Tuesday, July 14, 2009

quote on practice


"You can make a great deal of effort, but if it does not include an effort to create more favorable conditions, you are almost wasting your energy. On the other hand, you can be in the most favorable conditions imaginable, but if you are not making an effort, what use are those conditions? Both are necessary."

Sunday, July 12, 2009


As FWBO/TBMSG News points out Sudarshan and Bodhisakhi passed away July 6th. There are 2 talks available, and there's an interesting interview in print. Sudarshan was born "untouchable" but luckily with prosperous and good parents. He says:

"I became conscious of caste system when I was about six years old. We couldn’t take water from the wells of high-caste people. We couldn’t go inside their houses. We couldn’t eat with them. It was our ‘caste duty’ to behave in a certain way. I was hating this. I often asked myself: ‘Why am I not allowed to go into temples? Why am I not allowed to take part in religious activities?’ I was feeling a lot of pain from that experience; some anger also. That was the usual feeling for us. Actually, most ‘untouchable’ people felt anger more strongly than me against high-caste Hindus and the caste system."

When I met him I got a really good vibe from him, and I really liked him. I'm sorry to hear he's gone. I'm going to listen to the two condolences speeches: One by Lokamitra. One by Subhuti.

Milarepa quote

From pp. 476-477, from chapter 41 of The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa:

"The Ultimate Practice is not to consider
Distractions and drowsiness as faults.
Doing so to stave them off is like
kindling a lamp in bright daylight."

I like this quote because I've recently been thinking about how Padmasambhava doesn't get rid of demons, but "pins them down," and stares at them. The evolution of a meditater might be about making friends with your weaknesses and problems.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

John Blofeld

I just finished Bodhisattva of Compassion: The Mystical Tradition of Kuan Yin. Quite a lovely book for me. I'm considering Avalokita for my potential sadhana.

In the FWBO you get a sadhana when you join the order. You can of course visualize what ever you want, but to be given a sadhana, initiated, is a wonderful thing. I can also visualize the refuge tree, as part of the prostration practice, which is a maximal practice. Also in there have been other visualization practices done on retreat. So I wondered if Blofeld got the sadhana too quickly, without doing preliminary work, but with such a beautiful book, I think it worked out for him. This personal account is well worth reading.

I have a friend who has a tattoo on his left upper arm of Kuan Yin (Guan Yin on Wikipedia and I've also seen Quan Yin). I also have a friend who named her dog Kuan Yin.

I have a strong interest in Avalokitsvra. My first little talk in front of my sangha was about Avalokita. Avalokita is also in the Heart Sutra, which is an amazing text. The legend of wanting to save everyone in Enlightenment, and blowing up and being put back together by Amitabha, resonates with me. Amitabha's mantra is often chanted in Pure Land Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism which is more devotional. It turns out that Kuan Yin is also evoked and prayed to in a Pure Land tradition.

Blofeld write, "Do not fall into the trap of making distinctions that are meaningful only at a very superficial level. Ch'an, Pure Land and Vajrayana are not three paths to the same goal, but three gateways to the same path, or even one gateway seen in various lights." (p. 121).

He quotes someone saying, "All the sects are like beads on one rosary." (p. 84). He does come at it with a western rational mind, but comes to see Kuan Yin as something that really exists outside his mind, in the world. I appreciate his very personal struggle to make sense of the tradition he did not grow up in.

He gets a little polemical in the end:

"We must cease unctuously exposing children to boring sermons, to affirmations of belief in which we have little or no faith ourselves, to notions of vengeful deities befouled by the smoke of burnt offerings, to symbols of agonizing death quite opposite to a child's inborn conception of what is good and beautiful and joyous. Children's innate perceptions must not be smothered but set free!" (p.140).

I have had to live a lifetime under the dominance of Christianity. It did not fit with me. It wasn't until I found the dharma that I understood what everyone was going on about, I can imagine Christianity now.

To me Blofeld is persuasive about opening my mind to Pure Land, and to opening the mind to the richness of ideas outside our culture. I feel like he gets it, I feel sympatico. It makes me want to read the book on Pure Land that I got at Aryaloka.

I find it interesting the way he traces the origins of Kuan Yin to Avalokitesvra, and I wonder if there is not some American legendary figure that can be transformed into a Bodhisattva. Paul Bunyon? He might be more a manifestation of Manjushri, with his axe instead of a sword. Johnny Appleseed? He was a Christian missionary, so I won't appropriate him for Buddhism. The legendary figures of the west are too violent to be Bodhisattvas. I would say Casey Jones was too obsessed with work, he dies at the throttle. Likewise with John Henry. Roy Hobbs is too sports oriented. I can't find an American folk hero that can be an American manifestation of Avalokita.

Maybe that guy who laid down on the subway tracks to save a man, Wesley Autrey. I'm also inspired by the freedom fighters who died, like Viola Liuzzo.

Anyway, I'm not yet ready to chant their mantras to be reborn in their pure lands, but that brings to mind Bante's quote about pure lands:

"There is never going to be a kind of spiritual welfare state. The goal for everyone is to be oneself a creator of a Pure Land, not an endless consumer of spiritual goodies." (p112 Living Ethically).

I don't believe in mappo, Nichiren's idea that things have degenerated so much that we can't become enlightened. I just don't think it's a helpful idea. If it's proven true, I suppose I'd have to believe it, but I don't know how someone could prove it was true.

So to conclude, this book has many interesting angles from the slice of life in Asia, to the personal spiritual journey, to the thoughts about Pure Land Buddhism, not to mention a detailed meditation on Kaun Yin. I recommend it. It's published by Shambhala, a fine Buddhist publisher.

Monday, July 06, 2009


If you have not been on retreat I highly recommend it. My first week long retreat is the deep experience that made me want to be a mitra and ask for ordination into the FWBO. (btw here's a blog entry about becoming a mitra.)

So the retreat was lovely. Here is a brief post about the kalyana mitra ceremonies that were performed.

Here's a video of Sangharakshita promoting Jai Bhim!.
He's a bit cheeky. Sangharakshita clearly enjoys reading the book.

So Aryaloka is a lovely place, I always enjoy everything: food, green spaces, friendship, meditation, Dharma. It takes me 4.5 hours to drive there alone from Queens NYC. I listened to some lovely Dharma talk on Free Buddhist Audio on the way up and down. Going up I listened to What Is Enlightenment by Jinapriya. When he talked about a friend's feeling of concentration as he flew threw the air, being in the moment, I thought of my own recent skydiving adventure. (Photos on facebook.) Anyway, it's a lovely talk that I highly recommend. I first listened to it on a solitary retreat at Aryaloka and well, what a lovely thing to listen to.

One thing I did on this retreat was to process past retreat, especially my last solitary retreat. Since then I haven't been able to wake up and meditate when I don't have enough sleep. Hitherto I'd forced myself to. I think I tuned into myself in such a way that I was no longer going to not honor my experience of being tired. I'd heard the advice to push myself, but I wasn't quite honoring my experience. At times I see that as a step back, not meditating every day, but reflecting on it in the company of spiritual friends, I see it's a good thing.

I think I also invalidate myself by expecting more from my circumstances than are really possible. I had that mirrored back to me a few time. It's especially hard, as I noted when I was reporting out, that I am susceptible to Mahayana hyperbole. The first two days were on the first three chapters of Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara

The final day was, as noted above, on spiritual friendship. We can gossip, in a positive way about people we know. Among other things about this news.

So it was cool to be with just men. It's interesting to see how I feel as in comparison to being on a mixed retreat.

They have beautiful postings at Aryaloka and you can see this one which includes a friend's shrine on it.

And of course it's cool to dip into the library and read the latest periodicals. I read this article, about Harold Ramis.

So well done everyone, thank you for your hard work: Danakamala for his cooking, Steve Sloan for his organizational work, Steve Cardwell for his organizational support and the running of the book store. Thank you to Nagabodhi for coming across the pond. Thank you to Bodhi for dropping in to give a short talk. Thank you to Narrotama for his leadership and wonderful presence. Thank you to everyone who made the retreat so special.

I listened to a favorite talk of mine on the ride home. Manjuka talks about aping being a good Buddhist instead of being authentic. Buddhism isn't any specific content in the mind, it's an approach to that content. I'm not sure if emotions are givens that are exempt from asking of they are skillful or not. I think you can frame things in an unskillful way, and that that will lead to feelings, and you can change that dynamic, but I get his point that we really need to figure out what is going on before we work towards fixing it, and be careful not to pretend to be good while denying what is really going on. A lovely talk that I put at the top of my list of talks to listen to.

May you be happy, may you be well.