Sunday, December 30, 2012

Young Buddhist Meme


You can get an amazing array of Buddhist young monks, there's one cold in the snow, which I can't find now, and I'm tortured by it.

The idea that a child is leading a monk's life is amazing, except it's hard to imagine a child chose to be away from their parents. So perhaps they are orphans or unwanted children. There are traditions that have kids take a monk holiday, where they are a monk for a week, like in Korea.

Are they looking at things with beginners minds?

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Loneliness is a great topic. You can be around a million people and still feel alone. Lots of tendrils on that one. Developing friendships takes time and effort. Work is a thing against it. The way our society goes home in the evening and watches TV is another factor. If Buddhism is about anything it's about self fulfilling prophecy. If you want friends, move towards it. The feelings point to actions.

When you meditate you learn to tolerate negative feelings and not react:  Loneliness, anger, sadness, jealous, envy, confusion, and then we can get sophisticated and list foreign named emotions that could distract.

Also: "Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." --From the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides p217.

I think it's great you can open up and speak your truth, shows courage. I bet you'll be a good friend to someone.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

Suzy Favor Hamilton, who I watched run in high school like a deer, and college, and on TV in the Olympics, was recently caught in prostitution. Her husband knew. People point out she has a 7 year old daughter. She was surprised she was caught.

I think about all the scandals, it's hard to keep them all in mind, there are so many. It almost isn't news. It's maybe advertizing news, about branded stars, or political power plays.

Tiger Woods lost his wife and children. Seems he wanted the intimacy of a family but didn't want to be faithful to his wife, which is what she expected. Didn't think he'd be caught. Now he loses millions, which takes away from his charitable tax shelters.

You see it all the time in good dramas, like Friday Night Lights, in which high school football plays a backdrop for small Texas town. The star fullback, who sleeps around, doesn't see the hurt and heartbreak he creates by following where his sexuality leads him. People move on over time, but people get attached too. It's hard not to share intimacy and not begin to develop attachments. He develops some integrity. There are many love triangles in that show.

When I heard that Thich Nhat Hanh said you should be in committed relationship to be sexual, I wondered if that was just a Christian projection. Hanh often uses theistic language. When you eject the Christian presumption in America, what are you left with?

In the history of the Triratna there were wild swinging times in the early days, which maybe have been part of the times that allowed for Buddhism to spread to the west. I haven't heard of any sanghas that haven't been touched by problems around sexuality. There's a lot of them going on in all the spiritual communities, in all the religions. I'm not going to pick on a particular sect or religion.

Lets just say it's been a worldly mess in what purports to be transcendental. Maybe that's part of the mistake, we expect to raise above too much. It's good to be honest about where we really are, and live in our bodies, not live in some fantasy world. Maybe the word spirituality is misleading, maybe we need to just be present with what is going on, not transcend it.

Eyes wide open, it looks like a there's a lot of heartbreak in human sexuality. Sex holds so much promise and hope as well. There are not just problems, but opportunities. It helps to align our aspirations with our real desires, and the forces at play within us. How do we harness ourselves, in service of our goals?

Not thinking you'll get caught isn't really keeping the eyes wide open, which is being realistic about being caught, and seeing through self serving reasoning, being realistic about what people will really tolerate, thinking realistically about the impact on others. Take some time to think about the traps we can fall into. Apply what you know to your life. Try to disentangle bewilderment, and connect with utmost wonderousness.

Keeping our eyes wide open about sexuality sees it's real potential for good and bad. I think if the way you take care of child was how you made them, our species would die out. There's a powerful urge to express ourselves sexually. What are the conditions where nobody gets hurt? Maybe Hanh was right, a committed relationship seems to work. How do we mate in captivity?

What makes someone think they can get away with infidelity? Why did Clinton think he could get away with a blowjob from Monika Lewinsky in the Oval Office?

(Why do I even know that detail? Because some people wanted to use that as a strategy to gain through help someone else lose power. Everything in used in politics. It's not about leading but gaining and keeping so-call power. We love a good sex scandal in America.)

Are people unconsciously sabotaging their lives? Do they really think they will get away with it? Was Clinton competing with Kennedy? Did he want history to wink an "atta boy" to him? Does history wink at Martin Luther King?

Nobody in Hollywood stays together. I can only think of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and that's a low percentage. I don't know any other Hollywood couple that stayed together. For a while Tom Hanks was with the wife he was with before he got famous, but they divorced. Johnny Carson's personal life created the term serial monogamy. Faithful till it's over, and then onto the next one.

I don't look to Hollywood for my ethical standards. It's interesting that nobody stays together in Hollywood, where money and fame make a intoxicating brew. There they have lawyers to create pre-nuptuals, so the end game is already set out for when it inevitably happens.

For most people, life isn't that simple and when kids are involved it's messy for innocents.

There are millions of faithful marriages, and they raise their kids well despite difficulties. That doesn't always make the news but that does happen. I think sometimes the sensationalism in our society has changed our expectations, and we begin to see extremes of behavior as the norm. Most people are behaving most of the time. Yet again sex is used to sell something, this time the news or infotainment.

Why is it so interesting that this Olympian who is married and has a child, also does some prostitution? We love to look down our noses in this society. I'm mostly feel compassion for people caught up in scandals. People are hurt.

Some people love to denounce and look down their noses. Look at how the mighty have fallen. Are stars just Icarus waiting to happen?

So on the one hand you have the people that avoid sexuality, as a solution. The ascetic solution. It's problematic so cut it out. Channel that energy into other things.

On the other hand, a Buddhist might say it's OK if your eyes are wide open and you don't harm someone. When you shuck off the Christian presumption, and say all is fair in love and sex if you're communicating and not trying to deceive people, and you're not naive to consequences, you pay real attention, then we have a brave new world.

But what if you make a mistake and hurt someone? What if you are not skillful ending a relationship? What if you're not skillful in a relationship? When you take off the strictures of common morality, it can lead to a kind of wildness that leads to hurt. The rules develop as a kind of protection. Rules can help you to guide you into a channel of actions that don't lead to consequences. When you finally figure it all out that part of your life might even be over.

When you read the sexuality blogs, columns, books and see things like Real Sex, or other documentaries about sexuality, there's a kind of idea that if we just talk about it, then we're going to understand it more. When we clarify for ourselves what are the rules in a post-Christian world, in our secular humanist society, that has many different tribes and cultures, we have to look at things with eyes wide open, and see questions in all their rich complexity.

Nowhere but in sexuality is the distance between what we hope to be, and what we really are, is there so wide a gap. Efforts to suppress sexuality don't work. Efforts to liberate sexuality have more hope but it's more complicated than just opening up and talking about it; it turns out to be quite complex.That's why many a crisis in adolescence and midlife are expressed in sexuality.

I hope to move forward in my life with eyes wide open. Eyes wide open means we're aware, including our preconceptions, ideology, and why we hold them. Eyes wide open means we're not just "thinking with the wrong head" as people used to say in high school and college.. No power games or taking advantage of anyone, or hurting anyone. You grind it out in a relationship and when it's over, then you end it as peacefully as possible.

And on an ending note, I am against people who discriminate against the GLBT community. It's a selling point of some religions to try and grow it by breeding lots of people from that religion, but that is not true spirituality, that's a worldly struggle for power, religion as a numbers game. I know in some cultures homo-negativity is part of the culture, just like murder, neglect and other things are enshrined in a culture. But that is not good, so I keep my eyes wide open about sexual discrimination and fight it where I see it. I yearn for a fair and just society, that cherishes everyone and true greatness. And to help in that I need to keep my own eyes wide open.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Vairocana and Samanthabhadra

I'd say I'm a delusional type, so I need Vairocana to help me see more clearly, to see reality. I hope to cultivate Vairocana's qualities.

Samanthadhadra is about action. I'm stuck, inactive.  I need Samanthadhadra's quality.

Friday, December 21, 2012

doubt and right intention in meditation

(Photo: The double vajra: Vajra means thunderbolt and diamond--it symbolizes indestructibility and an irresistible force. The center is sunyata.)

I asked the google plus group Wildmind why they meditate, and I'm writing my answer here.

I'm going to try to articulate the reason to meditate, and my resistance to doing it.

If you're not trying to get a result in meditation, you're just trying to accept what is arising, then what is your effort and what is your intention in meditation?

My behavior (lack of regular meditation) suggest doubt about meditation.

So I wanted to clarify my intention in meditation.
First there is a general settling. Even if tuning into myself reveals a chaos I didn't want to look at--and that's a weird paradox is that I can feel more insane as I become saner--meditation often has a settling and calming of the mind effect. It feels less cluttered, it's a kind of defragment of my hard drive that has some mild gains in the space where my mind works. This can be frustrating at times, because for every level you tidy up, there's another level down that needs to be cleaned up.

I feel a basic bottom level thing you get from meditation is less reactivity. When I have greater objectivity of mind--that just because I think something doesn't mean it's true--then I'm less likely to make weird decisions.

When I watch my mind, and work to accept what is going on with it, I'm also more in touch with the resistance I have to my experience, and my resistance to reality.

When I look at my mind, I can better lines of action, and clarify what I want to be in my actions.

I often think without thinking, there's a kind of reflection that is not so much a kind of chess computer, but more of an opening to the obvious solutions, a simplicity that helps the old mind to run less hot. I try and think myself out of problems that I create by not clearly seeing the world. That's what I take the whole Zen don't think stuff to be about, in part. I clutter things up trying to think, when what I need to do is comprehend.

And when I've settled my mind and cleared some space past some basic grasp of reality, then I can go deeper into the insight of the Dharma: it changes with conditions, those conditions will never satisfy all the time, and even my own self is a collection of conditions.

See, I'm hoping to go deeper, but the weird thing is that you can't just will it beyond doing it and trying. I guess as you go deeper, you can control it more, maybe. That's what some people say.

Some of my qualms: If I've learned to tolerate the chaos I discover inside me, does that contribute to me not meditating because I then tolerate chaos and unsettledness? Do I forget that it's good to do? I'm trying to articulate the good so I can choose it, because like many people who meditate I "wish" I would meditate more, but my actions say I doubt the good that it does.

I worry I won't have the energy, even though meditation gives me more energy.

A force pushing me away from awakening is the my fear that I won't be able to tolerate looking at the hard things, the fear I will be overwhelmed and resourceless. That's never happened yet, but is a kind of secret lurker. I have made a terrible mistake and I hate it.

There have been times in my life when I was a solid meditator, and yet even then I didn't feel like I was doing it enough. I suppose that wishing to do it more is a kind of glimpse of the hope that it would improve things--not improve the world but my relation to the world. I think my mistake makes me think it's not enough, but really when I made my mistake I wasn't meditating that much. I draw the wrong conclusion all the time, and meditation helps with that, but when you don't meditate, then how do you pull yourself up by the bootstraps? A koan that is only really solved by meditating, getting unstuck.

At least with a steady regular practice you're putting something in the bank.

Does it really matter to move where the battle is? OK, when I meditate, I'm fighting these fights over there, and when I don't, I'm fighting ones elsewhere. Does it really matter where? I think it does, but when I'm not meditating my actions say it doesn't. It's like substance abuse, not meditating is a kind of nihilism--nothing really matters.

In then end I just think: Just do it.

My girlfriend writes her response to my question; why meditate?

I meditate because even if I have rough sit, it's still the calmest my mind is at any given point in time. I meditate because even though it sometimes hurts, I know it is making me a better person. I meditate because I appreciate the opportunity to slow down and contemplate whats going on with me, and why. I'm the type of person who has to almost always be busy. And meditation has helped me to realize that. With more meditation I'll be able to get better control of that.

Lately I've been considering my cooking time to be like meditation. When I'm in the kitchen, I don't think much. My mind is clear and I'm just cooking, chopping and mixing. Things do go through my mind, but slowly, in a way where I can actually stop and say, 'Oh, that's what that was about'. And it's something completely unrelated to anything. That's what happens when I meditate.

I know that if I think about things with a calm and steady mind, they'll make more sense. The more I meditate the more I am able to do that.

Why do you meditate?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Barbarella Quote

Barbarella: Why would anybody want to invent a weapon?
President: How should I know?
Barbarella: I mean, the universe has been pacified for centuries… sir.
President: What we know of it. The trouble is, we don't know anything about Tau Ceti or its inhabitants.
Barbarella: You mean they could still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?
President: Precisely.

Monday, December 17, 2012


First dream was that the Triratna Buddhist Community had the original copy of the Heart Sutra.  It was placed under glass, and there was a meditation area where you could meditate around it.  But because the TBC was generous, it let other groups come in a worship the text, so it made it more of a circus atmosphere.  There were all kinds of sectarian issues related to this sharing of the Heart Sutra, because different groups practice differently.  Like all dreams there was a vague feeling, and not a lot of specifics.  I kind of feel like dreams are like improve settings, you put two improbably things together and then go...

My second dream was that there was a weird kind of amusement park at Bodh Gaya.  There were these giant disks, with cogs, almost like a bike gear, but a platform where people sat to meditate, but then the disk would rotate along a kind of rail that would transport people.  If you sat near the middle you didn't get as dizzy.  You sat along the edges to get more of an amusement park ride.  Most of the people didn't want an amusement park ride, they wanted peaceful meditation.

My thoughts upon awaking are that the first dream suggests that I find the TBC to have the best grasp of Buddhism, the one that resonates most with me.  I haven't actually delved into other groups beyond superficially, and I want to do that.  So maybe it's also a fears dream about sectarian nonsense.

I think the second dream was about how in a way meditation ends up not being about what you think it will be.  Many people say to me when I'm going onto retreat, "oh, that must be relaxing."  Um, no.  I'm crying, tense, I get energy I don't really know how to control yet, and I have this kind of exhausted insomnia feeling.  Don't get me wrong, it's the healthiest I ever am, I feel like I'm purifying my unhealthiness, but it's not pleasant in any way.  My knees hurt, I'm restless, then I'm tired and feel like I'm in a tupor.  Everyone is on their best behavior, but that doesn't actually guarantee some people won't be very very difficult. And you've got all the time in the world to just look at why certain things bother you and you realize that even though you realize it's all in your mind, in some way that's not quite enough to stop it, and there's so so so much more work to do.

So maybe my second dream was about how meditation really is a scary journey that people come to seeking more peace, but end up getting even more disturbed.  Perhaps in the name of a more transcendent peace of mind, but actually it's more grounding and centered in your experience, and there's a reason we're so distracted from ourselves, because there's all kinds of deep wounds and confusion, bewilderment and stuff to disentangle. I come face to face with my own unhealthy desire and tendency to not become enlightened, to do everything but move in that direction.  Egad.

But then when you bring your fears out into the broad daylight, they lose some power, and I wonder, what was I so scared of? And that gives me faith on the path; that as hard, scary, confusing, frustrating and just plain difficult, it's still the only game in town for me.

(PS, if I'm taking the not given by putting up that picture of the painting of Amoghasiddhi by Aloka, please let me know.)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

last Ingram quotes

Above graphic has nothing to do with the quotes, per se.

I finished MCTB by Ingram.  Here are the last quotes I thought were interesting:

"So many Buddhists want to be up in the Heaven called Nirvana as empty yet separate beings who don’t exist and yet live forever as Bodhisattvas saving the world." p.313

"...many Buddhists are so brainwashed into the ideal of becoming Amazing Super Beings that they readily give up the notion that they could really understand anything in this lifetime in exchange for the dream that some zillion lifetimes down the road they may get to be Spiritual Superstars." p.314

"Now, it is true that you can borrow a lot of pre-programmed respect from some people just by ordaining, which, viewed another way, means that ordination might get you the respect that your realization should, in some idealized universe, provide for you. However, this will be to a strangely select audience, and the games you have to participate in to be a part of that group are significant." p.317

Thursday, December 13, 2012

the giving season

Giving time, effort and energy is something that doesn't cost money.  It's not what you own or have, it's what you are and what you do that makes you who you are (Fromm articulated this well).

I went to see Peace of Heart Choir, and I thought it was really cool.  They are a non-profit choir who performs at shelters, hospitals and city events in NYC.  I saw them at the library.  If you like to sing and have a Thursday evening free in New York City, you can join in too!  They sing uplifting songs from a multicultural background.  Beautiful.

New York Cares is another way to give time, effort and energy.  I've only done it once, but I hope to  volunteer more and more.  They're doing a lot of good work in the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy. I got a real rush out of volunteering.  It's a very positive environment, and made me feel good about myself.

Of course if you want to donate energy, effort and time, Free Buddhist Audio, also needs volunteers.

And if you want to give money, I always think Karuna Trust is a great one.  They work with the ex-untouchables in India who have converted to Buddhism.  (They're working on a US version, so you'll have to give to the UK version at this time.)

Please feel free to add your favorite places to give from around the world in the comments!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha

I'm on page 275 of MCTB, and have some impressions. First off, it reminds me of David Smith's A Record of Awakening, thought it is many times longer and more detailed. It's kind of tripy like Castaneda's work, there is poetic language put onto complex and deep psychological states, that are often not expressed. The vagueness and the fact that I'm not aware of having them makes it difficult reading, at times, but you have to say something, right?

When I met David Smith, someone said, "Go on; show me a jhana!" Kind of weird thing to say. Is he supposed to meditate and then tell them when he's attained a certain state? Ingram points out that it might be upsetting to talk about attainment because you make others jealous. Now how many times have you seen someone accuse others of being jealous, when they just didn't like a person? It's a confusing and indeterminate situation. There is no comeback to skepticism except, "maybe I have done something." There's always the question of whether you would recognize a Buddha if you met them. Even an arahant. (It's kind of like that song, "what if god were one of us?")

I know someone who was on a retreat, and the retreat leader said he was Maitreya. He had a hard time suppressing his skepticism, but he tried believing it to see if it helped. Seems like something to try. (Even though America is not very Buddhisty, I once saw a sign overhanging a highway, "Maitreya is coming," which somehow warmed and confused my heart.)

A person I know, allegedly reported he became a stream entrant, and was met with much skepticism. I think skepticism is appropriate, and Ingram himself goes on and on about being tricked into thinking you have attained something, when you've just had a deep experience. For him it's more a mistake about where you are on the map.

Only someone at or ahead in his level can really judge. I can't. What Ingram is against is the tradition that shouts someone down if they say "hey, I think I've done something here." Maybe the answer shouldn't always be "NO YOU HAVE NOT!" Instead, I'm curious, lets investigate. Now, I don't have huge attainments, so I don't even think I can judge. For me, the question becomes, does this text have anything in it that is helpful to me. And to that I say yes, leaving aside the question of trying to verify his claim.

The tradition hides and guards progress knowledge. Even though the knowledge may be dangerous and tricky, in a kind of way, I think his transparency is refreshing. I appreciate him sharing his experiences. I feel like I learned a lot reading his book, learned stuff I haven't learned elsewhere. And even though he needs an editor to clean up a few sentences, I think he mostly writes with startling clarity. Sometimes I wonder if this is the kind of stuff you only communicate face to face.

He discusses the map. He's a bit like Dora The Explorer, except he doesn't 3 options, he presents stages in the path. The book is rich, well researched, and rich in references and bibliography. The map is how to move towards enlightenment through meditation. It's mostly in the Vipassana tradition, but he has read widely and presents other maps and discusses other traditions in terms of his, which points to a kind of depth. He makes sense of other traditions without it feeling too reductive.

There is a rich tradition in Buddhism of not bragging about attainments or rich experiences. I was at a sangha meeting once when someone was talking about floating, and the teacher, now deceased, said that he shouldn't get too attached to the pleasant experiences. At the time, I thought that was harsh. Why not enjoy them? I think the answer is that you need to practice even if you have terrible experiences, on the cushion, and if you have pleasant experiences. Ingram points out that you might get overly attached to pleasant states, and not move on form them. Confronting the three characteristics is not a pleasant experience, and if there's one theme throughout this complex book, it's that the three characteristics of existence are at the core of the Buddha's insight. And they aren't a party, though if you can really experience them, they are liberating.

A point is that you might have a false summit, where you think you're at the top, when there's more to go. How can you be sure you're at the top? Perhaps there is fog up ahead, and you can't see another peak. Ingram goes on and on about possible traps into thinking you've become enlightened, that you are mistaken. Ingram presumably has reasons why this doesn't apply to himself. He does say something funny, something like, people are in favor of enlightenment in general, but just not you. I know someone who met him at a conference, and just turns up their head at him, kept walking.

I'm not dismissive even though I don't know what his level of attainment is. He's past me. And what ever his level of attainment is, he does have a rich knowledge of the Dharma, and shares his experiences and thoughts, which are interesting and helpful. He talks about being overly goal oriented, dead ends he's gone down and other mistakes and traps. Because he is ahead of me on the path, I can't really judge exactly where, and just appreciate his knowledge and experience.

He answers his question. Why isn't there more transparency about the map to enlightenment? He goes on to talk about how dangerous and confusing it is, and discusses the need to work with a teacher. Good Dharma books tell you to go get a living teacher, and this one does too, many times.

Ingram talks about the mushroom model, where teachers want as many people around, so they allow people of all levels to participate, and don't put any pressure on people to move forward, or to really understand the commitment and knowledge to move forward. It seems like Ingram has put in quite a lot of work, and doesn't want to keep what he's learned a secret. He likes being bold and brash in his pronouncements, enjoys it, enjoys getting up on his pulpit and strongly expressing his opinions. Will that harm someone? I can't see it. Maybe because he has a day job, he doesn't need to make money on this.
This is a long and complex book, so it's hard to take out bits to look at, but I particularly enjoyed the talk about the Dark Night phase. I've never heard about that, and find the idea very interesting. I want to hear more about that, that's one part I will be rereading.
When I first heard about jhanas, it was beyond my experience, so it was hard to understand. But now I appreciate the talk about it, because it's not easy making sense of our experiences in meditation and the more of that that I can get, the better, even though it's hard to read about experiences I haven't experienced. For someone like me, I have to plough through the book, and then come back and reread. Time will tell if I reread this book.

I've read on forums, people who focused on disproving his being an arahant Because he's married, and has hobbies, and works as a medical ER doctor, they think the's too worldly, and therefore can't be an arahant I don't know anybody who's become enlightened in the modern world, but I have a feeling that the person who dismisses Ingram this way, might be looking at things through the monastic/lay split of the Theravadins or other Buddhist groups. I think it's possible to be lay and become enlightened. Probably harder, but also easier in other ways. Still, I don't know. The reason I went ahead and read the book was because a friend said it was good, and because the criticism of him on line just didn't really make sense to me.

This book taught me that I'm much more attracted to the tradition that asks if you would notice if you were in the presence of the Buddha, than I am by the tradition that says "don't talk about attainments." I also think the fact that he gives away the book is important about his motives. I do think you should be humble no matter where you are on the path, though I don't think you need to hide anything. I regret not talking about deep and troubling experiences I've had with others.

You can scoff or be impressed by watching his videos on line. I think now that I've read the book I have a context to watch them other than scoffing at him. I will put aside the question of whether he's really an arahant because I can't evaluate that. But I don't think his book hurt me along the path. I don't know if it would hurt people to dismiss the book, either.  I didn't read the book because of the claim but because a friend said it was good.

Jim Jones claimed to be the Buddha, but he doesn't leave behind a book explaining how to get there. There is a rich history of people who have claimed to be the Buddha. They all seem like quacks on the current Wikipedia list, except Bomjon.

Ram Dahadur Bomjon is the latest. Whether or not he's enlightened, his meditating 20 hours a day and then going behind a sheet where he didn't meditate, go to the bathroom or eat, is pretty impressive, even if I don't believe what they said when he went out of sight. And he doesn't claim to be enlightened himself, according to the Wikipedia article. He sees himself as a rinpoche. His followers claimed he was. Where ever he is along the path, he's a pretty impressive practitioner.  We will see if he can develop into a good teacher. He's changed his name to Maha Sambodhi Dharma Sangha.

But I digress.  Just some thoughts about MCTB.

Finally, I want to quote the Heart Sutra:  "Attainment too is emptiness"

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Transcendental Science Fiction

The Prisonis transcendental science fiction. I read it today. It gives you options to choose in the story. I'll try and read it again and pick different choices and see if it's different. I read it on my kindle.  It feels a little like 1984 or Kafka , except it has a more promising suggestion at the end. The author reports he's going to write an article for Wildmind about transcendental science fiction, which is how he would categorize it.

I don't like to summarize books, because you can just read it, and summarizing kind of kills it. I like to riff off of others works, so what will follow is thoughts I had thinking about the book.  Mostly I'm trying to figure out what transcendental science fiction could mean.

I love science fiction. The transcendental critique of religion exposes fake religion and spirituality.  It is about freedom and not bondage, dogma and cant.  How do we free ourselves from the bombardment of memes coming at us?  

The transcendental principle is beyond words, it's what truly spiritual words gesture towards, what makes the shadows. There are ways in which it's connected to the perfection of wisdom sutras.  The definition of transcendental: Of or relating to a spiritual or nonphysical realm.  There was a spiritual movement called Transcendentalism, which Thoreau and Emerson were examples of writers in that group.  (Unfortunately Sangharakshita (like Freud and Dickens) doesn't really appreciate aspects of America, and didn't like Thoreau)

I wouldn't say transcendentalism was completely non-physical, though. The thing I don't like about the word spiritual is that you might think it had nothing to do with the body, but when you focus in on things, your body is involved, and Reginald Ray even has a book called Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Bodywhich was one of the best Buddhist books in 2008.

You need the internal knowing and felt sense to guide you on the path.  Focusing is very useful, and I've not finished the book by Gendlin.

But I digress and digress. Go get this e-book and read it, it's fun:  The Prison by P.L.M. Baigent.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Kamalashila Quote

"I was fascinated to read how modern Buddhist movement in India is so influenced by extreme rationalism, if you like Bertrand Russell, and feels repelled by the polytheistic imagery it associates with Hinduism.  That’s such a contrast to us.  How western post-modern society is moving in such a very different direction.  It seems that the west, that was cut off from it’s pagan past, is captivated by the profusion of imagery coming out of it’s encounter with the many cultures of third world.  The differences between the two cultures seem so profound.  It seems essential that the new Western Buddhism, as it comes together, and the revived Buddhism in India, as they come together, they need to have a lot more dialogue."

This is from his talk, "The Nature and Value of Sadhana" on FBA, given Feb. 2011 at Padmaloka, on a men's order weekend.  The talk refers to Subhuti's paper Re-imagining The Buddha.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

‪Dilgo Khyentse‬

I watched Brilliant Moon today, (which is there on my last post), about the great Dilgo Khyentse.  Lots of good footage in the movie. He wrote 25 volumes.  He was a tall man.  He was a non-sectarian teacher.  He got married and had two daughters.  I love the picture of him when he was 25.

I would recommend spending the time to see this movie for free on line on Vimeo, before you see Yanghsi, which is playing at the Ruben this month, click on the link to find the times.

Curious to see what my teacher said about him, I picked up Precious Teachers: Indian Memoirs of an English Buddhist, and read the last chapter about Dilgo Khyentse.

As the movie points out as well, he always made people feel welcome, and Sangharakshita felt welcome when he visited him.  On the 9th of May 1963, Sangharakshita received the phowa or 'conciousness tranmission' of Amitabha, an oral transmission of the Nyingmapas.  Dilgo Khyentse visited Sangharakshita's vihara in Kalimpong, and later gave him the Kurukulle sadhana, the dancing red form of Tara, that same year.  Sangharakshita was guided by Yogi Chen to seek these out, and you can read all about why in Precious Teachers, and the circumstances of those times in Kalingpong.

In Moving Against the Stream: The Birth of a New Buddhist Movement, Sangharakshita writes that Dilgo Khyentse came to Kalingpong in 1959.  He adds that he got the Jhambhala sadhana, which he didn't directly state in Precious Teachers, instead saying it wasn't really Buddhist, that it was more Bon.

When Shangharakshita was planning to return to England permanently, he went to get the blessing of Dilgo Khyentse, who was then living in Darjeeling in 1965 (p.360).

I know I can flit from one text and teaching to another, but I really think I should read Dilgo's books and read more about him.  He seems like a really warm human with a deep practice and lots of knowledge about the tradition.  I did really enjoy The Hundred Verses of Advice: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on What Matters Most (Shambhala Pocket Classics).

Monday, December 03, 2012


Dilgo Khyentse is a towering figure in Buddhism.  He was the head of the Nyingma School from 1987-91.  In the Tibetan system, great spiritual masters' reincarnations are sought out and found, so that they can be trained up to the past incarnation's level.  He died 1991, and Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche was recognized as his reincarnation.  The new movie Yanghsi is about Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche.  You can like him on Facebook.

Go see Yanghsi at the Ruben Museum.  The movie is playing Dec. 8th., and 15th and more.  See press release below, starting in bold type.

I'm not expert on Tibetan Culture, but I respect it greatly and hope for a free Tibet.  I've read a lot of books about Tibetan culture (1, 2).

The movie covers many years, and as a human being, it's cool to see the evolution of a human being.  At one point he discovers the sunglasses, like all the Tibetans seem to like.

I feel ambivalent about the Tibetan tradition.  On the one hand it looks like an ideal spiritual setting.  There is a great investment in the spiritual life.  It seems to counteract the materialism of western society.

On the other hand, it seems like the old boys network, the tradition of patriarch and plutocracy, a kind of royalty, where you are born into goodness.  I know anyone can be good, and I prefer a meritocracy.  I'm sure that there are some aspects of that, and I'm not inside, so I can't really say what it's like, but that's my fear.

I have memorized the Heart Sutra, and other things, but I wish to memorize more texts of Buddhism.  They seems to educate the younger generation is a an amazing advantage It's interesting to see a young child taught so much Dharma at such an early age.  I feel jealousy.  He goofs off, they miss their parents because they are taken away at a young age.

I thought about the monastic tradition.  I've always thought "neither monastic nor lay", because in the west we resist this idea that the lay can't get enlightened, and the lay can just support the monastics.  But the idea that they pick a kid and then invest all kinds of resources in him to become a leader is quite sweet to me.  He is very very lucky from my point of view.  You can see him straining to learn to live up to expectations, which is what we all do, but his circumstances are quite unique.  His expectations are special, maybe like those of Lebron James in our society.  While in America we worship athletes a movie stars, the Tibetan culture in exile (Bhutan in this case), worships Buddhist spirituality.

I have 2 sons who are 7 and 9.  I'm going to show them Little Buddha and Yanghsi over the winter holiday.

The footage of the English teacher was very interesting.  Apparently they made fun of her and her methods but they admitted they worked.  Seeing him shoot a basketball (I can tell he's not the best basketball player) they chose to show where he made the shot.  There's lots of ritual, but they don't show him meditating, but I bet he meditated a lot.

You don't have to be a Nyingma to appreciate this movie.  Dilgo Khyentse Ringpoch is on the TBC refuge tree.  Kulananda has an essay on the refuge tree.  I have read The Hundred Verses of Advice: Tibetan Buddhist Teachings on What Matters Most (Shambhala Pocket Classics).  It is a great book.  There is more I want to read.  Check out the wikipedia article for all his publications.  Here is the talk by Sangharakshita about him.  I feel like Yanghsi is too young to really lead.  Towards the end they show his first public teaching.  He seems casual and informal, repeating the formulas.

Some thoughts:  I love it that there's humility and compassion based on his life. You see Toy Story, which he watches.  You see Richard Gere at his enthronement.

Here is their press release:

Rubin Museum of Art to screen Yangsi – Providing a unique window into the world of Tibetan Buddhism, Yangsi is a coming of age story with universal themes, made over a fourteen year period by filmmaker Mark Elliott.

Narrated by Yangsi Rinpoche, the young teacher gives a first person account of his experience of growing up in, and coming to terms with, his unique inheritance. Beginning with his enthronement at age four before a crowd of fifteen thousand people in Kathmandu, Nepal, he is placed in the care of the previous Khyentse Rinpoche’s regent, Rabjam Rinpoche at Shechen monastery. With unprecedented access, the film chronicles his life during his training in Tibetan philosophy and various rituals, along with learning English, intimate family visits, and meetings with masters within (and without) his lineage.

Filmed largely in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and in Nepal, Yangsi presents everyday events in a reincarnation’s life, where a mother’s love plays as important a role as high tantric empowerments; where tradition is challenged by modernity; and where human relationships are as vital as study. And where doubt challenges devotion when having to live up to great expectations.

Yangsi follows this process up to the age of eighteen, when he for the first time assumes the role of the teacher, embarking on a world tour to continue the work of his predecessor, to be of service to sentient beings. Perhaps never before has this process been so openly and engagingly portrayed, sharing Yangsi’s aim of how Buddhism can be relevant in the modern world.

What:              Yangsi Documentary Screening

When:             December 8th: 12, 3, 6 p.m. (Q&A with Mark Elliott after each screening)
                        December 15, 22nd, and 28th: 1 p.m.
                        December 26th: 4 p.m.

Where:            Rubin Museum of Art
                        150 West 17th Street, New York City, 10011

Tickets:           For tickets and more information about Yangsi screenings at the Rubin Museum, visit

The Rubin Museum of Art provides an immersive environment for the exploration of Himalayan art and culture and its connections to contemporary life and ideas through innovative exhibitions, dynamic programs, and diverse educational opportunities. The only stand-alone institution in the U.S. dedicated to the art of Himalayan Asia, the museum holds one of the world’s most important collections of the paintings and sculptures of Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, and Bhutan, and provides a bridge between the cultures of the region and other cultures worldwide. In addition to exhibitions, the Rubin’s programming encompasses dialogues, films, performances, and more, offering multiple entry-points for understanding and enjoying the art of the Himalayas. The shop and café at the Rubin are also inspired by the varied cultures of the region, completing the visitors’ experience.  For more information, including hours and location, visit


You can see the move Brilliant Moon, about the previous reincarnation:

Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Part 1 from Alexander Mescheryakov on Vimeo.

Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Part 2 from Alexander Mescheryakov on Vimeo.

And if all that's not enough for you, then follow the Ruben on Facebook.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Great Spiritual Basket Case

"There is no medal awarded for having a tough time in the Dark Night or for staying in it for longer than necessary, much to my dismay. One of the more bizarre potholes we can fall into in the Dark Night is to become identified and fascinated with the role of The Great Spiritual Basket Case. “I am so spiritual that my life is a non-stop catastrophe of uncontrollable insights, disabling and freakish raptures, and constant emotional crises of the most profound nature. My spiritual abilities are proven and verified by what a mess I am making of my life. How brave I am to screw up my life in this way! Oh, what a glorious and holy wreck I am.”"  Ingram p.203

Friday, November 30, 2012

Violence and Buddhism

One of the Buddhist precepts is: abstention from killing of living beings. Another is: abstention from taking the non-given. Another is: abstention from covetousness. Another is: abstention from hatred.

Now these precepts are suggestions from the enlightened one, as handed down by the tradition, on how to move towards enlightenment. Can you be a Buddhist if you're not trying to move towards enlightenment? Perhaps you just want to make merit by supporting the monks. In America, the lay/monk split doesn't play as well, and seeing merit literally seems wrong. But perhaps you can be a Buddhist if you try to be kind to people, and try to be mindful, even if you don't have the confidence or resources to actually try for enlightenment. In the TBC going to refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is seen as the defining act of Buddhism. Now there are levels of going for refuge, which I don't want to go into. But someone can see themselves as a cultural Buddhist or a nominal Buddhist because the just adopt the local culture, which is Buddhist.

I thought Genghis Kahn was a Buddhist, but it seems he was more of a waring and political beast, who consulted with many religions, and grew up in a Buddhist Mongolia, though it's by no means a monolithic culture. That was when I first got involved and saw anyone who might be labeled a Buddhist as really being Buddhist. Also I didn't know that much about Genghis Kahn, who it turns out, after his death, had begun what would be the largest empire on earth. Did you know that? But I digress.

So what does a Buddhist do with a history of violence by Buddhists? I have not read Buddhist Warfare. Nor have I read Buddhism and Violence (Publications of the Lumbini International Research Institute, Nepal). The first one is new and in print, but these books don't seem to be about spirituality, more about history and culture.

I don't know if reading about Buddhist culture moves you on the path towards enlightenment, but I think an understanding of causes and conditions is never wrongheaded. If I was enlightened, I think this blog would be different, but since I'm not, I do write about culture. A way of keeping me in the game sometimes is to just do anything buddhisty, even if it's tangental.

Obama was in Myanmar and said recently, "What we’ve learned in the United States is that there are certain principles that are universal, apply to everybody no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what religion you practice.” In Myanmar they have pushed out ethnic Muslims for fear of Islamization. This has been going on for a while. This seems to go against the Buddhist precepts listed in the first paragraph. I believe in religious freedom and tolerance.

A state or culture can't prescribe one's spirituality. And yet what do you do when someone says their child can't have a simple operation because it's against the family's spiritual belief? There are limits. I would force the family to accept an operation that saves a child's life even if it goes against a religion, though I wouldn't do it lightly or easily, and there might be some rather negative consequences to that course of action. There are many complicated issues here.

But what would I do if someone told me I couldn't be a Buddhist? What if the price to be a Buddhist was too high? There's lots of books about that kind of situation, horrifying novels, history and memoirs. There is also subtle ways of prejudice and are just as unacceptable to me, and yet I've said negative things about other religions. I confess to hatred and false views (ie lack of tolerance). I hereby wish to move forward with religious tolerance.

You can read about violence done by nominal cultural Buddhists, and you don't want to tell someone what their designation is, but then again you can be wrong about what you think you are. It's possible you think you believe in creationism and evolution, but if you understand them both, it's impossible to believe in both (DARWIN'S DANGEROUS IDEA: EVOLUTION AND THE MEANINGS OF LIFE). And yet when I took an informal survey at the school I worked at, the majority of the people claimed to believe both. So what do you do with a group who sees themselves as Buddhists, but doesn't really follow the teachings of the Buddha? Do we say they are not Buddhist by virtue of the violence?

My solution is that a nominal or cultural Buddhist can commit violence, but that anyone moving past a superficial level of Buddhism can not engage in violence. And a self proclaimed Buddhist did some violence, the would see in meditation, reflection and discussion, that it wasn't the way towards enlightenment. I have agonized over my own personal mistakes, confessed them, done pujas to them, and in general work to evolve past them, with admittedly mixed results at times. Violence is not a way to become enlightened. Now you can concoct some weird scenario where you have to kill one person to save millions and billions (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine nailed that.). Even then it's not a slam dunk, that it's obvious.

The dean in the school I once worked in said he thought there would always be war. And I think that it's pretty much evident that war is constantly happening on this earth, and to say it's not happening is a weird kind of digging your head into the sands. But the idea that we can't, as a species, evolve past it, is a kind of pessimism. Maybe you'll see aggression in the playground of children, but there's always adults there to break it up. We have violence inside us, maybe that will always be there till we get into the higher evolution. I hope we can evolve past state violence, at least, even if, like Spock, it takes a while to master our turbulent emotions. Even if you're not a Buddhist, a world without state violence is an appealing idea.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Loy writes excellent essays

David Loy comes from the Zen tradition and is an academic, and I've enjoyed his latest books of  essays.  Here is his latest essay:

Here are some quotes:

"The Buddhist path is not about qualifying for heaven but living in a different way here and now. This focus supplements nicely the customary Western focus on social justice and social transformation. As Gary Snyder put it half a century ago, "The mercy of the West has been social revolution. The mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.""

later:  "The basic problem in our society is not rich and powerful bad people, but institutionalized structures of collective greed, aggression and delusion."

I know from reading his book that corporations lead to greed (we need dividends for our investment!), media, advertising leads to delusion, and our military is a tool of aggression and not the alleged self defense.

"The bodhisattva's pragmatism and non-dogmatism can help to cut through the ideological quarrels that have weakened so many progressive groups. And Buddhism's emphasis on skillful means cultivates the creative imagination, a necessary attribute if we are to construct a healthier way of living together on this earth, and work out a way to get there."

Also:  "As T. S. Eliot put it, "Ours is in the trying. The rest is not our business.""

Also:  "Have we already passed ecological tipping-points and human civilization is doomed? We don't know. Yet, rather than being intimidated, the bodhisattva embraces "don't know mind," because Buddhist practice opens us up to the awesome mystery of an impermanent world where everything is changing, whether or not we notice it."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

more popular culture notes

Is this too wet? It's not such a great song, but I was looking over Alanis Morrissette's recent production, and saw this interesting song.

"Empathy" by Alanis Morrissette

There are so many parts that I have hidden and denied and lost
There are so many ways that I have cut off my nose to spite my face

There are so many colors that I still try to hide while I paint
And there are so many tunes that I secretly sing as I wait

You come along and invite these parts out of hiding
This invitation is the one that I've stopped fighting....

Thank you for seeing me
I feel so less lonely
Thank you for getting me
I'm healed by your empathy
Oh this intimacy

There were so many times, I thought I'd die not being truly known
There've been so many moments: forever lonely in my vocation

You come along and celebrate each feeling
And there you are all honor and inquiring.......

Thank you for seeing me
I feel so less lonely
Thank you for getting me
I'm healed by your empathy
Oh this intimacy

There was a day where the trust that was being asked of me
Required too much you see
To accept your generosity
And to know myself enough to let you help me

Thank you for seeing me
I feel so less lonely
Thank you for getting me
I'm healed by your empathy
Oh this intimacy

Also this one is interesting:

Alanis Morissette
In Praise Of The Vulnerable Man

You are the bravest man I've ever met
You unreluctant at treacherous ledge

You are the sexiest man I've ever been with
You, never hotter than with armor spent

When you do what you do to provide
How you land in the soft as you fortify

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won't you lead the rest of your cavalry home

You, with your eyes mix strength with abandon
You with your new kind of heroism

And I bow and I bow down to you
To the grace that it takes to melt on through

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won't you lead the rest of your cavalry home
This is a thank you for letting me in
Indeed in praise of the vulnerable man

You are the greatest man I've ever met
You the stealth setter of new precedents

And I vow and I vow to be true
And I vow and I vow to not take advantage

This is in praise of the vulnerable man
Why won't you lead the rest of your cavalry home
This is a thank you for letting me in
Indeed in praise of the vulnerable man


Well, what does empathy and vulnerability have to do with the spiritual life?  One of the things holding me back is my guardedness, protecting my sense of self.  It turns out relaxing into challenging feedback takes mindfulness, creativity.  Empathy also is one of the many fruits of practicing.

It's interesting Alanis has faded into obscurity after her intense first album Jagged Little Pill, with the song "You Ought To Know" about a romantic breakup.  Supposedly her second album was successful too, and after selling 33 million on her first, it says she's sold over 60 million total.  Listening to her acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill, you can still feel the intensity.  

Rock and roll is an intense medium.  Not sure if it's conducive to the spiritual life, though interestingly there are converts.  And there are even movements who identify with a genera of music like Dharma Punx.  I don't identify with one genera of music, but if I had to it would be jazz.  There are some jazz musicians who are Buddhists.  BTW, I wish I had the money to travel up to Aryaloka to see Heather Maloney.  She is awesome.  Music and Buddhism is too big of an area, and I digress.

Alanis' wikipedia article says Alanis is a Buddhist, but then it has a big blue thing that says, "citation needed".  She's also vegan.  There is a cite for that.  PETA says she's one of the sexiest vegetarians in 2009.