Wednesday, May 24, 2017

watching desire



Watching desire, I see that while I'm watching my daughter, I want to read, and when she goes to bed, I quickly get tired of reading. Actually that's not true, I read till I get tired, but my attention does wander.

Children are the ultimate gurus. My daughter continually exposes my "working ground" and how far I am from my aspirations. I find myself extremely upset at a little girl in diapers who hardly weighs anything and comes up to my hips in height. The little tyrant. She very much wants her way all the times and everything is hers. And yet the love I feel for this imperfect being...

I don't try to get rid of desire and act at a spiritual level that I am not at yet. Very much a work in progress, like everyone.

#2


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 is here.


#2 Attached to your loved ones you are stirred up like water.
Hating your enemies you burn like fire.
In the darkness of confusion you forget what to adopt and discard.
Give up your homeland--
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas. 


This one is about "going forth". The Buddha left his home, family, comforts, to seek an end of suffering.

Sangharakshita gave everything up and wandered into the homeless life. He regretted giving up his passport when he tried to go to Cylon, but maybe the order would not have been the same way if he had.

Comfortable middle class people look to go forth metaphorically, but we can not discount actually just leaving the home conditions. Children demand a lot of attention and financial support, you work and then come home to parent them. There is no time off. If you have discipline, like I did for many years, you can raise your mindfulness up--perhaps to suffer more. Then one day you just can't any more. You're not there. You realize the home life can't support individualistic spiritual development. So your family becomes sangha and you go on the Bodhisattva path, wishing to raise everyone up with you. In the face of worldly suffering we shatter apart like Avalokiteshvara, and then are put back together by the love of Amitabha. It's no surprise that love is the archetype that becomes popular, even though metta is not personal, and yet it's personal like a mother loves her only child--sprayed out onto the world. You know as a parent that you can't always control things, you just try to ride the waves, the various forces that threaten one. 

The secular world preaches a kind of individualism and materialism that can be twisted into a spiritual materialism. I used to yearn for a center for my order. I got excited when SF got a retreat center outside the city. I became obsessed with all the beautiful cathedrals the Catholic church has. Have you seen this teacher, that teacher? You flew in there and did a retreat there once?! You can treat Buddhism like the Rubins, and create an art museum, or a gallery, or a salon. You can develop a podcast, a blog, and on and on. Tweeting your way to enlightenment in 140 characters or less, you use all the aids to feel spiritual, and yet it doesn't take enough hold, you forget and have a good meal or you read a good book or you watch a great new series. Oh, sure work is a drag, but I like it that my books come within 2 days, and we need a new bullet blender, and wouldn't it be nice if baby had a new onesies? She's growing out of her current ones.

The passive personality person uses Buddhism to buttress the pathology of inaction, the edict to do nothing, and watch others suffer because of that decision. "Suffering is inevitable for those not far on the path, it can help one to wake up." But the crisis of parenting has woken you up to suffering and you figure out ways to abdicate the role and raise free range children.

The two above examples are just two examples of possible spiritual bypassism, coined by Wellwood. So even in the spiritual life there are dangers, why not dangers in the monastic life. You can learn to focus in precious circumstances and become a hot house flower? Spiritual individualism rears it's ugly head again.

The co-dependency of most relationships help us to not embrace the freedom we are afraid of. Freedom is truly scary if you take responsibility for where you are now. It's only you that has kept you from becoming enlightened. How did you put yourself into this situation you find yourself in?

I don't like the buddha nature doctrines because even if you are already enlightened, or it's funny how easy it is, you still need to figure out how to uncover it. This might be a Hindu doctrine, and Hinduism tries to absorb Buddhism the way Judaism tries to consume Christianity. Jesus was not trying to create a new religion. It's actually Paul who does that.

In all the contradictory doctrines of world religions, we get that it is beyond reasoning, more than a feeling, more than everything we can imagine, and therefore it's OK that we don't get it. It's OK to be ignorant as long as we chant a mantra or say a prayer. Spirituality for the masses becomes religion that ossifies flexible ideas, and sets up hierarchies, and abuse. Worldly teachers commit worldly mistakes, and there is a crisis of faith. We edge more into the archetypes than the saints, real history proves nobody is beyond reproach. So for Buddhism it's faith that Buddhadharma is really something worth going for, and not just saying that the end of suffering has been found by transcending desire by making your consciousness box a certain size such that venial cares recede and maybe even disappear. The goal of being creative instead of reactive is worth striving for and as millions set upon the path, many are quickly waylaid by the concrete needs of others. Or maybe they are on the Bodhisattva path. We can get ishkabibble or crazy like a fox. If you live on the side of a mountain and can meditate all day, you can hone that mindfulness and have some insights, but nothing is guaranteed and maybe you need worldly challenges to uproot complacency. Oh it's all so confusing just pick you path and experiment and see what happens. You can understand that at least. Your precious practice with the cutting edge where you're challenged to take the larger perspective goes on and on and on. Some great teacher comes in and does something selfish and you think, oh, I was being unrealistic all along, just be natural.

I've tied myself into a knot. 

The goal is freedom and not an unfeeling unthinking freedom. There is no easy path. Nobody can market a sect of Buddhism that has the right one and true path because at this time it's open source, and because everyone is unique, has different abilities and pasts.

So you go forth from what you know, you go forth from comfort, you go forth from dogma, heresy and you just study the dharma and try to practice the lofty ideals, push yourself to give up more, push yourself to be kinder, push yourself to be authentically evolved, not false self aping what it means to be spiritual. You don't stand on a chair and say you don't exist because someone will kick you in the shins and you'll see quite quickly that in fact you do exist. A humility is needed, bragging about achievement is the first sign of lack of achievement and therefore not to be believed. Sorry Ingram. You can parse the path but I haven't heard the thunderous silence.



Friday, April 28, 2017

Sobriety



My Buddhist friend is traveling to lead a retreat in India, and asked if I had any words about addiction. I ended up writing him 3 e-mails.

Here is the first one:

Addiction is trying to keep the party going, but it's meant to be an infrequent thing. It always hides difficult emotions and thoughts. As a Buddhist there is a specific precept out of 5 to forbid. Avoid the habit because the progression of the disease means you need more and more to not feel bad. It may even take a decade or more. Alcoholism is an equal opportunity obsession and allergy. Anyone can get it, rich or poor. If you aspire to follow the Buddha avoid drugs. Get support if you have a problem, isolation is an aspect of addiction. May you be happy, may you be well my brothers and sisters in India, from America.

Here is the second one:

You asked me to write about addiction for our brothers in the dharma for your next retreat. I dashed off a quick response, that might be short and the one you want to read to them.

I think I also left out another aspect of addiction--delusion that you are not harming anyone. You could also call that magical thinking. The idea that you can drink and that only hurts you is a fallacy. Supporting the industry harms others. Anyone you come in contact with will be adversely affected. Your family most definitely is affected. The fantasy that you work and provide for the family so you deserve a drink is an especially pernicious thought. The idea that others are doing it, so that it is OK is another pernicious thought. The road to recovery, and it's a lifelong journey, is to connect with others who value sobriety. Please reach out to others and commit to sobriety. May you be, happy may you be well.

Here is the third one:

Another thing to remember is that the default reaction is to denounce the alcoholic and suggest that they are morally weak. But the disease model means you treat it the way you would cancer. You bring kindness. What an addict needs is being hugged closer, not pushed away. So find a way to suspend your judgements, and protect yourself from exploitation and your own harm, and be there for your friend with addiction problems. It's only through a solid relationship that you can chip away ever so lightly at the delusion that it's not affecting a person. Consult friends and get support if you are in contact with someone with addiction because it will be hard, frustrating, annoying, challenging and off putting. It becomes a negative feedback loop that leads to more and more isolation. But the buddhist goes against the stream and seeks to cure the suffering of the world. Be like Ksitigarbha, go into the hell realm and help out your brothers and sisters. You are strong enough.

May you be happy, may you be well.

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.