; what the origin of lightning is; whether Jupiter, or the storm-winds, thunder from colliding clouds; what shakes the earth; by what laws the stars move; and whatever else is hidden; and he was the first to denounce the serving of animal flesh at table; the first voice, wise but not believed in, to say, for example, in words like these :
‘Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavoursome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.
Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger, though not all of them, since horses, sheep and cattle live on grasses, but those that are wild and savage: Armenian tigers, raging lions, and wolves and bears, enjoy food wet with blood. Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!
But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood. Then birds winged their way through the air in safety, and hares wandered, unafraid, among the fields, and its own gullibility did not hook the fish: all was free from trickery, and fearless of any guile, and filled with peace. But once someone, whoever he was, the author of something unfitting, envied the lion’s prey, and stuffed his greedy belly with fleshy food, he paved the way for crime. It may be that, from the first, weapons were warm and bloodstained from the killing of wild beasts, but that would have been enough: I admit that creatures that seek our destruction may be killed without it being a sin, but while they may be killed, they still should not be eaten.
From that, the wickedness spread further, and it is thought that the pig was first considered to merit slaughter because it rooted up the seeds with its broad snout, and destroyed all hope of harvest. The goat was led to death, at the avenging altar, for browsing the vines of Bacchus. These two suffered for their crimes! What did you sheep do, tranquil flocks, born to serve man, who bring us sweet milk in full udders, who give us your wool to make soft clothing, who give us more by your life than you grant us by dying? What have the oxen done, without guile or deceit, harmless, simple, born to endure labour?
He is truly thankless, and not worthy of the gift of corn, who could, in a moment, remove the weight of the curved plough, and kill his labourer, striking that work-worn neck with his axe, that has helped turn the hard earth as many times as the earth yielded harvest. It is not enough to have committed such wickedness: they involve the gods in crime, and believe that the gods above delight in the slaughter of suffering oxen! A victim of outstanding beauty, and without blemish (since to be pleasing is harmful), distinguished by sacrificial ribbons and gold, is positioned in front of the altar, and listens, unknowingly, to the prayers, and sees the corn it has laboured to produce, scattered between its horns, and, struck down, stains with blood those knives that it has already caught sight of, perhaps, reflected in the clear water.
Immediately they inspect the lungs, ripped from the still-living chest, and from them find out the will of the gods. On this (so great is man’s hunger for forbidden food) you feed, O human race! Do not, I beg you, and concentrate your minds on my admonitions! When you place the flesh of slaughtered cattle in your mouths, know and feel, that you are devouring your fellow-creature.’

Puritans in Shakespeare's time

Malvolio in Twelfth Night:

"Malvolio suffers within a joyous world; it is against his will that he becomes part of the fun when he is duped and made to appear ridiculous. As a character, he represents a historical group, then growing in power, whose earnestness threatened to take the joy out of life (and, incidentally, to close England's theaters.)" (A Reader's Guide to Shakespeare" by Joseph Rosenblum)

My response: In my Buddhist community we are not pushed to renounce before we have matured to the point where we don't even need to renounce, we have just moved past or transcended the whatever. The danger is blocking our energy and being not really integrated. I think this insight had not yet reached this spiritual community, and they pushed to ape spiritual advancement.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Children’s Activity Book

I've always thought frogs were good meditators, so I immediately like this title. My daughter got this book as a Buddhamas present. The Shambhala website on the book has meditations you can listen to. You can get a sense of her and her story from YouTube. She is from Holland. She has a profile on Shambhala.

Marc Boutavant is the illustrator.

I will update as I work through this book.