Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sloth and torpor



As we know from a previous post the "sloth and torpor" hinderance can fully mean: Lethargy and drowsiness: Lacking driving power, lethargy, not having vigor or lacking energy, unwieldiness, laziness, sleepiness, drowsiness, dullness of the mind.

In chapter 146. Getting Rid of Drowsiness (VII 58A) of the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, the text suggests 8 ways to cope with drowsiness. This isn't just for meditation, it's probably if you're also reflecting or even communing with sangha, perhaps anything you do.

1. Do not give attention to a thought that leads to drowsiness. For instance if I think about all the things I have to do, I get drowsy sometimes. Or perhaps a particularly hard issue. Now meditation is not thinking and not not thinking. You have an object of focus or even no object of focus, and when thoughts come up you usually just let them pass by. But still there are thoughts that will lead to drowsiness and you can just not pick up those thoughts. I suppose these countermeasures can also be for reflection, you could be reflecting and this hinderance can come up.

2. You can think about the Dharma, what you have learned and mastered. Perhaps if you're drowsy you've lost the flow of where you are heading, your vector, your aspirations. If you think about the Dharma and why you're even doing this. Motivation is important to get you though the tough times, the dark night of the soul, and through drowsiness. This should be personal and I'm just going to riff now about what I could think about.

I go straight to condition co-production, Pratītyasamutpāda, 12 nidanas, the three marks of existence, the shortness of life. I try to think and feel my way into those insights. I think about peak experiences where I really felt it with my whole body. I think about how healthy I feel after the effort of a retreat or a concerted effort practice time. I think about the life of the Buddha, his 4 sights that got him to go forth. I think about Mara's challenges to the Buddha. I can think of great books I have read about the Dharma. I can see the TBC refuge tree, or modern teachers who are inspirational that are not on that tree, I can do an alternative female refuge tree, I can visualize Avalokiteshvara with a thousand arms helping others,  Amithabha and love, Manjushri with his sword, Padmasambhava with his little mustache, Milarepa with all the funny images of him that I have, him green from eating nettle soup so much, singing his songs. I've been reading a lot about the 6 element practice, so I could see the 6 elements flowing through my body, my body as a temporary collection of those 6 things, a river if you will. I can visualize real people I have met and gotten to know a little bit who represent aspects of the Dharma, and Shakyamuni. I can say in my head mantras that energize me, remember sitting in the shrine room with my dharma brothers chanting. That always gives me energy. I can even visualize beautiful mental snap shots I have taken in nature. I can visualize Aryaloka, Jikoji, Garrison or camping spots where I meditated. I'm getting energized just writing this. 

3. You can recite the dharma. We don't memorize as much these days, but I have the heart sutra memorized in English. I have the refuges and precepts memorized from Pali. I know the Vajrasattva mantra.

I want to memorize the Ti Ratna Vandana. I have much of the 7 fold puja memorized. I have read the Diamond Sutra many times as a ritual. There are other pujas as well. Some of the puja links I have in past blog posts are dead, unfortunately. I have a folder of printed out pujas, because I had that fear that they would disappear. I've worked on a few pujas myself, but have not completed them. I could energize myself to complete them! There are so many possibilities here.

4. Pull your ear lobes. Rub your limbs. 

5. Wash your face. Look around, look at the stars.

6. Visualize a bright light (presuming it's night).

7. Walking meditation.

Alternating sitting and walking meditation is a way to get a lot out of a practice time. I have to go outside to walk most of the time, and people often come up to me and ask if I have lost something because I'm walking slowly, looking down. But early in the morning or late at night nobody does that. I can walk up and down my hallway sometimes without feeling too claustrophobic. Sometimes a faster mindful walk can be good too, if I have a lot of energy.

8*. Take a nap. 

On my first retreat, I was so tired, when the meditation bell was rung, I launched myself onto a couch and was instantly out in a lovely nap. Meditation takes energy, until you get to a certain point, and when I meditate, the first few days of a retreat, I often catch up on sleep. Then I tend to be more awake, and sleep less, but that is another problem. Calming oneself down from a late night puja or whatnot isn't easy for me, so sometimes I would skip the puja to get a good night sleep.

I tend to follow the program exactly at a retreat, and nap when I can if I'm tired. I probably follow the schedule too exactly, I missed an important meeting once because I wanted to follow the retreat schedule and wanted to meditate. I do make a point of skipping one meditation if someone wants to go on a walk with me. Walking with a dharma brother is important too. I listen to my body and if I feel overwhelmed, and I feel a physical resistance to going to meditate, I take a walk in nature instead and try to figure out what is going on while on the walk. Otherwise I just push past it, sometimes just following the schedule is a comfort and not thinking about it you can slide into deep practice. Sometimes I add in meditation, waking up early, or sitting on after a meditation.

I was excited to see a Pali Cannon chapter on sloth, and wanted to share it with the world. May all being be happy, may all being be well.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

31 bodily fluids

I'm reading Sangharakshita's meditation anthology, and he's on the subject of the contimplation of the repulsiveness of the body. The practice is not objective truth, it's just a counter to sexual attraction. Supposedly there are 31 bodily fluids. I thought, "you know you're a buddhist when you know what synovial fluid is, and why you need to know." I looked up a modern list of fluids. Aqueous humor is the fluid in your eyes.

My old saw about this practice is that I can dismantle a gorgeous woman into disgusting parts, but the problem is that I put it all back together. But today I was thinking, that my line, but does it have to be true. And thus I was freed of that thought.

Start Where you are.

I continue my readings of the Pali Cannon. One such incomplete translation is Numerical Discourse of the Buddha. This came out before the Complete Translation, which costs $52, and $60 for the kindle version. Anywho, there is some fascinating stuff in here. One was a concise section that called itself a Dharma Explosion (VI, 65). One where thinking about looking at women is lack of chastity (VII, 47)

So the question for the modern reader who is neither monastic nor lay, is how do I negotiate these standards. The standards of Buddhism can be quite strict if you really follow them, even if you look at them not as literal but principles. Start where you are is Pema's mantra, so you look at where you are. The idea is that when you are enlightened, coitus will no longer present itself as something one moves towards. As an ordinary human who is not enlightened you will feel the pull of sexuality. Even if they are celibate, they will have memories, enjoy the sexually attractive form, see a beautiful woman and your jaw will drop. The phrase "cutting edge of your practice" fell out of favor at Aryaloka when I was there, but it is a useful idea. Where are you in renouncing reactively going for pleasure and pushing away pain. The goal is to be creative and not reactive. The Buddha got to a place where he did not even come close to a sexual though adjacent.

Many people see these lofty goals and see it as unrealistic, non human or part of what the man wants, for you to be an abnegation type so you suffer the indignities of twenty first century capitalism, but also wants you to spend spend spend for compensatory indulgences. It is revolutionary to defy that expectation.

Healing the body with the mind

Meditation Saved My Life is an example of healing the body with the mind. Phakyab Rinpoche claims to have healed his leg of gangrene, among other things. Then he begins to tell his life story. He once got lost and slept outside, and when he was found he was dry even though it was raining.

There is scientific evidence that positive thinking can improve one's recovery. Can it go this far? Miracles are often exaggerations to draw one's attention to potential. Are this man's claims exaggerations or real. It is for you to tell.

As a modern reader, I feel the split. Hoping to believe, but not seeing this as something as part of my worldview. Now I know there is more on heaven and earth than is contained in my philosophies.  I don't want to miss the potential by not believing.

My own personal body ailments are the result of aging. Touchy back, dodgy ankle, soft shins, a head that does not like being hit. All past injuries and wear and tear. Can these things be transcended by the mind? I'm sure they can to a certain degree, and the more positive and focused I am, the less they really matter in a way. I'm on page 44, but I intend to work to read this book with an open mind.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Words at the Threshold

Started reading WORDS AT THE THRESHOLD by Lisa Smartt. This is a book about what people say at the end of their life. It spawned the database www.finalwordsproject.org.

I see this type of reading as facing death. What the charnel grounds meditation did for people with that option, the literature on death does that for the cerebral readers of the west. The Denial of Death has been a seminal text for me, and I wish not to defensively avert my gaze, but to see it as the larger tapestry of impermanence, conditioned coproduction. Our world is sanitized. It's hard to get close to death. There are no charnel grounds to go meditate at.

When Smartt used the phrase "word salad", it was to disparage the concept as someone who doesn't understand. She reports the metaphors of dying can elude us, but can make sense often.

Reading this book I wrote relatives and asked about last words in the family. I thought about what I'd like my ending to be like. Taking a look at it, I decided some CDs I want to listen to: Bud Powell,  Grant Green, Lester Young, Billie Holliday, La Traviata, La Bohem, Hydrogen Jukebox and Satyagraha. The books I want read to me. I'd like the satipatthana sutta read to me, the diamond sutra and other perfection of wisdom texts, the precious garland, the bodhicaryavatara, songs of Milarepa, the Lotus Sutra, the sutra of the golden light, the lankavatara sutra and the pure land sutras, a survey of Buddhism.

Sangharakshita wrote about the 6 element practice, which he learned from Yogi Chen, and how it's another way to look at dismantling, seeing that there is no essential self. Sangharakshita suggests you only really do that one on retreat, in an environment where deep practice is supported. I kept doing it after one retreat because I had a white light experience, and I started to feel like I was dying. That's the whole point, a spiritual death, to be reborn, but it calls for supportive conditions and the workaday life is not supportive. I do it a few times when I build up my practice, but I also let it fall down to rebuild again. Or rather it falls down despite my best efforts at vigilance. You can listen to a version of the meditation on the Insight Timer, lead by Bodhipoksa. Here is the free buddhist audio search. Do this practice within the community, don't do it without connecting to a tradition of your own choosing.

Then there is volunteering at a Hospice, like Norman Fisher discusses in one of his essays. I'm considering that.

May you be happy, may you be well.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

chapter 5

Alan Watts' book Psychotherapy East and West, treats Buddhist liberation as another boondoggle by civilization to tame humans. So you can imagine his last chapter is going to be a bit of a letdown. His suggestion is to dance with life, a full eroticism with all of life and not just the genitals.

He is as usual eminently quotable: "The type of human being who submits to this culture is, almost literally, a zombie." He is talking about the human who submits to technology. At times like these he doesn't nail down his insight cleanly, he is more like a continental philosopher who uses philosophy more like an art, than a logic inquiry. His statements are suggestively artistic.

In another place he quotes a 6000 year old Egyptian he quote from a Fromm book: "Our earth is degenerate...Children no longer obey their parents." Boy, wish everyone heard this. I hear this kind of statement all the time. It comes from nostalgia for a past that didn't exist, like the mother who tells her children she would never do this or that as a child, but really she did.

In the end this book is impressionistic. I can't help but think how Watts ended his life divorced from his wife, fired from his job, living like a total genital hedonist. What he actually did with his ideas does not seem to be where I want to end. His rhetoric can have a liberative feel to it, but it's target is vague and unclear, and does disentangle the bewilderment and confusion, the fog we all walk through in the world we find ourselves in. It does encourage one to believe in themselves and be bold, which might be useful to the insecure. In the end it is an interesting meditation on psychotherapy and the guru relationship, even if it fizzles out, after it gains some momentum.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Chapter 4 Psychotherapy East and West

This book seems to get better going forward. The Countergame chapter is an intense critique of psychotherapy, and presents it as similar to the guru relationship. That psychotherapy comes crashing down, implies also that Vajrayana Buddhism comes crashing down. I felt it was a strong critique of both.

On the psychotherapy front, he wonders if we can truly free associate, and if we could, why would we do that with a stranger? In the end we have conflict between society and our impulses. The therapist can be anti-society, or he can buy into "symptoms" and "mental illness". The way to get over mental illness is to accept your feelings, and when you screw up, you are not accepting them. It's hard not to get past a game of one-up-manship.

The discussion of games, made me think about Games People Play, a book that is 60+ years old, and that I read as a teenager, and found it quite bewildering. I hadn't really been that aware of social activity, but on some level the games seemed authoritative the way the writer wrote about them. I think today we would perhaps not put women into such a negative light, for some of the games, it feels dated in my memory, me reading the book 30+ years ago.

I also think of Knots by RD Laing, a very different kind of book, and kind of poetic book about his therapeutic experiences, and the knots people tie them selves up in.

The Countergame chapter is bigger, more of a critique of the knots and games people play in psychotherapy. He bases the chapter on a paper by J. Hailey. When you google that name you can come up with Jay Hailey, a family therapist. A little more looking and indeed his is the author of the essay that Watts quotes in the book, and is collected in a book of collected essays.

Not sure if he is the same one because they don't list publications, only books. He seems family therapy royalty sitting next to Minnuchin. Strategic family therapy sounds like the way child welfare is done today:

A therapist employing strategic therapy must:
Identify solvable problems.
Set goals.
Design interventions to achieve those goals.
Examine the responses.
Examine the outcome of the therapy.

This also seems like a forerunner to the short techniques of cognitive behavioralism. Insurance companies love brief therapy and there's something to be said for a non-endless therapy.

Anyway, I found this chapter interesting, might have to reread this chapter again in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

37 Practices of Bodhisattvas

The Thirty-Seven Practices of Boddhisattvas is from the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition that the Dali Lama is in. I have read this book before. I want to go through the 37 practices one at a time.

The first one goes as follows:

Having gained this rare ship of freedom and fortune
Hear, think and meditate unwavering night and day
In order to free yourself and others
From the ocean of cyclic existence--
      This is the practice of the Boddhisattva

There is a traditional teaching that doesn't touch me much. I don't really know much about reincarnation, and because there is no soul, or essential self, it is all contingent, then of course what ever conditions and whatnot of someone's being is passed on. A friend said to me that he found it hard to imagine all that energy would not going into anything. They also reference the 6 realms. Now The 6 realms are an interesting idea. I've imagined prison to be a hell realm, and with the greed in America I imagine it a hungry ghosts realm. I have a friend in academia and it's not a too much of a stretch of the imagination to imagine it as a god realm. Of course animals live in the animal realm. I'm not sure if humans are much more than animals and the separation makes it easier to eat and exploit animals. But it's rare to be a human when there are so many other possibilities. There's a bit in the Buddhavacana. that suggests being human is as rare as a turtle surfacing after 100 years under water into a fixed yoke, where the turtle could be harnessed. That is rare.

But I don't think we need all these metaphors. I don't take a meditation class if my friend doesn't sign me up. It just happened that one order member from the TCB happened to be in NYC. In the USA the TBC has really taken off in Newmarket New Hampshire, Missoula Montana and San Francisco California. Not really in NYC. It just so happened that I was at a place in my life that I was receptive to the teachings, and being unemployed I spent half a year reading all about it. I went on a retreat at Aryaloka over Christmas and New Years on the Brahma Viharas. It just so happened that an order member taught that retreat. Since then he has gone off to live on the left coast and hasn't really been seen much since then. The retreat blew my mind, I felt the healthiest I've ever felt. I learned to love the puja. I don't think I've ever really been the same since. I was sustained in the TBC for many years. I feel that this is my root tradition and even if I meditate in a Zen tradition, or Tibetan tradition or the Theravadan tradition, I will always at base have a TBC orientation. I happened to find the one tradition of Buddhism that helped make sense of the whole tradition, and indeed all traditions of spirituality for me. All these confluences of events could easily have been otherwise. That I am healthy enough, that I am receptive enough, and that I have exerted myself is also quite lucky. So without the 6 realms and reincarnation it's a pretty amazing even. I'm lucky enough to have this translation and exposition of the teachings, the book came out in 1987. I happen to live in a time when many good English translations have come out. Fifty years ago, that would not have been true. In the history of the world, "America" is a new phenomenon. The USA is a new phenomenon. The spread of Buddhism around the world is a new phenomenon. When you read the early English language Buddhists, it seems kind of fast and loose. The quality of English translations and English Buddhism is vast now, and only seems to be getting bigger. I can read the Middle Length Discourses, the 100,000 Songs of Milarepa. The access to Buddhism is a very new phenomenon, not presented as Zen as the one true path or the other fledgling types of Buddhism replete with ethnic Buddhism. The west has actually culled out an essential Buddhism--even if it's just one Buddhism.

When you think about all these conditions coming together, it truly is a precious life, a rare life. Then you add on the brevity of human life, well, that's enough to put pressure on you. The average life span of white men in the USA is going down, but it's still into the 70's.

The use of the word "unwavering" points to a kind of vigilance, that I have not fully sustained. I do think infusing your entire life with a Dharmic viewpoint is beneficial.

May all beings be happy, may all beings be well.

Friday, February 24, 2017

doubt hinderance

Sangharakshita is said that the spiritual life is caught not taught. How one develops spiritual interest and momentum is an interesting thing. For me I almost couldn't say why, except it felt so healthy to be on the path of the Buddhadharma, to open up to a spiritual life that wasn't hypocrisy and positioning for a place in society. Spirituality is a very private thing--something that is not lost on me writing a public blog.

There are times when the Dharma has faded. There have been times when my bewilderment was not disentangled enough, and I hurt people. There were times when I didn't have the energy and could not transcend the hinderance of remorse. There are dark nights of the soul when there seems to be no real benefit to the path. In the end working through those things, again and again because my hubris doesn't disappear when I see through it once or twice. It is a question on how to develop the opposite of doubt.

I once said to a friend, "how do we know there's not some unconditioned event in Alaska right now, that we don't know about, and will never really know about?" My friend asked what is really going on. I discuss some doubt I had and the question went away. In some ways doubt can be wrong view. The many different ways we can doubt are limned in the chapter on doubt.

Another is self doubt. That's all good for the Buddha, but I can't be enlightened. We live in a society that challenges our sense of self constantly, and it's hard to have real integrity, to tell the truth, to be transparent in a good way, to walk the talk. To do what you are committed to. This is no easy project, and I can't blame others for not wanting to engage, it's quite a real task. You need energy, and insight. and tough skin, and clarity and so many others qualities I'm still learning about.

Reading the chapter on doubt hinderance in Working with the Five Hinderances. I thought about how one theme in my psychotherapy was tolerance of ambivalence. The more toleration of ambivalence we have, accepting that we don't really know, the more you can be in the moment without spinning off into mental proliferation and planning. I've had many discussions with people who were offended that I took a position of not knowing. People need the security of knowing. "Knowing" is necessary for action, though you can act with the ambivalence, though there is realistically a greater delay. In a way, that's why types like House and Rita are attractive. They vigorously pursue what they know and don't know.

This is where I give my usual plug for the negative capability.

The chapter on doubt was surprisingly rich. This whole book was very rich in interesting thoughts for me. He set a good tone and warned us of modern interpretations that are off. I thought this book was well worth the time, and the only book I know in the hinderances. Thank you Ajahn Theradhamma for the gift of the Dharma.

May all being be happy, may all being be well.